Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Politics & Prose ISO Submissions from DC Writers (No Fee)

Good news for DC-area writers!  Politics & Prose Bookstore has dropped the submission fee for its forthcoming anthology, District Lines. From the website:

We are now soliciting submissions—poems, essays, short stories, coherent musings and ramblings, scribbles, comics, or graphics—that describe a particular D.C. 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 Work must be original and previously unpublished.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. 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. … (All work submitted per our previous guidelines is still eligible, and authors will be issued a refund for the submission fee.)
Information about how to submit your work can be found here.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Link Corral: DC Writers’ Happy Hour TOMORROW! and New on Redux

Sorry to be so last-minute about this…the perils of haphazardly blogging while traveling, I guess.  DC writer Willona Sloan is hosting another writers’ happy hour tomorrow, Tuesday, July 31.  Details:


Write.Drink.Read – a collaborative gathering of writers––will be held on Tuesday, July 31, 6:30 – 8 PM at Science Club (1136 19th St, NW. Near Farragut West metro).
Part writers workshop, part happy hour, part open mic reading, this laid back collaborative, creative gathering is open to writers of all levels and experience.

Space is limited. RSVPs are required. To RSVP, email Willona at creativegeniusdc@gmail.com.

Please feel free to invite your friends, writing groups, and writing partners but each guest must RSVP. I will be capping attendance to maintain a level of intimacy.  We will be doing writing prompts and generating new work so bring your writing instruments and implements and open minds.


New on Redux: Sondra Spatt Olsen’s 1990 story, previously published in The Yale Review: 

Lief hates taxis.  The cabdrivers unnerve him with their wild driving and strange routes.  He likes to know exactly where he's going.  He doesn't want any confrontations or terrors.  On the other hand, as they stand on the busy street corner, he notices that both Max's and Sophie's shoelaces are untied.  He feels so tense that he doesn't think he can make it several blocks to the PATH station without screaming at them as their laces, already frayed and grimy, drag on the filthy sidewalk.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

3200 Miles Later...

…and I’m back home!  I’m still quite disorganized and while I can’t plead jet-lag, I can plead culture shock, after having spent several days in a state with a population of about 800,000, which is about the number of people I encountered on the Beltway, arriving during rush hour yesterday.

So I’ll continue the blog hiatus until next week.  Suffice it say for now that it was a GREAT trip!

Friday, July 20, 2012

"The farther they went into the west, the smaller they seemed..."

Laura said it best:

“Laura said to Mary, ‘This prairie is like an enormous meadow, stretching far away in every direction to the very edge of the world.’

“The endless waves of flowery grasses under the cloudless sky gave her a queer feeling.  She could not say how she felt.  All of them in the wagon, and the wagon and the team, and even Pa, seemed small.

“All morning Pa drove steadily along the dim wagon track, and nothing changed. The farther they went into the west, the smaller they seemed, and the less they seemed to be going anywhere….

“Laura thought of the many times they had eaten under the sky, while they were traveling all the way from Wisconsin to Indian Territory and back again to Minnesota.  Now they were in Dakota Territory going farther west.  But this was different from all the other times…Laura couldn’t say how, but this prairie was different.

“…There was really almost no difference in the flowers and grasses.  But there was something else here that was not anywhere else.  It was an enormous stillness that made you feel still.  And when you were still, you could feel great stillness coming closer.

“All the little sounds of the blowing grasses and of the horses munching and whooshing in their feedbox at the back of the wagon, and even the sounds of eating and talking could not touch the enormous silence of this prairie.”

~By the Shores of Silver Lake

Okay, the prairie grasses are gone, but there is still a wind and a vastness here.  I felt it at my first stop after arriving at De Smet, at the cemetery where Ma, Pa, Mary, Carrie, Grace, and Laura’s unnamed son are buried.  I sat and looked out over the slough and listened to the wind, and then I left a penny on Mary’s gravestone, thinking of the Christmas in Little House on the Prairie, when Mr. Edwards went into town and found Santa Claus so he could bring back Christmas gifts for the girls:  candy sticks and a shiny penny for each of them.

Thursday, July 19, 2012


We spent the afternoon poking around the Lake Okoboji area, including a quick visit to Arnolds Amusement Park (oldest amusement park west of the Mississippi!) and the Iowa Rock and Roll Hall of Fame—which was interesting.  We saw one of Buddy Holly’s childhood marbles—as certified by an official form signed by his widow—and got to play an old-time jukebox as we read newspaper articles about the plane crash that killed Ritchie Valens, The Big Bopper, and Buddy Holly.  There were some bands from Iowa City inducted into the Hall of Fame, but alas, I wasn’t hanging out at the bars where they played, so they were unfamiliar to me.  Sorry I’m so lame.

I fulfilled my high school dream of acquiring a “University of Okoboji” T-shirt, which was considered just the coolest of the cool thing to wear way back when (because there’s not really such a university!)…and is still popular, according to the owner of the store where the concept was invented, The Three Sons.  I was assured that no matter where I was—“I don’t care if it’s the Panama Canal!”—that if I were wearing my University of Okoboji shirt, someone will notice say something.  Consider that gauntlet thrown!

A short rainstorm put some kinks in our plans, but since the whole state—and whole Midwest—is in a severe drought, we could hardly complain (unfortunately, probably not enough rain to help too much).  So we ended up at Goodie’s, a homemade candy store (thank you, GPS!) and bought some delicious caramel pinwheels and sour cream fudge.

After the business reception, we enjoyed some fabulous MEAT at Maxwell’s Beach Café: Iowa wagu filet for me, and juicy, succulent pork chops for Steve.  Today, it’s off to the airport for Steve and De Smet, SD, for me.  Laura Ingalls Wilder, here I come!!!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

On the Road Around Iowa

Steve and I drove to Dyersville, Iowa, to see the famous Field of Dreams.  In case you’ve never seen the Kevin Costner movie of the same name, the gist is that he decides to build a baseball field in the middle of his cornfields…magic ensues.  This is the site where the movie was filmed, and (until recently) the owners have maintained the field on donations, leaving it pretty much as it looked in the movie. 

Magic ensues.

You don’t really see the baseball field as you approach, and then there it is!  Surrounded on three sides by tall cornstalks, with a beautiful, traditional farmhouse along the back side, it truly is a sight.  Everyone who approached (including us) seemed to relax and smile and exchange glances:  “Is this for real?”  It is.

We hung around for a while, following the basic rituals: standing at home plate, going through the bases, walking to the corn and stepping inside and emerging, the way the players did in the movie.  (And how eerie it was to watch people do that; they really did seem to come from nowhere…that corn is all-encompassing!)  We didn’t bring any balls or bats, but plenty of people did, so we watched kids and adults goof around on the field.  Then we bought a ton of souvenirs.

I’ve heard that the owners have recently sold the field (and who can blame them?) and that there are plans for a hotel and ballfields and tournaments, etc…which I hope doesn’t work out.  The place is perfect as is.

To top off the visit to Dyersville, we popped into Country Junction restaurant, lured by a sign that said, “Iowa’s Best Pie.”  As far as I can tell, that’s no false brag.  I had sour cream raisin with meringue—still slightly warm from the oven—and Steve had blueberry with ice cream.  Oh, that was heaven, too!

Yesterday we drove up and across Iowa, to Lake Okoboji, where Steve has a business meeting.  On the way we stopped in Mason City for “the nation’s second best pork tenderloin” at Susie Q Café.  (I love that modesty!)  These were amazing pork tenderloins—not the “meat as big as your head” school, but a meaty, crisp, thickly battered delightful sandwich.  (We ordered ours “spic and span,” which meant it came with everything.)  Seven seats…and how funny that we chatted with one of the other customers who was originally from Northern Virginia, our neck of the woods!

Mason City is the home of Meredith Willson, the author of The Music Man, so we stopped by his boyhood home, which has been beautifully restored and learned about his early life…I didn’t know about his unconventional mother and an artsy sister.  We looked through the museum, admiring the photos from the world premiere of the movie, right in Mason City (or, “River City,” as it’s known in the musical), complete with movie stars.  Willson had a great affection for Mason City throughout his life, and it’s nice to see that the town is still in love with him, too.  We were sorry we had to move on without doing more than driving by the Frank Lloyd Wright house and hotel.

A quick tour of tiny Wesley, Iowa, near where my mother’s family farm was and a stop at the beautiful church where my parents were married…then on to Lake Okoboji—one of three blue-water lakes in the world, spring-fed and 134 feet deep.  Last night we had a boat tour of the lake, along with an amazing show of heat lightning flashing behind the clouds.  Today…?  Surely there’s something to eat here, and I hear there’s an old-fashioned, wooden roller coaster….

Monday, July 16, 2012

Iowa City Literary Festival: Sam Kean and Donald Ray Pollack

On vacation, but always working…I happened to be in Iowa City during the fourth annual literary festival, so I went to a couple of readings that ended up being excellent.

First, Sam Kean,  one of my former students from Johns Hopkins hit it big with his first book, The Disappearing Spoon, about the Periodic Table of the Elements—but the fun stuff, not the dull stuff I remember from high school chemistry!  I predict that his new book, The Violinist’s Thumb will be equally popular: fascinating stories about our genetic code.  Seriously.  The audience was held in thrall for more than an hour with Sam’s stories about King Tut; the sad, horrible life of chimney sweeps in 18th century England; and gory details about Einstein’s brain.  Sam is a great, natural speaker who chooses his power point photos wisely…here’s information about his upcoming tour (in DC on 7/25!), and believe me:  he is worth driving through a snowstorm—or heat wave—to see.  I wish all my science teachers—or any of them!—had been this interesting.

My second event was another winner:  Donald Ray Pollack read from his novel, The Devil All the Time.  A year or so ago, one of my Converse students (hi, Cheryl!) had seen DRP read at a library in Ohio, and she came to the residency RAVING about his book of short stories, Knockemstiff, though she noted his work was very dark.  Indeed, in the Q&A here, not one but TWO men spoke about how they were reading Knockemstiff and almost couldn’t go on because the stories were so depressing.  Naturally, this made me even more eager to read the book.  I also enjoyed hearing DRP talk about his path to writing, as it was a bit untraditional:  he worked in a paper mill for many years before finally entering an MFA program when he was (I believe) 45.

I also went to the publishing fair, and within moments ended up with a handful of books from the University of Iowa Press table—every book for a dollar!  How can anyone go wrong with that, and my diverse handful includes a collection of stories by Lee K. Abbott, a book about a hobo who rode the rails, and a collection of letters from a female homesteader.

Combine all these books with the books I’m swiping from my parents’ house, and I definitely need a new bookshelf and about three weeks of time to spend simply reading.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

On the Road...Eating

I’m in Iowa now, but I didn’t get here without some eating: 

--I was too tired the first night after driving to go traipsing around town, so I was the person I hated, eating in the Holiday Inn restaurant.  On the plus side, I got to eat walleye pike, which is a Midwestern lake fish that’s incredibly difficult to find on the East Coast.  Yum!

--The most beautiful sight outside of your Holiday Inn is a branch of Tim Horton’s doughnuts.  Tim Horton was a Canadian hockey player, and he knows his doughnuts.  Double chocolate was even better than as it sounds, and sour cream glazed was slightly less good than it sounds.  And fabulous iced coffee…when she asked if I wanted the standard “one cream, one sugar,” I was worried there wouldn’t be enough cream, so I got two…which resulted in a delicious blend that tasted a lot like coffee ice cream.  No wonder I loved it!

--A quick stop in South Bend, IN, for an Italian beef sandwich at King of Gyro.  Not the best beef I’ve had, but the best beef I’ve had while driving halfway across the country.  I was planning to get a Chicago hot dog, but at the last minute grew worried because they weren’t serving Vienna beef dogs.

And in non-food-related news:

Spotted while driving on the interstate—one groundhog, one deer, one funeral procession, two giant wind turbines (6 stories tall!), lots of thirsty-looking corn, a zillion Krazy Kaplan’s fireworks billboards outside of  Chicago.

Surprisingly, after leaving the Beltway and 270, the craziest drivers were in Iowa, on I-80.  I can’t believe I’m saying this, but maybe a couple of state troopers might keep things in check?  But thank you for letting me drive for free, Iowa.

Yes, Ohio’s reputation as a state where one shouldn’t speed seems intact…very well-patrolled.

PA Turnpike, you’ve got your nerve charging me $12.50 to drive on that crappy road!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

On the Road

The blog will be sporadic through the rest of July as I’ll be on the road, driving through the Midwest.  Call me crazy, but the endpoint of the trip is De Smet, South Dakota, the town and area where Laura Ingalls Wilder—of “Little House on the Prairie” fame—spent her teen years and early married life.  I’ve always wanted to see the town for myself, since those books were so important to me growing up. 

“That isn’t all, Caroline!” Pa announced.  “I’ve got some news.  I’ve found our homestead!”

“Oh, where, Pa! What’s it like?  How far is it?” Mary and Laura and Carrie asked, excited.  Ma said, “That’s good, Charles.”

Pa pushed back his plate, drank his tea, wiped his mustache, and said, “It is just right in every way.  It lies south of where the lake joins Big Slough, and the slough curves around to the west of it.  There’s a rise in the prairie to the south of the slough, that will make a nice place to build.  A little hill just west of it crowds the slough back on that side.  On the quarter section there’s upland hay and plow land lying to the south; and good grazing on all of it, everything a farmer could ask for.  And it’s near the townsite, so the girls can go to school.”

~from By the Shores of Silver Lake
And I’ll see that homestead for myself…me and 1000 little girls wearing bonnets.  I can’t wait!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Link Corral: "The Manuscript Is Ready--(Or Is It)?"; 6-Word Story Contest; New on Redux

C.M. Mayo has posted her talk “The Manuscript Is Ready—(Or Is It?)—What’s Next?” from the Writer’s Center’s recent conference on publishing, and what a boon it is for writers in the pre-publication process, trying to decide if self-publishing might be for them and what to expect on the road to the finished book.  Great links and resources abound!

From the intro:

“So you've written your first book. Now what to do with it? It might appear that you're about to enter the labyrinth, but no worries, we're going to take three easy steps, and then a bird's eye view at what is less a labyrinth than a conveyor belt. Finally, for those looking for commercial publication, we'll look at three key areas to consider working on immediately, if not already.”
And all laced with good humor:
“Similarly, a writer who aims for a place in the literary pantheon with Edgar Allen Poe, Edith Wharton, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Eudora Welty, and so on, had also better be prepared to do an unholy amount of revision. Readers, even the most cultivated ones, rarely guess at how many times a quality literary novel or memoir has been revised. The reason is simple: when the writer goes out on tour to flog their book, they have zero incentive to confess how much work went into it, no more indeed than the leading ballerina dancing the Sugar Plum Fairy would halt, mid-twirl, to shout to the balcony, "AYYY, my bloody feet!!!!"


Talk about short:  the six-word story (Hemingway’s famous example:  “For sale, baby shoes, never worn.”  Fleeting Magazine is holding a no-fee contest for a six-word story, and the prize is a night at NYC’s Algonquin Hotel, where Hemingway came up with his gem.  Deadline is September 30, 2012.  More details are here.  (Thanks to Meredith for the link.)


New on Redux:  four poems by NEA winning poet Michelle Boisseau:


Hurt things continue.
The frost last night singed
the roses, but they'll
brave it out a bit
longer till winter
closes tight….
Read on.  And be sure to look at Michelle’s fascinating “Story Behind the Poems”:

…These poems are likely to appear in my next collection, Million, Million (which I'm aiming to finish this summer or fall); in it I explore how poems can enact huge shifts in time and scale, and so reorient us suddenly, shifting where we are and how we got hereA million million equals a trillion; a trillion seconds ago is 34,000 years ago when the human race was painting on cave walls, when rhinoceroses lived in Europe, and the proto-Indo-European language was being developed. …

Monday, July 9, 2012

Free Jenny McKean Moore Community Workshop; 8/31 Deadline for Applications

DC-area writers:  here’s one of the great benefits of living here (besides the hot-hazy-humid Code Orange summer weather)—the Jenny McKean Moore Free Community Workshop, sponsored by George Washington University.  Yes, FREE.  This year’s writer in residence is poet Bruce Snider, and here are the details to apply for the fall semester.


Thursdays, 7-9 PM
September 13, 2012-December 6, 2012

Come and take part in a semester-long poetry workshop.  To apply, you do NOT need academic qualifications or publications.  The class will include some readings and writing exercises, but will mainly be a roundtable critique of work submitted by class members. There are no fees to participate in the class, but you will be responsible for making enough copies of your stories for all fifteen participants.  Students at Consortium schools (including GWU) are not eligible.

To apply, please submit a letter of interest and a 5-10 page sample of your writing.  Make sure you include your name, address, home and work telephone numbers, and email address. If you wish to have your sample returned, please include a self-addressed, stamped envelope.  Applications must be received at the following address by close of business on Friday, August 31, 2012.

JMM Poetry Workshop
Department of English
The George Washington University
801 22nd Street NW, Suite 760
Washington, DC 20052

Bruce Snider is the Jenny McKean Moore Writer in Washington for 2012-2013.  He is the author of two collections of poetry, Paradise, Indiana, and The Year We Studied Women.

Note:  This is all the info you need…I couldn’t find a web site with this info.  In fact, ahem, this blog comes up first when searching!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Link Corral: Cheryl Strayed in DC; Baseball Poem on Redux

Problems with the blogging program which has delayed my posting…grr! 

Hope everyone had a nice Fourth.  Back in my impressionable youth, I read Follow My Leader, where a boy goes blind because his friend throws a firecracker at him, so I’m excessively cautious.  (Actually, it’s very nice to see that the book is still in print, especially since it was originally published in the 1950s. After the firecracker incident, the boy learns how to cope with being blind, eventually ending up with a guide dog.  A good hunk of the Amazon reader reviews are by old-timers like me, gushing about reading the book back in grade school!)


Some unfinished business from my previous post about power and the storm…thanks to Cheryl Aubin, I have been reminded of the four basic “conflicts” (which are not themes at all, though I’m certain that’s how they were presented to us at our crackerjack school; always so exciting to be discussing Jack London because you instantly recognized “man vs. nature”):

Man against man
Man against nature
Man against society
Man against himself


Mark your calendar:  Cheryl Strayed, author of WILD and the beloved “Sugar” of the “Dear Sugar” column on The Rumpus, will be appearing at Politics & Prose bookstore on August 10, 7PM.  I’ll be there!  Details here.


New on Redux:  2 poems by Julie L. Moore, one of which brings the intersection of two of my interests, baseball and the Midwest:

…They are losing by a lot of runs.
It’s hot as Texas as the sun bakes
the boys’ skin like dough,
as they sweat like pepperoni.
Our attention is, to say the least,
divided. …

Monday, July 2, 2012


I don’t think I know anyone actually opposed to electricity, but there’s nothing like having no power for 1 ½, 95-degree days to realize how much I appreciate electricity.  What a happy moment during my half-sleep on a lawn chair cushion on the basement floor to hear the hum of the air conditioner starting up again.  How beautiful life was again!

This storm was remarkable in a number of ways—a derecho*, which is unusual for this area, that featured so much lightning that it was like watching a strobe light…on high speed.  And just from my window in my town, I saw at least a dozen thick, straight, downward bolts of lightning that lit the sky as if it were daylight.  And there seemed to be little to no warning—I had last heard the weather report at around 6:30 PM, when we were told there was “a 30 percent chance of a thunderstorm” (which, if you live around here, they say nearly every summer day).  Admittedly, we were watching a movie—Chevy Chase in “Vacation”; still funny!—but we didn’t know there was a storm until I went upstairs at about 10:30 and saw out the window that the wind was picking up.  I ran downstairs to tell Steve, and right then the power went out, and the storm was upon us in full force.

Of course, that’s how it used to be.  A fascinating book that I read in my beloved genre of  “books about disaster and survival” is The Children’s Blizzard by David Laskin, about a sudden and horrific blizzard in South Dakota/Nebraska in 1888 that resulted in more than a hundred children dying, many as they walked home from school.  Along with the stories of survival, the book talks about the rise of weather forecasting—making me realize that that’s another thing to be grateful for in this day and age, the idea that we often know in advance when a major weather event is potentially headed our way.

Remember English classes in the olden days of high school, when they taught “theme” to us?  As I recall, there were three:  Man vs. Man, some second thing I can’t remember, and Man vs. Nature.  Yes.  There’s a reason that was—and is still—one of the big three.

*Wikipedia IS amazing; our dereceho is already included in the entry!


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