Saturday, October 31, 2009

Give Me a Break

As reported in USA Today:

Year's best: Publishers Weekly today names its top 10 books of 2009: Richard Holmes' The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science; Dan Chaon's Await Your Reply; Victor LaValle's Big Machine; Blake Bailey's Cheever: A Life; Neil Sheehan's A Fiery Peace in a Cold War: Bernard Schriever and the Ultimate Weapon; Daniyal Mueenuddin's In Other Rooms, Other Wonders; Geoff Dyer's Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi; David Grann's The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon; Matthew Crawford's Shop Class as Soulcraft; and David Small's Stitches: A Memoir.

Not one woman? Really?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Work in Progress: "There's a Word for It"

While doing some research (okay, actually while hoping for magical inspiration to strike), I skimmed through a few sections of the book They Have a Word for It: A Lighthearted Lexicon of Untranslatable Words & Phrases by Howard Rheingold.

The premise of the book is simple: it’s a list of foreign words that describe—precisely, exactly, eloquently—moments or things for which there is no English equivalent. Think of that old saying about the Inuit having more than 100 different words for snow, and you get the picture.

I’m not sure I found the magical inspiration I was seeking (though I did find some Polish words that I may be able to use), but it was a fun detour and, again, a reminder that writing should focus on the exactness of things. Here are a few good examples:

mbuki-mvuki (Bantu)
To shuck off clothes in order to dance [verb]
“…It can be assumed that the Bantu-speaking people of Africa must have a respectable heritage in the partying department, since they have a word, mbuki-mvuki, to describe the act of shucking off all clothing that hinders one’s party performance! At least one scholar believes that this Bantu term is the direct precursor for the name that migrated up the Mississippi along with the music it described—boogie woogie….”

ostranenie (Russian)
Art as defamiliarization; making familiar perceptions seem strange [verb]
“…While habitualization and familiarity are necessary psychological tools for creating an orderly world, they can grow into prisons that keep us from seeing the unusual, the marvelous, the might-have-been and ought-to-be. And then a van Gogh, a Picasso, a Stravinsky, a Joyce, or a Cervantes comes along and turns all our familiar ideas upside down….”

Wundersucht (German)
Passion for miracles [noun]

“…What good is a religion if it doesn’t offer a way out of the dilemma of existence? Morality in the face of temptation is hard to accept without some miraculous promise or threat. The paradox of existence seems to call out for the miraculous….”

It’s a fascinating book, and makes me wonder what English words might be included for non-English speakers? Do we have 100 different words for “traffic”?

(Here's the Amazon link if you'd like to read more or buy your own copy:

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

"The League of Minor Characters" by Kathleen Flenniken

On my computer, I keep a folder of poems I like, and I thought it would be fun to pick one at random and share it:

The League of Minor Characters
by Kathleen Flenniken

The main character sits on his childhood bed
naming everything that's gone—ex-job, ex-wife,
ex-best friend-and finally apprehends

the breakdown we've felt coming since chapter five.
When his doctor calls with test results, most of us
decide to remain minor characters

like the quixotic neighbor growing
bonsai sequoias, or the waitress with thick
glasses and a passion for chess,

because the main character, in the thrall
of a relentless plot, can't help hurtling toward
the crumbling cliff edge. And who needs that?

Some inherit genes from generations
of minor players, some must learn to guard
those sunny Sundays with the paper

full of heroes in distant gunfire. And some of us
who've gotten smug over the years turn another page,
turn on the football game, until one day

the doorbell rings. We close our books,
adjust our eyes, and the protagonist
sweeps in insisting himself into our lives

with his entourage of lust and language,
sorrow, brio. Hero, anti-hero, it hardly matters
with the lights this bright. The music crests

and it's time to speak.

"The League of Minor Characters" by Kathleen Flenniken from Famous. © University of Nebraska Press, 2006.

More information about Kathleen Flenniken.

Buy Famous.

Jazz & Blues Anthology ISO Poems

Why are all the really interesting calls for submission for poetry (previously published is okay):

CALL FOR POEMS: 21st Century Howlers: A New Generation Jazz and Blues Anthology

In the past ten to twenty years, a new generation of poets has emerged that seeks to expand and deepen the call-and-response tradition of Jazz and Blues music into the 21st century. Many of these poets may have not experienced a time when Blues or Jazz were the country’s common vernacular or were played with any heavy rotation on their local radio stations.

As we quickly approach the centennial of Jazz and Blues, this anthology seeks to gather the voices of a new generation of Howlers: those poets whose work embodies or addresses the musical traditions of Jazz and Blues, and who began actively publishing no earlier than 1995. Editors are particularly interested in innovative approaches, reinterpretations, and engagements with the contemporary socio-historical moment and/or Jazz and Blues scene. Each poet featured in the anthology will provide a shortcommentary or anecdote on the ways Blues and/or Jazz have affected their writing.

E-mails should contain a cover letter and submission as one attachment in Microsoft Word. Previously published work must be acknowledged in the cover letter. Submissions will be taken on an ongoing basis until March 15, 2010, e-mail

Co-editors of this anthology are Tyehimba Jess, Duriel E. Harris, and Patricia Smith.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Walt Whitman Stars in Levi's Commercial

Slate magazine writes about the new Levi’s commercial that features not only

--Walt Whitman’s poetry
--but Walt Whitman’s ACTUAL voice, reading his poetry.

Usually I’m not one for using dead celebrities to hawk products they may or may not have endorsed (I remember the Ernest Hemingway furniture by Thomasville, and what about all those khakis Gap moved?), but Slate suggests that Levi’s and Whitman might actually be a good match:

“Whitman is an involuntary spokes-celebrity here, and perhaps you deem this ad a desecration of all he stood for. I can't say I blame you. But were you forced to choose a clothing line for our favorite barbaric yawper to rep, you might choose this one. Levi's is the rare American brand that was actually around when Whitman was alive. And there's logic to this match between a quintessentially American poet and a quintessentially American product. Whitman's verse allows Levi's to evoke not only its proud history but a forward-looking present—the pioneering, American mindset that Whitman captured and that Levi's hopes to embody.”

Plus, it’s just a cool commercial, and maybe good art puts me in a mind of forgiveness.

(The Slate article has a link to the commercial if you haven’t seen it. I really love it.)

My Upcoming Writer's Center Classes & Poet Lore Celebration

The Writer’s Center announces its line-up of new workshops for the winter:

I’ll be teaching two classes:

January 25: How to Talk the Talk: Focus on Dialogue
Dialogue seems as though it should be easy since we all talk! But written dialogue should reverberate beyond the sounds of everyday conversation, serving many purposes: revealing character, moving the story forward and supporting your setting. How to accomplish these effects in your own fiction and memoir? This supportive, hands-on workshop offers tips and techniques that will help the voices of your characters come alive. We’ll be doing a number of exercises in class, so bring pen/paper! 1 session.

More info here.

March 4: The First Pages: What Makes a Good Beginning?
Most writers know that they have to “hook” their reader from the start of the story or novel, but how exactly do we do this? What, in other words, are the elements that make a great beginning to a story or novel? You’ll find out in this workshop, as we explore ways to strengthen your opening pages. Everyone is invited to bring 20 copies of the first page of one of their stories/novels/essays/memoirs for some hands-on advice. 1 session.

More info here.

Also, the Writer’s Center will be hosting a celebration of Poet Lore:Poet Lore, the nation’s oldest continuously published poetry journal, marks its 120th anniversary on November 14th at The Historical Society of Washington. Executive editors E. Ethelbert Miller and Jody Bolz—along with the journal’s publisher, The Writer’s Center—welcome three premier poets who published in the journal early in their careers—John Balaban, Gary Fincke, and Myra Sklarew—for an evening of celebration and poetry.”

When: Saturday, November 14th, 2009, at 7:30 p.m.
Where: The Historical Society of Washington
801 K Street, N.W., at Mount Vernon Square
Washington, DC 20001
This event is FREE and open to the public.
Poet Lore’s Web site:

For information, please contact The Writer’s Center: 301.654.8664 or

A champagne and cake reception will follow the reading. Guests should RSVP to Caitlin Hill at

Monday, October 26, 2009

Upcoming Readings: Sherman Alexie and Margaret Atwood

Sherman Alexie will be reading from his book of short stories, War Dances, at Politics and Prose.

Thursday, October 29, 2009 - 7:00pm
This heartbreaking, hilarious collection of stories explores the precarious balance between self-preservation and external responsibility in art, family, and the world at large. With dazzling insight into the minds of artists, laborers, fathers, husbands, and sons, Alexie populates his stories with ordinary men on the brink of exceptional change. In the title story, a famous writer must decide how to care for his distant father who is slowly dying a “natural Indian death” from alcohol and diabetes, just as he learns that he himself may have a brain tumor.

Politics and Prose
5015 Connecticut Ave. NW
Washington, D.C. 20008
More info.

And Margaret Atwood will be appearing at GWU’s Lisner Auditorium:

Friday, Oct 30, 8:00PM
Margaret Atwood
The Year of the Flood Project
A unique combination of book launch and dramatic reading with music, this event features the Booker Prize-winning author joined with several George Washington University Students. They will dramatically interpret select scenes from her newest novel, The Year of the Flood.

Buy tickets here:

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Guest in Progress: Carollyne Hutter

The smart and savvy Carollyne Hutter is back today with this interesting report from the social media battleground. Maybe “battleground” is an overstatement, but as writers we are constantly being told we must be active in marketing our own work, which automatically seems to mean Facebooking, Twittering, blogging, and so on--which doesn’t leave much time for the writing part of it. All this running around cyberspace: how can we spend our marketing time effectively? Is “more” really “more”?

(Also check out Carollyne’s previous posts: writing young adult fiction, helpful resources for YA writers, and the place for technology in your writing.)

Social Media versus Traditional PR?
by Carollyne Hutter

To the chagrin of many writers, they need to effectively market themselves and their work. I recently attended an informative conference called: Pushing the Electronic Envelope Even Farther! Using Cyberspace to Advance Your Career, organized by American Independent Writers and the wonderful, ever-so-helpful Kristen King. The conference was chockful of information on Twitter, Facebook, websites, blogs, and LinkedIn. I left the conference stuffed with advice and tips, my head feeling like it would explode from all the bells and whistles available for using the various social media. (There are 15 apps alone for Twitter on the iPhone.)

In contrast, a few months ago I attended a talk by a successful Washington PR woman. She pooh-poohed social media and said when she wanted to promote a story or event for a client, she directly called her extensive network of editors and pitches the idea on the phone. She keeps in touch with editors through coffees and lunches.

Which is the effective way for writers to market themselves—social media or traditional PR methods of direct contact?

One of the best pieces of advice at the social media conference was given by mystery writer Austin Camacho (author of Successfully Marketing Your Novel in the 21st Century). He said writers should see the web and social media as ways to have conversations and ways to connect with people, rather than treating the web as a monologue or a bulletin board. Austin has it set up through Google Alerts so that he’s contacted when someone mentions his book on a blog or website. He then writes a note in the comment section of the blog, thanking the blogger for mentioning his work, even if the review isn’t positive. Austin feels the personal touch is so important, even on the web.

I have to admit it—I have mixed feelings about social media. On one hand, it can be a great way to stay in touch with people and even meet new people. This week, I discovered through Facebook that a charming young-adult novelist lives in my area—Pam Bachorz, author of the intriguing YA, Candor.

On the other hand, social media can be a great distraction, and pull one away from writing or being with friends and family in person. As I mentioned before, I am a bit overwhelmed by all the bells and whistles out there to use social media.

The panelists at the social media conference echoed throughout the conference some wise advice for writers using social media to market themselves. Here are their main points:

1. Set up a marketing plan and then figure out which social media tools to use. In particular identify your goals.

2. Don’t try to do all social media, just focus on one or two that you like, or you feel are effective. A number of the panelists picked Twitter as their favorite social media. Nancy Shute stated that Twitter is a great tool for journalists.

3. Set aside two hours a week for marketing using social media.

4. Think of social media as a way to have conversations, not monologues.

5. And never forget the importance of the personal touch, such as posting or sending a simple, thank-you note.*

About: For over a decade, Carollyne Hutter has been a freelance writer/editor in the Washington, DC area, specializing in international and environmental topics. She also writes fiction for adults and children (early readers and young-adult novels). Please visit her website— — to read Carollyne’s stories, essays, and nonfiction pieces. You can contact her at

*Carollyne is definitely a “practice what you preach” person, as she included a lovely thank you for including this post on my blog when she sent me the bio I needed!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Potomac Review Day

Three items, all concerning local literary journal Potomac Review:

Check out this new feature on the Potomac Review blog, where the editors discuss why a submitted story made it to the “maybe” pile but didn’t move into the “yes” pile. And, for a change of pace, writer Mary Akers gets to respond!

In Part II, editor Julie Wakeman-Linn writes:

Format: Length is a problem. For a short story of 7,000 words to be published in our 150-page or less literary journal, we would have to love every scene, every page (as we do love every one of our past, present, and future stories). Julie asks: Could it be trimmed?

Mary answers: I wrote this as part of a linked collection with an ocean theme. So it’s a complete story, yes, but intended to be part of a larger whole as well. Length is a tough issue all the way around because many (most?) literary magazines prefer work around 4,000 words—understandable, given their space considerations, but book publishers prefer stories in collections that are closer to the 7,000-10,000-word range. So, what’s a poor writer to do? Write for the mags? Or write for the book? I was hoping, I guess, that the historical tone would afford me a little more story space with readers.

Part I starts here. Thanks, Potomac Review, for giving us some insight into this mysterious process.

UPDATE: Here's Part III,, and check back for more in a few days:

I have in my hands a copy of Issue 46, which contains lots of good stuff. I especially liked the story that won the review’s contest, “Beauty and Health for Life” by Irene Keliher, about an overweight thirteen-year-old girl staying with her father and his new girlfriend, who is starving for attention.

Here’s a small excerpt from the middle of the story:

“Josie read an article [in a women’s magazine] that proclaimed: Beauty and Health for Life! All The Secrets You Need! The plethora of tools dazed her—brushes, tweezers, glosses, sticks, tubes, bangles, wax. The closest thing she owned to this was bubblegum flavored chapstick. The same article featured a daily yoga routine and pictures of vegetables. These can’t be all the secrets, Josie thought.”

Ordering info here.

And speaking of contests, The Potomac Review sent me this announcement about its upcoming poetry contest, including the exciting news that the prize money has been upped significantly:

The Potomac Review is changing the Poetry Contest First Prize money from $500 to $1,000!

We searched the crevices of our couches and cars, pushed the change return on all vending machines we walked by, and did some experimental highway panhandling at the juncture of I-495 and I-295, and now you can win our biggest poetry prize ever with one ridiculously good poem! Second Prize and Third Prize are still $250 and $125, and the entry fee is $18. Send up to 3 unpublished poems (5 pages max). Deadline is February 1st.

We are also offering one more wrinkle to our contests: you can submit your poems electronically. Under the genre on our online submission, choose “content.” You will still have to send us the entry fee in the mail to be considered for the prize contest. Check our website for guidelines. The final judge will be Nancy Naomi Carlson, who is an editor for Tupelo Press and an instructor at The Writer's Center in Bethesda.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Selected Shorts Fiction Contest

I don’t like the high fee for this contest—especially since you don’t get a copy of a publication in return—but the first prize is pretty cool.

The 2010 Stella Kupferberg Memorial Short Story Prizewith guest judge Nathan Englander

The winning submission, selected by Nathan Englander, will be read as part of the Selected Shorts performance at Symphony Space on April 7, 2010. The story will be recorded for possible later broadcast as part of the public radio series. The winner will receive $1000.

Story requirements
--Submit a single short story that addresses the theme, Apartments and Neighbors
--Your story must have a title.
--Make sure your name and contact information appear on the first page of your story. If you are submitting by online, this information needs to appear on the first page of the attached Word document.
--Include page numbers.
--Your story must be no more than 2 double-spaced typed pages in length (Times New Roman, 12pt font) and no more than 750 words.

All submissions must be received by January 29, 2010. To be specific, online submissions must be submitted by 5pm Eastern Standard Time. Mailed submissions must arrive with the day's mail. (Entries postmarked on January 29 will NOT be accepted.)

Where to submit your story

Submit your submission online at


Mail to
CONTEST, Selected Shorts
Symphony Space
2537 Broadway
New York, NY 10025.

Mailed submissions must also include a check for $25, written to Symphony Space. Online submissions must give credit card information to submit. Stories will not be accepted without payment of the $25 fee.

Please do not send duplicate copies (online or snail-mail is sufficient). We cannot allow revisions to your story once we have received it. Due to the high volume of submissions and the small size of our office, we will not be able to notify you when we receive your story. The winner will be selected by Nathan Englander and notified by mid-March. As soon as the winner is selected, his or her name will be posted to this page.

Note: Contestants who submit by online or provide their email address will be added to the Selected Shorts email list - please let us know if you do not wish to receive email about upcoming programs.

The Prize
$1000 and two tickets to the April 7th Selected Shorts at Symphony Space, when the prizewinning story will be read.

Poetry Contest for Virginia Residents

Commonwealth poets—this one’s for you!

The Graybeal-Gowan Prize for Virgina Writers

This annual prize of $500 is awarded by Shenandoah and the Virginia Poetry Center for a single poem by a writer born in or with current established residence in Virginia. The winning poem will be published in SHENANDOAH, and the author will receive broadside copies of the poem to be published by the Virginia Poetry Center.

Entrants are invited to submit up to three previously unpublished poems. Send two copies of each poem (one with name and address and one without), sase and brief biographical note, which should confirm the basis for eligibility to:

The Graybeal-Gowan Prize
Mattingly House / 2 Lee Avenue
Washington and Lee University
Lexington, VA 24450-2116

Entries should be postmarked between October 1 and November 29, 2009.

No entry fee is required, but writers who are friends, students or colleagues of 2009 judge Brendan Galvin are not eligible this year.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Paul Kinsey's Lament

Anyone who watched “Mad Men” last night will know what I mean by this reminder: Write it down!

Poor Paul Kinsey has the perfect idea for the Western Union ad campaign, but in his drunken, exhausted state of euphoria he doesn’t write down his idea—despite being in his office, where there are loads of pens, papers, and even a Dictaphone. Of course he can’t remember the idea the next morning and so rather than work to come up with something new, he wastes all his time before the big meeting retracing his steps, trying to find magical, perfect, “lost idea.”

As a writer, I would guess this only has to happen once—maybe twice—before we learn. If I don’t have a piece of paper with me, I will repeat a few key words to whoever’s with me—so they can help remember, but often the act of speaking the words out loud will imprint them more firmly on my memory.

And though I had a pang of recognition at Paul’s problem, the more thorny issue, of course, is what probably happens more often: you get the great idea in your drunken, exhausted state—or in a dreamlike trance—or anywhere—and you DO write it down, but the next day it makes no sense. (There was a funny "Seinfeld" episode about this.)

Even more likely than that: you write it down, but when you read it the next day…eh. You’re actually NOT a genius, darn it. But at least you're not wasting all your time and energy trying to find perfection that doesn't actually exist.

MFA Database

If you haven’t seen this already, Poets & Writers debuts its database of MFA programs:

"Find the program that's right for you by searching Poets & Writers' brand new database of over 100 graduate programs in creative writing in the United States and abroad. Information on program size, faculty, funding opportunities, deadlines for applications, and more. "

Visit the Database

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Work in Progress: A "Scrap Basket"

While in Nantucket, I bought a cute little hardcover called The Nantucket Scrap Basket by William F. Macy* (The Macys are one of the original Nantucket families). In the late 1800s, William F. Macy began collecting various Nantucket sayings and stories, and shared them at meetings of “The Sons and Daughters of Nantucket.” Others contributed, and eventually a book of all these memories and anecdotes was published in 1916. The book was reprinted in a second edition in 1930, and then reprinted again in 1984, and this current reprint is part of the Macy Genealogy Project, 2000.

All this to say that it’s a charming book to skim through, especially at night when you’re hoping to guide your dreams toward Nantucket, and also to note that I’m going to follow the “scrap basket” format for this blog post: several pieces, slightly related.

Here’s the best trick I’ve found for focusing on work and ignoring the siren call of technology and people who think they need your attention:
1. Print out your work on paper.
2. Grab some pens.
3. Run the bathwater; bubble bath optional, but preferred.
4. Glass of wine optional, but preferred.
5. Light scented candles.
6. Read your work in the relaxed calm of your bathroom while soaking in your tub. Add more hot water as needed.
7. When you’re done reading, exfoliate with a loofah and congratulate yourself for multi-tasking and for your productive afternoon of work.


Here’s a fun exercise I tried while I was in Nantucket. If you’ve ever been there, you’ve noticed that there are dozens of benches all about downtown, and it’s impossible not to be lured into simply sitting and staring at whatever passes in front of you. I spent an entire afternoon basically sitting, though I did move every hour or so, to look at something different.

But you’d be surprised at what’s interesting if you simply watch it long enough—I watched the “traffic” at one intersection of Main Street as cars headed up the cobblestones and navigated turning cars and oblivious pedestrians (the state law requires cars to stop for anyone in a crosswalk). Trust me, there was a lot going on there, though it would be hard to describe what exactly happened.

That was fun, but early in the day of bench-warming, I was feeling more ambitious and pulled out my little notebook. I wrote down the scraps of conversation that I overheard as people passed. I also noted a few observations of my own, but I tried to limit inserting myself into the list.

After I filled up a page or so of eavesdropping, I organized the various phrases into a poem that, surprisingly, was an accurate and revealing reflection of my frame of mind. It’s not a poem that I’d let anyone see or anything, but I can easily imagine finding it a year from now and immediately being transported to that morning spent on the bench staring at the boats in the harbor, listening to the ferry’s horn, a fantastic blue sky above us all--the best souvenier of all!

On Facebook, another writer posted a status update about the “shape” of her novel that other writers quickly riffed on, describing the literal shape of their novels. It was a smart and lively thread, and I wish I could quote it but it would be hard to find now, plus, I’m not sure people really want to be “quoted” on what they write on Facebook! (I know I don’t.)

But I found it helpful to spontaneously come up with a visual metaphor of the “shape” of my novel, which was something along the lines of, My novel starts as an orderly line of people that devolves into an angry and confused mob in the back.

Maybe you had to be there, but what I found clarifying from the two seconds of thought that led to my seeing “exactly” what my novel looked like, is that I keyed in on the flaws:

1. Too safe and staid in the beginning.
2. Needs an ending!

Of course, I already knew #2, but #1 was interesting, as there is definitely a danger of being too tidy and wrapped up, which is a danger that I fall prey to constantly.

Try it: What does your book look like?

Thank you to whoever nominated this blog for the Top 100 Writing Blogs on "The Daily Reviewer." If you’d like to see my fine company, you can go here.

*If you’re interested, it seems you can actually download The Nantucket Scrap Basket for free. I think this is part of Google’s book project, and it’s actually sort of scary to see it in action. I was actually pleased to support the bookstore where I purchased my copy.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Shopping at Independent Bookstores Will Save the World!

I’m not usually one for sending along videos on the computer (part of why I like READING is the ability to skim when I want and to go at my own pace), but I thought this video for an independent bookstore in North Carolina was great, equating shopping at independent bookstores with saving the planet.

It helps that Jim Havercamp, one of the filmmakers, has written a piece for this blog about tackling a screenplay.

And it doubly helps that my sister sent along the link to the video, then chided me for posting it on Facebook before she did!

Anyway…here it is. I think you’ll laugh.

$5000 Prize for Writing and Community Service

From independent publisher Dzanc Books:

The deadline for application for the Dzanc Prize 2009 is rapidly approaching - November 1, 2009.

In 2007, to further its mission of fostering literary excellence, community involvement, and education, Dzanc Books created the Dzanc Prize, which provides monetary aid in the sum of $5,000, to a writer of literary fiction. All writers applying for the Dzanc Prize must have a work-in-progress they can submit for review, and present the judges with a Community Service Program they can facilitate somewhere in the United States. Such programs may include anything deemed "educational" in relation to writing. Examples would include: working with HIV patients to help them write their stories; doing a series of workshops at a drop-in youth homeless center; running writing programs in inner-city schools; or working with older citizens looking to write their memoirs. All community programs under the Dzanc Prize must run for a full year.

Details here.

(P.S. The original message goes on to note that reading from your work at the local library will not cut it as a community project!)

Summer Literary Seminars Contest

Got this announcement from Fence magazine, about the contest for the Summer Literary Seminars (SLS) conferences:

SLS is pleased to announce its 2010 unified (SLS-Montreal, SLS-Lithuania, and SLS-Kenya) literary contest, held this year again in affiliation with Fence.

We are excited this year to have Mary Gaitskill judging the contest fiction, and Mary Jo Bang judging the poetry. Contest winners in the categories of fiction and poetry will have their work published in Fence, as well as the participating literary journals in Canada, Lithuania and Kenya.

Additionally, they will have the choice of attending (airfare, tuition, and housing included) any of the SLS-2010 programs – in Montreal, Quebec (June 13 - 27); Vilnius, Lithuania (August 1 - 14); or Nairobi-Lamu, Kenya (December). Second-place winners will receive a full tuition waiver for the program of their choice, and third-place winners will receive a 50% tuition discount.

A number of select contest participants, based on the overall strength of their work, will be offered tuition scholarships, as well, applicable to the SLS-2010 programs.

Contest Deadline: February 28, 2010.

Please visit the SLS website, at, for detailed information on how to enter.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

An Autumn Week in Nantucket: Highly Recommended!

I probably can’t say enough nice things about spending an October week in Nantucket, though I will try:

--We rented a charming house in the historic part of town which meant that we could walk into downtown, which was pleasant and lovely…and a respite from the murderous (but so cute!) cobblestones which were a killer if experienced in the passenger seat of a Mini-Cooper.

--Speaking of Mini-Coopers…they are as cute as buttons, and I know we only had access to one for a week of non-trafficy, non-highway, non-winter driving, and it was a convertible (!!), but what a fun, fun, FUN car! If this is what’s waiting for me ahead during my midlife crisis, bring it on.

--We went to the annual Cranberry Festival and learned all about bogs and how cranberries are harvested: 2,000,000 pounds annually on Nantucket. I’ll remember that when I pop open my bag of cranberries to make the Thanksgiving sauce.

--We spent an unexpectedly fun happy hour(s) relaxing at the Cisco Brewery’s outdoor patio. Lots of wandering dogs, including a snaggle-toothed, so-ugly-he’s-cute fellow named Rex that even I couldn’t resist.

--Even the airlines offered positive moments. When all the passengers had arrived at the airport for the flight out, we left…20 minutes EARLY! Thank you, Cape Air! And in Boston, Steve spotted Doris Kearns Goodwin, so I got to quickly gush to her about how much I loved her memoir about Brooklyn and the Dodgers, Wait Till Next Year.

It’s high time this important subject gets its very own section in these travel updates.

--Doughnuts. A toss-up between Downyflake (where a doughnut is a choice with breakfast instead of boring old toast) and Nantucket Bake Shop.

--Chowder. We ate a lot…and found some chowder we liked so much that we ate it three days IN A ROW: Straight Wharf fish market. One day we deviated from that chowder plan and tried chowder in another restaurant…that we were sure was supplied by the Straight Wharf, as it tasted virtually the same. Whew…crisis averted, and we’ll call that four days in a row!

--Best Restaurant Concept. At Company of the Cauldron, the chef posts the menu for the week online. There’s one seating (maybe two on weekends) and you eat what’s been planned for dinner that night. No tough decisions, no “I’ll get the crab if you get the pork” negotiations, no “I should have…”—just a fabulous dinner in a cozy, candlelit setting as if you had your own personal chef.

--Best Meal Overall. We had been to Oran Mor before and loved it then…and still love it. Inventive, seasonal, and refreshing: there was not a bad note to this entire meal, from the lovely champagne aperitif with elderflower essence, to Steve’s foie gras duo with toasted Portuguese bread, to a richly simple salad with pecans and pears, to scallops on corn risotto, to a chicken dish that if I describe it will sound like “chicken loaf” but was actually a way of making a chicken roll by combining the light and dark meat that brought the bird to its absolute, flavorful essence (even the server said, “I would never order chicken in a restaurant, but this is the one exception”), to ginger cake with cinnamon ice cream, to pear sorbet that tasted like that perfect pear at perfect ripeness that doesn’t exist in the real world, to being able to get one of our favorite white wines in a half bottle. Oh, sigh…I wish I could eat it all over again…. (Warning: Don’t look at the Oran Mor website if you’re hungry, because those flashing close-ups of the food will make you crazy!)

--Notable Seafood. Fried scallops at the Ropewalk, on the water. Lobster at the Nantucket Lobster Trap (I suspect locals call this the “Lobster Tourist Trap,” but a good lobster is a good lobster).

--Candy. Chocolate-covered cranberries at Sweet Inspirations. (Mail order available!) Runner-up: Aunt Leah’s Fudge (Mr. Aunt Leah opened the closed-for-the-night shop just for us; mail order available!).

--Disappointment. Couldn't find a great lobster roll, though we tried.

Simply put, Nantucket is a beautiful place, in terms of architecture (one of the T-shirts for sale reads, “Lost? Go to the house with the gray shingles and white trim and turn left”—haha…ALL buildings have gray shingles and white trim, even what passes for a strip mall) and natural landscape. No chain stores. Friendly, relaxed vibe. If it weren’t for the hordes descending in July and August—and the fact that the real estate is “a bit” pricey (saw a one-room house listed for sale at $800K)—I’d move there tomorrow. Oh, big fat movie deal that makes me rich beyond belief…why are you taking so long??

Monday, October 12, 2009

Back to Blogging; Gordon-Reed Event

Happy Columbus Day! I just returned from a wonderful week in Nantucket…full report to come tomorrow.

In the mean time, here’s an event in Richmond that looks interesting:

Gordon-Reed Featured at October 17 Literary Luncheon

Annette Gordon-Reed, author of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy and The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family, which won the 2008 National Book Award for Nonfiction and the 2009 Pulitzer Prize in history, is the featured author at the 2009 Library of Virginia Literary Luncheon on Saturday, October 17, at 11:30 am at the Hilton Garden Inn, 501 East Broad Street. Tickets are $35 per person and include valet parking until October 9th ($50 after October 9). Dan Roberts, associate professor at the University of Richmond and host of the radio series A Moment in Time, will moderate "A Lens on American Cultural History: A Conversation with Annette Gordon-Reed."

Gordon-Reed’s fascination with Thomas Jefferson began when she was in grade school in Texas and read a child’s biography of him. She first learned of Sally Hemings while reading her parent’s copy of Winthrop Jordan’s White Over Black.

Gordon-Reed’s first book, Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy, came out in 1997, prior to the DNA study suggesting that one of the descendants of Sally Hemings was related to Jefferson. Her book laid out the long-overlooked evidence that an affair occurred between Jefferson and his slave.

In her prize-winning second book Gordon-Reed sets the Hemings’s compelling saga against the backdrop of Revolutionary America, Paris on the eve of its own revolution, 1790s Philadelphia, and plantation life at Monticello. The book brings to life not only Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson, but also their children and Hemings's siblings, who shared a father with Jefferson's wife, Martha.

The Pulitzer Prize citation calls The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family,“a painstaking exploration of a sprawling multi-generation slave family that casts provocative new light on the relationship between Sally Hemings and her master, Thomas Jefferson.”

Roberts and Gordon-Reed will explore how the telling of the Hemings and Jefferson story has changed over the years and what this says about how the history of the country and the legacies of slavery, for whites and blacks, affect us today.

For more information: 804/992-3900 or click here.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

From the Favorites: Carolyn Parkhurst, The Dogs of Babel

While I’m away from blogging, I’m sharing some of my favorite books from my bookshelf of “signed books.”

Okay, another friend, though I didn’t know her at the time I read this book: The Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst. A man’s wife dies, and he wants to know what happens…so because the dog was the only witness, he tries to teach it to talk.

“Here is what we know, those of us who can speak to tell a story: On the afternoon of October 24, my wife, Lexy Ransome, climbed to the top of the apple tree in our backyard and fell to her death. There were no witnesses, save our dot, Lorelei; it was a weekday afternoon, and none of our neighbors were at home, sitting in their kitchens with their windows open, to hear whether, in that brief midair moment, my wife cried out or gasped or made no sound at all. None of them were working in their yards, enjoying the last of the warm weather, to see whether her body crumpled before she hit the ground, or whether she tried to right herself in the air, or whether she simply spread her arms open to the sky.”

Here’s a piece that Carolyn wrote for this blog about the thorny issue of whether one can write about their kids’ lives.

And here’s an interview with Carolyn about the book.

And here’s a tantalizing tidbit: I’ve been reading her new book in progress in my writing group, and it is FANTASTIC!!

ISO Female Poets of a Certain Age

Call for Poetry from PersiItalicmmon Tree — Spring 2010 Issue

We are seeking previously unpublished poems for the Spring 2010 issue from women over sixty who live in the North Central States region (ID, MT, WY, NV, UT, CO, ND, SD, NE, MN, IA, MO, KS, IL, IN, OH, MI, WI).

We're pleased to announce that Andrea Hollander Budy will be the guest poetry editor for this issue. She will select 10-12 poets for publication from the entries. The email address and guidelines for this poetry section are different from the magazine's general address and guidelines. Poetry manuscripts must use the following guidelines to be considered:

— Previously unpublished poems should be emailed to between Nov. 1 - Dec. 15, 2009. Poems that arrive earlier or later will not be read. Poems sent directly to Persimmon Tree will not be forwarded.

— Include 1-3 poems in a single WORD attachment, one page per poem. No poem may be longer than a page; use 12 point type. The first page of this document should contain only your name, phone number, email address, and postal mailing address, as well as a list of the titles and first lines of your poems. Do not put your name or any other identifying information on the pages with the poems.

— In the subject line of the email message, type POETRY FOR PT. In the body of the message, include your name, phone number, email address, and postal mailing address.

If you send a submission that fails to follow the above guidelines, it will be automatically deleted. You will not be notified.

More information:

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

From the Favorites: Dan Elish, Nine Wives

While I’m away from blogging, I’m sharing some of my favorite books from my bookshelf of “signed books.”

Okay, I must admit to some bias here, since Dan Elish is one of my friends. But his novel Nine Wives is hilarious! Poor 32-year-old Henry wants to be married, and one wouldn’t think that would be such a problem for a man in New York City…but it is.

“Henry Mann forced himself up the final steps to his fifth-floor walk-up with the heavy gait of a man who has had two marriage proposals rejected in the same evening. After fumbling with his keys, he finally managed to gain access to his small apartment, where he tossed his tie onto the beat-up console piano and flopped backward, spread eagle, onto the couch. The effects of the four whiskey sours were finally wearing off. Also, the three glasses of champagne and the two—or was it three?—tequila shots. But this was one night when Henry would have been perfectly happy to remain permanently plowed.

“Had he really done it? Proposed to two women? At the same lousy wedding? Sadly, the answer appeared to be yes. That the mother of the bride was actually pretty damned good-looking didn’t soften the blow, or that Charlotte, the cousin of the groom, had seemed flattered. Facts were facts: It was inappropriate to pledge one’s eternal love to a total stranger, especially while attempting to keep the beat to an anemic rendition of “Brown Sugar.” Further, it was wrong to grab the bride’s mom by the waist directly after she had delivered an emotional thymed toast. It was even worse to pay homage with one’s own short poem:

In your arms, the bride you carried.
You’re old! So what? Let’s get married!”

Here’s a funny piece Dan wrote for this blog about the difference between writing for children and grown-ups.

Beyond the Printed Page: Shape of a Box & Split This Rock

Two diverse creative outlets are looking for your work:

Shape of a Box, YouTube's first literary magazine, will be open for submissions during the month of October 2009 for our 2nd year of publishing our video literary magazine. Our detailed guidelines are available at And check out the journal here:

We are seeking: poetry, fiction, non-fiction, stage/screen, graphic/comic work, cover art, reviews, interviews all under 5 minutes and/or 1000 words. If you have any additional questions please email us


Call for Poetry Film and Video - Deadline January 15, 2010

Split This Rock invites poets, writers, artists, activists, dreamers, and all concerned world citizens to submit original poetry films or videos for the 2nd Split This Rock Poetry Festival, to be held March 2010. We are looking for artistic, experimental, and challenging film/video interpretations of poetry that explore critical social issues. Selected work will be screened during the Split This Rock Poetry Festival film program. Entries can be up to 15 minutes long.
The deadline for submissions is January 15, 2010. See the guidelines and entry form for full details and submission requirements.


Entry Form:

Feeling Cinderella-ish? Attend the Writers Ball!

D.C. poet Brandel France de Bravo invites us all to this fun-sounding event (for a good cause):

You (and your ipod) are invited on October 17th from 8:00 to 11:00 pm to the first annual


What do writers like to do besides write? Drink and dance, of course! Poets, journalists, novelists, playwrights, speechwriters, essayists, short-story writers, and friends of writers--you are all welcome!

Join us in raising the roof and raising money for Washington Writers' Publishing House, a nonprofit, collective press celebrating its 35th year. WWPH is the only literary press in Washington, D.C. dedicated to publishing and promoting local writers. It has published over 80 books of poetry and fiction from some of Washington, D.C.'s best writers--many of them nationally recognized.

Tickets are $25 and entitle you to 2 free drinks, appetizers and all the dancing, schmoozing, and book browsing you can handle. Buy your ticket online and we'll give you one free raffle ticket when you arrive at the Ball (you are welcome to buy additional raffle tickets at the Door!).

The grand prize is 2 nights for 2 with spa treatments at the luxurious Four Seasons Hotel!

Other sponsors are: Diageo; Whole Foods of Georgetown; Occasions Caterers; Andy Shallal, owner of Busboys and Poets & Eatonville Restaurant; and WWPH. There will be free salsa lessons and much, much more!

A portion of the ticket price will constitute a tax deductible donation to WWPH, a 501(c)(3) charity.

WHERE'S IT AT? Danzón Art Gallery, 1848 Columbia Road, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20009

WHEN DOES THE BALL BEGIN? Doors open at 8:00 p.m. We turn into pumpkins at 11:00 p.m.

HOW DO I GET THERE? Look for the gated walkway ("Danzón alley") with the sign pointing to Danzón. Real writers have no trouble finding the place. Walking and public transportation are best. If you come by car, there's a garage at 2328 Champlain St NW, Washington, DC 20009. (202) 295-8200.

WHAT DO I BRING? Bring your ipod loaded with your 10 favorite dance tunes. All music, all languages accepted. Free your mind, the rest will follow.

Hurry! Get your ticket now at Tickets will also be sold at the door but will not include a free raffle ticket ($5 value, but the grand prize is worth $2,500!!!). Bureaucrats permitted entry by special permission. REMEMBER TO PRINT YOUR PAYPAL RECEIPT. THIS IS YOUR TICKET!

Visit WWPH's website for additional information (, including how to enter the annual contest with manuscript submission guidelines. The deadline for poetry and fiction is November 1st!!!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

From the Favorites: Tim O'Brien, In the Lake of the Woods

While I’m away from blogging, I’m sharing some of my favorite books from my bookshelf of “signed books.”

In the Lake of the Woods by Tim O’Brien came up in conversation recently, and I was reminded of how much I admired it, though it’s not his best known work. It’s about a politician who’s been defeated in a senate election, and then one day his wife mysteriously vanishes from their lake house. Secrets abound.

“As a kind of game they would sometimes make up lists of romantic places to travel.

“'Verona,” Kathy would say, “I’d love to spend a few days in Verona.” And then for a long while they would talk about Verona, the things they would see and do, trying to make it real in their minds. All around them, the fog moved in low and fat off the lake, and their voices would seem to flow away for a time and then return to them from somewhere in the woods beyond the porch. It was an echo, partly. But inside the echo there was also a voice not quite their own—like a whisper, or a nearby breathing, something feathery and alive. They would stop to listen, except the sound was never there when listened for. It mixed with the night. There were rustlings in the timber, things growing and things rotting. There were night birds. There was the lap of lake against shore.

“And it was then, listening, that they would feel the trapdoor drop open, and they’d be falling into that emptiness where all the dreams used to be.”

Here’s an article that discusses O’Brien’s place in the literature of the Vietnam War.

Check Out the New Issue of Beltway, Poets Laureate Issue

D.C. poet Kim Roberts reports that there’s a new issue of Beltway up for our reading enjoyment:

Beltway Poetry Quarterly


An exciting new issue of the journal Beltway Poetry Quarterly features essays, interviews and poems by and about US Poets Laureate, guest edited by Dan Vera.

Contributors include: Peter Montgomery, Christy J. Zink, Michael Gushue, Jean Nordhaus, Grace Cavalieri, Alan King, and Danielle Evennou.

Contributors celebrate the history of Poets Laureate at the Library of Congress, with close looks at the institution itself and the poets Kay Ryan, Charles Simic, Joseph Brodsky, Mark Strand, Anthony Hecht, Maxine Kumin, William Stafford, James Dickey, Randall Jarrell, William Carlos Williams, and Joseph Auslander.

Write in Ireland!

My friend Suzanne Stempek Shea sent me this announcement. Sounds like a great opportunity...


Following on the success of the Howth Writers Week in October 2008 and the Dingle Writers Week in 2009, Ted Deppe, Annie Deppe, and Suzanne Strempek Shea are offering a writers conference this coming May in Howth, a beautiful seaside village twenty minutes north of Dublin. Two prominent Irish authors (to be selected after we see the make up of the participants) will join us and we will offer a full week of workshops, writing exercises, seminars, and readings. There will also be a literary field trip into the city of Dublin. Optional private manuscript critiques are available at additional cost.

This week is meant to be a chance for serious writers to generate new work as well as to workshop current work and take their writing to the next level. For those who want to explore Ireland, we hope that you will leave yourself a week before or after the conference to travel and get to know this wonderful country. (Once you’re over here, it’s extraordinarily inexpensive to hop on a low-cost flight to Continental Europe as well! Dublin is also the perfect spot to catch a train or bus to destinations in Ireland or Northern Ireland.) However, at the request of past participants, there will also be a little more free time built into the schedule so you can explore the spectacular cliff scenery of Howth, look for treasures in the fine shops, or visit Neolithic sites on the peninsula.

Ideally, this is a week to focus on your own writing, so we recommend that if you want to travel with family or significant others, you do this before or after the residency.


The cost for the week (workshops, lectures, readings, and a field trip) will be
$1,150 plus accommodations.

Bed and breakfast rates are as follows. We will reserve a room for you on a first-come, first-serve basis, so don’t delay!

$650 for the week if you share a room, ground floor (U.S. “first floor”)
$750 for the week if you share a room, first floor (U.S. “second floor”)
$950 for the week for a single room, ground floor
$1,100 for the week for a single room, first floor

Bed and breakfast at the 4-star King Sitric Guesthouse is a true delight. It is one of Ireland’s gourmet restaurants and all rooms look out onto the Irish Sea. Check out their website: Lunches and suppers are on your own in any of the fine restaurants or pubs that are within a block or two in Howth. Workshops and talks will all take place in the King Sitric.

Airfare and travel to the residency is on your own, but we will help advise you on travel plans if you wish. Aer Lingus is the national airline and a roundtrip ticket for direct flights from Boston to Dublin in May currently costs $687. Participants usually find cheaper flights with Continental, Delta, US Air, or American Airlines, all of which have flights into Dublin.


Two leading Irish writers will be invited to give talks and readings. They will join:

Ted Deppe is the author of Children of the Air and The Wanderer King (Alice James Books, 1990 and 1996); Cape Clear: New and Selected Poems (Salmon, Ireland, 2002); and Orpheus on the Red Line (Tupelo, 2009). A recipient of two grants from the NEA and a Pushcart Prize, he has been writer in residence at the James Merrill House in Stonington, CT and Phillips Academy in Andover. He received an MFA from Vermont College and has taught creative writing in graduate programs in the U.S., Ireland, and England. He currently directs Stonecoast in Ireland.

Annie Deppe is the author of Sitting in the Sky (Summer Palace Press, Ireland, 2003).
A second collection, Wren Cantata, is forthcoming from Summer Palace in December 2009. She is the recipient of writer’s grants from both the Irish Arts Council and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. Her work appeared in The Forward Book of Poetry 2004 and in journals on both sides of the Atlantic. She holds an MFA from Lancaster University, England, and was chosen to read in the Introductions Series of Poetry Ireland. She assists in running the Stonecoast in Ireland residencies. Annie and Ted are dual citizens of Ireland and the U.S. and currently live in County Galway.

Suzanne Strempek Shea is the author of five novels: Selling the Lite of Heaven, Hoopi Shoopi Donna, Lily of the Valley, Around Again, and Becoming Finola. She has also written three memoirs, Songs From a Lead-lined Room: Notes - High and Low - From My Journey Through Breast Cancer and Radiation; Shelf Life: Romance, Mystery, Drama and Other Page-Turning Adventures From a Year in a Bookstore; and Sundays in America: A Yearlong Road Trip in Search of Christian Faith. Winner of the 2000 New England Book Award, which recognizes a literary body of works’ contribution to the region, Suzanne has appeared on NBC’s Today Show, CBS’s Late Late Show, and PBS’s documentary The Polish Americans. She teaches in the Stonecoast MFA program.

Email us at or call 011-353-87-909-1724 to reserve your spot in this weekend. If you need more information on any of this, just ask! This is a great chance to give your writing a boost and to have a lot of fun at the same time.

Monday, October 5, 2009

From the Favorites: Joyce Johnson, Minor Characters

While I’m away from blogging, I’m sharing some of my favorite books from my bookshelf of “signed books.”

From Minor Characters, a memoir by Joyce Johnson, who dated Jack Kerouac as a young girl in the 1950s; an important glimpse into what it was like to be a female writer amidst all those men:

“The snapshot is in a book now. Four young men on the Columbia campus on a day in 1945. Early spring, maybe, because the coats of three of them are open at the collar and the tree in the background is bare. They’re boys, really.

“As I’ve grown older, the figures in the photo have grown younger. They’re dressed with that startling formality of the period that seems peculiarly innocent now. Short hair, long overcoats. Burroughs is even wearing a black bowler, a sort of British-banker effect—a deliberate costume. He’s absenting himself in his disguise. Hal Chase, who I never met—the one who introduced them all to Neal Cassady—looks like the sharp kid about to save the situation with a joke. Allen is all adolescent gawkiness and misery. He has shut his eyes, as if the taking of the picture is an intolerable intrusion. And there’s Jack in the center. No overcoat, just a cheap baggy suit in which his football-hero shoulders look enormous, loud tie pulled askew. He’s stretched his arms over Chase and Allen, so that his fingertips reach Burroughs’s shoulder. A cigarette dangles from his mouth in the romantic style of jazz piano players or hard-boiled all-night journalists in movies. He’s grinning directly, warmly, at the photographer as the shutter clicks. The only one of them totally connected to the moment.”

Here’s a longer excerpt from the book if you’d like to read more.

And here’s an interesting 2007 article about Joyce Johnson.

Dylan Landis at Politics & Prose

I really, really, really, REALLY wish I could attend this, my friend Dylan Landis’s big D.C. reading for Normal People Don’t Live Like This, her new novel-in-stories. I’ve only read the first chapter so far, and just that tiny little taste was chillingly perfect, like an icy martini. Someone please go to this reading and tell me all about how fabulous she is!

Sunday, October 11, at 1 pm
Normal People Don't Live Like This
A novel-in-stories by Dylan Landis

POLITICS & PROSE bookstore
5015 Connecticut Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20008

Here’s a description of the book:

An extraordinary mix of the work of Mary Gaitskill and Scott Spenser, this remarkable fiction debut piercingly yet tenderly portrays the inner lives of a girl and her mother in New York City in the 1970s.

In ten discrete installments, written from a variety of perspectives, we follow the uneasy yet magnetic relationships between Leah Levinson, a guarded teenager, and the delinquent girls she worships. Leah and her artistic mother, Helen, struggle against the confines of their pasts and personalities, unaware of how similar their paths are as they make repeated, touching attempts to break free. Just when they seem to have reached an impasse, each makes an impulsive change of place: Leah takes a trip abroad with an endearing young man, and Helen rents, and fantastically ornaments, a secret room in a welfare hotel. Jolted from the patterns of their old existence, daughter and mother independently glimpse the possibility of a different, more vibrant life.

And check out all this great attention:

Normal People Don't Live Like This is a wonderful, intriguing, and original debut."
ELIZABETH STROUT, author of Amy & Isabelle and Olive Kitteridge

"The characters…are blessedly extraordinary."
VANITY FAIR—Elissa Schappell, "Hot Type"

"Dylan Landis guides us into the harsh, secretive world of girls, where the mysteries of power and sexuality baldly govern."
JANET FITCH, author of White Oleander and Paint it Black

"Dylan Landis leaves me breathless with admiration. Her haunting, luminous characters hold secrets we can't help but recognize as our own."
LISA GLATT, author of A Girl Becomes a Comma Like That and The Apple's Bruise

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Books Received: Terese Svoboda & McSweeney's

I’ve decided to start a new, semi-regular feature to help get the word out about books and publications that I get that seem to deserve attention, though I may not be able to read them right away.

Don’t be scared. This is not a “send me a free book, and I’ll say nice things about you” column. Goodness, I'm not that easy! Think of it more as a “here’s a publication that came to me through any number of possible ways including me spending my own cold hard cash on it, and I’m making note of its presence because I think it’s important.” (But publicists for literary fiction/nonfiction are welcome to add me to their lists; email for further information.)

Without further ado….

Terese Svoboda has a new book of poems out. According to the jacket, Weapons Grade “is a collection of poems about the power of occupation—political and personal. They often play with sestina, sonnet, and couplets, as if only form can contain he fury between the occupier and the occupied. There’s a pervading sense of dread, of expiation, of portents—even in potato salad. There’s also elegy and lullaby and seduction….”

Best blurb:
“Svoboda has such range—of subject, of emotion (from whimsical play to chillingly dead serious), that these poems take you on a wild ride, fast and dangerous, but always in control. This is a goddamn terrific book!” ~Thomas Lux, author of God Particles

The knife reveals the world stopped
in a fruit, its eerie imperfection due
perhaps to physics, or more sun

here or there, or—
Grand design
frowns, taking account....

~from “Half Grapefruit”

More info, including links to the author’s website and purchase details.


McSweeney’s, Issue 32

Includes work by Anthony Doerr, Wells Tower, Jim Shephard, and Sheila Heti. Known for—among other things—its format, I’m compelled to report that this issue is pretty sedate: a nice hardcover book that oddly (or purposely?) reminds me of the size and feel of those old readers way back when in grade school. I mean, artsy-ier, of course, but still I find myself thinking of Dick and Jane.

From the (tiny and hard to find) editor’s note:
“Last year we asked a dozen or so writers to travel somewhere in the world—Budapest, Cape Town, Houston, any sleepy or sleepless outpost they could find—and send back as story set in that spot fifteen years from now, in the year 2024….One reason we asked our writers to look ahead only fifteen years instead of fifty or five hundred, is because we wanted to hear about where we’d be—to see what the world could look like when things had shifted just a bit, as it seems like they’re starting to….”

“Just let me out of here, man,” said Cora Booth. “I’m sick. I’m dying.”

“Of what?” asked Rodney, her husband, blinking at the wheel, scoliotic with exhaustion. He’d been sitting there for four days, steering the pickup down out of Boston, a trailer shimmying on the ball hitch, a mattress held to the roof of the camper shell with tie-downs that razzed like an attack of giant farting bees.

“Ford poisoning,” Cora said. “Truckanosis, stage four. I want out. I’ll walk from here.”

Rodney told his wife that a hundred and twenty miles lay between them and the home they’d rented in the desert, sight unseen.”
~from “Raw Water” by Wells Tower

More details, including purchasing information.


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.