Thursday, August 30, 2012

"What good is sitting alone in your room?": Okay, Not a Cabaret, but Upcoming Readings!

Don’t forget to send along your advice for incoming MFA students and anyone taking their first writing workshop:


Here’s an eclectic, incomplete list of writing-related events that I’m especially hoping I can get to…some big names here and some personal favorites:

Meghan O’Rourke ~ September 18
Davy Rothbart ~ September 26

Eduardo C. Corral ~ September 17
Mark Strand ~ November 19
Billy Collins ~ April 29
 (If you’re a big Billy Collins fan, note that you can get an invite to a private, fund-raising dinner where you can meet him in a smaller environment—and everything I’ve heard indicates that he’s VERY fun to hang out with!  For more info on that:

Orhan Pamuk ~ October 26
Mark Strand ~ November 13

Jeffrey Eugenides ~ September 24
Chad Harbach & Karen Russell ~ February 5
Geraldine Brooks ~ March 28

A.M. Homes ~ October 6
Joyce Johnson ~ October 11
E.J. Levy (my former writing group colleague!) ~ October 14
Sherman Alexie ~ October 17
Zadie Smith ~ October 18
Junot Diaz ~ October 22
 (whew...busy month!)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

How Much Do You Spend on Literary Contests?

Submission season is almost upon us...the journals open their doors, begging us to send in our work.  As I started thinking ahead to where I might send out some of my new work, I also started wondering about contests.  How much money do I spend on all those fees?  How much is too much?  Should I enter more contests?  What about reading fees?  And--I guess what I really want to know--how much do other writers spend?

Here's a four-question survey, just for fun since I totally avoided taking any classes remotely related to statistics.  But I think it will give us an idea of how much money swirls down the drain (I mean, how much we invest in our art).  Please take a minute to answer.  I'll report on the results later, as well as offer some semi-coherent thoughts about the whole contest scene.

Oh, and please feel free to pass along this survey to other writers.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

ISO Tips for Surviving MFAs and Workshops

I’m going to write up a “back to school” post about how to make the most out of your MFA and/or workshop experience.  I’d love your suggestions and recommendations.  All genres are welcome, and any aspect of the overall experience.

--What did you wish you knew on your first day that you know now? 
--What was something you started doing (or stopped doing!) partway through the program that led to better results? 
--How on earth does one learn to deal with those egotistical writing teachers?!
--Any suggestions about managing time?
--How did you get through your first critique?
--Money…tips for getting by without going totally broke?
--How to deal with that annoying person in your workshop who knows everything about everything?
--Etc., etc., etc.

Please email your thoughts to me—  – and let me know if you’d like your contribution to be anonymous or, if you don’t mind being attributed, then how (i.e. Jane S., fiction writer; Jane Smith, MFA, State U; a poet from Poughkeepsie).

I can’t promise I’ll use everything, but I’ll try! 

Monday, August 27, 2012

Work in Progress: My 4AM Pep Talk

Often I wake up at 4AM, with a busy, full mind—and never a busy, full mind ready to accomplish useful tasks or write brilliant sentences,  but a busy, full mind that wants to obsess about worries and woes, inventing worries and woes if none are immediately available.  Last night, it was rejection and the writing life.

Since I have a full week ahead where I’m able to focus completely on my writing, I had to combat busy, full mind’s downward spiral.  So here’s my pep talk to myself.  And please remember this was all taking place at 4AM, where tangled analogies make much more sense:

1. My busy, full mind made a suggestion:  Isn’t that latest rejection a sign from the universe that I shouldn’t be writing, that it’s time to give it up?

It’s always easy to jump down this hole, looking for signs and reasons and explanations, that there’s some larger force looking out for us and that everything happens for a reason.  And maybe so.  I mean, really, we don’t KNOW:  we construct a story in our mind to make that assumption true if we want it to be true.

As harsh as it sounds, it is actually liberating to realize that the universe does not care if I write.  Does.  Not.  Care.  Writing is my choice and therefore my responsibility.  I can stop looking for signals, stop trying to interpret whether the fact that my name was misspelled on the rejection “means” something.  I can write or I cannot, and I think I will.  There is something pleasant about anonymity.

2.  My busy, full mind thought back to the Olympics, imagining that other swimmers must be frustrated by someone like Michael Phelps, so dominantly good in the sport.  It’s a sport in which the difference between gold and fourth is fractions of a second (which is shorter than the time I spent typing the word “fractions”). What if, my busy, full mind wondered, you’re just not Michael Phelps?

It took a while to get beyond that one, because it’s so tempting.  I mean, not everyone is Michael Phelps or can be.  The difference that separates him from the rest of the pack seems infinitesimal to a casual viewer of swimming like me, and yet whatever it is that’s different does separate him—over and over and over.  On the other hand…swimming has a definite goal, to touch the same wall first.  Writing has many walls (oh, ain’t that the truth!—but let’s focus on the metaphor of wall = goal).  Someone writing a great mystery novel is in a different event than someone working on a memoir—and you don’t see Michael Phelps in the long-distance events.  

But I decided that the major difference in the writing world is that our walls are arbitrary:  no one really knows where the end of the race is, as we’re swimming through.  It could be a sprint, it could be a marathon.  That wall could show up in front of you at any moment, and Michael Phelps could be in a different part of the pool right then—on lap 2000 to your lap 55…but the wall shows up in front of you:  You wrote a vampire book right when vampire books are taking off!  You meet the editor of a small press on an airplane and she happens to love generational novels about mothers and daughters and you happen to have finished yours!  Your book gets selected for the lead review in the New York Times Book Review!  The wall is right there.

So, I think our walls move around and are arbitrary and maybe we’re all in the same pool, but we’re each swimming our own events.  Let Micheal Phelps do his thing, while you do yours. The wall will show up…as long as you stay in the pool.  Keep swimming.  Tread water if you must, but stay in the pool.

3.  Well, my busy, full mind asked sarcastically, then why in the hell did you get that rejection?

There are lots of reasons.  We all know the possible failures: bad agent, bad match, bad writing, bad timing.

But what came to me in at 4AM is the reminder that what we have—the only thing we have—is the story we must tell, the story that is ours, the story that no one else could possibly have.  Have I been telling that story?

I believe that every writer has one core story—i.e. I’m gay.  My father abandoned me.  I will never belong—and any time we’re not writing that core, deep story is wasted time.  Obviously, a core story is very broad, so you must find the voice and the narrative and the form that will make your core story feel unique while also universal.  For all its wizards and invisibility cloaks, at the core, Harry Potter is a story about a boy coping with the loss of his parents.  (I’m not suggesting that J.K. Rowling’s parents died when she was a kid, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there was significant loss somewhere in her life.)

I thought about the death of the TV sitcom, that period of time recently when all the network shows seemed to be unscripted reality shows or hour long crime procedurals and TV people were freaking out.  Then a few sitcoms struggled forth: “Modern Family” came to mind because it’s well-respected and watched by the general public and it’s on ABC, an old-school network.  I’ve watched it from time to time, and at its core, the show is about family love—hardly an original idea;  for example, “The Brady Bunch” or “The Cosby Show” were both about family love—but the writers have taken this old, core idea and found their own way to explore the push and pull of family, their own voice, narrative, and form.  It’s a core story, told in a unique way.

I thought about oysters and pearls.

I thought about my own work.  Which pieces were about my core story? Which weren’t?  Which were published?  Which weren’t?

Find your own true story, and tell the truth.  All of the truth.

It’s definitely possible that I’m wrong about this core story and that I’ll feel totally differently when 4AM next rolls around.  But I can’t believe that Faulkner is wrong:

…the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat. (from the Nobel Prize speech)
I’m SO ready for my week of writing!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

From the Way Back Machine: My Job Interview at The New Yorker

I was interested in this new book, a memoir by a woman who worked as a receptionist at The New Yorker for 21 years, from 1957 to 1978: The Receptionist: An Education at The New Yorker by Janet Groth.  

I’m always up for the gossipy element:  (All quotations below are from Heller McAlpin’s review in the Washington Post, found here.)

Readers looking for juicy tales of the quirky denizens of West 43rd Street will find a few — including accounts of weekly lunches with blocked writer Joseph Mitchell, and courtship by poet John Berryman, who tried to convince Groth that she would make a good third wife for him. Much of the book, however, concerns her extracurricular rather than professional life, including her many self-destructive affairs seeking a replacement father figure and husband, and her subsequent struggles with the “dumb blond cliche.”
And then there’s the evocation of the era:

Ultimately, it’s not her sexual saga but her evocation of the “Mad Men” working environment that makes Groth’s memoir interesting. “The Receptionist” vividly depicts a largely vanished Manhattan in which Ritz Crackers were the foundation of hors d’oeuvres, martinis were the mainstay of lunches, and pliable, overqualified women were stuck in lowly jobs forever.

But ultimately, it’s this bit of information that struck me most:

In her 21 years at the magazine, aside from a brief stint in the art department, she was never promoted. Yet, in that same period, she studied for her doctorate in English, taught composition at Vassar and wrote book reviews for Commonweal. When she finally left, in 1978, it was for a teaching job at the University of Cincinnati. She eventually published several books on Edmund Wilson and became a professor of English at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh.
Yikes.  I’m not surprised, but of course I am.  I always want to think better of The New Yorker.    (At least the magazine paid for all her education…and her analysis!) 

Of course, this is only one story of one woman who took one path.  And I know she's the one who chose to stay for all those years. But I think I’m especially interested in all this because way back in my ancient life, I had a job interview at The New Yorker. 

My boyfriend and I took the train up from Washington, where I had recently graduated with my MFA from American University.  I had several interviews in a short span of time:  Random House, The Hudson Review, and—dream job!— The New Yorker!  We stayed with my boyfriend’s friend in a Greenwich Village apartment that I found exotic because the shower was in the kitchen while the  toilet was in a little, locked room down the hall.  The friend shared the three-room place (total: two bedrooms plus the kitchen) with a woman who was a struggling stand-up comic (talk about a hard field for women…I remember her being a little bitter).

I can’t remember what I wore to my interviews, but I’m sure I would scoff at it now…probably some cheap “interview” suit. 

I showed up early for the interview at The New Yorker, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, my head swimming with the excitement of being in The Building.  I’d read and reread Brendan Gill’s Here at the New Yorker and James Thurber’s The Years with Ross, so I knew a little about the layout of the office and the inner workings:  the Fact department, the Fiction department, Mr. Shawn, and so on.

I wish I could remember the name of the man who interviewed me—but it wasn’t anyone I’d heard of (I probably was half-expecting James Thurber or Harold Ross).  We exchanged pleasantries, and I could tell he liked me, or my gung-ho enthusiasm.  Some chit-chat about my many qualifications—my MFA!  The literary journal I had started and worked on in grad school!  Finally—probably to amuse himself—he asked what sort of position I had in mind.

I said, “Well, probably something in the fiction department.  Or maybe in editing.”  I’m sure I expanded upon this theme: I was born to work in The New Yorker fiction department.  Brendan Gill, etc.  My extensive experience starting my literary journal.

He smiled.  Then he said, “We often interview people who seem promising and hold onto their resumes, but it does turn out we actually have a job opening right now.”

I held my breath.

“In the typing pool,” he said.  (I told you this was in my ancient life!  While I personally owned a computer at this time, they hadn’t taken over yet.)

In either the gutsiest or stupidest move of my life, I let my mind race for barely a moment—what would it be like typing memos for the famous Mr. Shawn?—but then I said, “Thank you, but I think I should hold off for something that involves writing or editing.”

I’m sure he smiled again.  I’m sure he told the story to his colleagues and wife.  I’m sure he thought I was silly and young and naïve, and I’m sure I was. 

I wish I could say that the job I took at The Hudson Review was high-powered and important and advanced my career in some significant and exciting way and didn't involve typing.  I also wish I could say that there were never days where I didn’t spend some time regretting my decision:  I could have worked at The New Yorker…I could have slipped a story to Mr. Shawn instead of his typed memo and he would have loved it!...The New Yorker would actually READ my submissions because my cover letter would remind them I had worked there…I would mesmerize the crowd at Bread Loaf with my insider New Yorker gossip!  It’s true that anything could have happened, and surely I would have learned something.

But reading about Janet Groth’s book made me somewhat less regretful.  I would have been a typist.  A girl, expected to smile prettily when the real writers handed over their messy sheaf of paper five minutes before five.

And writing up this little reminiscence—a “casual” in old-time New Yorker parlance—has reminded me that one of the hardest things to learn about being a writer in general and a beginning writer in particular is to always, always take yourself and your art seriously.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

My Fall Writer’s Center Classes

I will be teaching two classes at the Writer’s Center this fall.  I’ve led sessions of both of these classes before, and if I do say so, I’ve been very pleased with the results.

The First Pages:  What Makes a Good Beginning?
A One-Night Workshop
Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Most writers know that they have to “hook” their reader from the start of the story or novel, but how exactly do we do this? What are the elements that make a great beginning to a story or novel?  You’ll find out in this workshop, as we explore ways to strengthen your opening pages.  Everyone is invited to bring 15 copies of the first two pages of one of their stories/novels/essays/memoirs for some hands-on advice.  For more information, go to and click on “workshops.”

Flex Your Creative Muscles!  A One-Day Workshop
Saturday, October 20, 2012
10AM-4PM (with an hour for lunch)

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

You can learn more about other great classes the Writer’s Center is offering:

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Fall for the Book: September 26-30

Yes, after August will come September, which means fall is almost here, which means it’s almost time for the 14th annual Fall for the Book festival at George Mason University (and nearby sites).

Set for September 26 through September 30, the festival features a breathtaking list of participating authors, including:

Michael Chabon
Neil Gaimon
Laura Lippman
Rita Dove
Pam Houston
Alice Walker
Barbara Ehrenreich
Karen Russell

--and, truly, at least three dozen more!  Read the entire list here.

Davy Rothbart, editor of Found magazine, is one of Steve’s favorites, so I’m guessing we may find our way to this event:
Wednesday, September 26
8:00 PM - 9:30 PM
Johnson Center Bistro George Mason University, 4400 University Drive, Fairfax, VA
Road warriors Davy and Peter Rothbart are hopping back in the tour van, FOUND treasures in tow, for an epic cross-country romp, celebrating the release of Davy’s book of personal essays, My Heart is an Idiot, Peter’s new album, and a brand-new issue of FOUND.

Here is the full calendar of events, with dates, times, and locations.  All events are free and open to the public.  For more information:

Monday, August 20, 2012

Larger Than Life: Dallas!

While the purpose of this trip was to accompany Steve and celebrate his professional achievements at the big ASAE meeting, I definitely did get to do some fun things while in Dallas last week and eat some amazing food…which, of course, cannot go unremarked upon.

First, let me explain what ASAE is:  “ASAE is a membership organization of more than 21,000 association executives and industry partners representing 10,000 organizations. Our members manage leading trade associations, individual membership societies and voluntary organizations across the United States and in nearly 50 countries around the world.” (Read more here.)

What this means is that cities hosting the annual meeting of ASAE really, really, REALLY want to impress these 5000ish meeting participants in the hope that they will return to their own organizations and say, “Hey, we should have our convention in Dallas!”  So what that means is that this is one awesome meeting/convention!!

Here are some of the most awesome aspects of a truly awesome get-together (AWP, I love you, but your conference lacks a certain wow factor):

--The group had a private party in the new Cowboys Stadium, home of the evil Dallas Cowboys football team.  As a Skins fan, I swallowed my bile to attend the event, and I was totally impressed from the moment we walked in—through a cheering line of pom-pom waving Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders—to the moment we left—when we were handed a box of popcorn for the bus ride back to the hotel.  The stadium is gorgeous!  The BBQ was good!  The famous/infamous big screen is WAY BIG, with a picture that’s sharper than life!  We toured the locker room, the cheerleaders’ locker room, and they hauled out the Super Bowl trophies!  We got to walk on the field, stand on the mid-field star, try our skills at various football drills (that is, if we hadn’t been drinking at the open bar…or perhaps it was if we had been drinking too much at the open bar)!  Marble, fog machines, cushy seats, big, clean ladies rooms…oh, dear.  FedEx Field is totally lame in comparison. 

--This is like a dream:  a “taste of Dallas” event with 10 famous chefs offering small tastes of their food.  Oh.  My. God.  !!!  My only regret is that there didn’t seem to be a comprehensive list of chefs and dishes, so this is a rather sketchy report.  But I ate incredible shrimp and grits, and incredible beef on grits (in fact, Texas grits may be better than southern grits? Oh, the sacrilege!).  I also got to “meet” Tiffany, one of my favorites from “Top Chef,” and she was serving up a luscious seafood ceviche; she was as charming as she appeared on the show, and laughed at my lame joke and posed for photos with anyone who asked.  I also “met” Tre, another “Top Chef” contestant, who served excellent beef Carpaccio, and who was…well, pretty much exactly as he was on TV, too.  Another food standout was a goat-cheese corn “ice cream,” similar to a flan, if you can imagine the richest flan in the world.  Anyway, I ate a lot and nothing wasn’t wonderful.  Oh, and by the way, this was all taking place in the lobby of the plush and gorgeous Myerson Symphony Center…which was part of a beautiful arts complex.  If I can’t be a Dallas Cowboy running back, then perhaps I could play a violin in the symphony?

--After this too-good-to-be-true party, we strolled (perhaps some of us waddled) across the plaza to the AT&T Performing Arts Center for a concert.  Randy Travis had been scheduled, but since he was tied up with other matters, we were treated to one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen:  Jack Ingram (I regret to say that I’d never heard of him).  He’s a singer-songwriter in the Willie Nelson/Kris Kristofferson vein, and he would also be right at home cracking jokes in a comedy club or telling stories on the stage of The Moth.  In short, he had the audience in the palm of his hand and put on a mesmerizing, hilarious, and emotional performance.  To give a tiny feel of how magical the night was, the last song was totally unplugged—guitar and mike—just a man alone, standing on the edge of the stage, a small spotlight, singing.  Here’s his website.

--Steve and I took a tour of Dealey Plaza and the Sixth Floor Museum (the building formerly known as the Texas School Book Depository).  I’m not sure we became Kennedy assassination conspiracy nuts, but there certainly was a lot to think about.  The museum was tasteful and well-organized, and the afternoon took us through many moods.  The Plaza still looks as it did back then, and it was all too easy to picture the horror of the day while standing on the deceptively innocent Grassy Knoll.  But the most moving part of the experience was a short film in the museum that showed clips of JFK’s funeral and various memorials around the world.  Buddhist monks, people in Africa, flowers piling up at various American embassies. Jackie in her black veil…oh, dear.

--We enjoyed a lovely pre-meeting lunch with friends in the Ritz-Carlton hotel:  Steve had buffalo sloppy joes (with a fancier name) and I had street tacos (which were fancier than their name and than anything you’d actually buy on the street).  A beautiful and relaxing hotel…and lucky us to have friends staying there!  I also had a visit to the spa, which featured a eucalyptus steam room that cleared my pores and a giant shower with six jets that felt like getting hugged by water.

--The revolving bar at the top of the Hyatt we stayed at had a nice cocktail list (I had a drink made with rose elixir!), a stunning view of the city, and a mod, 1960’s “Mad Man” décor, which was appropriate for me, since I was wearing a Mondrian-ish, color block dress that reminded me of something Megan Draper would throw on.  (Here’s info on the restaurant/bar at Reunion Tower.)

--Our last night, Steve and I ducked away from the meeting to have a private dinner at the amazing Al Biernat’s, which specializes in steak and seafood.  Not cheap, but oh, what a GREAT steak!  Cowboy ribeye for me, and New York strip for Steve.  Cooked perfectly, incredible flavor.  Can a piece of meat be beautiful?  God, yes!  Excellent service, a roomy table for two, and “Texas’s best margarita”—made with Patron tequila—and I was a happy, happy, HAPPY camper.

So, thank you, Dallas!  What a memorable trip…and since I didn’t even have a chance to go look for cowboy boots, I guess I’ll just have to return.  Soon.

Thursday, August 9, 2012


Okay, not really.  But I am heading off to Dallas and will be on blog vacation for a week or so.  Boy…it’s very easy to turn lazy this summer!  I'll have to start cracking the whip on myself this fall....

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

"The Problem, Properly Understood = The Solution"

Who says Facebook isn’t worthwhile?  I stole this off writer Matt Bell’s page today:

"The solution to a problem—a story that you are unable to finish—is the problem. It isn’t as if the problem is one thing and the solution something else. The problem, properly understood = the solution. Instead of trying to hide or efface what limits the story, capitalize on that very limitation. State it, rail against it." —Susan Sontag
I’m slowly working my way into and through a revision of a long story that isn’t pulled together, and this is exactly what I need to be thinking about.  And others seem to have been inspired, too:  writer Juliana Baggott also included the quote on her blog today, also taken from Matt Bell’s Facebook page!  I take heart in knowing there are so many writers are out there, coaxing the muse and battling the demons.  We are not alone.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Dan Rosenberg's New Book, The Crushing Organ

I’m pleased to announce that Dan Rosenberg, whose poem “Here” appears here on Redux, has just published his first book of poems:  The Crushing Organ, winner of the 2011 American Poetry Journal Book Prize.

Obviously I’m a fan, having selected Dan’s work for Redux, but this blurb is another compelling recommendation: 

"Quick, immediate, and deeply compassionate, Rosenberg’s poems cover the vast range of the immanent quotidian. Through all their impossible turnings, we’re nonetheless convinced that we’re in the presence of the concrete, even the documentary. And while they recognize pressing catastrophe when they see it, yet they also see a way out—in a burst of flame, in storms with eyes, in a wire hanger bent to the shape of a human heart. Rosenberg has given us a tour de force of hope achieved through, rather than despite, a clear view of the current world."Cole Swensen
And if you’re still in doubt, go here to read three more poems by Dan, published on “I Thought I Was New Here.”

Monday, August 6, 2012

Benjamin Percy on Starting a Story with Dialogue

This reminder from Benjamin Percy in Glimmer Train about the perils of starting a story with a line of dialogue came at the right time as I had scribbled down an idea for a new story that started with a line of dialogue.  I don’t think it’s quite as good as “Where’s Pa going with that axe?” so I’ll proceed accordingly.

When a reader first picks up a story, they are like a coma patient—fluttering open their eyes in an unfamiliar world, wondering, where am I, when am I, who am I? The writer has an obligation to quickly and efficiently orient.

Which is why writers should avoid opening with dialogue. I know, I know—you can think of ten thousand awesome stories that do exactly that. I don't like any them. With one exception—"Where's Papa going with that axe?"—from the beginning of Charlotte's Web. It works because E.B. White fills the white space: immediately establishing three characters, one of them in the middle of an arresting gesture.
Read on…and you'll be convinced, too.

(Also, if you want to read a gripping and suspenseful novel, check out Percy’s The Wilding—though you won’t be in any rush to spend the rest of your summer hiking in the woods.)

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Two at the Most: A Gimlet-Eyed Gent....

Note:  This is the second column by my husband, Steve Ello, about the wonderful world of cocktails.  Go here if you missed his first column, about Seattle’s craft cocktail scene.

Gimlet-eyed.  An aging or world-weary barfly with eyes the color of a gin gimlet, or one who has consumed too many gin gimlets. "I do believe that gimlet-eyed gent has soiled himself."

Summer in the former swamp now known as Washington, DC can mean sopping, back-of-the-pants-leg soaking humidity coupled with searing 90 degree+ temperatures which drive even the tourists underground.  During this tryingly intemperate time of year, it is important to have the right beverage to soothe the savage in all of us.  While a gin and tonic can be wildly appropriate and is certainly a time-tested choice, there are times when I find it a little mundane and need something different but not quite as dangerously mind-bending as the Martini.

During our recent heat wave a few weeks ago when the temperature gauge on my car hit 115 degrees, I smiled coolly, remembering the simple pleasure of the Gin Gimlet.

I first shook hands with the Gimlet in the paneled rec room of my parent’s first house in our half-completed “Wonder Years” suburban neighborhood.    My mother drank them from silver stemmed glasses with colored bowls and a lit cigarette nearby:  a Virginia Slim.  (Remember “You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby”?)  A bottle of Rose’s Lime Juice was always in our refrigerator door.  Consequently, I grew up mistakenly believing the Gimlet was strictly a ladies’ drink—so I gravitated to the more manly scotch and soda when I was old enough to order my own cocktail.

It wasn’t until many years later on a trip to Chicago that my eyes were opened by a visit to The Match Box ( and their wonderful version of the Gimlet with a powdered sugar rim. Many facets of the Gimlet make it a great summer alternative; the three primary are:

~ the ease in making it

~the ready availability of the ingredients (Rose’s Lime Juice is available at most grocery stores)

~ and the option to adjust the proportions to suit your own taste.

Here’s the recipe I enjoy with some suggested proportions. And, if you have the time and little energy give the glass a sugar rim using confectioner’s sugar.  I think you will find the Gimlet a nice alternative to the standard gin and tonic this summer.  Remember, “Two at the Most”…

Gin Gimlet

Dust the rim of a martini glass with confectioner’s sugar (run a lime wedge around the rim first to moisten it)

2 Ounces Gin (I like Tanqueray or Tanqueray 10.  Any English Dry Gin will work)
½ Ounce Rose’s Lime Juice (note the 4:1 ratio)
¼ ounce Simple Sugar (If you have it. If not, don’t worry; your drink will still be fine)
1 thin slice of lime.

Fill a shaker halfway with ice and shake vigorously and strain into a cocktail glass.  The Gimlet can be served over ice—however, I like mine up.

~Steve Ello


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