Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Read Ms. for a NYC Literary Agency

Okay, no money involved, but this would be a great experience for the right person, reading kids’ books for a New York literary agency…and you don’t even have to live in New York!

From the blog at the Bent Agency’s website:

Friday, August 19, 2011
We're looking for an intern who loves to read books for children, especially young adult and middle grade, and is interested in picture books as well. If you’re a fan of books by MT Anderson, Mary Pearson, Nancy Farmer, Gennifer Choldenko, or Jack Gantos your tastes will likely be a good fit for ours. This internship is remote so you don’t need to live in NYC.

Send us an e-mail to Tell us why you want the internship and something about yourself, or include a resume if you have one (but it's not necessary). Include two lists: the last ten books you read and your ten favorite books of all time. We ask for a ten hour a week commitment at the minimum.

We usually get a great many applicants and the application period will close fairly quickly: watch this space and twitter (@susanhawk) for details.

(For more information about the Bent Agency:

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

DC Writing/Teaching Residency for Poets

Hey, poets—come to DC for a year with this teaching/writing residency:

For appointment beginning in the fall of 2012, we seek a poet to teach two semesters at the George Washington University as the Jenny McKean Moore Writer-in-Washington. Information on the position and instructions for applying may be viewed online at the following Web sites: Associated Writing Programs ( and the English Department at The George Washington University ( Only complete applications will be considered. Review of applications will begin on October 1, 2011. The deadline for applying is November 1, 2011. Applications received after the deadline will not be considered. The George Washington University is an Equal Opportunity/ Affirmative Action Employer.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Richard Goodman's Beautiful New Book

Richard Goodman—who has written several pieces for this blog—reports that The New York Times wrote a lovely column about his newest book, The Bicycle Diaries: One New Yorker’s Journey Through 9/11, a hand-crafted, limited edition book about the aftermath of 9/11, when Richard rode his bike daily from the Upper West Side to Ground Zero and wrote about his observations.

Here’s Richard Goodman writing at this blog on:
A Day in the Life of a Writer (not for the faint-hearted!)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Work in Progress: Can You Tell a Student Not to Write About That?

I have a question that I’ve been pondering—and I’ve been pondering this for a long time, so if you’re a current student of mine, please don’t freak out and imagine that I’m talking specifically about you and your work.

My question is:  Can—should—I as a teacher tell a student not to write about a certain topic?

I don’t mean out of a fear that a topic is taboo in society (ha, if anything is anymore) or because I personally don’t care for stories about family vacations.  I also don’t mean the blanket statements that you find on the syllabi of many beleaguered undergrad creative writing teachers:  “No vampires, no ghosts, no gnomes, no protagonist suicides to end the story.”

There are several different times that trigger this question in my mind. First would be a story that (I’m guessing, but I know it’s a good guess) is very close personally to the student’s life in some way, but that’s a topic that is terribly overdone and hard to make fresh:  an adult thinking back on his parents’ divorce, say, or two sisters cleaning out the house of their dead mother and discovering a so-called life-changing secret.  Obviously there are always ways to make these stories interesting, but the student isn’t finding those ways (despite my excellent teaching skills!).  Or maybe the student is a good writer—the skill is there—but the story itself is just plain dull.  And is there a difference if by “story” what I mean is “novel-in-progress”?  It’s one thing to work for several weeks on a twenty-page trite story, but a far different picture if the student is setting forth on a years-long journey to complete a trite novel.

On the other hand…do I really know with absolute certainty that this book will “never” get published?  Is that the only goal for a writer?  (Most students state that this IS their goal, of course.)  I wrote some novels that didn’t get published and learned quite a bit about writing from the experience.  Wasn’t that enough?  What would I have done if someone told me the stories were trite?  Honestly, I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the exact flaw of these particular works, but someone surely could have pointed out many other gigantic flaws during the process.  Would I have listened?  Would I have wanted to hear that?  Would that have been helpful?

In these situations, I often focus my teacher comments on ways to deepen the story and find more complexity, look at the hard parts of the story the writer is leaving unmined.  When the story is too personal, that approach can be a problem, as the student writer may not want to discover (via a writing workshop) that, OMG, my relationship with my father is more challenged than I realized!  They like their simplistic story as is, because that’s the story in their head.  In real life that’s fine(ish), but not on the page.  Is it my job to assist a student toward writing a dull, simple novel that (I know) will never be published?  Is that a good day at the office for me?  If so, shouldn’t I be drinking more?

Another tricky time that makes me wonder about whether I should tell a student to choose another topic is when the student is turning in competent stories about, oh, married couples in Washington, D.C., but I happen to know that in real life this person has an amazing past of some sort that would provide material that I, as a writer, would KILL to have access to.  When I mention this interesting other stuff they might write about, there’s usually a response along the lines of, “Oh, I don’t think so,” and sometimes, “I would never write about that,” and then the full stop:  “Not while my mother is still alive.”  I always murmur some sort of encouraging something and say, “Maybe someday you’ll be ready for that” and reiterate that I, personally, think that stuff would make an AMAZING book or story, and we go back to the competent stories.  While I harbor hope that someday they’ll be ready and that I’ve planted a seed, I’m still sort of sad watching them struggle away, mired in competency, when they could soar.

And what about the student who isn’t a very skilled writer (yet) who is determined to tackle a giant subject—sometimes personal—that he/she just isn’t able to handle right now?  I long to say, “Can’t you practice writing on a smaller canvas for a little while?  You’re not Tolstoy.”  On the other hand, none of us are, and what’s the harm?  I think a lot about this one while I’m writing up critiques that focus on first level things—commas, details, characterization—when on a smaller canvas, this same poor writer could also start learning from me about bigger issues like structure and conflict that would better serve the writer-in-training.

Our culture is so bound and determined not to harbor any quitters…is this why students feel that need to plow through these novels that aren’t working?   Is there no way to bow gracefully and admit defeat?  To step back and gather new resources before returning into the fray?  To pause, instead of constantly plow forward?  And yet, I’ve said it to classes a thousand times:  Writing a novel is a marathon…sometimes you don’t feel like writing, but you just have to…persistence will triumph over raw talent.  Blah, blah, blah.  I know I even use the word “plow.”  Often.

I remember meeting a very accomplished writer who told me about a time in her MFA days when she had been struggling for months on a novel, bringing in chapters to workshop, and finally her instructor spoke with her privately and said, “You know, you just shouldn’t be writing that.  It’s not a novel.” 

“Wow,” I said.  “That must have been hard to hear.”

The accomplished writer said, “Actually, it was very useful to hear.  I stopped writing that novel and wrote something else instead.”

Could it be that simple?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Everyone Talks About It, But No One Does Anything About It

The weather.  How interesting to come across not one, but two calls for submissions about weather-related work:

SOU’WESTER, a literary journal founded in 1960 and housed at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, will be devoting our next special issue (Spring 2012) to the weather. Weather is quite a celebrity, after all—grabbing the headlines when it’s feeling particularly unruly or whimsical. Weather has its own TV station and its own In the Midwest we talk about the weather with noteworthy frequency and ardor. Yet some days, the weather is diffident, serving as little more than a decorative (or not) backdrop of banal clouds and sky. But it is always there.

As editors, we anticipate seeing different sorts of weather portrayed (bucolic spring days, dark and stormy nights, etc.). But we’re hoping for variety in the broadest sense. That is, we hope to be surprised by the many ways (subtle to profound) in which  weather has informed, inspired, or rained on your poetry, prose, and uncategorizable written works.

Our general submission guidelines apply. Please limit your submission to a maximum of five poems or one prose piece at a time (under 8,000 words preferably). We will also consider a suite of two or three flash fictions.

We will read for the Weather issue until it is filled. Please check our website for updates. We are also still accepting general submissions for the Fall 2011 issue; we expect to close this reading period sometime in October. Again, please check for updates before submitting.

SOU’WESTER only accepts submissions through our online submission manager. When you submit, please identify whether the submission is for the Fall general issue or the Spring special issue on weather.

Details and info:


Birmingham Arts
CALL FOR WORKS:  storm-related poems, stories & art to be published in the April 2012 "Storm" issue of Birmingham Arts Journal.

The editors will consider work inspired by ANY storm in ANY location (geographic, emotional or otherwise).  This is the first themed edition in our ten year history!

Submit WORD documents as 1) attachments or 2) within the body of the email to: <editor(at)> (replace (at) with @ in sending e-mail)

FICTION & NON-FICTION: up to 1,000 words. Excerpts and quotes of fewer than 1,000 words from longer works are published, too.

POETRY: All types  up to 50 lines. Shorter works preferred.

ARTWORK & PHOTOGRAPHY: 300 dpi or higher digital files (.jpg or .tif) of artwork.
Submit via email or on disk.

NOTE: Please include a biography (3rd person) of 50 words or less with your submission.

Payment: one copy of the issue in which the accepted submission appears.

FOR ALL WORKS: Birmingham Arts Journal has readers young and old, from all walks of life. For this reason, works containing strong profanity, explicit sex, gratuitous violence, and overtly religious or political material will not be accepted. No simultaneous submissions, please.

Details and info:

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Amy Hempel on Sentimentality and When a Story is "Done"

The recent double issue of Folio has a great interview with Amy Hempel, short story writer and author of one of my favorite short stories, “In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried.”  I couldn’t find the interview online, so I typed this with my own fingers:

FOLIO:  Can you expand on your “fear of sentimentality”? What is it that scares you? How do you define sentimentality? Conversely, how do you tune in to those tremors of emotional resonance, that humanity, without straying into excess?

AH: I think that sentimentality is usually defined as unearned emotion, and I see it as pleading—pleading for the reader to feel something without actually making them feel it.  Just the word “little” is sometimes enough to make me grit my teeth:  “The little boy was lost,” for example.  I’d rather see “The boy was lost.”  I’ve heard people say, “Cut it in half,” when you’re getting into dicey territory, right on the edge of sentimentality.  Also, if I fear I’m getting close to something like that, I make an extra effort to avoid saying what a character feels, and focus instead on what that character is doing or observing.

FOLIO:  How do you decide or know when a story is “complete”?....

AH: I know when a story is finished when there is not a single thing more I can think to do to it.  And since I know at the start what the last line will be, I know when I’ve reached that point as logically as I can that it’s finished.  As for the rewriting—it’s not foolproof, of course, but if you’re honest about having thought of every possibility and you still come back to what you have, what more can you do? …

FOLIO:  It is sort of terrifying, as a young writer, to read “In the Cemetery…”  What do you say to your students as they struggle forward?

AH:  You have to look at what is most compelling to you for a story, instead of trying to second-guess the “marketplace.”  It’s too hard to do it any other way.  You’d be wasting your time.  What is the thing that only you can say?  Or that only you can say in that particular way?—that’s a better question.  Presumably no one is standing over you and ordering you to write a short story, so the desire/compulsion comes from within.  It’s better to attempt something that matters to you than complete something that is, as Sam Michel once memorably said, “just another made-up thing.”


By the way, way back in my ancient life, I was one of the founding editors of Folio—scrounging money to pay the printing bills, correcting copy and fighting with my co-editor over commas, posting flyers begging for submissions.  I’m so pleased to see that the tradition is still being carried on all these years later.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Link Corral: How to Structure Your Novel & KHN Residency App Deadline

Well, maybe this isn’t the magic elixir that will provide insta-structure to your novel (or story), but the formula in this post from Buzz, Balls & Hype is based on the techniques behind  improv, and it’s pretty interesting:

“This formula was useful for creating the simplified story lines needed for improv; but great, original narratives can’t be squeezed into a 10-point outline, right?”

Read on, and see what happened. 


From my friends at the wonderful KHN Center for the Arts in Nebraska, where I spent a fabulous two weeks writing, learning about red beer, and pondering the pioneers who once passed through this gateway to the west:

Only a few more days to submit your residency application to the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts! You have until midnight on Thursday, September 1 to submit your materials through our online portal.

We will award approximately 30 residencies to visual artists, writers, composers and interdisciplinary artists from across the country and around the world in the first half of 2012. Some will stay for only two weeks while others will stay up to eight enjoying uninterrupted time for work, reflection and creative growth. We provide comfortable living accommodations, ample private work space for all disciplines, and a generous weekly stipend during your stay in the beautiful Missouri River town of Nebraska City, Nebraska. We hope you'll consider applying to be a part of our community!

Wondering if we are a good fit for your creative process? View our
online photo gallery featuring views of our facility or read what recent residents have had to say about their time at KHN.

For full details about our program and application guidelines,
visit our website.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Work in Progress: My Favorite Magazines

If it’s not a rule of life, it should be:  When you don’t know what to do, write a list.  So, here’s a list of magazines I love to read (in random order):

--The New Yorker.  I’ve been reading this magazine on and off (mostly on) since college.  I am often irritated by the novel chapters posing as short stories and by the imbalance of male vs. female writers.  Sometimes their articles go on TOO DAMN LONG.  I thought the cartoon contest was pandering (though now I love it).  The humor columns are rarely humorous.  And yet.  I can’t imagine my life without this magazine.  I imagine I’ll subscribe until the day I die.

--The Sun.  I’ve extolled the virtues of this literary magazine a zillion times, but just as a refresher:  I admire the moral fortitude and commitment that come together to produce  an ad-free monthly magazine for all these years.  I love the photographs.  I love that something always makes me cry, and usually more than one piece.  I love the Sunbeams, the letters to the editor where someone is always asking to cancel their subscription and someone else is noting how they can’t live without The Sun in their mailbox.  I love the personal and honest musings of the editor, Sy Safransky.   I love most of all “Readers Write,” filled with true, brave, inspiring, and sad stories from across the spectrum of humanity.

--Poets & Writers.  Another one I’ve been reading since forever.  Early on, this was the magazine that most made me feel like a “real” writer.

--Vogue.  I grew up with my mother glued to this magazine, and while it sometimes depresses me (everyone is so damn THIN and so damn GORGEOUS), I also find much beauty in an artfully arranged outfit, a well-designed accessory.  I’m happy to live in a world where sometimes something being pretty is achievement enough.

--Vanity Fair.  Actually, this is my husband’s magazine, but I always steal it so I can read the inevitable Kennedy/royals/rich people behaving badly article that’s a guilty pleasure.

--The Gettysburg Review.  I switch off among a number of different literary journals, but this one is a constant presence.  It’s handsomely designed, and I find that I equally admire the fiction, essays, and poetry.

--Washingtonian.  This is a great source for restaurant news in the DC area.  Not a magazine to read before dinner when you’re starving after a light lunch!

--The Writer’s Chronicle.  Published by AWP, another writing magazine.  The craft articles and interviews are top-notch.  I’ve picked up many tips to help my own work and stolen many techniques and ideas for the classroom.  Apparently the next issue will feature a new design…I’m eager to see it, as I’ve long despised the awkward, oversize tabloid format.

--Martha Stewart Living.  I’m not reading this one at present, but I’ll be back.  I think Vogue has replaced it for the time being, because what I love most about MS Living is how stunningly beautiful everything is.  If I could live in a magazine, this is the one I would choose.  I especially admire the articles about “collections,” and the full page pictures of, say, interesting toothpick holders from the 1960s or Depression era handkerchiefs.

--Gourmet.  I can’t let this go.  I cried when this magazine was abruptly folded in 2009. I’ve been through many other food magazines, and not one has produced reliably and consistently excellent recipes that work for me.  Cook’s Illustrated is the next-best in terms of good recipes, but it seems more limited and just a little too black-and-white.  I miss the photos in Gourmet.  What I especially miss is the Gourmet of the 1990s, before they obsessed about writing articles about organic farmers, the politics of food, and such, when there were just pages and pages of wonderful food, alternating with pages and pages of pictures of exotic locations where you could find different wonderful food.

I’m probably forgetting something that will arrive in the mail this afternoon.  Perhaps this is what I love most of all about magazines—and that the internet will not replace for me—that excitement of a magazine showing up at your house, and that growing urgency you feel as you stare at the cover—pondering all the promise of what’s inside—and you think, “I’ve got to read this right NOW.”

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

My Writer's Center Classes

Time to start thinking about classes…the Writer’s Center schedule looks especially good this fall, and I’m not just saying that because I’m teaching two classes.  But since it came up in conversation, I am:

Flex Your Creative Muscles: A 1 Day Workshop 
Time: 10:00 A.M.-4:00 P.M.
Dates: 10/22/2011
Location: Bethesda
Level: All Levels
Genre(s): Mixed Genre

Spend the afternoon doing a series of intensive, guided exercises designed to shake up your brain and get your creative subconscious working for you. You can come with a project already in mind and focus your work toward a deeper understanding of that—or you can come as a blank slate (that will quickly fill up!). Fiction writers and memoirists of all levels are welcome. Please bring lots of paper and pen/pencil or a computer with a fully charged battery. (1 hour lunch break)


The First Pages: What Makes a Good Beginning 

Time: 7:00-10:00 P.M.
Dates: 11/1/2011
Location: Bethesda
Level: All Levels
Genre(s): Fiction

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 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 15 copies of the first two pages of one of their stories/novels/essays/memoirs for some hands-on advice.

Registration and a list of all the other great workshops can be found here 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Drum Literary Magazine: An Audio Journal

As summer comes to a close, many literary journals will be opening up again for submissions, and writers everywhere will be sending out those envelopes (or .rtf files) with high hopes.  I’ve been looking for some interesting new markets and came across the Drum Literary Magazine, which publishes short fiction, essays, novel excerpts, and interviews exclusively in audio form. You don't read The Drum. You listen to it. The Drum is your source for Literature Out Loud.”

Here are the general guidelines (check the website for more details):
“The Drum is looking for work that pays close attention to language while never losing sight of the narrative drive. We want stories that really do tell a story. And essays that engage in the complexity of an idea.

“We publish essays under 10,000 words in length, and fiction in a wide range of lengths: short-shorts (under 2,000 words), short stories (under 10,000), and novel excerpts (generally up to 50 pages; we may choose to publish novel excerpts in two segments). We want to accommodate our writers, and we're sure our readers will appreciate the variety.

“If we accept your work, we will be in touch about how to arrange a recording. Make sure that your name, your contact info, and the title of the work appear on each page of the manuscript. Present the manuscript with standard margins and type.”

You can listen online, download stories, and/or get a subscription:

More info here.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Fiction Writing Mentorships Available with Kyle Minor

Write with an expert at your side! This is a great opportunity for a writer who is weary of workshops and classes but who may not yet want the full commitment of a low-res MFA program:

Ten-Week Fiction Writing Mentorship

Kyle Minor, author of In the Devil's Territory, will be offering a limited number of Fiction Writing mentorships this fall. $1000 for ten weeks, including a weekly half-hour phone call and five written manuscript consultations.

Minor's work appears widely in literary magazines including The Southern Review, The Gettysburg Review, and Gulf Coast, and in anthologies published by Random House, HarperPerennial, and Harcourt Houghton Mifflin. He has six years experience in private manuscript consultation and in teaching at Ohio State, Capital, and Antioch Universities, and the University of Toledo. His students have placed work in major literary journals including Ploughshares and the Missouri Review, and have gained admission to MFA programs including Virginia Tech, Ohio State, and the New School.

Applicants should email a ten-page writing sample and a brief letter of interest to

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Work in Progress: 10(ish) Favorite Novels about Teens/Children

On a recent thread on Facebook, someone noted that in the growing absence of book reviews in popular culture that blogs have become a good source of information about books.  While a blog is different than, say, a (supposedly) unbiased review in a newspaper, I do enjoy following blogs and learning about books I might not come across.  So, because I happen to have recently read an excellent book narrated by a young girl (see below), here’s a quick list of my favorite novels about young people. 

There are a few old chestnuts here, but I was trying to go for choices less obvious than the very obvious To Kill a Mockingbird and for books that are not technically considered pure YA/children’s lit (with one exception that absolutely must be on this list).  I’ll also exclude Harry Potter on the assumption that you might have heard of him already.

I’m sure I’m forgetting something—sorry!—and I’m sure this list might be different if I compiled it next week or next month.  So consider it a snapshot in time and thought.  Random order, except for numbers one and ten.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.  I’ve loved this book unreservedly from day one when I first read it as a disgruntled teenager, and from that famous first line.  Yes, Holden is whiny and perhaps precious.  I don’t care.  You must be some kind of phony if you can’t find charm in this book, even now, years and a lifetime removed from that initial reading!

Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons.  Ellen’s spunky ways are never cloying and (almost) always impressive in this tour de force of voice set in the south in the early 1970’s.  If you’re trying to write a first person narrator of any age, you must read and study this book, though it will make you despair of even coming close in your own work.

Before I Die by Jenny Downham.   A girl with cancer is dying and decides to live her whole life before she goes.  Warning: you’ll need an entire box of tissues and someone to hug right after you finish.

Happy Baby by Stephen Elliott.  I barely recommend this to anyone because it’s one of the darkest books I’ve ever read, though also one of the most memorable.  An uncomfortable masterpiece about a kid growing up on the streets and in the foster care system, sadly somewhat autobiographical from what I understand.  From a craft standpoint, it’s also interesting for being successfully told in reverse chronological order.

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ and The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole by Sue Townsend.  I haven’t read these two for a while, so I’m not sure how they hold up, but I LMAO when I first read about poor Adrian’s struggles to survive his teen years in England.  I still remember the elegance of the After Eight dinner mints. 

Miles from Nowhere by Nami Mun.  A Korean-American girl runs away from home and makes her way on the streets.  Stark and beautiful and lonely, like an Edward Hopper painting.  Prose that will make you cry, it’s so exact.

Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh.  I would hazard a guess that almost any female writer who read like a demon loved spy/writer-in-the-making Harriet and her notebooks, her spy rounds through the Upper East Side, all those egg creams and tomato sandwiches, and her decision to send her first completed story to The New Yorker.

Less than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis.  Another one I haven’t read for a while, but I remember it as dark and true and scary.  Rich kids running terribly amok in 1980s Los Angeles, looking for an escape even as they realize there isn’t one.  (Okay, they’re college-age, but they’re all high school friends, so I’m counting it anyway.)

Mathilda Savitch by Victor Lodato.  This is the book that inspired this list.  Mathilda’s sister has died and her family isn’t handling their grief well, leaving Mathilda to mourn alone.  Another great narrative voice, and also excellent dialogue.  No surprise to learn that the author is a playwright.  This is the kind of book you want to read really fast and at the same time slowly, because you can’t bear to imagine it ending.

A Year and a Day by yours truly.  This is vain of me, yes, and highly immodest, but I worked hard to write this book, and it’s exactly the book I wanted to write.  Fifteen-year-old Alice’s mother kills herself, and Alice and her brother deal with the aftermath in the year after.  Set in small-town Iowa in 1975, the careful reader may assume a few certain things about the author after reading this book:  yes, I detasseled corn; no, I did not get the part of Emily in my high school’s production of Our Town. Also, there really was a Donutland in Iowa City.

Official disclosure per the FTC overlords: Bought these books all with my own hard-earned cash. No freebies and/or sponsorship deals…though wouldn’t this be nice:  “Work in Progress, a Literary Blog sponsored by The Catcher in the Rye.”

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Politics & Prose Offers New Classes

My friend, writer Susan Coll, is hard at work organizing some great new courses offered at Politics & Prose bookstore.  There are many enticing choices, but I must put in a special plug for this class taught by the super-smart Dylan Landis, which focuses on the excellent book Winter’s Bone:   

Monday, Sept. 26, 2011, 1-3 p.m.

A seminar for readers and writers. In this class we'll take the first chapter of Daniel Woodrell's gripping and beautiful novel Winter's Bone (Back Bay, $13.99), read it aloud one sentence or paragraph at a time, and hold each part up to the light. (It helps to read the chapter in advance; you may not be able to keep from reading the book.)

Close-reading is a slow, pleasurable, and surprisingly exciting process. It's how writers improve their craft as they read. It's also a craft in itself that can help a reader slow down at critical moments and appreciate more keenly how a story is made. Close-reading the opening of Winter's Bone, we'll examine how Woodrell establishes sense of place, conflict with nature and neighbors, ramps up tension, reveals character, anchors the piece in sensory detail, leaves the reader's imagination room to create the scene, and opens the door to his novel.

Readers will leave with a heightened appreciation for the craft of fiction; writers will refine their ability to learn from what they read.

 Price: $40 ($35 for members)
Click for the book and to enroll.

Dylan Landis is the author of the novel-in-stories Normal People Don't Live Like This, one of Newsday's Best Books of 2009, and the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship.

But don’t stop here!  There are lots of other great options: British literature, journal keeping, memoir writing, and more.  Check the Politics & Prose  website for details

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Link Corral: DIY Ebooks ~ In the Editor's Mind ~ Ben Marcus on Flashbacks & Setting

Thinking about putting your book into e-format?  Writer C.M. Mayo has some good advice for you on Madam Mayo:

"In sum, I have been getting an all new appreciation for the multifaceted and time-consuming work publishers do. What I want to do is, um, write.

"But here's the elephant: sometimes, for some books, a traditional publisher is not the answer. And nor are brick-and-mortar bookstores…. There are several works I want to publish but that I know are not commercial, so in attempting to place them with an agent or directly with a publisher, I would be wasting my time and theirs. But I believe in these works; I know they have readers, relatively few as they may be.”


What goes on in those teeny-tiny minds of theirs?  Of course I’m talking about literary journal editors.  Why do they choose one manuscript over another (i.e. mine)?  The Kenyon Review pulls back the curtain on the process in this fascinating piece by G.C Waldrep about selecting Katy Didden’s poem “The Soldier on Routine”:

“When I first read “The Soldier on Routine” I was feeling deluged with mediocre poems about the war—in Iraq, in Afghanistan, any war, all war.  I had all but given up on finding poems that spoke to the experience—to the communal violence of our moment—in a way that enlarged both that violence and that moment without quite expending with the human.

“This poem had me from its opening lines and, through its mastery of craft, left me feeling harrowed, tortured, in spite of (even more because of) its stately, magisterial bodying-forth.”


I was intrigued enough by Ben Marcus’s “What Have You Done” in the recent New Yorker to look up an interview with him on the magazine’s site, and I thought this comment on the always tricky “flashback issue” was helpful:

“I’ve noticed how flashbacks (childhood causes, memories, back story, etc.) can take the sting out of a story, trading drama for information, mystery for facts. And sometimes when I read, flashbacks, no matter how fascinating, slow me down. … For now, when I disrupt the present of the story and give a flashback, it’s not only like I’ve defanged the story, but I’ve extracted all of its teeth and deflated its whole face as well, so what’s left is a rumpled mess.”

And this, about setting:

“I first used Ohio as a setting because I hadn’t been there and knew almost nothing about it. It seemed like a perfectly plausible place to live, and it kept me from relying too much on autobiographical details, which would, I was sure, lure me into terrible spasms of sentimentality. I felt that I needed to avoid this at all costs, so I leaned on places totally removed from my experience. I prefer using personal experience that is emotional—feelings I’ve had, feelings I’m afraid of having—rather than experience that is specific to geography.”

Read more of the interview:  (The story itself is available for subscribers only.)

Monday, August 8, 2011

Story League Presents "The Politics of Science"

This Story League show on Thursday is bound to be a winner…I saw one of the stories told in draft form, and it was hilarious and horrifying and thought-provoking.  I still can’t get it out of my head.  Now you’re curious…indulge that curiosity!  And see below for a special ticket discount.

(You can go here for details about my storytelling debut.)

The Politics of Science: A Story League / The Story Collider Co-Production
Thursday, August 11 · 8:00pm - 9:30pm
Artisphere - The Dome Theater
1101 Wilson Boulevard
Arlington, VA

NYC's The Story Collider and D.C.'s Story League join forces to bring scientists, comedians, and others onstage for one night to tell true-life stories (some funny, some harrowing) about what happens when science collides with politics (from the personal to the global).

Story League co-founder S.M. Shrake reports: "It really is going to be a fantastic show. We've got a stellar lineup with at least three PhD's including Adam Ruben, at least one Moth slam winner (Ben Lillie), locals as well as people coming down from New York and Los Angeles to tell eight (8) big-bang stories about things like trying to teach evolution in a yeshiva school, the bad idea of making friends with lab monkeys, losing (?) the debate on whether DNA exists, and winning over Michelle Obama."

Adam Ruben (DC Improv, Science Magazine)
R. Douglas Fields (author of The Other Brain)
Caitlin Brodnick (Mimsy, Upright Citizens Brigade)
Ben Lillie (The Story Collider, TED)
Chuck Na
Guy Schaffer (
Susanna Speier (The Huffington Post, Scientific American)
Jason Pittman (Nat'l Science Teachers Assoc. "Early Educator of the Year")

(Secret hint:  include this special discount code to get $3 off: scidisco (all lowercase). A box will appear under the list of boxes, saying "COUPON $7.00." You’ve just saved three bucks!!)

Doors open at 7:30. CafeBar will be open in the lobby before and during the show for your refreshment.

Artisphere, voted "Best New Venue" in 2010 by the Washington City Paper, is just two blocks from Rosslyn Metro (Blue/Orange lines) and the Circulator bus that leaves from Dupont Circle. There is also free parking (with validation).

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Guest in Progress: Angela Winter's Amazing Vegan Chutneys

I have to confess:  I’ve often felt sad for vegans, imagining that they are missing out on so many yummy foods.  And then I stopped in for a porch visit with my friend writer/editor/singer Angela Winter who lives in the Durham/Chapel Hill area of North Carolina which, if you didn’t know, has become a true food haven and heaven.  Great farmers markets, great restaurants, great coffee, great food talk…I’m gaining weight just thinking about the fabulous food options down there!

While visiting with Angela, she served a spread that was so delicious, I instantly begged for the recipe, which she graciously gave me.  I, in turn, almost immediately emailed the recipe to a couple of people, who made the spread to rave reviews (one even had people at her party begging for the recipe).

Moral One of the story:  I’m shamefully ignorant when it comes to vegan cuisine.
Moral Two of the story:  When Angela emails asking if I might be interested in a new recipe, say YES! 

Because Angela is so gracious (and because, again, I begged), she agreed to share the famous cilantro-cashew chutney recipe and this new recipe, which takes advantage of tomato season (and which I’ll definitely be making this weekend, after my trip to the farmers market).

Quick, Luscious Noshes (that are also vegan)
By Angela Winter

When friends visit during hot weather, I love to serve chutneys. They’re light, easy to make, and a little spicy, which seems to have a cooling effect on the body. I want my guests to revel in flavor and feel good afterward.

Two of my favorite recipes consistently arouse a “wow” reaction. The first is a protein-rich cashew spread featuring the bright, summery tastes of cilantro and lemon. The second offers a great way to use ripe tomatoes from the garden—the “uglier,” the better. Giving them a brief simmer with cinnamon, ginger, currants, and spices produces a lush, velvety dip that sends people into a frenzy.

Serve either (or both!) chutneys with flatbreads and baby carrots. They pair well with GrĂ¼ner Veltliner, a white Bordeaux, a spicy red wine such as Malbec, Syrah, or Shiraz, or chilled sparkling water with a twist of lime.

Cilantro-Cashew Chutney

Makes about 2 cups
Prep time: 5 minutes

  • One bunch fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems, washed and shaken dry
  • 1 small yellow onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 2 fresh hot green chiles (serranos or jalapenos), stemmed and chopped (seed them, too, if you want a milder chutney)
  • 1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled
  • 1 cup cashew pieces, toasted in a dry skillet
  • 2 tsp. cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp. maple syrup or agave nectar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • Juice of 2 lemons

Combine everything in a food processor. Process to a smooth puree, stopping periodically to scrape down the mixture with a spatula. Transfer to a serving bowl, and serve at room temperature with baby carrots, pita bread, and/or naan.

You can keep this chutney for up to five days in the refrigerator. For best taste, return it to room temperature before serving.

Tomato-Cinnamon Chutney
Makes about 2 cups
Prep time: 30 minutes

  • 6 medium-sized tomatoes, peeled and diced
  • 2 tsp. fresh ginger, minced
  • 2 Tbs. garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbs. dried currants or raisins
  • ½ to 1 tsp. cayenne
  • ½ tsp. cinnamon
  • 4 Tbs. white or cider vinegar
  • ¾ tsp. salt
  • 3 Tbs. sugar
  • 3 Tbs. slivered, roasted pistachios

Peel the tomatoes by blanching them in boiling water for 3-4 minutes. Immerse them in cold water; their skins should slip off easily. Dice the tomatoes, and prepare the other ingredients.

Combine the tomatoes, ginger, garlic, currants or raisins, cayenne, and cinnamon in a heavy saucepan. Cook uncovered over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 12 minutes.

Add the vinegar, salt, and sugar, and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer until thick, about 10 minutes. Stir in the pistachios. Refrigerate until ready to serve. This chutney can be served cold or at room temperature.

You can keep leftovers (if there are any) for four or five days in the refrigerator. This recipe freezes well, too, so consider making a big batch to freeze and use later.

Source for the recipes: These chutneys are modified from recipes in Laxmi’s Vegetarian Kitchen, by Laxmi Hiremath, Harlow & Ratner: Emeryville, CA, 1995. Hiremath combines traditional Indian cooking methods with time-saving techniques, and she lightens her recipes with healthful adjustments to the fat, sodium, and sugar content. Reading this book is like having a friend teach you how to cook in an entirely new way. Your taste buds will thank you, as will the rest of your body. Highly recommended.

About:  After nine years of working for The Sun Magazine, Angela Winter gave up her dream job to spend more time dreaming. Now she’s a singer who supports herself through writing and consulting. In her spare time, she pores through cookbooks, obsesses over her cilantro-cashew chutney, and searches for the perfect tempeh reuben. She lives in Carrboro, North Carolina, but longs to return to Paris—for the falafel in the Marais district.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Link Corral: Job Hunting, Colony Researching, List-Making, and How to Reject The New Yorker's Rejection

Are you slogging through the fun of the job search?  My friend Gerry Romano started a blog about life in those trenches and manages to find some good cheer in the process (along with much helpful advice):


I was recently doing some research into colonies and residencies and was reminded once again of an amazing resource set up by DC’s own Kim Roberts, poet and editor of Beltway.  Her listing includes every colony/residency for writers/visual artists known to humankind, neatly and geographically organized.  A must!  Check it out here:


Since this is a list, it only seems fitting to draw your attention to Yelizaveta P. Renfro’s piece for Glimmer Train about the importance of lists in her writing life:

“My stories and essays begin with lists. On whatever is at hand—and often in the margins or endpapers of books I'm reading—I jot down fragments in the order that my mind offers them. This first step is a purging of these pieces, without structure. It's notating in shorthand what will go in the container, whether the container is an essay or a story. Usually, I fill more than one container at a time. Sometimes the contents get mixed. That's OK; I shuffle them about later. The items of each list are the bones, gaunt and bare, excavated from the mind. The work of assembling the skeleton and fleshing it with sinew and cartilage, fat and skin, comes later, once the frame has ossified.”


And The Quivering Pen offers this bold and hopeful story about how novelist Katharine Weber successfully rejected The New Yorker’s rejection of her story:

“I had been rejected by numerous publications in the past, but I felt wronged by this particular form rejection in a new way. I was possessed of an uncanny certainty that The New Yorker’s slush pile reader’s passing over “Friend of the Family” was a mistake.  And so I did the thing I had never done before, the thing you are never, ever supposed to do: I simply submitted it all over again, with no acknowledgment of the rejection.”


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