Monday, April 28, 2014

Blog Hop: What I'm Working On and Other Burning Questions

Yay, Anna Leahy, Lofty Ambitions, and thank you for inviting me to participate on this blog hop (which makes me think of the bunny hop, of course).  The idea is, literary bloggers are all answering the same four questions about our writing process and inviting more bloggers to participate, which I think means that by the end of the year every blog on the internet will feature a variation on this post.

“…My [writing] process feels as if I’ve been craving asparagus all day, but I go to the kitchen and there’s none there. Or more likely, it’s become soft and smells, probably gone bad by just a day, because I had a late class last night and sustained myself with peanut butter on crackers between tasks. Will I savor the asparagus more if I have to wait and plan for it, or will I be craving something else tomorrow?”

And here’s where to find the always fascinating Lofty Ambitions:

And at the end of my rambling, I’ll tempt you with my invitees who will be posting next week.

1) What am I working on?
It’s a secret.  No, not really—but it is something in the beginning stages, so I don’t have a good “elevator speech” prepared, mostly because I don’t quite know what it is myself.  Here’s what I tell people if I am trapped in that elevator with them:  “It’s a pile of 200 pages that might be a novel or might be linked stories or might be a few separate short stories or might be nothing but a bunch of crap.”  People are definitely eager to hear more after I explain it thus.

But, just for you, I’ll reveal these tiny, pertinent facts:
--It’s set in Chicago in the 1980s.
--Many of the sections?/stories?/chapters? are composed of small pieces that started in my monthly neighborhood prompt group.  
--I’m kind of afraid of this material, and something keeps dragging me back to it, even after I swear I’ll give up and turn to more rational pursuits.
--Whatever it turns out to be, I think it will be arranged in an unusual way, and even as I hate the puzzle of trying to figure it all out, I’m also totally absorbed by these thoughts.  “Mosaic” is a word I often chant as I stare at the 200-page-pile in frustration, and “collage.”

Maybe this is what I should say: I am working on a novel-length word collage.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I guess I’ll define my “genre” as literary fiction, which is such a wide open umbrella that I doubt there’s any writer who could define similarities of the genre beyond, I suppose, a focus on character development, language, and voice.  Oh, and not making much $$.

I find that I like to write about things that happen in small scraps of time, and going down deeply; I would be content to write 25 pages about fifteen minutes taking place in someone’s life.  I’ve been playing around with form; I’m obsessed with the second person and list stories.  (Here’s a second person list story of mine in case you’re interested!) And, like everyone, I like writing about dysfunctional relationships.  And characters who have secrets, especially if they are unreliable narrators. 

If you can believe any of that…

3) Why do I write what I do?
I will go off on a tangent (shock) to remember back in a writing workshop in college where that was our first assignment, to write an essay answering a form of that question:  Why do you write?  I think I was supposed to come up with an “answer” like everyone else did—to communicate, to share my vision, blah, blah, blah—but I (melodramatically) wrote several paragraphs about how if I knew the exact answer, I wouldn’t feel the need to write anymore.  I’m not sure if that’s exactly true, but I’m not sure it’s untrue.  It’s honestly not something I think about much.  The stories and images I care about enough to devote my time and energy and intellect to all seem to come from what I call “the dark place,” a place that dwells within each of us, though it might be less scary if we simply referred to it as “the subconscious.”  But I’m pretty sure all writing involves a fair amount of fear, so I’ll stick to “the dark place.”  See: myth of Orpheus.

4) How does your writing process work?
Slowly, obsessively, painfully, stoically.  Grind out a draft (computer).  Set it aside and fret: genius or fraud? (this is when I get to drink).  Rewrite (on computer).  Repeat (on paper).  Repeat (read out loud). Multiply by as many times as needed.  Give up and declare it finished. (I also get to drink here.)


My Blog Hop invitations went to three fabulous women, so hop over there next week to see their responses:

My former writing group buddy and dear friend, C.M. Mayo.
C.M. Mayo's most recent book is Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution: Francisco I. Madero and His Secret Book, Spiritist Manual (Dancing Chiva, 2014). She is also the author of the novel The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire (Unbridled Books, 2009) which was named a Library Journal Best Book; Miraculous Air: Journey of a Thousand Miles through Baja California, the Other Mexico (Milkweed Editions, 2007), and Sky Over El Nido (U Georgia Press, 1995), which won the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction. A sometime resident of Washington DC and a long-time resident of Mexico City, she is an avid translator and editor of the anthology of 24 Mexican writers, Mexico: A Traveler's Literary Companion. She recently celebrated 8 years in the blogosphere with Madam Mayo.

Kelly Ann Jacobson, one of my super-talented former thesis students at Johns Hopkins University, a recent graduate with two novels out already!
Kelly Ann Jacobson lives in Falls Church, Virginia. She recently received her MA in Fiction at Johns Hopkins University, and she is the Poetry Editor for Outside In Literary & Travel Magazine. Kelly is the author of the literary novel Cairo in White and the young adult trilogy The Zaniyah Trilogy, as well as the editor of the book of essays Answers I'll Accept

And Shelby Settles Harper, another super-talented former workshop student (now graduate) from Johns Hopkins University, hard at work on her novel!
Shelby Settles Harper holds a Juris Doctor from the University of Colorado, a Master of Arts in Writing from Johns Hopkins University, and is a citizen of the Caddo Nation of Oklahoma.  Her work can be found in Gargoyle Magazine #61 (forthcoming); aaduna; Tin House online blog; Defying Gravity: An Anthology of Washington, DC Area Women; So to Speak: a feminist journal of language and art; Bethesda Magazine; and Outside In Literary and Travel Magazine.  Shelby lives with her husband and three children in the Washington, D.C. suburbs, where she writes for the parenting blog Red Tricycle about family-friendly adventures in the nation’s capital.

Friday, April 25, 2014

ISO Reviews of Lit Journal Work

Sharpen your review-writing skills…and help draw attention to worthy pieces published in lit journals:

Piece Meal is an internet journal ( that reviews single pieces of writing featured in literary magazines. There aren’t enough spaces in the writing world where one-good-thing is thought about. In Piece Meal we look at a single story, a poem or two, or some other piece of writing/media and provide an attentive review. We especially like the idea of giving writers without printed books a chance to be taken seriously. Each review should be a minimum of 500 words. There is no maximum length. Check out previous reviews on our website for examples:

Feel free to relate any sociological, historical, psychological or scatological references you think will help your review of the work. We are also open to short work comparisons from the same magazine, as well as hearing review ideas you have in mind that do not fit the criteria above. We’re generally open-minded gents.

Besides recognizing writers without published books, Piece Meal is a great opportunity for writers to practice writing reviews and get their reviews published. Each reviewer should be open to editorial comments. We will do our best to respond as soon as we can. Feel free to email with questions/ queries.

To submit your literary review of a short story, poem(s), creative nonfiction or other media that can be found in or on print and online literary magazines, excluding artwork, video or film, send an email to piecemealreviewATgmailDOTcom.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Favorite Small Presses: The Unnamed Press

Because I have soooooo much free time, I often fantasize about what it might be like to run a small press.  In what I hope is the first of a new series of blog posts, I’m happy to have the opportunity to pose a few questions for C.P. Heiser, publisher of The Unnamed Press, to get some insight into the small press world.

The Unnamed Press publishes literature, comics and lost classics from around the world.  (It also distributes books with publishing partners like sister nonprofit Phoneme Media.)

Based in Los Angeles, the Unnamed Press (previously Ricochet Books) seeks boundary-breaking, border-crossing stories. Our stories are set in places like South Africa, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Estonia and Istanbul, to name a few places. But they are also set right here in the U.S.A.

The Unnamed mission is simple: to help introduce new voices and perspectives that broaden our view of the world and the people that live in it, rather than confirm what is already familiar and safe.

Mr. Heiser was kind enough to answer the following questions via email; thanks to Director of Marketing Olivia Taylor Smith for facilitating.  His bio follows this interview.

What advice would you give to someone pondering starting a small press?

Work in a book store.  Make zines, make a website, make an ebook.  Bam.  Wake up one day and start calling yourself  publisher.  

How do you find the manuscripts you choose to publish?

There is so much good work out there, and with so much consolidation in the industry, the cultures of many imprints in the corporate net are naturally squeezing out diversity and unique talent whether they want to or not.  Agents, in turn, are trying to sell their clients to these behemoths and so their tastes are narrowed or very targeted as well.  That leaves us.  We are open to new ideas that may not necessarily fit the mold.  We seek work from around the world and have a couple of wonderful editors at large who bring in authors from their networks.  

What are some upcoming books we should know about?

Our first two books were soft released just a month or so ago and have gotten amazing traction.  Good Night, Mr. Kissinger is a set of stories from the city, but not just any city. The author, K. Anis Ahmed, is writing about people living in the densest place on the planet: Dhaka, Bangladesh.  Nigerians in Space by Deji Olukotun is an international crime thriller featuring a lunar rock geologist, a young South African abalone poacher, and a supermodel. Good Night, Mr. Kissinger and Nigerians in Space are both available in the store and through online sales at Politics and Prose in DC and other indie bookstores.

We are very excited about our next title, Walker on Water, which is a set of short stories by leading Estonian poet and writer Kristiina Ehin and will be out in June.  Ehin writes these amazing, surreal contemporary folk tales that are really hilarious and also showcase a fascinating gender-bending POV.  Her characters eat their husband’s arms off, for example, while remaining deeply in love.  You get the idea.

What qualities does a small press publisher need to thrive in a crowded marketplace?

An understanding of their target audience. An understanding of the current marketplace for books and its historical context so that you can, as wisely as possible, buck the trends that are sinking big publishing. Plus energy.  Flexibility.  Risk tolerance.  Good taste. A deep love for the product.  At the end of the day, our books are products, and if we were publishing self-help manuals or professional development pamphlets I would rather not be in the business.

What advantages are there for a writer who chooses to publish with a small press?

As an author, you want to be sure you are getting complete commitment and belief from the small press.  If we’re doing our job, we are bending over backwards to get you exposure and sell your books.

What is the best part about running a small press?  The worst?

The people that exist around this thing we’ve created are absolutely the best part.  The authors, editors, artistic collaborators, and, of course, new fans.  That’s what’s wonderful about good books—they represent a shared consciousness around a group of ideas.  What does that result in?  You never know.  That’s what’s really exciting.  I don’t have a “worst”—I can’t think like that.

More information about the press:
To learn more about the books mentioned (including purchasing information):

About C.P. Heiser

C.P. Heiser is the publisher of The Unnamed Press and Executive Director of its sister nonprofit Phoneme Media. He continues to be deeply involved at the Los Angeles Review of Books, where he advises on marketing, communications, and business development.  Previously, he has worked in book publishing, legal marketing, and residential construction.  He was once a water polo player.  He divides his time between his home in Silver Lake and the Unnamed Offices in Eagle Rock.  

Monday, April 21, 2014

South85 Looking for Submissions

The excellent Converse College Low-Residency MFA online journal, South85 is reading submissions through April 30, so you’ve got just enough time to squeak in. They’re looking for poetry, creative non-fiction essays, short stories, and visual art.

Information about the journal:

And here’s a wonderful story by one of my friends, writer Rachel Hall:

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Job Opening for Arts Administrator

I loved my time on residency last spring at the KHN Center, so I know this would be an amazing job for the right person! (Read more about the KHN Center here:

Employment Opportunity

The KHN Center thus has an immediate opening for Program Director position to manage the operations of its artist-in-residence program. The Center's year-round program hosts 60 artists, writers and composers annually and mounts 6 exhibitions throughout the year. It is located in the center of historic Nebraska Cityapproximately 130 miles north of Kansas City and 50 miles south of Omaha.

A successful candidate will be a creative, energetic individual with a passion for supporting artists and promoting art in Nebraska and beyond. Applicants must be dedicated to teamwork with strong organizational skills, excellent writing, communication and interpersonal skills as well as marketing experience and a familiarity for design software, computer technology and artwork conservation. Requirements include an advanced degree in visual art or arts administration (MFA, MA) and relocation to Nebraska City. The position will not carry fundraising duties.

The Center is fully funded by the Richard P. Kimmel and Laurine Kimmel Charitable Foundation, Inc. This position reports to the Center’s Board of Directors and the Kimmel Foundation’s Board President.

Email a letter of interest and a resume that includes education and work history in electronic file format (PDF or Word document) to Applicants determined to be viable candidates will receive, via email, follow up documents with details about the position. No telephone calls accepted.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Curry Butter Shrimp!

(Oh yes...I'm pretty sure it was a mistake getting this smart phone and now signing up for Instagram! This is just the tip of the iceberg....)

Friday, April 11, 2014

Our "Mad Men" Menu

Steve and I are excited about the return of “Mad Men” on Sunday night. Naturally, there has to be special menu for the night, and we’ve been using this cookbook as our planning guide.  Looks like we’ll be having:


Shrimp Curry Butter Canapes (inspired by the Rockefeller Fundraiser episode)

Wedge Salad (inspired by the Palm, perhaps the chophouse where Don and Roger charmed the Madison Square Garden account guys)

Trudy’s Ribeye in the Pan (back when Trudy was worried about making Pete happy)
Sauteed Mushrooms (I'm free-lancing this one)

Faye Miller’s Chocolate Chip Cookies (the bribe Dr. Faye Miller brings to aid her focus group presentation)

Read an excerpt from the book here.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Dirty Underbelly of Cyber-Reviews

The Horror Writers of America (HWA) are requesting that Amazon make changes to its book review and commenting policies, primarily requesting an end to anonymous reviews:

[HWA President Rocky] Wood explained that the online retailer’s policy should be reinforced to prevent what HWA describes as inappropriate reviews, or those that --indicate the customer has not read the book, but only a small portion of it, such as a free electronic sample. --include spoilers that, once revealed, could significantly reduce interest in the work. --include negative personal remarks about the author.  --are focused on the work’s price rather than its content. The letter comes after some of the association’s members raised the issue of the impact that commenting abuse can have on authors and publishers selling their work on Amazon.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Read This Poem!

National Poetry Month continues at Redux…I’m so pleased to present “Solstice,” a beautiful poem by Richard Foerster.  (Redux is the online journal of previously published work not available elsewhere on the internet.)  Be sure to read the “story behind the poem” to see how a long-ago job at a dictionary company influenced the writing of this poem 40 years later!


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