Thursday, April 28, 2011

Work in Progress: Playing the Writing Game

While I was at VCCA in March, I wrote a lot of VERY rough drafts of some pieces, and I’m just now starting to sort through the mass (or is that mess?) to see what’s there. It’s rather daunting as, of course, I remember being in the flush of excitement while writing, thinking, “This will be easy-peasy to fix! Just go, go, go!”

I was right to think that back then—first draft is just spilling everything out on the page—but it’s challenging now to enter back into that mental space. And—as you might have guessed—it’s really not all that “easy-peasy” to figure out how to fix things.

And beyond the mental space of what the story needs are those happy, distant memories of “I was working so hard and well back then.” Ten pages a day! Why can’t I do that now?

You know…that voice.

So I was happy to be poking around Cathy Day’s blog, The Big Thing (links below), and discover two posts about motivation and how writers might want to think about turning their writing into a game. No, not one of those never-ending games of Monopoly that last a whole summer vacation week when you’re nine (though that’s actually an apt description of the process of writing a novel)—but a more modern game, with specific goals and rewards. So many words. So many hours. A checkmark on a calendar. A gold star. Reaching the next level.

As Cathy puts it:

"My progress lately, however, has been more difficult to measure, to quantify. Every day, I edit and shape the those pages I generated in the fall. Every day, I feel as though I’ve gained a little a little more insight into my character, into the book’s themes, and how the book will be shaped. But strangely, these achievements towards quality feel less satisfying to me than when I was focused strictly on quantity."

That’s exactly where I am!  And so it was interesting to read on:

"Perhaps what has always separated “real writers” from “wanna-be writers” was that real writers figured out some way to get the writing done. More than likely, this involved creating some kind of internal rewards system or “gamification” to tap into the motivational part of their brains. And then they crafted, yes, and they used their talents and intellects, yes, but first, they had to write a draft."

I’m in. Once I get through my current thicket called “the end of the semester” at two different schools—and some other thickety things—I plan to “gamify” my summer writing. And I'm looking forward to it: She writes, she scoooooores!

Here’s Cathy’s first post:

And here’s where she first explores the whole “game” theory:

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Split This Rock Call for Proposals

Split This Rock is thrilled to announce a Call for Proposals for panels, workshops, and group readings for the third Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness, scheduled for March 22-25, 2012.

Details are below and on the website here:

These participatory events have been true highlights of the first two festivals; we look forward to seeing your great ideas for 2012.


Panel Discussions, Workshops, Themed Group Readings

Deadline: JUNE 30, 2011

We are the ones we have been waiting for. -June Jordan

Split This Rock invites proposals for panel and roundtable discussions, workshops, and themed group readings for our third national poetry festival, scheduled for March 22-25, 2012, in Washington, DC.

As people's movements erupt here at home and throughout the world in response to political repression and environmental degradation, the festival will consider the relationship of poets and poetry to power and to the challenges to power. We are especially interested in proposals that address these questions.

In this vein, Split This Rock welcomes proposals that celebrate the legacy of poet-activist June Jordan, as 2012 marks the tenth anniversary of her death. Such proposals might explore, as Jordan did in her poetry, prose, and activism: the intersection of the personal and political; the overlapping experiences of race, gender, and sexuality in our society; poetic language, including the use of Black English in creative writing and education; and internationalism and the responsibility of the American poet to the struggles of the world's oppressed peoples.

We salute Jordan's pioneering community program at the University of California-Berkeley, Poetry for the People, and invite explorations of its continuing impact. As always, we are interested in hearing about innovative, collaborative, community-oriented poetry programs. Read more about June Jordan at

Developing and Submitting a Proposal

• First, decide on a topic and select the format that will be most appropriate. The Application Form includes a description of the three formats.

• Next, identify (and contact) the participants. Be sure they have agreed to participate before you include their names in your proposal.

• Finally, complete the Application Form (Microsoft Word format) and send it in. The form includes full guidelines. Please don't leave out any of the details.

Email if you have questions as you prepare your proposal.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Link Corral: Jennifer Egan's Salad Days, Tips for Submitting Your Work

Here’s a great interview with Jennifer Egan that focuses on her early days, scraping to get by in New York and struggling to write a short story that her teacher would want to hear all the way through to the end:

You don’t know what it was that made you stick it out?

I think I just realized that [writing] was the thing that made life meaningful to me. But also, when I got to New York it was so hard that I think it was a dogged sense that I just wasn’t going to accept this level of failure. I had to come back swinging, in some way.

The other thing is that I started sending work out, right away. And that, I think, was actually really good for me. I would multiple submit. Of course, this was pre-Internet, so this was all snail mail. I would send to eight or nine places at once. I kept very careful logs of where I had sent things. And as soon as something came back, I would immediately send it back out, the same day. So I would sort of convert disappointment into hope, right away. And then I would feel very hopeful about the stuff that I had sent out.


Speaking of submitting…here’s an excellent piece that offers advice about how to submit your work properly and effectively:


So your job is to help the editor by sending work that is developed, complete, thoroughly revised, and—of great importance—appropriate for the magazine.

To do that last part of your job well, you have to read the magazines.

Yes, you do.

Not long ago, within a few days, three aspiring writers stopped me (in the office, in the parking lot, and at an airport gate) to ask: “Where should I send my story which is over 20,000 words long?” “Where should I send my work where it will be accepted as fast as possible? The agent I approached about my novel says I have to have a track record.” “What magazine likes grown-up fables that are a little weird?”

They were asking for a shortcut. It’s natural to want one, when you feel small in a big unknown world, and impatient, wanting results immediately. But I said, to each: “You can’t expect to be a professional if you don’t do your own homework.”

When I was starting out, I told my questioners, I spent at least one day each month in a library, reading literary magazines and taking notes on index cards. Yes, those were ancient times. It’s easier now, but you still need to read magazines and I still advocate having a set time to do this research, keeping it apart from your writing. And then you’ll be ready to send your work out.


Speaking of “salad days,” that term came from Shakespeare’s Anthony and Cleopatra, 1606:

CLEOPATRA: My salad days,

When I was green in judgment: cold in blood,

To say as I said then! But, come, away;

Get me ink and paper:

He shall have every day a several greeting,

Or I'll unpeople Egypt.

Read more:

Monday, April 25, 2011

Me, Me, Me, Including Me in My Storytelling Debut on May 5

The blog is all about me today…

The fabulous Becky Wolsk posted a very generous interview with me on her blog:


And here are the details about my story-telling debut, if you’d like to attend:

Thursday, May 5 • 7:30pm - 9:30pm

Black Fox Lounge
1723 Connecticut Ave. NW, Lower Level
Washington, DC

Created By Story League

Doors: 7:30, Show: 8:00. $10 cash at the door. Capacity: 50. Please arrive early to assure a seat. NOTE: Black Fox Lounge now has ample seating for our crowd! No standing this time.

IT'S ALL ABOUT NUMBER 2 in our second show. Sophomore slumps, sophomoric efforts/second bests, second chances, second strikes... and you’re out? Or getting wiser by the year?

(DC Improv, Baltimore Comedy Factory, Standup NY)


(Host/Instructor/Performer: First Person Arts, Philadelphia)

(Author: Surviving Your Stupid, Stupid Decision to Go to Grad School)

(Mortified Chicago, Mortified DC, Fan-Freaking-Tastic)


(The Panda Lady)

(Actress & Screenwriter)

...and SCOTT SHUMAKER (Piano)

Produced by Cathy Alter and SM Shrake

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Guest in Progress: Abdul Ali on His First Year in an MFA Program

As a teacher of graduate writing students, I know what I want and expect from students (as I’ve stated most recently in this post: But I’m not inhuman: I often find myself wondering what the students are thinking. Not in that dry, evaluation form way, but what, really, they’re thinking as they move through the joy and angst that is a writing workshop, that is a writing program.

Naturally I couldn’t ask any of my own students to write up a guest post, as surely they’d come up with 1000 words on how perfect their teacher is—haha. But Abdul Ali is a Facebook friend who has posted from time to time about his experiences as a first year MFA student, and so I was very happy when he agreed to give us a glimpse from his spot at the workshop table.

Musings on My First Year
By Abdul Ali

Two weeks stand between me and my first completed year as a newly baptized MFA-er. I wish I could tell you that this all began long ago with me deciding on a fire escape of some New York tenement building that when I grow up I wanted to be a writer and then it all sort of happened in no particular order—a miracle of sorts—but of course most things don’t happen as miracles.

As I move into these last two weeks of classes it occurs to me that I’ll actually have some time to finally write. Ironic, you might think? Not really. I thought that I’d be writing nonstop when I started this program but the deadlines creep up on you. Those lit courses. Close readings. Re-readings. Multiple readings. Then there’s your six year old. Parent-teacher conferences. And money wires to western union to your mom. And, if you’re lucky not to have to pay for your degree, you have departmental duties. I’m an editor of a literary magazine which takes on a whole other life of its own, not to mention that it has deadlines of its own which suck away at your juice.

And if you already think I have way too much on my plate, dig this: I also fancy myself as a culture writer, so I’m constantly finding ways to submit my 850 words somewhere. It gives me goosepimples just thinking about how I love to feel my pulse and know exactly which play is opening this weekend. What artsy film I must see, which party I might get invited to. (This is my alter ego talking really.) But it’s not a crappy way to make a living: free tickets to see plays or a film. I interview really cool people, and I get a check.

But, of course, this is not what I’m supposed to be talking about. You probably want to know about the workshops. Are they really worth it? Do I take away anything from them? The answer, of course, is yes and no. There are some wonderfully talented writers in my program who make great peer readers. Their comments are most often on point. And I’m grateful for the two or three who exist in my workshops. But for the most part, the others are pedantic little shits who make gratuitously mean comments all over your pages. I remember one colleague commented on the music inside my poem, and I thought, Huh? Well, what kind of music? Are we talking Bebop, Blue grass, Country or Techno? I mean if you’re gonna be musical in your critique, why not be specific? Then there’s this other student who makes a face like she smelled spoiled cheese whenever someone reads their work. (I could go on. . .)

In the end, though, I’m not even sure if the workshops have anything to do with the writing, the journey, the real work that every writer must do to stretch oneself and discover his or her daring. Though, if given the right circumstances, a workshop can enhance one’s sensibilities and make for good writing. Something occurred to me this year, I realized: everyone is in the program for a different reason. I’m not there to become a writer. I was a writer before I applied to the program. I’m there to work on my craft and develop something that I’m proud of.

And yet, I’m reminded of a quiet lesson from the late Lucille Clifton, whom I met at a reading she gave here in the District a few years back. She whispered conspiratorially in my ear, you don’t need an MFA to write good poems. I guess I’m trying to hold on to that and take the MFA experience for what it is and not what so many make it out to be.

Two weeks stand between me and my first completed year as a newly baptized MFA-er. I wish I could tell you that this will all end with me listening to John Coltrane and stealing time away from my other writing to finish this blog post. And in so doing, I can convince some reader out there that we really can write a life that we dreamed of as children. The thing is, and I’m not sure they tell you this in your MFA program, the real work begins outside the workshop starting with the first line which leads to the next, then the next, unmediated by outside critique— except for that voice in your head.

About:  Abdul Ali is a poet and a writer living in Washington, D.C.

[Read more about the issue of whether or not to get an MFA here:]

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Jeanne Leiby, Editor of The Southern Review, Dies

From HTMLGIANT, Jeanne Leiby, 1964-2011:

Very sad news today: Jeanne Leiby, editor of The Southern Review, died in a car accident in Iberville Parish, Louisiana. The preliminary news report ( comes from Avoyelles Today. A tribute from Alex V. Cook, a writer and friend, appears at his blog:

During Leiby’s short tenure at The Southern Review, she distinguished herself for the care and kindness she offered writers. Her short piece “Why I Call,” was her most public statement on the matter:

Condolences and best wishes in this difficult time go to the Leiby family and to Jeanne’s colleagues at The Southern Review and Louisiana State University.


I didn’t personally know Ms. Leiby—though I enjoyed reading her posts on Facebook—and I loved her collection of short stories, Down River, which I wrote about here:

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Haiku and Open Mike Night: April 26

An announcement from one of my favorite local networking group for writers and readers:

WNBA-DC Celebrates National Poetry Month at Busboys & Poets

What: Haiku Program and Open Mic Night
When: Tuesday, April 26, 2011, from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Where: Busboys & Poets, 5th & K Streets Location
Cost: FREE and open to the public

The DC chapter of the Women's National Book Association will host its annual celebration of National Poetry Month on Tuesday, April 26 at Busboys and Poets at 5th & K Streets, The event, running from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m., will be held in B&P's Cullen Room-and it's free and open to the public.

This year's celebration is organized in two parts: The first is a panel discussion on the poetic form of the Haiku, and the second is open-mike. The panel, moderated by WNBA-DC president Emily Sachs, features awarding-winning poets Roberta Beary and Jonathan B. Tucker; the latter will emcee the second part of the program.

DC resident Roberta Beary is a widely published Haiku poet whose titles include Lighting a Candle (Haiku Poets of Northern California, 2010); 1st Annual BashoHaiku Challenge (Modest Proposal Chapbooks, 2009); and Nothing Left to Say (King's Road Press,2009). Anthologies in which her poetry appears include Take Five: Best Contemporary Tanka Vol.2 (Modern English Tanka Press, 2010) and The Sound of Poets Cooking (Jacar Press, 2010). Ms. Beary has received numerous literary awards and considerable recognition, including as a Finalist in the William Carlos Williams Poetry Book Award of the Poetry Society of America (2008) and as the Winner of the Snapshot Press Book Award (2006). She has won the Kanterman Merit BookAward of the Haiku Society of America for three consecutive years (2007-2009). To learn more about Ms. Beary, visit

Jonathan B. Tucker loves poetry and working with youth. A passionate advocate for both, he hosts a weekly open mike at Bloombars in Columbia Heights and teaches Spoken Word in the DC. and Baltimore School Systems. Mr. Tucker has represented DC at the National Poetry Slam for last two years, and is a member of the Busboys & Poets 11th Hour Slam Team. His literary credits include anthology contributions to Amistad Journal (Howard University Press, 2010). To find out more about Mr. Tucker, visit

For more information on the event, or to sign up for the open mike, visit or

The Women's National Book Association is a national organization of women and men who work with and value books. A non-profit 501(c)3 organization, WNBA exists to promote reading and to support the role of women in the Community of the Book. WNBA educates and informs the public about the need to create, produce, distribute, and use books. We serve as a catalyst for all in the book community who wish to work together, and promote recognition of women's achievements in the book industry. For information on membership, visit

Monday, April 18, 2011

Conversations and Connections: Wrap-Up

Saturday’s Conversations and Connections conference was as wonderful as ever. Here are a few highlights, from my observations and from my wanderings around. (Direct quotations are gleaned from my sloppily scribbled notes, and I’m not a stenographer [look it up, kids!], so I apologize in advance if there are any errors.)

I attended a panel discussion about social media, and I liked Deborah Ager’s comparison to a cocktail party, as in, you wouldn’t walk into a cocktail party and loudly announce, “Buy my book!” Nor would you spend the whole party talking only about yourself (well…I may have met that person once or twice). The point is, social media should be used to build relationships, not just yammer on about yourself and your new book. Matt Bell talked about growing a literary life and using his Facebook community as the office “water cooler.”

Someone asked if blogs are dying off, and the panel talked about how a blog is a different form that can add seriousness and substance to the conversation. The life span of a tweet is about “two seconds,” whereas a blog post can exist in the world for pretty much all eternity. (Whew….)  Do what works for you, too: if you enjoy Facebook, do that.  If you want to blog, do that.  You don't have to do something you don't enjoy or aren't good at.

In the end, my takeaway was this: Those hours on Facebook are actually HARD WORK and USEFUL, not wasted time.

I moderated the panel of debut writers, and each of them—Dylan Landis, Robin Black, Eric D. Goodman, and Janice Shapiro—had many smart and inspiring things to say about the journey that led them to that first published book. Robin Black—whose story collection if I loved you, I would tell you this, was published by Random House, when the standard take is that no big publishing houses want to publish short story collections—made an excellent point about not letting editors and agents reject you because you assume they will and so you don’t send them your work. Let them decide, not you. Robin Black also talked about how her standard for knowing when her work is complete is when “I can point to any page, and to any word and piece of punctuation and can say exactly why it’s there.” There were humbling tales of years spent writing, of false starts, of dashed expectations…as well as the simple agreement that one of the most surprising things about having this first book out was, well, how absolutely GREAT it felt! I sort of wished I were in the audience for this one so I could have scribbled more notes for myself.

Keynote speaker Steve Almond was also inspiring and honest and hilarious. The theme of his speech was “set the bar lower,” by which he meant that writers need to be flexible in this changing world and flexible to the ways of the muse. Don’t lower your standards, but as he noted, “most of writing resides in outlasting your own self-doubt.”

He advocated writing about the stuff that “gets stuck in your craw” and advised trusting your subconscious. He riffed on the personality of the writer, who is forced to face unbearable truths in the act of creating the story…yet is drawn to that act, and compared writers to “sperm donors” in the way they go about their business alone in a quiet little room and then send their work out into the world, never knowing where it may take root. And, perhaps my favorite phrase of all, he described writers as each living in our own “little opera of self-doubt.” (My husband laughed knowingly at that one!)

Then I went to an interesting craft lecture by Matt Bell on the power of repetition. Awesome handouts (not that I would ever, ever use someone else’s handouts in a future class myself!), and a great exercise that for sure I will steal: we wrote for a few moments about a remembered experience, and then we took one tiny—tiny!—moment from that, and stayed writing for eight minutes with that tiny moment, using repetition for effect. I was dubious (i.e. nervous) because what I had to work with was the bow on a little girl’s party dress—!!—but I was pleased with what I got to and the effect of the repeating words and images…and I found my way to something I never would have found otherwise.

So, next year when I say that this is one of DC’s best one-day conferences and that you really should go…well, I really, really, REALLY mean it.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Work in Progress: Commas, Do They, Matter?

I’ve been rather obsessed with commas this semester of teaching. Across the board, I’ve been finding a lack of knowledge about some basic rules. I’m always lenient in terms of stylistic deviations and the assumption that everyone will make a few errors in a piece that was most likely pulled off the printer shortly before it was due, but there are far too many situations where it’s clear that, simply put, the graduate student writer didn’t know the rule that he/she was breaking. As T.S. Eliot said, “It's not wise to violate rules until you know how to observe them.” (I love the restraint of that, “wise,” as I might choose a more pointed word: “disastrous.”)

So I’ve been ranting. I’ve copied pages of grammar handbooks. I did an in-class exercise. My circles on the page get bigger and bigger and bigger—I slash “incorrect!” across the offending comma. The error that seems to be the most prevalent and that I’ve chosen to focus on is the comma splice, most commonly occurring during the lack of a coordinating conjunction between main clauses, or the improper addition of a comma when the second main clause isn’t, well, a main clause (my grammar book calls that a “linking parts of a compound predicate,” but that sounds scary).


The dog ran into the house, the cat ran into the yard. INCORRECT!
The dog ran into the house, and the cat ran into the yard. SMILEY FACE
The dog ran into the house, and ran through the kitchen. INCORRECT!
The dog ran into the house, and it ran through the kitchen. SMILEY FACE
The dog ran into the house and ran through the kitchen. SMILEY FACE

It’s heartening to see that the students agree: they take my rants in good humor and sincerely want to know more about proper usage. There’s been genuine interest in an afternoon grammar refresher course. I agree that it’s daunting to think about reading a grammar book (I could barely even type “compound predicate” without yawning). I admit to learning what I know—remember, I’m certainly not a copy-editor—when I taught freshman comp the first time, one testbook chapter ahead of the students. But we’re writers: how can we be good writers if we don’t even know and understand the tools we have at our disposal? It’s like a handyman/woman who doesn’t know the difference between a Philips screwdriver and the other kind. (Ha—see? Would you hire me to build your bookshelf?)

Part of the problem as I see it is at the graduate student level, I shouldn’t find myself focusing on copy-editing (or teaching rules of comp). There’s only so much energy I can devote to a manuscript, and I don’t want to spend this so-called wisdom of mine on commas…I’m assuming people would rather know my opinion of the death at the ending or whether the characters jump alive.

So, then…don’t focus on that. Let the errors stand. And the problem with that is that at a certain point, the errors become so distracting that I literally can’t read the material. Literally.  So that leads me to wonder, who’s more patient, sweet teacher me, or distracted literary journal editor with a stack of manuscripts to read? Yikes.

Confession: I’ve never been one to worry about understanding HOW or WHY some system is, the story behind the rules. In math, all I wanted to know was the rules I needed to follow to get the correct answer. In grammar, just tell me how it works and let me memorize it. I don’t like words like “compound predicate.”

So for me, this rant is not about exploring the joys of grammar. It’s about learning a few simple, basic rules so that they become second nature, so you don’t need to think about them. And why do this? Again, a simple answer:

A few years ago, I was chatting with an editor from The Gettysburg Review, one of my favorite literary journals, and—in the throes of a crises about a lack of proof-reading in my students’ work—I asked him if he really, truly would stop reading if he saw typos and/or errors. The immediate, “Yes,” was so casual yet forceful that even though that was the answer I was expecting and even wanted, I was still shocked at his cavalier attitude, so I pushed harder: “Really? I mean, just one thing? Aren’t you afraid you might miss something good?” He said, “Leslie, I read 8,000 manuscripts a year. It’s really not that big of a deal.”

Don’t give them an easy reason to say no!

And don’t even get me started on hyphens. That’s a battle for another semester.

You can read another editor’s thoughts about usage here:

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

New Issue of Beltway

Here’s an announcement from Beltway, the fabulous online poetry quarterly edited by Kim Roberts:

The Spring 2011 issue is now available for free online, featuring seven exciting and diverse voices from Washington, DC:

Announcing Volume 12.2: Featuring the poems of Donna Denize, Julie R. Enszer, Charles Jensen, Gowri Koneswaran, Yvette Neisser Moreno, Gregory Pardlo, and stevenallenmay.

There is lots of good stuff here, but I confess that as the daughter of a chemistry professor, I was particularly drawn to “My Name Is Ethyl,” by Julie R. Enszer, in which the father wants to name his daughters “Ethyl, Methyl, and Propyl”:

Although when I was younger
I wanted to be my sister, heir to the name
Propyl, I imagined us calling
her Iso for short and my other sister Di,
but the joke would have been
only in our family—it would never
have translated to the hard-scrabble
streets of Saginaw—for that reason
and many others, my mother resisted
my father’s chemical compounds…

Chemistry and Ethel the rest here (scroll down):

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Effective Shameless Self-Promotion

Here’s a Facebook message from poet M.A. Schaffner about a local reading that sounds incredibly interesting. I also like that his announcement, which shows that “shameless self-promotion” can come off nicely:

Dear Friends,

Back in the nineties Jim Henley, Sunil Freeman, and I got invited to read what we called "poems" at the Takoma Park library. Rather than stand up and do twenty minutes each, we decided to sit around and play off each other's work, sort of like musicians. Inspired (if you can call it that) by Robert Bly, we decided to call ourselves "Men Without Drums."

It all took off from there. Some of you may remember the sonnet "Smoke My Cicada" topping the poetry charts in mid-decade, or the packed houses at RFK stadium. Then came the world tours with Aerosmith and Sting, mansions, groupies, ten foot spliffs lit with Woodrow Wilson gold certificates, blizzards of cocaine.

It couldn't last, of course. We started repeating ourselves, first writing villanelles, then pantoums because they were only half the work. We went into rehab programs that forced us to concentrate on prose. I went to work in a budget office.

But now we're back -- Wednesday, April 20, 7:30-8:30 p.m. at the Tenly Library in DC (right by the Tenlytown Metro station).

It's free and you're invited. Please come on by and pass this on to anyone else you think might be interested. Thanks!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Ulysses: Can't Read It, Can't Not Read It

Ha—an article* in Slate by Ron Rosenbaum almost made me want to re-read Ulysses. Note that I carefully said RE-read…yes, I took a class in college that would force me to read the book. I’m not sure what, exactly, I remember of it, but I am pleased that for the rest of my life I’m able to nod in a superior sort of way and say, “Oh, yes, Ulysses. I read that.” I was kind of hardcore about it, too: on my own, I read The Odyssey the summer before the class. Oh, I kind of miss that English major intensity sometimes….

Anyway, Rosenbaum also uses his essay about Joyce’s “catechism chapter” to talk about the Q & A format as a possible narrative device, which was quite interesting.

“Is there more to it, your interest in the catechism narrative method?
Well, to be honest I've only recently become fascinated by the catechism chapter and the way it uses Q&A as a narrative and meditative technique. But I love the way the form can both move things forward and also allow them to pause. To be endowed with unexpected and often surprising depth, detail, and dimensionality through the use of the interrogative (sometimes the interrogation) mode.”

*The whole article can be found here:

Here’s a site that promises links to major Bloomsday events in New York City and around the world:

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Work in Progress: My First

It’s National Poetry Month. First, why April, which, as the poet says, “is the cruelest month”? The answer from the Academy of American Poets is vague (IMHO), sort of implying that all the good months were already taken:

Why was April chosen for National Poetry Month? In coordination with poets, booksellers, librarians, and teachers, the Academy chose a month when poetry could be celebrated with the highest level of participation. Inspired by the successful celebrations of Black History Month (February) and Women's History Month (March), and on the advice of teachers and librarians, April seemed the best time within the year to turn attention toward the art of poetry—in an ultimate effort to encourage poetry readership year-round.” (from )

But moving on—April, October, whatever. Giving poetry 30 days (jeez, why not choose a 31-day month since the whole thing was random?) seems like a small reward given its role in the grand scheme of life, art, and beauty.

In honor of National Poetry Month, here is the first poem I distinctly remember reading. You can probably guess that I was awfully young, and how lovely to have been introduced to the joy of language at such an early age. The battered green hardcover—When I Was Six—is still floating around my parents’ house, and, honestly, just now I was able to recite this without peeking.

The End
By A.A. Milne

When I was One,
I had just begun.
When I was Two,
I was nearly new.
When I was Three
I was hardly me.
When I was Four,
I was not much more.
When I was Five,
I was just alive.
But now I am Six,
I'm as clever as clever,
So I think I'll be six now for ever and ever.

A.A. Milne is, of course, more famous for writing the beloved children’s classics, Winnie the Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner. (Sounding now like a hoarder, I still have my battered red hardcovers; the paper is worn as pliable as fabric). For fun, here’s a picture of the orginal Edward Bear and friends, living now at the New York Public Library, which doesn’t sound quite as pleasant as the 100-Acre Wood (though the Library is quick to assure us otherwise):

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Outside My Comfort Zone

Only the most devoted, most compulsive readers of this blog will remember this post* from last autumn, in which I wrote the following:

“I’ve recently become involved in something that involves words—so that seems comfortable and familiar—but this activity uses words in a very different way than I’m used to (no, not competitive Scrabble), and in a way that’s interestingly uncomfortable for me. Sorry to seem so secretive, but it’s all so new and seems fragile—like the way I feel when I’m thinking about a new novel idea, as if one wrong comment might bring the whole structure down. So I’m keeping this to myself a little longer.”

Time for the dramatic reveal, which also includes an invitation: I will be performing in the second show of DC’S newest, finest story-telling group, Story League. (If you’re unfamiliar with modern story-telling as an art, think This American Life [ ] as heard on NPR or The Moth in New York City []. Story-telling today is kind of an exhilarating cross between performance art, creative non-fiction, and stand-up comedy.)

Yes, I’m nervous…no notes allowed! A dark bar filled with people holding easily-thrown drinks! Stories that are ALL TRUE—no fiction allowed! Actually, it sounds more comfortable to stand at naked at a mic on a bad hair day.

But I’m also thrilled. Watch for more details in the weeks to come, but for sure the date is Thursday, May 5, with the venue likely being a bar somewhere in Dupont Circle, with tickets in the ten bucks range. I went to the first show, and it was incredible.  So please do think about coming by.

Okay, I’ve written it on my blog. It’s for real!

Here’s a great article about Story League and the founders, S.M. Shrake and Cathy Alter:

*Read the rest of this post here:

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Interview with Dylan Landis

I’ll be moderating a panel about debut writers at the Conversations & Connections conference in DC on Saturday, April 16. To entice you, here’s an excerpt of an interview with one of the panelists, Dylan Landis, whose Normal People Don’t Live Like This is an incredible novel-in-stories:

What do you hope attendees bring away from the panel discussion?

"Concrete and useful stuff, because we’ll tell you everything we did and learned.

"But hopefully people will touch base with something interior that keeps them writing through the dark periods. I’d like to quote Sugar*, advice columnist for The Rumpus, who writes: Don’t conflate the book with the book deal. “They are two separate things. The one you are in charge of is the book…Your cause is to write a great book and then to write another great book and to keep writing them for as long as you can. That is your only cause. It is not to get a six figure book deal.”

"That’s the flag I wave, the Sugar flag. Are you writing from the places that make you shake, as the screenwriter Gil Dennis puts it? Are you staying in scene? Are you reading good books and taking them apart? Are you revising again and again?"

Read the rest of the interview here:

Details/registration information about the conference here:

*And be sure to read this, the Dear Sugar column that Dylan alludes to:

Good News for Guest Blogger Julie Wakeman-Linn

Here’s a nice bit of follow-up news from recent guest blogger Julie Wakeman-Linn, who posted about her experiences moving to Tanzania, across the world from her regular writing life:

"My first "Indian Ocean" acceptance came in last week. My zany magical realism story "Fire and Ice" will be out in Danse Macabre in May. The email popped up when in the middle of a mood about laundry and the housekeeper. Instead of complaining, I did a happy dance, the laundry complaint completely forgotten. Now, I must really discipline myself to start and also to finish more work."

If you missed Julie’s fabulous post, you can find it here:

Monday, April 4, 2011

You Heard It Here First: A Scoop!

I went to the (fabulous!) PEN/Faulkner reading on Friday: Dorothy Allison (author of Bastard Out of Carolina) read from a work in progress, and Ron Rash read the opening story of his new collection Burning Bright. Both were accomplished readers, and the stories were riveting and suspenseful. Plus, kudos always to anyone who reads from work in progress.

Topping off a great evening, I found out a bit of a scoop about next year’s line-up of readers…okay, there should probably be about a thousand warnings of “nothing’s final until it’s printed on a brochure or something,” but among the PEN/Faulkner visitors next year are:

Gary Shteyngart
EMMA DONOGHUE!!!!!! I can’t tell you how thrilled I am! ROOM was one of my favorite books last year, and I’d love to see her read from it. I would like to say that I’d love to chat with her, but I fear I would just stand there slack-jawed in admiration.

Learn more about PEN/Faulkner here:

I’ve written previously about ROOM here:

On meeting someone who came upon the book at random:

On reading the book:

On getting an email from Emma Donoghue after sending her a fan note:

On my favorite books of last year:

Stalking? Not me!


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