Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Pierogi on the Brain

I loved this essay by Elizabeth McNamara in the Washington Post food section today, in which the author lovingly remembers her Polish great-grandfather making pierogis.  My grandmother made the best pierogi in the family—as she and others told me, once I was old enough to be interested in such things—and she, too, usually worked alone, just as this great-grandfather did.  Once she found out I liked pierogi, she never failed to serve them for dinner when I visited her in my adult years.  Prune was her favorite flavor, and cheese is my favorite, or maybe sauerkraut is my favorite.  I would love a plate right now to see, because you know, prune are pretty good, too. 

From the Washington Post essay:
“I think of my great-grandfather most at Christmas. He was born to Polish immigrants on the Feast of the Epiphany. He was named Caspar after one of the three Magi, though he went by his middle name, Anthony (and I knew him simply as Pappy). Many of his flannel shirts were a Christmasy red plaid. But more than that, more than the accordion on his knee and the polka in his whistle, I remember him for pierogi.

“Pierogi are really potato ravioli. They were designed not to delight the sophisticated senses but to ensure survival in the very poor, overpopulated areas of Eastern Europe. If Pappy was not leaning over the crest of the living room chair watching the Yankees, it seemed, he was in the kitchen stuffing pockets of unleavened dough, pinching their edges before gently placing them in a large pot of rolling salted water.” (Read on.)

Recipe from The Washington Post (my grandmother admitted to adding sour cream to her dough)

I’ll assume you’ve read my novel Pears on a Willow Tree (!!), but if not, here’s the first chapter, which is about four generations of women making pierogi together.  (Scroll down, to the headline “Shortcuts.”)

Finally, here are some places I know in the Fells Point neighborhood in Baltimore where you can get good pierogi:
Ze Mean Bean Cafe—restaurant
Broadway Market—frozen handmade pierogi to take home (the beautiful picture of borscht on this site may distract you….)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Carolina Wren Press Contest for Women Writers

Here’s a short fiction/CNF/novel contest for women writers run by Carolina Wren Press, an excellent small press.  (Read the guidelines carefully; the requirements are slightly different from the usual contest rules.)

The  next Doris Bakwin Award for Writing by a Woman will take entries with a postmark deadline of 3/15/2012.

Final Judge is Moira Crone


1) Submit the first 50-60 pages of fiction manuscript (stories or a novel) or non-fiction (memoir, not academic work), by a single author identifying as a woman. Use two title pages: one with title and author name and address, email, etc., and one with just the manuscript title. The entire manuscript may not have been previously published, self-published, in print or online, although individual parts of the manuscript (e.g. stories or chapters) may have been printed in journals or published online. Simultaneous submissions are allowed, but please let us know if your manuscript has been accepted elsewhere.

In addition, please include the following:

2) CD or thumbdrive containing the entire manuscript in Word or as a PDF.
3) Self-addressed stamped envelope for contest results (manuscripts will not be returned).
4) Reading fee of $20: we accept checks or money orders.
5) Page of acknowledgments, e.g. a list of previous publications, if any, of the work submitted.
6) Author bio is optional.

Note: do not waste your money on expensive shipping (UPS, Fedex, etc) or shipping materials. A simple envelope mailed First Class or Priority is fine. The deadline is a postmark deadline, not a received-by deadline.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Stories by Ron Rash & Julia Glass

Thank you, Washington Post Magazine, for going against all conventional wisdom and publishing short stories a couple of times a year.  Sunday’s issue featured stories by Ron Rash, Yiyun Li, and Julia Glass.  I especially recommend Rash’s and Glass’s stories:

Ron Rash’s “26 Days” is about a married couple anxiously waiting for their daughter to return home from her overseas deployment, and this topical story is never far from class issues.  It’s taut, well-observed, and the author shows his generous heart.

“I walk out of Cromer Hall and into a November day warmer and sunnier than you usually get in these mountains. The clock tower bell rings. In my mind I move the heavy metal hands ahead to 8:30 p.m. Kerrie has already finished supper and is getting ready to go to sleep. Over at the ATM, students pull out bank cards like winning lottery tickets. I wonder if there’s a single student here because of the Army college fund. The nice cars and SUVs, like the tuition, argue it unlikely. Probably not one of them ever thinks that, while they’re sitting in a classroom or watching a basketball game, kids their own age are getting blown up by IEDs. I think again about how we wouldn’t be in Iraq if there was still a draft. You can bet it’d be a lot different if everyone’s kids could end up over there. Just a bunch of stupid hillbillies fighting a stupid war, that’s what some jerk on TV said, making a joke of it. There are times I want to grab a student by the collar and tell them how good they got it. Other times I tell myself I’ve given Kerrie more than my parents gave me. But I also think how if I’d had more ambition years back and gotten a welding certificate or a two-year degree at Tech, maybe Kerrie wouldn’t be in Iraq.”

Julia Glass’s “Attainable Felicity” takes place in a whaling museum in New Bedford, Connecticut, during the annual read-a-thon of Moby-Dick (so how could I not love this story?).  A mother and her son struggle—quietly—with the pain of loss and survival.  It’s a sneaky story, with a wallop of an ending.

“A man in a plaid shirt with a shaggy, ashen beard is reading about one more high-seas encounter between the Pequod and another ship. He looks as if he’s taking a break from splitting wood. He reads well enough until he gets to the dialogue between the sailors, which he performs in ludicrous accents. His misplaced conceit is embarrassing.

“Lucinda chides herself for being so judgmental. She doesn’t go for confession too much anymore; if she did, she’d already be composing her recitation for Father Jess. She’d have to confess, as well, her inability to feel thoroughly proud of Jonathan and the life he’s made. He and Cyril are professors at Berkeley: Jonathan in gender studies, Cyril in American literature. (Jonathan’s “Sexual Identity in Firstborn Children” and Cyril’s “The Fine Hammered Steel of Woe: Ecclesiastes and Melville’s Ambivalent Soul” sit on her bedside table, beneath other books she is far more likely to read.) They were married the previous summer. At 50, Jonathan is almost 10 years older than Cyril. When Lucinda found herself giving advice about the wedding, what disoriented her was not that her son would be marrying a man but that, after so many years alone, he would be settling down in any conventional sense.”

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Menu for Two

Thanksgiving Day
November 24, 2011

Selection of Cheeses
Bourbon Pecans That Should Be Peanuts
Monte Carlo

Roast Turkey
Cornbread Stuffing
Classic Cranberry Sauce
Whipped Potatoes & Gravy
Roasted Carrots
Brussels Sprouts Cockaigne
Pinot Noir, Elizabeth Spencer, Sonoma Coast, 2008

Pumpkin Pie
Coffee & Tea

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

My Recipe for Great Stuffing

I’m going for a low-key, E-Z Thanksgiving this year, but even so, there’s no way this stuffing won’t be on the menu.  In fact, if my Thanksgiving menu were a reality show, with various components voted off one by one, I’m certain this stuffing would be the last one standing. (Pie would be second to last; mashed potatoes would be third to last, sweet potatoes fourth to last...but I digress.)

All this to say…here’s my recipe for what is still the best stuffing in the world.  I’ll be (mostly) on blog vacation until November 28, so happy Thanksgiving!

Cornbread & Scallion Stuffing
Adapted from the beloved, still-missed Gourmet magazine, November 1992
(It’s actually called Cornbread, Sausage & Scallion Stuffing, but in an uncharacteristic nod to heart-health, I don’t put in the sausage. See the note below if you’d like to add the sausage.)

For the cornbread:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/3 cups yellow cornmeal
1 tablespoon double-acting baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1 large egg
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

¾ stick unsalted butter plus an additional 2 tablespoons if baking the stuffing separately
2 cups finely chopped onion
1 ½ cups finely chopped celery
2 teaspoons crumbed dried sage
1 teaspoon dried marjoram, crumbled
1 teaspoon crumbled dried rosemary
½ cup thinly sliced scallions
1 ½ cups chicken broth if baking the stuffing separately

Make the cornbread: In a bowl stir together the flour, the cornmeal, the baking powder, and the salt. In a small bowl, whisk together the milk, the egg, and the butter, and add the milk mixture to the cornmeal mixture, and stir the batter until it is just combined. Pour the batter into a greased 8-inch-square baking pan (I actually use a cast iron skillet) and bake the cornbread in the middle of a preheated 425 F oven for 20-25 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. (The corn bread may be made 2 days in advance and kept wrapped tightly in foil at room temperature.)

Into a jellyroll pan, crumble the corn bread coarse, bake it in the middle of a preheated 325 F oven, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes, or until it is dry and golden, and let it cool.

In a large skillet, melt 6 tablespoons of butter and cook the onion and the celery over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened. Add the sage, marjoram, rosemary, and salt and pepper to taste and cook the mixture, stirring, for 3 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl, add the corn bread, the scallion, and salt and pepper to taste, and combine the stuffing gently but thoroughly. Let the stuffing cool completely before using it to stuff a 12-14 pound turkey.

The stuffing can be baked separately: Spoon the stuffing into a buttered 3- to 4-quart casserole, drizzle it with the broth, and dot the top with the additional 2 tablespoons of butter, cut into bits. Bake the stuffing, covered, in the middle of a preheated 325 F degree oven for 30 minutes and bake it, uncovered, for 30 minutes more.

Serves 8-10; fewer if I am one of the dinner guests!

Note: Here are the instructions if you want to add the sausage: The recipe calls for “3/4 lb bulk pork sausage” that you brown in a skillet. Remove it from the pan—leaving the fat—and proceed with cooking the onions, etc. Add the sausage at the end, when you combine the cornbread and scallion with the onion mixture.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

New Fiction Chapbook Contest at The Florida Review

As someone who writes loooong “short” stories, I’m always interested in markets that are open to pieces longer than5000 words.  Here’s a new fiction chapbook contest, sponsored by The Florida Review, named in honor of Jeanne Leiby, the Southern Review editor who recently died.  There’s a $25 fee, but you get a subscription of The Florida Review.  And move quickly…the deadline is December 1, 2011.

  • First Place: $500 and chapbook publication (letter press and hand-bound by Hoopsnake Press)
  • Second Place: Tuition at Sanibel Island Writers Conference
  • Third Place: Registration for The Florida Writers Conference
  • Submit up to 35 pages (double spaced and in MS Word or pdf if prose fiction)
  • This is a blind-read contest. The manuscript should not have your name or other identifying information on any page
  • Submit a cover letter with your name and the title (or titles) of the submitted writing
  • Any combination of long or short stories or flash fiction will be considered
  • Graphic Narrative must be black and white and in jpeg format, up to 35 pages
  • Entry fee of $25 includes a subscription to The Florida Review
  • All submissions will be considered for publication in The Florida Review
  • Simultaneous submissions are OK as long as they are withdrawn immediately upon acceptance elsewhere
  • Submissions accepted until midnight on December 1, 2011
  • Notification of results will be posted on The Florida Review website by February 2012
  • In the unlikely event that no submitted manuscript is selected by the judge as fitting chapbook publication, only the second and third prizes will be awarded
  • Submit here to The Florida Review

Monday, November 14, 2011

Link Corral: "The Private Heart" & Twitter Obsession & New on Redux

Please read this important reminder by writer Dani Shapiro about spending time with “the private heart”…and then step away from Facebook and Twitter and the internet for a little while (I mean after reading the rest of this post):

“The secret contemplative self.  The private heart.  The very phrases bring tears to my eyes.   I don't know about you, but for most of us, our daily lives take us farther and farther away from that secret self, that private heart.  A paradox central to most writers lives is that so often we spend our days not writing, not reading, not in the silence in which the secret contemplative self thrives, but rather, speaking, tweeting, traveling, facebooking, trolling the internet...doing, rather than being.”

Read on.

If you’re unconvinced by Dani Shapiro’s piece, read this short piece from the New York Times Magazine,  by Larry Carlat, who became obsessed with Twitter, letting his obsession Twitter run his life:

“Soon my entire life revolved around tweeting. I stopped reading, rarely listened to music or watched TV. When I was out with friends, I would duck into the bathroom with my iPhone. I tweeted while driving, between sets of tennis, even at the movies. (“I love holding your hand in the dark.”) When I wasn’t on Twitter, I would compose faux aphorisms that I might use later. I began to talk that way too. I sounded like a cross between a Barbara Kruger installation and a fortune cookie. I posted every hour on the hour, day and night, using a Web site that enabled me to tweet while asleep.”

Read on.

Finally, read something to restore your faith in art and language:  New on Redux today:  “Driving in Snow” by Joseph M. Schuster, a story that previously appeared in New Virginia Review.

“When Byrne's brother arrives, Byrne doesn't recognize him. At first, watching the passengers emerge from the gate, he wonders if Thomas missed the bus, or decided not to get on board.  But not even Thomas is that irresponsible.  Byrne must have overlooked him.  Thomas is, after all, not a large man, and the station is in turmoil.  An early spring blizzard has moved in, making buses late.  Byrne has been waiting for an hour and a half in the midst of the lines of angry passengers, the masses of people planted on upturned luggage because there aren't enough benches.

“He is shoving toward the ticket counter to ask if a second bus is due from St. Louis when he spots Thomas, standing a few feet inside the gate.  He was one of the first passengers off the bus, Byrne realizes, but it's no wonder he didn't recognize him.  In his uniform, Thomas looks like a different person, with the starched creases in his trousers and the black necktie just visible at the collar of his coat.  Byrne is amazed at the transformation.  His brother seems innocent and young, like someone playing soldier.  It's the short hair, he realizes.  The long hair Thomas had before he enlisted hid his face, as did the blond wisps of the beard he tried to grow.  Now that face seems exposed, naked.  Byrne is reminded of the schoolboy in the pictures his mother had on her bureau at the nursing home.  Thomas in the second and third grades; Thomas before he turned bad.

Byrne raises his hand to wave but sees that his brother isn't alone.  A woman cradling an infant is talking to him, her mouth close to Thomas's ear.  Byrne lets his hand fall.  Thomas hasn't said anything about a woman, and the circumstance of the visit -- their mother's funeral -- is hardly social.”

(Okay, it’s now safe to disable your internet connection.)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Work in Progress: Tips for a Great Pitch Session with an Agent

The Converse College low-res MFA program (where I teach) will be offering students the opportunity to have a pitch session with an agent in January, so I feel compelled to offer advice on how to make the most of a pitch session.  No, I’ve never technically participated in this sort of thing, in which an agent sits at a table and writers parade by in 5-15 minute meeting slots—but I’m offering advice anyway.

My first bit of advice feels obvious to me, but here it is anyway:  research the agent you’re meeting with.  There’s no excuse for not knowing some basic facts about the agency—type of books they’re looking for, some clients.  And please go beyond the obvious:  yes, the agency probably has a website, but is there also a blog to scour?  Interviews for industry pubs?  Find out as much as you can so you can ask informed questions.

Next, prepare your “elevator speech.”*  This is the 1-2 sentence description of your book.  Reread that:  1 to 2 SENTENCES.  That’s really short, because I’m not talking Faulkner sentences.  So write it out, say it front of an honest friend who will tell you the truth, and practice saying it.  This sounds easy, but it really isn’t.  There’s an art to it.  In my novel-writing workshops, I ask people to practice by writing a 1-2 sentence description of The Great Gatsby.  Try that.  *The business world calls it an elevator speech because it should take only as long as riding with someone for a couple of floors in an elevator.

Know what you can expect.  Do NOT expect that the agent will say, “My God, I must have a copy of that book RIGHT NOW—please give me a 400-page pile of paper that I can lug home on the airplane.”  What you might get instead is an offer to read some chapters and/or the book which you will send to the agent at a later time.

Speaking of “a later time”:  Generally, agents want to read novels that are already done.  Still, if your novel isn’t finished, you don’t have to pass up the chance to meet an agent through a pitch session.  Tell the agent you’re still working on the book, but that you expect to be done within the next year* or so.  This is your chance to make a connection; when the book is done, you can contact the agent with a charming letter along the lines of “I met you last year at XYZ.”  *Say a year even if you fear it might take longer; the agent isn’t turning on a stopwatch.

What if you don’t have a novel yet?  Think of the bigger picture.  Maybe you will someday, right?  So use this as an opportunity to get more information about the agent, the agency, the publishing/marketing process in general.  Ask questions.  Again, years later, when you have your book ready, you can write to this agent.  (This is what to do if it’s suddenly clear that the agent is not right for your book—i.e. you’re writing a mystery, and the agent doesn’t rep mysteries.)

I’ll repeat that again:  ask questions.  Try to find a point of connection with the agent, and remember that a person blabbing endlessly about themselves will not be someone anyone wants to connect with.  And take notes:  these are the notes you can refer to next year when you finish your novel (“I remember that you are especially fond of books about….”).

Do I have to mention basic politeness?  Don’t overstay your time limit; don’t sit there like a lump and expect the (tired) agent to do all the work of carrying the conversation; smile and seem enthused and passionate about your work and interested in the business.  If you’re nervous, simply say so in a charming way; the agent will understand.  Be yourself (unless you’re a slob, in which case, clean yourself up a little).

If you have a card, leave one behind.  Ask the agent for a card.  I suppose that if my novel was done, I’d bring along a few sample chapters and a synopsis, just in case, but don’t expect the agent to ask to see them.  Try not to have them in a big, obvious folder so it looks as though you’re expecting to hand them over; ideally, the pages would be hidden in a briefcase/totebag/portfolio that you can pull out if asked—because the agent probably will not ask.

Follow-up with a thank you note/email.  Honestly, this is very easy to do and very impressive (as long as you’re not asking for anything in this follow-up).

Don’t harass the agent about your book at other points of the conference—i.e. if you’re eating breakfast with him/her.  Be professional.  You can chat and ask general questions away from the pitch session—but no one wants to be pestered.  Leave a charming impression!

Here’s a funny piece about some more don’ts written by agent Janet Reid based on some actual experiences at pitch sessions.

Here’s a good, basic piece of how to prepare for a pitch session at a conference.

Here’s former agent Nathan Bransford’s excellent tips on pitch sessions.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Writing Life = A Game of Chutes and Ladders

Writer Gae Polisner has a great blog post today about how our writing careers are like a long (cruel?) game of Chutes and Ladders.  It’s funny because it’s true, and it’s heartbreaking also because it’s true:

“Imagine my first attempt at writing a manuscript in 1998 as the Start Space, and the completion of the first rough draft of THE JETTY (4+ years) as Space #4.

“Up, I go to Space #14 where there's a yummy cake waiting for me. Yay, cake! You know how I love a good cake.

“Perhaps at space #15, I submit to my first round of agents, which all come back rejections. Space #16, down I go! But at Space #9, I get a bite, my first agent request for a look at a partial or full.

“Woohoo, I'm off and running on Space #31!

“At Space #36, THE JETTY makes it to the Semi-finals of the first-ever Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest, but at Space #47, I'm eliminated (luckily, I land in water).”

Read on.  The visuals of the game board will help you see exactly what she means.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

ISO Funny Stories About Tech Support

Since I’m having weird computer problems at the moment, this call for submissions seems appropriate.  Pass it along to your favorite tech support guy or gal—

Sometimes, tech support requires more patience than what’s in the job description. For an anthology of humorous tech support stories, the editors seek quality non-fiction accounts of bizarre requests, inane questions, and pitiful pleas for help untangling technology.

Entries should be between 500 and 1500 words. The anthology will be published in e-book format, and authors may appear anonymously if so desired. Preference will be given to stories involving face-to-face tech support rather than support given over the phone.

To submit a story for consideration, email your entry as a MS Word, RTF, or Open Office document to  Please include your name and contact information (phone number and preferred email address) as well as a brief description of your job responsibilities (e.g. network administration for a large health insurance provider; end-user support for a major research university) in the body of the email.  Submission deadline January 31, 2012.

Monday, November 7, 2011

"Autumn Harvest" on Redux

Jane Delury's wonderful story "Autumn Harvest" will make you hungry!

    Jacques crouches in his father’s garden, coaxing leeks from the hard November ground.  Six rows of cabbages away, the old man is digging up bouquets of mâche with a grit-encrusted knife.  Jacques grabs a shoot of leaves and pulls out a stem, slick with saliva-like bubbles.  The leek slaps into the basket and his father looks over, his glasses steamed by plant breath into two opaque circles.
     “Getting them all?  And the roots?”
     “Fine, Father,” Jacques says, “I’m doing just fine.”
     He waits for the slice of the knife to resume, and then clutches another cold jumble of leaves. The earth buckles and splits, belching a sweet, rotten smell. With the leek in one hand, he uses the other to pull up the socks that have bunched around his ankles, exposing his heels to the bite of the air. A hollow eye stares up at him from the plank where his loafers balance, precious and inappropriate against the warped wood. “For your city shoes,” his father said when he handed him the plank at the gate. Jacques wonders again what is really being protected— his shoes from the soil or the soil from his shoes.
Read on.

And remember that the open reading period for Redux ends on November 19.  See the submission guidelines at

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Work in Progress: How to Give an Excellent Reading

I’ve been working with yet another fabulous Converse College low-res MFA thesis student this semester, and she’s preparing for her graduating student reading in January.  What advice do I have for her…and, really, for all writers who read from their work?  (All of this is IMHO, of course.)

1.  The main thing is to stay within the time limit.  Everyone assumes that they’re the writer who is soooo good they can go an extra five or twenty minutes, but believe me, hardly anyone is that writer.  I can remember three specific writers I could sit and listen to forever…and that’s three out of how many hundreds of readings I’ve attended?  Stay in your time limit—and be responsible about it, too.  I hate when someone claims not to have a watch or a phone with a clock feature, or when they clearly haven’t timed their reading, and so they look up and say to the audience, “I’m not sure how much time is left.  Should I keep going?”  Who’s going to say, “No,” to that…besides me, I mean?  Know your time limit and know how much you can comfortably read—including the patter and/or intro—in that time. 

2.  Easing into the reading with a charmingly amusing remark is nice, though I once saw a poet get to the mike, announce the title of her poem them immediately read it, and because it was a thrilling poem and because she was an excellent reader, that was memorable.  But after that opening, she went into some between-poem patter.  People like to have a sense of the person behind the words.  Also, it’s hard to absorb so much “literature” in one swoop.  I saw a different poet read, and she took absolutely no breaks between the poems she read except to say the title, and that was overwhelming and difficult to listen to.

3.  I don’t know how poets choose poems to read, but it seems as though there may be common themes, or there may be a variety of styles and subject matter.  Frankly, I don’t know how poets do a lot of what they do…they amaze me!  For fiction writers, though, if you have something funny, that’s good.  If you don’t, that’s fine, too.  I like to try to have a scene that feels complete (or as complete as possible) within the time limit, with a beginning-middle-end and where something concrete happens.  Think “narrative”: try to find a story, even if it’s just a small part of your larger novel.  If possible, I also like to choose something that doesn’t require very much set-up.

4.  Some writers advise avoiding reading scenes with too much dialogue.  It can be hard to sort out which character says what.  But I write a lot of dialogue, and I survive reading it at my readings.  Don’t do funny voices when you read dialogue unless you’re one of the three writers who can carry that off, and I’m betting you’re not.

5.  For God’s sake, dress up!  Or dress in a way that makes you feel confident and yet is comfortable.  Be respectful of the audience.  Be mindful that even if you wear a ratty T-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops, the audience will have an image of you selecting that exact ratty T-shirt and will know that for whatever reason, you’ve decided to present yourself as a ragamuffin.  Can’t you simply look presentable for this one time?

6.  No jangly jewelry.  I take off my bracelet because it can knock against the podium.

7.  The requisite water bottle.  Always bring your own, in case the organizers aren’t organized (which they often aren’t).  I try not to drink from it while reading, but if you must, go ahead and do so confidently.  If you can, try to drink during a natural break in the story or between poems.  Situate the bottle in a safe place so the audience won’t become mesmerized, wondering when it will spill.

8.  Stand still.  Stop swaying behind the podium.  Don’t shift your weight from side to side.  Don’t cling to the sides of the podium as if it’s the only thing holding you up unless it is.

9.  I do my drinking after, not before (or during), but this is a matter of personal preference.  Just remember that red wine can stain your teeth and tongue purple.

10.  Can you please-please-please-please-please not flip through a thousand pages, poets?  Can you please buy these things called “stickies”?  Can you stick them on the pages of the poems you want to read?  Can you even write a number on them, so you know the order of the poems you will be reading?  If we wanted to watch people flip through pages, we’d stare at the cheapskates standing around  the magazine section at Barnes & Noble.

11.  Practice your reading exactly enough times so that you feel comfortable with it (and the timing of it) but not so many times that you’re totally bored with it.  Remember that listening to something is different than encountering it on the page.  Prose writers:  it’s okay to make adjustments and/or deletions to lines, words, and/or paragraphs for clarity.

12.  Make eye contact.  Speak slowly.   You are probably talking faster than you think, especially if you live on the East Coast, so speak more slowly than you think you need to speak.  Practice in front of an honest friend who can tell you if you’re talking too fast.  On the other hand, if you live in the south, you may be speaking more slowly than you think.  Where’s that honest friend?

13.  Speaking of your honest friend…you might ask someone you know in the audience to signal you if you’re too quiet/too fast/too something you’re worried about.  You might also ask this friend to be ready to ask the first question—an easy one!—in the Q&A if no one else speaks up.

14.  I hate microphones, mostly because I’m sort of afraid of them.  If I can, I try to stand at it before the event to see how it works.  (An advantage to arriving early.)  Also, I loudly announce, “I’m afraid of microphones,” and someone always volunteers to assist and take charge of it for me.

15.  I like 14-point fonts.  Easy to read if there’s not enough light.  Not so big that I’m flipping the page every two seconds.  Of course, I’m old, with fading eyesight.  If 8-point works for you, go for it.  Binder clips or paper clips are better than staples because you can remove them.  And I often follow along with my finger running along the page.  I hope I’m doing that subtly, but maybe not.  Oh, well.

16.  Thank everyone for coming.  They all have better things to do, but they’re at this reading instead.  They deserve thanks and maybe cake afterwards, also.

17.  Take a deep breath right before you start.  Hold it a moment longer than you think, then let it out slowly.  Pause.  The audience will now be riveted, their attention focused on you.  Begin. 

18.  Have fun.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

What I'm Thinking about Today

“All the knowledge I possess anyone else can acquire, but my heart is all my own.” ~Goethe

“I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape—the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter.  Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn’t show.” ~Andrew Wyeth

“Writing is both mask and unveiling.” ~ E.B. White

“Only describe what you have seen and look hard at the things that please you, even longer at what causes you pain.” ~ Colette

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

DC Map of the (Literary) Stars!

An announcement from DC poet/editor/literary impresario Kim Roberts:

A new online resource for lovers of literature and history has been launched in the nation's capital.  DC Writers' Homes, at, celebrates the rich literary heritage of Washington by mapping former homes of novelists, poets, playwrights and memoirists.  Some authors remain famous, such as Paul Laurence Dunbar, Zora Neale Hurston, Sinclair Lewis, and Katherine Anne Porter.  Others are rediscoveries. 

Over 115 homes included on the website represent every major period of Washington's history and span the range of urban architectural styles. The earliest documented writers' homes include those once occupied by: Francis Scott Key, the lawyer-poet who wrote the lyrics to the US National Anthem; Horatio King, who served as Postmaster General during the Civil War and hosted a popular literary salon in his home; and Frederick Douglass, whose remarkable autobiographies remain deservedly beloved.  The most recent include authors who passed away in the last few years.

The project was conceived, researched, and created by DC writers Kim Roberts and Dan Vera, who spent more than five years tracking down and photo-documenting house locations.  Only authors who have passed away, and whose houses are still standing, are included.  Most houses are privately owned and not marked by historic plaques.  "We wanted to claim our literary forebears," Roberts states.  "We don't want our history to be lost or forgotten."

The project is a collaboration among five groups that support or present the literary arts in the city.  Split This Rock, whose festivals of "poets of provocation and witness" bring nationally-acclaimed authors to the city, is the sponsor.  The Humanities Council of Washington, DC, provided funding.  And three other organizations signed on as partners: The American Poetry Museum, Beltway Poetry Quarterly, and Poetry Mutual.  Sarah Browning, Director of Split This Rock, calls DC Writers' Homes "an extraordinary gift to DC."

Authors are sorted by the geographical location of their houses, as well as by affiliations.  Users can easily find authors, for example, who taught at or attended Howard University, served as US Poets Laureate at the Library of Congress, wrote on environmental themes, or were Latino.  Every author is cross-referenced into at least two categories.

Check out the new site online (, and mark your calendar for a special event:

Friday, December 9 at 6:30 pm
Kim Roberts and Dan Vera will present a slide/lecture on the making of DC Writers' Homes on Friday, December 9 at 6:30 pm.  This event, at the Institute for Policy Studies, 1112 16th St. NW, Suite 600, is free and open to the public.  A reception will follow the presentation.


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