Friday, June 29, 2012

Work in Progress: Let's Keep It Short

If you read this blog with any regularity or know me, you may have noticed that I spend a great deal of time bemoaning the fact that I seem to be incapable of writing any stories that are truly “short.”  Twenty pages feels “short” to me, whereas twenty pages feels “long” to many literary journal editors, especially those who think, “Do we like this story more than the twenty poems by twenty different poets we could publish instead?”

Indeed, a current work-in-progress is already spiraling way out of control (though I confess that starting out with a plan of six separate sections may not be a way to ensure success in keeping things trim).

But today I discovered the secret to writing shorter, and it’s so simple that I have to laugh at myself:

Write by hand.

You know, on real, live paper, preferably smallish pieces of paper, like journal-size, so that you start to mentally freak out when you’re on page twenty, which would really only be about page 5 of something typed into a computer.  When you freak out at this point, after 20 smallish pieces of paper, you quickly find ways to wind things up.  Plus, at that point, your hand is very tired, so you also are motivated to wind things up.  “Wind things up”:  is there any lovelier phrase to those ensnared by the verbose?

Yes, I know that Charles Dickens also wrote by hand, though I have no idea what size his paper was, and nevertheless, he managed to produce some doorstops.  Tolstoy.  Melville.  Etc.  Still, I suspect their hands were made of sterner stuff than mine, and since I’m terribly wimpy about pain, I really think I’ve found the solution. 

And now…time to wind this up.  Happy Friday!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Politics and Prose Imprint ISO Fiction, Poetry, Essays, Graphics for District Anthology

Interesting news from the Politics &  Prose bookstore newsletter:  the store is starting a new publishing imprint, which can’t help but be good news, right?  For the first project, they’ll be putting together an anthology about DC neighborhoods and are seeking writing and graphics, which is a great idea (though as a suburban DC-ite, I feel shunned; though maybe the surrounding areas ARE included?  It’s unclear to me.).  My real beef is the $10 entry fee to have work considered…I know publishing ain’t cheap, but this seems on the high side to me for a “prize” of one free copy.

Nevertheless, here are the details:

Attention Writers!
Politics & Prose is excited to announce the launch of its P&P imprint, starting with an anthology of original, local work to be called District Lines. The anthology is intended to capture a sense of people and place in DC and the surrounding metropolitan area.

We are now soliciting submissions—poems, essays, short stories, coherent musings and ramblings, scribbles, comics, or graphics—that describe a particular DC metropolitan neighborhood. Work must be original and previously unpublished. Prose should be under 3,000 words. Graphics must be in a PDF file that can be reproduced in black and white.

The deadline for submissions is September 22, 2012. All entries must be accompanied by a $10 entry fee, which will allow us to give each author of a submission that is selected for publication a free copy of the anthology. We hope to hold an event at the store once the anthology is published and will ask selected contributors to join us for an open reading.

Please submit entries in a word document, double-spaced, using Times New Roman, 12 point font. For graphics or art please submit work in a PDF file.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Library of Congress: "Books That Shaped America"

The Library of Congress has a new exhibit, “Books That Shaped America,” and I was lucky enough to get a preview at a special reception on Monday night.  The selection was fascinating.  Yes, The Great Gatsby was there!  There were a number of other, expected, literary giants—Moby-Dick, The Sound and the Fury, Invisible Man, The Catcher in the Rye, Leaves of Grass—but also some choices that are not quite so “literary” or so obvious:  The Joy of Cooking, Dr. Spock’s baby book, a western novel by Zane Gray, the Alcoholics Anonymous book, The Cat in the Hat.

As the brochure explains, “The titles featured here have had a profound effect on American life, but they are by no means the only influential ones.  And they are certainly not a list of the ‘best’ American books, because that, again, is a matter of strong and diverse opinions….Some of the titles on display have been the source of great controversy, even derision, yet they nevertheless shaped Americans’ views of their world and often the world’s view of the United States.”
While I don’t remember thinking, “Wow, that book shouldn’t be there,” I did think of several that might also be included:  Fear of Flying by Erica Jong, perhaps.  And though I don’t know much about the particulars, I would also include Tropic of Cancer or Lolita, given the court battle for publication in the US and the subsequent discussion/fight over pornography.  Maybe Duncan Hines’s travel and dining guides.  Frederick Jackson Turner, The End of the Frontier (which, I believe, was a lecture first, so maybe that’s why it was excluded).  The Making of the President by Theodore White.

And just seeing the array of beautiful editions was breathtaking!  It’s boggling to imagine what one could come across in the Library of Congress if we were allowed to simply poke around.  I remember seeing that exact edition of The Wizard of Oz in the children’s room of my public library.  And why was that hardcover Their Eyes Were Watching God about two-and-a-half inches thick when the paperback now is so tiny?  And my god, Salinger must have hated the painting on that edition of The Catcher in the Rye—totally sentimental…Phoebe looked a lot like “Sally” in those early, grade school readers.  Leaves of Grass was surprisingly ornate.

You can see the whole list here, but if you’re in the area, this exhibit is worth going out of your way to view.  Free, air-conditioned, thought-provoking, and within walking distance of some interesting restaurants* for lunch afterwards…what could be better on a DC summer day?

*Top Chef contestant Spike’s We the Pizza or Good Stuff (burgers) for casual, and Sonoma wine bar for a place where you don’t have to stand in line.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Two at the Most: The Classic Cocktail Scene in Seattle

Note:  Today I’m introducing a new, semi-regularish column by my husband, Steve Ello, about craft/classic cocktails and any important news about booze!  If you don’t recognize the allusion in the title, this will help:

I like to have a martini,
Two at the very most.
After three I'm under the table,
after four I'm under my host.
~Dorothy Parker

I confess that I recited this poem to Steve over drinks on our first date….but enough about me; here’s Steve, on his recent trip to Seattle, Washington:

I can report that the craft cocktail movement in Seattle is alive, well, and indeed—thriving.  In fact, I was waiting to take the ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge Island and in the small bar at the ferry terminal I had a Manhattan made with a rye distilled on Bainbridge Island, WA; Dolin Sweet Vermouth; top quality bitters; and a burned orange twist! It was better than 90 percent of what you would find in Washington, DC restaurants.

I was able to visit four places while I was in Seattle and only scratched the surface.  Ambiance was excellent in all of them.  Good cocktails in each.  I was surprised that all of the places I went to served significant/unique food. Not full dinners but small plates/heavy, gourmet appetizers.  I would recommend them all to people going to Seattle with the exception of Canon, which I may have just hit on a night with two “dud” mixologists. Fine enough, but I enjoyed the other places much better. All of them seemed to be open seven days a week.

This was my first stop on a Sunday evening.  My drink notes are probably the worst for Zig Zag as it was the only place where I did not sit at the bar. A little hard to find unless one looks at the comments on Yelp which are clear…if you do not leave them at the hotel. It is in an alley between two streets just below the façade of a three-story office building below Pike Place Market and above Western Ave.  Address is on the façade of the building.  Stucco, plants outside the door.  Nice size curved bar inside (10-15 seats) then a number of velvet banquets and some small tables.

Casey was working when we went in. Very attentive, asked what we liked, anything we did not like.  He prepared a variation on a martini for my colleague who is more of a beer drinker that he enjoyed, and I had a variation on a Negroni and then a Manhattan.  Cocktails he served didn’t really have names; he just tweaked the proportions and the liquors, which was fine, but I always like a name even if it is a personal creation.  Since we didn’t sit at the bar I don’t recall if they had full printed menus but they had a chalkboard with cocktails written on it.  Music was low, unobtrusive jazz.  People sitting across from us raved about the food (Caesar salad/pasta dish).  They had no cocktails however.  Can I trust them?

Someone at another place I went to while I was in Seattle said that there was a bartender at Zig Zag who was supposed to be a “wizard” at the bar but he didn’t know his name. 

Prior to heading to Zig Zag we stopped at The Brooklyn on 2nd Ave., for oysters.  Great West Coast Oysters and had an excellent Dry Fly Martini there.  Not a craft cocktail spot but very good nonetheless. They know how to make a martini.

Visited Canon on Monday evening.  It was, unfortunately, a disappointment for me.  Easy to find, nice ambiance.  Cocktails were competently made but nothing spectacular, and no real interest in having a back and forth with customers.  Dark wood inside with long curved bar that sat about 20.  A few tables that sat four to six. When I sat down, I asked one of the two bartenders if Jamie Boudreau was working that night so I could mention a mutal acquaintance.  I was told he’d check in the back.  He never seemed to check and never got back to me one way or the other.  Later, I asked if Murray Stevenson was working and was told…”No, just us two!”  I was surprised he didn’t ask my name or if I knew Jamie. 

Onto the cocktails—I started with a Leopold and Cocci Americano (my suggestion to use the Cocci).  Was very good.  Balanced.  I have had Leopold Gin before and I liked this combination better that with Dolin. I followed that with what seems to be big in Seattle: you “pick your own base spirit,” and then they make something for you. I chose a Genever.  Again, the cocktail was good but when I asked what else he used, I was told it was a secret and he wouldn’t tell me. 


That sort of summed up the bartenders working that night.  Finished with an Aviation made with a Seattle gin I had heard about called Gun Club Gin distilled by Sun Liquor.  Good cocktail, good gin, but nothing I couldn’t make at home.  I had the pork buns, which were recommended online, and they were fine. Nice presentation with a cannon on the plate.  Should have turned the cannon on the bartender…then he might have told me what was in the drink.

Granted, I might have had a completely different experience with a different mixologist, but my experience being what it was I would not recommend Canon as my first choice based on my experience with other places in Seattle and with everything else out there I didn’t get to.

Undaunted, I headed down the street three blocks to Tavern Law.  Owned by Brian McCracken and Dana Tough.  Best cocktails and bartenders of the trip. Long winding bar and tables.  A little lighter color vibe inside.  Music was a little loud and didn’t seem to fit with the classic cocktail theme of the 19th and 20th century but that would be my only criticism.  Bartenders asked me what I liked…we looked at the menu and off we went.  They had an extensive printed menu of classics (most extensive menu of the trip—sours, flips, punches, juleps, coolers, etc.) and their own creations. 

Started off with a Fourth Regiment, which had a unique layering of flavors with the celery bitters. First time for me with that cocktail. In that vein, we moved onto a Greenpoint and finished with a Seelbach Cocktail.  I believe George was mixing most of the cocktails with Layne’s assistance.  Later in the evening, they gave me a black card with just a phone number to get into the super-secret upstairs, which was not open on Mondays.  Go to the phone on the wall and call up and they buzz you in.  They also suggested I purchase Ted Haigh’s Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, which just arrived.  

In between cocktails, I had an excellent foie gras terrine. Fried chicken is supposed to be their specialty.  These folks make a great cocktail. They also suggested checking out Liberty on 15th Ave., East and a place called Rob Roy.

All in all a great experience, except for the music missing the mark.

Last night in Seattle, so the big debate was whether to return to Tavern Law and the super secret room or to venture off to new territory.  I headed west to Bath Tub Gin & Co., which was challenging to find.  It is actually between 1st and 2nd off Blanchard St., in Gin Alley.  Essentially walk around to the back of the building. Luckily, I cornered two guys going into the front of the building who directed me.

The ambiance here was probably nicest of all of the places…but it was the tiniest too.  Top level has a semi-circular bar that seats 6-8 with one table for two, and downstairs there were maybe three or four tables for two.  Dark wood.  Music was very low key. Another nice printed menu with a much smaller selection of cocktails but probably the largest selection gins and whiskeys. The menu was all their own creations, i.e. Jedi Mind Trick (Brandy, Absinthe, maple syrup, lemon juice, thyme), Just above Social (Gin, hickory salt & pepper falernum, Angostura Bitters, black olive).

Started with the Just Above Social (a line from a Hunter S. Thompson novel, the bartender explained) then moved to a martini with a gin I wasn’t that wild about (Cold River, I think) which he offered to swap out, but I didn’t take him up on.  Next did a “Dealer’s Choice” where I asked him to use the Yamazaki Scotch.  He pulled a drink together he called Carnal Knowledge (Scotch, Yellow Chartreuse, Bonal, and grapefruit bitters).  And, he not only told me what was in it he wrote down the recipe!  Finished up with a small Manhattan with Buffalo Trace which I had not had before.

The bartender (there was only one) was great and the ambiance was wonderful, but for some reason no drink was quite a home run here.  However, based on the ambiance, the bartender and how nice he was I would give them another try. 

Tavern Law…best cocktails and most skilled mixologists with a unique menu…I’d give Bath Tub Gin & Co. best in show and with most potential and is Zig Zag, a solid choice for both cocktails and comfort.  And while I would recommend them all, I was sadly disappointed by Canon which was suggested by one of DC’s own craft cocktail gurus and features Jamie Boudreau and Murray Stenson (formerly of Zig Zag Café), two legends in the Seattle cocktail scene (neither was there the night I stopped in).

~Steve Ello

Monday, June 25, 2012

Joshua Henkin on "'Big-Idea' Writing" and More

A very thoughtful interview in The Millions with fiction writer Joshua Henkin, whose new novel The World Without You has just been published.

AS: … I also experience writing fiction as a very humbling act; it puts what one notices, feels, imagines, above what one knows. So where do you think the “grand idea” impulse comes from? Are the writers you’re talking about truly meant to be sociologists and politicians? Or are they responding to some pressure — an idea they have about what constitutes Literature, or what kind of Literature sells?

JH: …I do think we’ve been living in a time when certain kinds of “big-idea” writing are in vogue. … I think there’s also something psychologically complicated at work here, which has to do with the anxiety of influence. Someone once said that there are only two kinds of stories, Stranger Comes to Town and Person Goes on a Trip — which is really just one kind of story, since Stranger Comes to Town is simply Person Goes on a Trip from a different point of view. I don’t find this particularly perturbing. Yes, every story has been told, but it’s the way of telling — the how — that makes every writer unique, and if you have a distinct voice, if there’s emotional truth to your characters, if you use language in service of this voice and these characters, then your book will be distinct. I mean, look at the world around us. We don’t say, Why fall in love, why have a job, that’s been done already by billions of people. We don’t not get married just because everyone’s been doing that forever. But I think this feeling that every story has been told does concern a lot of writers, often to their detriment. They’re insufficiently confident that the story they’re telling is worth telling, and so they dress it up with a lot of grandiosity and big ideas; they deck it out in pyrotechnics. You read a lot of novels that smack of, I’m John, hear me roar, I’m Jane, hear me roar. Reading these writers, I find myself thinking, Would you please just chill? There’s an underconfidence at work that comes in the guise of overconfidence. Whatever it is, it does bad things to the fiction — it makes it a lie.

One of the paradoxes is that novels that try to be big often end up being small, whereas novels that, on the surface, seem more curtailed in their ambitions, end up being bigger….

Read on.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Work in Progress: I Wrestle with the Present Tense vs. I Wrestled with the Present Tense

You know what’s hard?  Digging ditches in 100 degree heat.

You know what else is hard?  Switching a story from the past tense to the present tense.  I generally advise student writers not to put their story into the present tense unless there’s a very compelling reason to do so, unless the story must be written in the present tense, as it seems that this one I’m working on must be.  I want the immediacy and the unfolding action that hits the narrator at the same time it hits the reader.  I want a little bit of a tricky narrator, keeping her cards close to the vest as a way to protect herself, not to manipulate the story.  But I sure wish I would have figured all that out earlier in the process, as my sense is that it’s easier to write in the present tense if one starts out that way.

Going back, though, to make the switch is much more complicated than taking off the “ed”s on the verbs.  There’s the realization that one is using “is” way too many times in a row (i.e. She is running vs. She runs).  There’s navigating something that happened last week in the story that the first person narrator needs to talk about.  There’s the first person in the present tense, which somehow seems more incredibly narcissistic than the usual first person which already seems narcissistic enough to me (not that I don’t love the first person!).  There’s the sudden uptick in contractions that add all those apostrophes on the page—i.e. whereas I would have no problem writing “I was,” I balk at writing “I am,” and once you commit to “I’m,” there’s a look and sound that is totally different and seems to draw more attention to itself than the innocuous “I was.”

Yet, I’m confident that this switch to the present tense is the right thing for the story, and so I press on…80 percent confident with my decision, or perhaps 50 percent confident, or perhaps not even remotely confident at all at this particular moment—which pretty much describes about any aspect of the writing process, so at least this discomfort feels familiar.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

New Poems & Interview with Converse Low-Res MFA Poetry Teacher Denise Duhamel

I suspect that my writings about the fabulous Converse low-residency MFA program tend to be fiction-centric.  Be assured that we also have fabulous poets (and nonfiction) teachers, too.  Here’s a recent interview poet Major Jackson conducted with Converse’s Denise Duhamel, who has to be one of the funniest, most innovative, most supportive writers out there:

MJ: How did this poem begin? You said it was a number of journal entries and lifted conversations. How did it begin and how did you go about structuring the poem?

DD: I wrote it out in prose, actually, in the beginning. I had these lists. I had the little old ladies at my condo, what they were whispering, all this stuff I would write down. It wasn’t in this order, but I had it in a little journal. And then I went to the hairdresser and I wrote down some of what happened there, and then I was also keeping notes about the whole Facebook thing. For me, the poem is trying to talk about something without talking about it. I guess it’s trying to be confessional without being completely confessional.

Read on.  (The poem referenced in this snippet above is “If You Really Want To,” which can be read as a PDF at this site as well as another…both raw, and IMHO, not-to-be missed.)

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Link Corral: Poets on Place, Digital Publishing Seminar; Kim Roberts on Redux

Several years ago, my old grad school friend W.T. Pfefferle lived the dream:  he and his wife traveled around the country in an RV, with their only mission to meet up with 62 poets and talk about the importance of “place” in their work.  The result was a beautiful book of words and photographs called Poets on Place: Interviews and Tales from the Road.

Now, the entire text and photographs are available—for free!—online, simply by going here:

Warning:  you will get lost amidst this book, but isn’t that an essential aspect to any road trip?

From The Writer’s Center, a one-day digital publishing conference on June 23:

The Publish Now! digital publishing seminar is fast approaching! At this comprehensive day-long seminar, keynote speaker Justin Branch, a publisher with Greenleaf Book Group, will give an overview of the changing publishing landscape and offer guidance on how to control your own publishing experience and maneuver the world of ebooks and digital publishing. Other presenters include award-winning authors, publishers, editors, agents and attorneys who will cover the essentials of writing, publishing and marketing a book in the digital age.

Publish Now!
Take Your Writing from Manuscript to Book & ebook in the New World of Digital Publishing
Saturday, June 23
9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
$100 non-members, $85 members/$50 students
Registration fee includes networking lunch & reception
Call 301-654-8664 or visit  for more information.

- “The New World of Publishing” will be led by Justin Branch, a publisher with Greenleaf Book Group, whose clients range from well-known brands such as John Gray and Kanye West to debut authors.
- Ken Ackerman & Neal Gillen will present “The Non-Traditional Publishing Experience.”  Ackerman has authored four published books and is founder of Viral History Press. Gillen is the author of eight self-published novels.
- “The Story – The Manuscript is Finished – Or is It – What’s Next?”, led by C.M. Mayo, author of The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, a Library Journal Best Book 2009; Miraculous Air and Sky Over El Nido, winner of the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction, among many other works. Her presentation will answer the question, How do I know when my manuscript is ready to be published, and whose help do I need to get it there; for example, a private editor, writing coach, or trusted reader?

- “Developing Your Marketing Plan,” led by Ally Peltier, chief editor, writer and editor of Ambitious Enterprises and Angela Render, owner of Thunderpaw Business Intelligence & Network Systems Management and author of “Marketing for Writers,” will break down what a successful manuscript is and how to design your own program for marketing it.

Legal & Business
- Attorneys Laura Strachan and Cynthia Blake Sanders will demystify copyright, fair use and commercial speech laws, which are changing rapidly in the new world of publishing and help you understand who owns your manuscript.


New on Redux:  Three poems by DC writer Kim Roberts:

Edema Man can make others swell at will
so their rings no longer fit.
Dustball Man distracts foes
with repetitive domestic chores.
Each Spring thaw, Ice Damage Man
reveals new potholes along your daily commute.
Papercut Man leaves his enemies with cruel,
nearly invisible hand wounds….

Monday, June 18, 2012

My Story in "River Styx"

I'm pleased to report that my story “Tough and Dangerous Times” is in the new edition of River Styx magazine, which is an independent literary journal that’s been published in St. Louis for 37 years:

Thirteen-year-old Robin Morris knew for a fact that her father was screwing the nanny because she had read those exact words in her stepmother’s diary this afternoon after sneaking into their bathroom pretending to look for hair gel; Kim hid her diary in a drawer by the tub, next to her tampons, wrapped in an old Disney beach towel no one used.  Robin hadn’t peeked at the diary for a week, but today she plucked it from its hiding place and flipped open to the most recent entry, only two sentences, dated last night:  “Goddamnit, now that asshole is screwing the nanny + honestly, it’s easier to replace him than her.  But I want to kill them both.”  Robin had closed the black leather notebook and shoved it inside the folds of the towel, not being as careful as she usually was about replacing it just so.  Then she stood for a moment, her heart beating surprisingly fast.  This was why her father had come out of the guest room this morning mumbling about his back acting up.
Now here they were:  being shown to a table for four, right in front, by the big picture window that looked out onto the street.  No one was in the restaurant because it was only 5:10, because no one else in Bethesda thought it would be a “special treat” to eat a too-early dinner of Chinese food on a drizzly Saturday.  The restaurant’s décor was so bland as to be forgettable even while looking around the room.  The only item of note was the big, red, snarling dragon set on a table along the far wall.  Every time Robin came here, something seemed slightly different about the dragon:  today, it was angled so that its curled tongue pointed at her, as if it wanted to warn her about something—which was silly, but also spooky, and a chill tingled Robin’s spine.
The story came from a very real Chinese restaurant in Bethesda, near the Writer’s Center, where I often eat before I teach.  Because I’m eating there at odd hours, there is an odd assortment of people in the restaurant, and I can’t help but make up stories about them as I eat my hot-and-sour soup and shrimp fried rice.  This was a very uncomfortable family, clearly not enjoying their dinner out—I have no idea what the real problems were, but isn’t that the fun of writing, getting to make it all up?

Here’s more information about River Styx.  The journal is currently reading manuscripts—a rarity in the summertime!—and I had such a lovely experience working with the editors, that I highly recommend sending along your work.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Work in Progress: Chicken & Cauliflower Curry!

No, this post has nothing to do with writing.  But it’s been a while since I’ve run a recipe, and while one of the treats of being away at the Converse MFA residency is getting to eat dining hall food that I do not plan, shop for, cook, or clean up after, there’s a certain point where I miss cooking. 

Here’s a new, easy and fantastic recipe I made upon my return. It was spicy, partly because it just is, but also partly because I added extra curry powder, garlic, and ginger.  And people who are whining, “I don’t like cauliflower,” take note:  you can’t even tell cauliflower is in here, I promise.  In an exciting twist for me, this is actually a healthy recipe (240 calories per serving), and it’s great with brown rice.  It’s not a super-juicy curry, so you could even put it in a wrap if you wanted to or serve on top of salad.  Finally, I don’t have a wok, and a large non-stick skillet with a lid worked perfectly fine.  Do chop up everything before you start cooking.

This recipe is from The Washington Post (official link with a short write-up and nutritional info here).


  • 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, cut into thin strips, about 1 1/2 inches long and 1/4 inch thick
  • 1 bunch scallions, white and light-green parts, cut crosswise into thin slices (1 cup)
  • 3 medium cloves garlic, finely chopped  [I say, MORE!]
  • 2-inch piece peeled ginger root, finely minced or grated (1 tablespoon) [I say, MORE!]
  • 1 tablespoon double-concentrated tomato paste or 2 tablespoons regular tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons mild curry powder, or more to taste [I say, MORE!]
  • Salt
  • 1 cup low-sodium or homemade chicken broth
  • 1/2 head (1 pound) cauliflower, stemmed and cut into bite-size pieces (no more than 3/4 inch)
  • Water
  • Leaves from about 1/3 bunch cilantro, chopped (3 tablespoons)  [I say, MORE!]

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a wok or large, shallow skillet over medium-high heat until the oil shimmers.

Add half of the chicken; stir-fry for 2 to 3 minutes, until the chicken loses its raw look. Transfer to a clean plate; repeat with the remaining chicken and transfer it to the plate.

With the wok or skillet still over medium-high heat, add the scallions; cook for 30 seconds, stirring. If the pan is dry, add oil as needed. Add the garlic and ginger; cook for 30 seconds, stirring. Add the tomato paste, curry powder and salt to taste; cook for 30 seconds, stirring.

Pour in the broth; stir to thoroughly to coat the ingredients, then add the cauliflower pieces and cover, adjusting the heat to medium or medium-low so the liquid maintains a low boil. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes, until the cauliflower pieces are tender.

Return the chicken to the wok or skillet; stir to coat with the sauce. If the sauce seems too thick, add water as needed. Cover and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through.

Remove from the heat. Stir in the cilantro. Serve immediately.  4 servings.  [NOTE: The cilantro wilts the next day, so if you want to make this in advance, you might want to sprinkle the cilantro on just before serving to keep it looking pretty.]

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Good News for the Verbose (Like Me): Ploughshares ISO Long Fiction

Ploughshares is accepting longer works of fiction for a special, online publishing venture. Here are the details from their newsletter:

Pshares Singles:  A new opportunity for prose writers working in longer forms. In the print issue, it's often hard to find space for longer stories and novellas. With electronic media, though, we now have an opportunity to consider new kinds of work.

Pshares Singles will be a venue for longer works of prose—stories of 9,000 to 12,000 words, and novellas of 30,000 to 60,000 words—chosen by our editors. Singles will be available on
Kindle, Nook, and from our own website: $1.99 for stories and $3.99 for novellas. (Authors still get paid and retain rights to their work.) The first Single will appear in July—"The Lady of the Burlesque Ballet," Timothy Schaffert's surreal fairy tale about obesity, murder, and the theater.

Note: If submitting online, make sure you identify the genre as Pshares Singles (it is at the bottom of the drop-down menu). If by mail, please mention it in the cover letter. We look forward to reading your work!
Submissions are open now, and here are the writer's guidelines.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Your Bloomsday Date

Yes, Saturday is June 16, “Bloomsday,” the day on which the action of James Joyce’s Ulysses takes place.  Also, yes, I’m using this opportunity to mention (again) that I read Ulysses while in college, carefully arranging my schedule to take the class that would force me to do so, knowing I would never read the book unless under threat of a grade.  (Though I have no memory of writing a paper about the book—??  I guess my insights were that insightful….)

Anyway, if you would like to celebrate Bloomsday, head over to Politics and Prose on Saturday, where the first three chapters of the novel will be read aloud, starting at 10 AM.  Details here.  After the reading, the moveable feast continues on to an Irish bar at Dupont Circle.

And just because, yes, yes, it, yes, IS that amazing, here’s the conclusion of the book, Molly Bloom's famous soliloquy:

O and the sea the sea crimson sometimes like fire and the glorious sunsets and the figtrees in the Alameda gardens yes and all the queer little streets and the pink and blue and yellow houses and the rosegardens and the jessamine and geraniums and cactuses and Gibraltar as a girl where I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.
What the hell…here’s a link to the book itself (through Project Gutenberg) if you’re feeling motivated.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Converse Residency: My "Time-Is-A-Blur" Wrap-Up

Wow.  I absolutely cannot believe 10 days just passed while I was teaching in South Carolina at the Converse College low-residency MFA program.  It felt more like 10,000 days…10,000 VERY FULL days.  I can’t possibly cover everything, but here are some random thoughts:

--I was paired up with fiction writer Keith Lee Morris for the workshop, and we had a good time.  I knew we’d get along when I discovered that he’s as much a maniac about misused commas as I am.  The class was smart and chatty, and I loved the last day, listening to everyone read their homework assignments out loud…exciting to witness such progress and genuine break-throughs.

--I greatly enjoyed hearing a teeny-tiny snippet from colleague Dan Wakefield’s novel-in-progress at his reading.  And the two of us were lucky enough to squeeze in a lovely talk over red wine at my super-special, top-secret, private place on campus.  (Don’t ask where it is, because I’m not going to tell.)  Also, we were quite lucky not to get busted for drinking outside by the rabid members of campus security who seemed overly-obsessed with stopping anyone from even thinking about wine or beer.

--Even now, as an older-and-wiser woman, there is something evocative about cruising down an empty downtown street on a dark summer night, music spilling from the windows…that sense of wanting to break free, the possibilities ahead if only you keep driving.  When you’re in that car, hot wind rushing through your hair, you can forget what you think you know about the world, and everything feels fraught with possibility.

--I don’t care what anyone says, I greatly enjoyed my can of Pabst Blue Ribbon at the dive bar, especially since it was only $1.50.  $1.50!!!   !!!!!

--I can still stay out until 4AM and show up in a presentable state at 9:30 the next morning…but only once.

--People in the south are always bragging about the great pizza at the Mellow Mushroom, and while I wouldn’t stack it up against Chicago or New York pizza, I’d be pretty pleased if a branch opened up in around here.  Plus, you have to love a waitress who doesn’t mind writing out 20 separate checks.  (No, I’m NOT exaggerating.)

--I teared up several times as graduating students read from their fabulous work.  So much progress, such fine writers.  As always, it’s an honor to guide their journey the tiny bit that I do.  I love that in this small, intimate program, I can remember the writing exercise that started the story that landed in the thesis, or the workshop discussion that led the writer to discover the heart of the story and find the surprising yet inevitable ending.  I love that I personally know how hard the struggle is for each of these students, and how sweet the success.

--Fiction writer Marlin “Bart” Barton’s craft lecture on the lyric register almost made me want to read Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel.  Almost.

--I still love cornbread salad, and I was excited to get to eat it twice.  (If you make it, I suggest replacing the pinto beans with black beans, and the green pepper with red pepper.)

--It’s very sad to report that grits were not available in the dining hall.  Shouldn’t that be illegal or something?  Why can’t campus security get on top of that situation?

--I drove home in my usual state:  exhausted, inspired, already eager to return in January for another round.

Note:  Join us!  Applications are due on October 1, 2012.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Converse Residency: Day 1000

Wow…I will never catch up on everything that’s been happening and the whirl of creative energy around here.  So I’ll just be quick and practical for right now:

Literary agent Jenny Bent (The Bent Agency) visited campus today and gave a great talk about finding an agent and shared some good online resources:

~ list of agents and information about them

~  agent deals and publishing news

~ interviews/features on agents

~ how to write log-lines (those one-sentence descriptions of books that drive us crazy because they’re so hard to get right and we hate summarizing our 500-page novel in one sentence!)

Friday, June 1, 2012

Converse Residency: Day 1

Observations from the first full day of the residency:

--Dorm lighting is highly unflattering.

--Dorm beds are made for 18-year-olds.

--Grilled cheese-egg-ham sandwiches make a great breakfast.

--If you arrive early to the cocktail reception, you may get a private wine tasting.

--My creative nonfiction colleague Susan Tekulve is super-smart about writing novels-in-stories.  (I can’t possibly summarize her excellent craft lecture, but she discussed what a true novel-in-stories is, the characteristics of n-i-s using examples from Love Medicine, Olive Kitteridge, and Our Kind, and she was a fierce advocate for the form.  I plan to nag at her until she adapts this talk for an article for the AWP Chronicle.)

--My smart and chatty workshop group will be awesome! 

--I’m exhausted already, but I don’t want to miss a minute, so no way am I going to bed early!!


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