Monday, December 24, 2012

A Christmas Wish...

For Christmas dinner there was the tender, juicy, roasted turkey.  There were the sweet potatoes, baked in the ashes and carefully wiped so that you could eat the good skins, too.  There was a loaf of salt-rising bread made from the last of the white flour.

And after that there were stewed dried blackberries and little cakes.  But these little cakes were made with brown sugar and they did not have white sugar sprinkled over their tops.

Then Pa and Ma and Mr. Edwards sat by the fire and talked about Christmas times back in Tennessee and up north in the Big Woods.  But Mary and Laura looked at their beautiful cakes and played with their pennies and drank water out of their new cups.  And little by little they licked and sucked their sticks of candy, till each stick was sharp-pointed on one end.

That was a happy Christmas.
~Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House on the Prairie


I hope we all will all know such happiness....

Blogging will be sporadic until I return from teaching at the low-residency MFA program at Converse College in mid-January. 

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Deadline for the FREE Jenny McKean Moore Poetry Workshop is 1/14/13

The George Washington University announces the Jenny McKean Moore Free Community Workshop for Spring 2013:


Thursdays, 7:00 – 9:00 p.m.
January 24 – April 26, 2013

Led by Bruce Snider

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 poems 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 Monday, 14 January 2013.

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.

The George Washington University is an equal opportunity institution.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Two at the Most: Put Up Your Dukes!

Note:  “Two at the Most” is a column written by my husband, Steve Ello, focusing on craft cocktails.  And I see here that he’s straying into my territory, with this description of a mouth-watering meal that I’m very, very sorry to have missed!

Put Up Your Dukes!

By Steve Ello

If you ever make it to Charleston, SC, I would encourage y’all to carve out some time to eat, and imbibe, at FIG (which stands for Food Is Good; Located at 223 Meeting Street, it is a short block or two away from The Charleston Place Hotel. 

And, let me assure you, the food at FIG is very good!  Recommended by a colleague/friend from Chicago— whose brother works at FIG for cocktails—I was amazed at the food:  Light and airy Ricotta Gnocchi with a wonderful Bolognese sauce, followed by crisp Thackery Farms Suckling Pig Confit ,and a wonderfully sweet, round and just-right Sorghum Cake and a dollop of coffee ice cream. I now know why people rave about gnocchi.  If it was only this good all of the time….  Each course was incredibly well balanced, beautifully presented and just the right portion size.

Prior to, and in between the food, I was able to sample several of the restaurant’s cocktails.  Andrew was mixing the drinks the night I was in. One of the unique features of the restaurant is its “Manhattan Menu,” which allows you to select one ingredient from each column to make your own personalized Manhattan (one bourbon or rye, one sweet vermouth, and one bitter).  It’s a great idea that allows you to try some things you might not normally purchase without investing in multiple bottles.  I experimented with a mixture of the old and new—Old Granddad Bonded Bourbon, Cocchi Vermouth Torino, and Angostura Aromatic Bitters.

With my main course, I sampled a cocktail off the menu called the Pugilist.  It is a wonderful mixture of Rye, Applejack, Madeira and Barenjager Honey Liqueur (  It was a drink with multiple layers, yet still packed a subtle punch.  As the night concluded, Andrew was gracious enough to ignore my Northern Virginia accent and kind enough to provide me with the following recipe, which was developed by the team behind the bar at FIG.


1oz     Rye (Any brand should be fine but two of my go-to ryes are Rittenhouse or Bulleit Rye)
1oz     Applejack (I used what I had, which was Laird’s)
.75 oz Madeira (I purchased an inexpensive bottle for under $10 that was suitable)
.25 oz Barenjager Honey Liqueur (This may be a little hard to find depending on where you live but will keep for a while, as it is liqueur.)

Fill a mixing glass half full with ice.  Add the ingredients in the order above, and stir until well chilled. Serve up, with a lemon twist.

So, you can always put up your dukes…but after a wonderful meal, some stellar cocktails, and great conversation, there is definitely no need to fight when you are at FIG.

P.S.  This holiday season I am determined to try my hand at either homemade Egg Nog or the Tom and Jerry.  I’ll let you know how it goes!

Note:  I’m definitely looking forward to this experiment!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Best Books I Read/Reread in 2012

My list pays no attention to publication dates or how long a list should be.  These are just the books I read this year that stuck with me, that might be the answer to, “Read anything interesting lately?”  (Arranged chronologically, in the order I read them.)

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald:  I assigned this to my Johns Hopkins novel-writing workshop because I think it’s one of the most perfectly structured novels.  As Mary Poppins would say, “Practically perfect in every way.”

The Wilding by Benjamin Percy:  Not perfect, but the echoes of Deliverance made this a memorable, stay-up-late-to-finish, literary page-turner.

Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose:  One of the best craft books I’ve ever read.  Watch out, Converse students…you’re getting this one on your lists!

The Collected Stories of Wallace Stegner:  I cannot believe it took me so long to discover his writing; I especially loved the stories about growing up in western Canada.

Rats by Robert Sullivan:  What can I say?  This guy made rats in Manhattan utterly fascinating.

Every Man for Himself by Beryl Bainbridge:  Not many writers could create such suspense in a novel set on the Titanic, and not many writers could make a rich, pretty boy sympathetic…she did both.

By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder:  Actually being in DeSmet, SD, while rereading some of the “Little House” books was instrumental, but I felt a greater appreciation for this “book in the middle” that had never been as beloved as the others when I was growing up.

Knockemstiff by Donald Ray Pollock:  Dark, darker, darkest.  Yes.

The Might Have Been by Joseph M. Schuster:  Baseball and midlife angst explored with immense wisdom and scope.

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien:  Still a masterpiece about the war, human nature, and the importance of art.

You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon:  Linked short stories about military wives and the myriad of battles they face.  An intelligent, heartfelt book that left me brimming with quiet anger and admiration.

In Our Time by Ernest Hemingway:  What it is to grow up, still, and a good bookend to The Great Gatsby, to complete an excellent year in books. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Link Corral: ISO Poems About Bourbon; Lee Child on Creating Suspense; New on Redux

This week is really "hello—goodbye," as I’ll be away from the blog for the rest of the week.  But there may be some food-related posts in the future….


Who can resist a call for poems about bourbon?

Winged City Press and Two of Cups Press announce a call for submissions for the forthcoming anthology tentatively titled BOURBON FOR BLOOD, due out in July 2013.

We are looking for well-crafted, full-bodied poems that mention bourbon. A passing reference or a traditional ode to your favorite distillery, we have no stylistic preferences other than to demand that your work is top shelf.

Submission guidelines

Send up to three bourbon-related poems to by Jan 1, 2013
Previously published poems are accepted for consideration as long as all the required information is provided in the submission. Contributors will receive one copy with the option to buy additional copies at cost. Bios will be requested if your poem is selected.

For more information:


I thought this was a terrific article about creating suspense in your writing, by Lee Child:

How do you create suspense? I’m asked that question often, and it seems that every writers’ symposium has a class with that title. It’s an important technical issue, and not just for so-called suspense novels. Every novel needs a narrative engine, a reason for people to keep reading to the end, whatever the subject, style, genre or approach.

But it’s a bad question. Its very form misleads writers and pushes them onto an unhelpful and overcomplicated track.

Because “How do you create suspense?” has the same interrogatory shape as “How do you bake a cake?” And we all know — in theory or practice — how to bake a cake. We need ingredients, and we infer that the better quality those ingredients are, the better quality the cake will be. We know that we have to mix and stir those ingredients, and we’re led to believe that the more thoroughly and conscientiously we combine them, the better the cake will taste. We know we have to cook the cake in an oven, and we figure that the more exact the temperature and timing, the better the cake will look.

So writers are taught to focus on ingredients and their combination. They’re told they should create attractive, sympathetic characters, so that readers will care about them deeply, and then to plunge those characters into situations of continuing peril, the descent into which is the mixing and stirring, and the duration and horrors of which are the timing and temperature.

But it’s really much simpler than that. “How do you bake a cake?” has the wrong structure. It’s too indirect. The right structure and the right question is: “How do you make your family hungry?”

And the answer is: You make them wait four hours for dinner.

As novelists, we should ask or imply a question at the beginning of the story, and then we should delay the answer. (Which is what I did here, and you’re still reading, right?)


New on Redux:  Former advisory editor Anna Leahy’s wonderful poems:

From “Anatomy Class”

We halved sheep’s eyes and hearts,
sliced frogs and pinned their skins down--
female frogs with tiny, black eggs
scooped gently from their bellies

and males frogs--and animal parts
with no sex, no attachment
to a particular body. Remember the walk
to the boys’ school, the blood taken

from fingers, our cat spread on the slate table,
its eyes closed and its mouth open,
teeth exposed and tongue rippled slightly,
curled up at the tip as if to pant. …

Monday, December 10, 2012

Submit Your Fiction to the Julia Peterkin Award at Converse

I won the Julia Peterkin award once (for this story), and doing so changed my life:  I met two wonderful friends and thanks to them, I’m now lucky enough to teach in the low-residency MFA program at Converse College.  I can’t promise you all that, but I can promise that if you do win, you’ll be treated like a king/queen at your reading in Spartanburg.  Plus, you may get the chance to try the chili cheese a’plenty at the Beacon Drive-In!

Julia Peterkin Award

Established in 1998 by the Department of English and Creative Writing at Converse College, the Julia Peterkin Award is a national contest honoring both emerging and established poets and writers. The award is named for Converse graduate Julia Mood Peterkin, who won the Pulitzer Prize for her novel Scarlet Sister Mary.

The award is offered in both poetry and fiction. The 2013 Julia Peterkin Award is open to all fiction writers writing in English. Deadline for entry is February 15, 2013.

Submission Guidelines for the 2013 Julia Peterkin Award in Fiction

The 2013 Julia Peterkin Award is open to all writers of fiction writing original works in English. Previously published works are eligible for inclusion in the submission.

Manuscript Format Guidelines
Entries must be typed on quality paper, 8 1/2 by 11. Photocopies or copies from letter-quality printers are acceptable. Each entry should include one short story or chapter from a novel-- a maximum of 16 pages. In addition, include a cover page with the writer's name, address, daytime phone number, and title of submission. Also include a one-paragraph biography. Author's name should not appear on the manuscript.

 Entry Requirements

•A handling fee of $15 made payable to: Converse College English Department. Deadline: February 15, 2013.
•Results will be posted online on the Julia Peterkin Award web page in late spring. No manuscripts can be returned.
•Send one copy of the manuscript prepared according to format guidelines.
•The winner will receive $1,000 and travel expenses for a reading at Converse College.

Winner should be willing to read at Converse during the Fall 2013 Visiting Writers Series. 

Send entries to:
The Julia Peterkin Award
Creative Writing Program
Converse College
580 E. Main Street
Spartanburg, SC 29302

For more information, go here or call 864.596.9678.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

My Great-Aunt Turns 100!

I’m hitting the road, heading to the Detroit area for a special reason:  My great-aunt Doris is celebrating her 100th birthday! 

She’s very special to me for a variety of reasons, including the fact that she is one of the four “Polish ladies” who sat around my grandmother’s table, eating my grandmother’s amazing pierogis (“the best in the family,” I was told), sharing stories and memories of their lives and memories.  While I can’t say that there were any precise word-for-word translations from their stories into my novel Pears on a Willow Tree, there are small details and—for lack of a better word—an “impression” of their remembered lives.  This personal research informed the book in a deep and significant way.  I can’t imagine having written the novel without the insight, wisdom, laughter, and generosity of these wonderful women:

Wanda Pietrzyk
Sylvia Cardinal
Doris Wolak
Cynthia Weldon

I’m so lucky to be related to them!  The publication of one’s first novel is such an exhilarating time, but nothing made me happier than seeing the four of them, arriving early to claim seats in the front row at every single one of my Detroit-area readings. 

Around the kitchen table, two of my sisters flicked through baby names like boys trading baseball cards:  Mary, Catherine, Theresa, Rebecca, Barbara, Cynthia.  Only girls’ names because the first boy was named after his father.  There was no speculation to a boy.  Between them, these sisters had two boys, one girl, and another child on the way.

“What are you craving?” Wanda asked.  She was the oldest, the biggest, married to a baker.  John and I were living in her house until we could buy our own, one bedroom for each of the couples, one crib with Wanda and Henryk, the other in the corner of the dining room.  “With me, I ate farmer’s cheese in spoonfuls.”

“Cravings aren’t until the sixth month, Joane said.  “Something’s wrong if you’re already craving in the fourth, Helen.”  She was pregnant with her second, afraid it would be twins because her husband was a twin.

~from “Cravings,” Pears on a Willow Tree

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Duotrope "Scandal"

You’ve probably heard by now that Duotrope, an online, searchable database of literary journals open to submissions, will start charging people to use its formerly free services. (Links are at the end of this post if you want to read more background on this issue.)

 I’ve been a big advocate of Duotrope for ages:  you can easily and quickly get a good list of which journals are currently reading submissions, sorted by length of manuscript and pay scale (using that term loosely!).  Whenever I search, I learn about new journals, and I’m pleasantly reminded of journals that weren’t at the forefront of my mind.

Duotrope apparently also offers a way to keep track of your submissions—which I’ve never used, and wouldn’t; I like my own system (using that term loosely, too, since my system involves index cards!)—and site users report various acceptances and rejection dates, which creates some additional data—again, something I’ve not used beyond a casual glance, since I have no idea how accurate and/or large the sample size is, and I generally expect response times to basically just be Too Long and when it's been Way-Way Too Long, I send elsewhere.

It’s obvious from this quick description that this was a valuable service….that had been totally free.  Free!  In fact, whenever I told anyone about Duotrope, I believe I always said, “And I can’t believe it’s free!”

Starting in January, it won’t be.  There weren’t enough donations to cover costs, so the administrators of the site will be charging $5 a month or $50 a year in the future.  Of course I’m sad about that—I’m as cheap as the next person!  (Let me note that I made a donation earlier this year.)  But I’ve been surprised by the reaction on the street, that somehow this site owes it to us—the Writers of the World—to continue this service so we can keep sending out our work.

Newsflash:  we can still send out our work.  If you don’t want to pay $5 to send out a big batch of submissions three times a year (that’s, um, only $15, which is equal to three eggnog lattes at Starbucks or one craft cocktail at a very nice bar), there are a zillion ways to find lists of journals/contests/markets—CLMP, the AWP bookfair, Poets & Writers, The Writer’s Chronicle, Writer’s Market, the fine (free!) listserve CRWROPPS, the back pages of the Best American Short Stories—and it’s not overly burdensome to check a journal’s website to see if it’s currently reading.  In fact, even when I got that Duotrope list of possible markets, I scoured the journal website for additional information…and now I shudder to think that people might not even have done that.

Which leads to a problem:  scattershot submissions that have no relevance to the journal.  There was a cry from some on Facebook that now people might submit less often, or to fewer journals, and wouldn’t that be horrible?  Not to the journals inundated with material, I bet.  There’s nothing wrong with doing some legwork the old-fashioned way, by knowing the journals you’re submitting to, by looking them up yourself, by reading the work they publish to see if it’s a match for your work.  Even my own Redux, which has a very specifically defined goal-- “previously published literary work not available elsewhere on the internet or in a book”--gets totally inappropriate submissions!

There’s nothing wrong with wanting some compensation for one’s efforts.  I like when I get a check for my writing…who doesn’t?  Starbucks isn’t giving me eggnog lattes for free, so I’m not sure why Duotrope is expected to give us the fruits of all that labor for free.  (They claim to be updating the site many times a day, and my experience with them with regard to Redux was impressive:  they found us; the form to get listed was easy; I got quality submissions as a result.)   

I mean, it was all nice while it lasted, but this shift is hardly a surprise.  And, really, don’t we just know the same fate is somewhere down the road for sites like Wikipedia and Facebook and gmail?

I’m reminded of a poem I love by Dylan Thomas.  The world doesn’t owe us anything, just because we’re writers:

In My Craft or Sullen Art

In my craft or sullen art  
Exercised in the still night  
When only the moon rages  
And the lovers lie abed
With all their griefs in their arms,
I labour by singing light  
Not for ambition or bread
Or the strut and trade of charms  
On the ivory stages
But for the common wages  
Of their most secret heart.

Not for the proud man apart  
From the raging moon I write  
On these spindrift pages  
Nor for the towering dead
With their nightingales and psalms  
But for the lovers, their arms  
Round the griefs of the ages,  
Who pay no praise or wages  
Nor heed my craft or art.

If you want to read more:
Missouri Review blog
Petition asking Duotrope to charge journals, not writers

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Moby-Dick and Me: Classes at Politics & Prose (no, I'm not the one teaching M-D)

Oh, how I love the continued and coincidental reappearance of Moby-Dick in my life this week, though admittedly this new example is a rather weak connection.  Nevertheless, here it is: 

1.  Politics & Prose Bookstore is offering an excellent line-up of classes this winter and spring.

2.  One of the classes is about Moby-Dick.

3.  One of the classes is taught by me!  (Oh, it's all so eerie that I’m getting goosebumps!!)

Here are the details on my class:

Right Brain Writing: Guided Prompts
Leslie Pietrzyk
January 28
1:00 - 3:30 p.m.

Register now for this class
Explore your creative side during this afternoon of guided writing exercises designed to get your subconscious flowing. No writing experience necessary! This is a great class for beginners and also for those fiction writers and/or memoirists with more experience who might be stuck in their current projects, looking for a jolt of inspiration. The goal is to have fun in a supportive, nurturing environment and to go home with several promising pieces to work on further. We will be using as our inspiration work from Speed Enforced by Aircraft, a book of poetry by local author Richard Peabody.

And here are the details about Moby-Dick:

Joseph Fruscione
Five Thursdays (every other week)
: January 24, February 7, February 21, March 7, March 21,
1:00 - 3:00 p.m.
Register now for this class
"Call me Ishmael"--perhaps the most famous opening line in American literature. For this winter 2013 course, we'll read the rich, powerful, and complex novel that follows this memorable opening line. We'll learn what Ahab means when he says "I'd strike the sun if it insulted me," or why the cook Fleece “preaches” to sharks, or why Ishmael catalogs the different types of whales so thoroughly (and obsessively). Over our five class sessions, we'll discuss the many layers and nuances of Melville's novel: Ahab's revenge quest, Ishmael's geographical and metaphysical journey, the scientific and technical material about whales and whaling, the darker elements of Ahab's sense of self, and much more. We'll also learn the how and why of Melville's wonderfully named characters: Starbuck, Stubb, Flask, Queequeg, Daggoo, Tashtego, Pip, Fedallah, Father Mapple, Captains Peleg and Bildad, and others.


But, seriously, check the whole list.  There are classes about Yeats, and Arthurian legends, and Seamus Heaney, and Downton Abbey, and writing picture books, and ladies detective fiction, and a class about beginnings taught by Ann Hood, and EVEN MORE!  Info found here.

Monday, December 3, 2012

A Convergence: Moby-Dick + A Portrait of a Lady Link Corral

In the past couple of summers, I’ve assigned myself a Big Book to read, first Moby-Dick, and the next year The Portrait of a Lady.  I was too distracted by Laura Ingalls Wilder this past summer to keep up the tradition, so I’m not sure if it’s a habit yet or just an anomaly.  Anyway, I digress. 

Within two days, I came across interesting news about both of these Big Books:


From the Powell’s bookstore website:

“Powell's Books has collaborated with Rogue Ales and Spirits to create a beverage for anyone who has a thirst for books and artisan craft beer — White Whale Ale, infused with the seafaring spirit of Moby-Dick. The concept behind the project was to go where beer has never gone before — by adding actual pages from a copy of Moby-Dick to the brew.”
You can order this craft beer from Rogue Ales.

The Portrait of a Lady

From the Washington Post review of Michael Gorra’s Portrait of a Novel, a book about the creation of The Portrait of a Lady:

“Gorra demonstrates that James was interested less in plot than in character, and specifically in consciousness. “The novel isn’t finally about a young woman’s choice of a husband, or even about Americans in Europe,” Gorra writes. “It is instead a drama of the perceiving mind.” James hoped this sort of intellectual drama would be as “interesting,” he wrote in his 1908 preface, “as the surprise of a caravan or the identification of a pirate,” the stuff of commercial fiction. Gorra underlines how radically James broke from the fiction practices of the 19th century in this novel. Not only did he shift the emphasis from plot to character, but he introduced into fiction one of the earliest examples of “stream of consciousness” (his older brother William’s phrase), and he dared to leave his ending unresolved, to the frustration of many readers.”


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