Tuesday, December 29, 2015

No, My Relatives Don't Work at Kirkus!

Here's some more good news about THIS ANGEL ON MY CHEST:

Kirkus Reviews has named it to their list of 11 Most Overlooked Books of 2015.

Yay, I'm on a list...about being ignored! The book business is what it is, and I don't personally feel ignored. It's been a wonderful fall! I'm grateful--always--for readers who connect with my work, whether they are people who tell me to my face, who email or tweet me kind messages, or who--apparently--work at Kirkus and care about books and about this book in particular. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Spice Nog Flip...and More Links about ME!

Oh, I’m so, so, so, so, SO far behind on EVERYTHING! Please pardon this giant wrap-up of a million links all about me. But as a reward at the end of this post I’m including an excellent holiday drink that I made all by myself when Steve was away! It is rich and delicious and easy, and you know what? You deserve it!

Biggest news of all! I adapted the first story in THIS ANGEL ON MY CHEST into a non-fiction essay which is featured on the cover of the Washington Post Magazine! It’s really a lovely layout, with stunning illustrations. The web version is pretty—but imagine the print version being 10 times prettier!

I was featured on The Quivering Pen, in the “My First Time” feature, and I wrote about my first time creating a literary community, when I co-founded Folio literary journal while in graduate school.

THIS ANGEL ON MY CHEST was selected by Kirkus Reviews as one of 16 best short story collections in 2015. There doesn’t seem to be a direct link, but if you want to confirm I’m not making this up, you can click at the top to the “best of 2015” link and scroll though the lists.

Here’s a quickie interview on The Story Blog in which I reveal that my ideal writing day would end with watching “Jeopardy”!

Modern Loss is featuring my short story “I Am the Widow” (which maybe you already read if you read the book, but there’s a beautiful picture to accompany the story, so check that out!)

As promised, here is a recipe for Spice Nog Flip, from Cocktails for the Holiday by the editors of Imbibe magazine (yes, that’s a magazine about craft beverages!):

Spice Nog Flip

2 ounces black spiced rum [I am lucky enough to have some excellent rum from Haiti, but I don’t think it’s spiced and the drink tasted fabulous; Captain Morgan’s is spiced rum]
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg [I love nutmeg so added more]
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 ounces half & half [I’m sure whole milk is good, or real cream!]
1 egg
Dash of vanilla extract
Ice cubes

Combine the rum, powdered sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, half & half, egg, and vanilla in a shaker. Add ice and shake well. Double strain [or simply strain if you’re as lazy as I am] into a chilled mug and garnish with a dusting of nutmeg and a cinnamon stick. [Or decide you don’t want to waste a cinnamon stick and you’ll be fine.] [Also, I actually served this over ice in a tall glass.]

AND DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE EGG! IF YOU SHAKE IT ENOUGH, YOU WON’T EVEN KNOW IT’S THERE!! [Think of it as adding nutritional value.]

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Where Do Titles Come From?

I consider myself fairly title-challenged, so I was especially interested in this article about where authors find their titles. (Side note: I combed the Bible many times over looking for the right title for a novel manuscript and came up with diddley-squat!)

…Consider Evelyn Waugh’s A Handful of Dust (from T.S. Eliot’s modernist revelation, The Waste Land); Haruki Murakami’s Dance Dance Dance (from W.H. Auden’s “Death’s Echo”); John Kennedy Toole’s comic masterpiece A Confederacy of Dunces (from a Jonathan Swift essay); Madeleine L’Engle’s A Swiftly Tilting Planet (from Conrad Aiken’s “Morning Song of Senlin”); Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men (from Yeats’s “Sailing to Byzantium”); E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India (from Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass”); David Foster Wallace’s sprawling Infinite Jest (from Hamlet, which, by itself, has provided titles for dozens of novels). And the richness of Hamlet is hardly Shakespeare’s only contribution to the world of titles. The Bard’s oeuvre has inspired countless writers to plunder from his seemingly endless riches, from Joyce Carol Oates (New Heaven, New Earth) to Edith Wharton (The Glimpses of the Moon), from Isaac Asimov (The Gods Themselves) to Dorothy Parker (Not So Deep as a Well). If imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery, it isn’t hard to see how our most ambitious authors hope to create seriousness and clarify intent by echoing the elder masters in a legitimizing osmosis-by-title….

Monday, November 30, 2015

FREE Jenny McKean Moore Community Fiction Workshop at GWU...app deadline 12/30

One of the great writing opportunities in the DC area is the FREE Jenny McKean Moore Community Workshop offered through George Washington University. This year it will be fiction classes, and the application deadline is DECEMBER 30. I took one of these workshops many years ago and had a great experience

Note: For reasons unknown to me, this info is not posted on a website, so this really IS all you need to know to apply.

The George Washington University
Jenny McKean Moore Free Community Fiction Workshop
Tuesdays, 7:00 – 9:00 p.m.
January 19 to April 19
Led by Kseniya Melnik

Come and take part in a semester-long fiction workshop! To apply, you do not need academic qualifications or publications. The class will include some readings of published writings (primarily short stories), 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 brief letter of interest and a sample of your writing, 12 pt type, double spaced, and no more than 7 pages in length. Make sure you include your name, address, home and work telephone numbers, and email address for notification. Application materials will not be returned, but will be recycled once the selection process is completed. Applications must be received at the following address by close of business on Wednesday, December 30, 2015.

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

All applicants will be notified by email of the outcome of their submissions no later than January 16, 2016.

Kseniya Melnik is the 2015-16 Jenny McKean Moore Writer-In-Washington at The George Washington University. Her debut book is the linked story collection Snow in May, which was short-listed for the International Dylan Thomas Prize and long-listed for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. Born in Magadan, Russia, she moved to Alaska in 1998, at the age of 15. She received her MFA from New York University. Her work has appeared in The Brooklyn Rail, Epoch, Esquire (Russia), Virginia Quarterly Review, Prospect (UK), and was selected for Granta’s New Voices series.

The George Washington University is an equal opportunity institution.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Link Corral: Moby-Dick; New Review of My Book; Free Journal

I thought this was an amusing report from attending a marathon reading of Moby-Dick:

...The inaugural event occurred in 2012 and took place in three independent bookstores over the course of three days. There are other readings across the country, as the New York Times noted, “with bearded, bespectacled acolytes flocking to seaside ports, sipping from thermoses of grog and readjusting their sweaters at the podium,” but this event was New York City’s first. This year, the event was compacted into two days and delivered before Frank Stella’s Melville-inspired sculptures. At this point, I think it is important to note the origins of the word “marathon”: a feat of endurance that resulted in immediate death….


Here’s a nice review of THIS ANGEL ON MY CHEST on BookBrowse…and it was selected as the Editor’s Choice! Because the review is posted for non-subscribers only for a week, I’m going to cheat and include the entire text here:

Exploring the many facets of grief through fiction in a variety of formats and voices, This Angel on My Chest deserves a wide audience.

Leslie Pietrzyk draws on her own experiences in This Angel on My Chest, a collection of loosely connected short stories, each of which features a young widow. Pietrzyk, whose husband died of a heart attack at the age of 37, deftly explores the various aspects of grief she endured following the tragedy, some aspects of which continue to affect her more than a decade later.

The book is fictional, but the author has said that she made a point of including at least "one hard, true thing" in each story, tiny details that would never occur to someone who hasn't gone through a deep loss. For example, in one of the stories she talks about her husband's love for malted milk balls – and regret after his death that she more frequently bought peanut M&Ms because they were her favorite. So while the tales feature different women in different circumstances, each has an underlying ring of truth that blurs the line between fact and fiction. In some of the stories Pietrzyk does seem to talk directly to her husband but whether it's the fictional spouse lost by the character or the real-life equivalent the author lost, it's impossible to tell.

Unsurprisingly This Angel on My Chest is very touching but the feelings expressed aren't limited to sorrow. They instead cycle through a whole gamut of emotions such as anger, fear, confusion and depression. The book is outward looking too, exploring characters' reactions to their husbands' deaths and the responses of those around the women, rather than depicting any of them as objects of pity.

It made me more appreciative of the people in my life, and also caused me to pause and wonder what I'd miss about them should they predecease me, things that I take for granted now. While I choked up a bit from time to time, I generally didn't find the book overly sad or depressing. I was instead primarily impressed by the author's ability to completely capture her subject so perfectly. I've been lucky and haven't known this level of loss in my life, but Pietrzyk's writing went a long way toward helping me understand what she and others have experienced.

The author confines most of her stories to grief and the mourning process, only making her way to healing toward the end of the collection as she seems to apologize to her late husband for moving on. Given the fact that some healing seems to have occurred in her life — she has remarried — I found it interesting that she chose to limit her stories to the death of a spouse and its immediate aftereffects. But even with this limited scope, the book doesn't become dull or keep hammering on a single subject. The variety of voices, formats and emotions is rather remarkable and keeps the collection entertaining as perspectives shift from one account to the next. She moves beyond the standard short story form by including elements such as a multiple-choice quiz and a list of foods mentioned throughout the book. Neither of these formats sounds particularly remarkable; what, you may ask yourself, is so exciting about a list? Yet somehow the author turns chapters such as these into some of the most moving and memorable parts of the book.

Sometimes Pietrzyk's use of perspective is confusing. In some of the stories she uses "you," and I found myself re-reading to determine if "you" was the narrator referring to herself (as in, "you have to ask yourself if…") or if "you" was the narrator talking to her absent spouse ("you once said…"). The same uncertainty occurred over the use of "she" referring to an unnamed character in a chapter that focused on more than one woman. Careful reading of these sections, though, will certainly help avoid the disorientation I occasionally felt, and the overall quality of Pietrzyk's writing makes any struggle through these passages well worth the effort.

This Angel on My Chest is excellent from start to finish, and deserves a wide audience. Readers who can get beyond their knee-jerk aversion to the subject will find a real gem here.


I’m very pleased that one of my stories is appearing in the new issue of The Greensboro Review. “Easy Love” is one of the stories I had to cut from THIS ANGEL ON MY CHEST so I’m happy it found a happy home. Here’s the opening:

            Sunday was Emma’s birthday.  It was also my birthday, and, unfortunately, Dan’s birthday, too.  What were the chances of an entire family having a birthday on the same day?  “We’re just crazy-lucky like that,” Emma used to tell people.

            This year, Emma would turn thirteen, I was going to be forty-three, and Dan—my husband, Emma’s dad—had died last April, so he would be forty-five forever.

            In the weeks leading up to the “big day,” Emma claimed desperately one moment that she had to have a party and claimed the next that all parties were “annoying” and “stupid” and that she wouldn’t sit through one unless I gave her a thousand dollars.  I longed to spend the day distracted by a chaotic sleepover or shepherding a herd of girls through an afternoon of disco bowling, but the final word was absolutely not, no “pathetic” birthday party for her.

            “Are you sure?” I said.  “I think maybe we should do something.”

            “No party,” she said.  “No special dinner.  No nothing.  Just no.”  She was hunkered down into the big leather couch, and I perched on the edge, watching the Caps’ hockey game.  Emma wore the lucky “Rock the Red” T-shirt Dan gave her during last year’s play-off run.  Dan had been a hockey fan, had played goalie in college, and while I could follow the action, I couldn’t care about the outcome the way he and Emma did.  Win, lose, tie: there was another game soon enough, another season, a different team to root for if yours wasn’t any good this year.  Not that I shared these scandalous thoughts. …

Unfortunately, the story isn’t online, but I have an extra copy of the journal…send me an email with your mailing address if you would like to read it. I’ll select one person at random on Wednesday evening. Here’s my email: lesliepietrzyk@gmail.com Please put GREENSBORO REVIEW in the header, so I can keep my inbox organized!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Best Thanksgiving Stuffing Ever

What? You still haven’t tried my amazing Thanksgiving stuffing? It’s not too late...this can (and should) be the year! Simply put, this is the best stuffing there is or will be—take it from one who has eaten boatloads of stuffing through the years. I'm pretty sure this stuffing would be in the running for my last meal if I were ever on death row, if the prison kitchen would let me make it myself.

Cornbread & Scallion Stuffing
Adapted from the beloved, still-missed Gourmet magazine, November 1992
(It’s actually called Cornbread, Sausage & Scallion Stuffing, but in an uncharacteristic nod to heart-health, I don’t put in the sausage. See the note below if you’d like to add the sausage.)

For the cornbread:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/3 cups yellow cornmeal
1 tablespoon double-acting baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1 large egg
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

For the stuffing:
¾ stick unsalted butter plus an additional 2 tablespoons if baking the stuffing separately
2 cups finely chopped onion
1 ½ cups finely chopped celery
2 teaspoons crumbed dried sage
1 teaspoon dried marjoram, crumbled
1 teaspoon crumbled dried rosemary
½ cup thinly sliced scallions
1 ½ cups chicken broth if baking the stuffing separately

Make the cornbread: In a bowl stir together the flour, the cornmeal, the baking powder, and the salt. In a small bowl, whisk together the milk, the egg, and the butter, and add the milk mixture to the cornmeal mixture, and stir the batter until it is just combined. Pour the batter into a greased 8-inch-square baking pan (I actually use a cast iron skillet) and bake the cornbread in the middle of a preheated 425 F oven for 20-25 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. (The corn bread may be made 2 days in advance and kept wrapped tightly in foil at room temperature.)

Into a jellyroll pan, crumble the corn bread coarse, bake it in the middle of a preheated 325 F oven, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes, or until it is dry and golden, and let it cool.

Make the stuffing:  In a large skillet, melt 6 tablespoons of butter and cook the onion and the celery over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened. Add the sage, marjoram, rosemary, and salt and pepper to taste and cook the mixture, stirring, for 3 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl, add the corn bread, the scallion, and salt and pepper to taste, and combine the stuffing gently but thoroughly. Let the stuffing cool completely before using it to stuff a 12-14 pound turkey.

The stuffing can be baked separately: Spoon the stuffing into a buttered 3- to 4-quart casserole, drizzle it with the broth, and dot the top with the additional 2 tablespoons of butter, cut into bits. Bake the stuffing, covered, in the middle of a preheated 325 F degree oven for 30 minutes and bake it, uncovered, for 30 minutes more.

Serves 8-10; fewer if I am one of the dinner guests!

Note: Here are the instructions if you want to add the sausage: The recipe calls for “3/4 lb bulk pork sausage” that you brown in a skillet. Remove it from the pan—leaving the fat—and proceed with cooking the onions, etc. Add the sausage at the end, when you combine the cornbread and scallion with the onion mixture.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Exciting News...It Always Comes in Threes!

Exciting News!

The Kirkus Reviews has named THIS ANGEL ON MY CHEST as one of the best books of fiction in 2015. (Okay, there are a number of books on this list, so you have to go to page 10 to find me…but there I am!!)


Here’s a thoughtful interview with me for Fiction Writers Review, conducted by Melissa Scholes Young:

…After several months of NYC publishers telling me my book was “too sad” and that they couldn’t deal with short stories, I spent a year entering the top fiction contests. The same basic manuscript was a semi-finalist twice, rejected four times, and won the contest I would have selected as the one I wanted most! I share this in an encouraging way: cast a wide net and accept that there is always subjectivity to the publishing biz….


Today (November 17) is my last public book event for the year. I’ll be at the annual Authors’ Night & Book Fair at the National Press Club, selling books with a giant herd of other writers, including “Shirley” from the TV show “Laverne & Shirley,” Sister Souljah, the former White House chef, assorted members of congress and senators and ex-governors, poet Sandra Beasley…to name only a few! Do stop by—surely this line-up is crazy enough to be wonderful fun!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

November 15 Reading at the Writer's Center

This is my last public reading of the fall...please stop by!

Reading: SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 15, 2015
2PM ~ 4PM
Leslie Pietrzyk and Jehanne Dubrow
Hosted by The Writer's Center
4508 Walsh St, Chevy Chase, Maryland 20815

Leslie Pietrzyk reads from her collection of short stories, This Angel on My Chest. She is joined by Jehanne Dubrow, author of The Arranged Marriage, a collection of prose poems. The reading will be followed by a reception and book signing. Free admission.

Jehanne Dubrow is the author of five poetry collections, including most recently The Arranged Marriage (University of New Mexico Press, 2015), Red Army Red (Northwestern University Press, 2012), and Stateside (Northwestern University Press, 2010). Her work has appeared in Virginia Quarterly Review, The New England Review, Prairie Schooner, and Hudson Review. She is the Director of the Rose O’Neill Literary House and an Associate Professor of creative writing at Washington College, where she edits the national literary journal, Cherry Tree.

Leslie Pietrzyk is the author of two novels, Pears on a Willow Tree (Avon Books) and A Year and a Day (William Morrow) and a collection of short stories, This Angel on My Chest, which won the Drue Heinz Literature Prize. Her short fiction has appeared in many literary journals, including The Iowa Review, Gettysburg Review, New England Review, and The Sun magazine. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and she has won a number of writing awards, including Shenandoah’s Jean Charpiot Goodheart Prize for Fiction. She teaches at the Johns Hopkins Advanced Academic Program’s graduate writing program, the Writer’s Center, and Converse College’s low-residency MFA program.

Editorial Position Open

An interesting opportunity:

MIEL (http://www.miel-books.com), a micropress based in Belgium, is looking for an assistant editor for 2016. Particulars are available here (http://miel.ohbara.com/wordpress/want-to-edit-for-miel/), but in brief:

responsibilities include editing, limited admin, and the possibility of design (an anticipated 6-8 hours per month); compensation is a €200 honorarium, books, training, and support. Writers of color, LGBTQ writers, and women writers are especially encouraged to apply. Applicants may be based anywhere in the world as long as they have a reliable internet connection. Deadline November 30.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Tips for Making the Most of Your Writing Time

What writer doesn’t feel like she needs more time for her work? Shelby Settles Harper gets serious about becoming more productive during her writing hours:

I sometimes feel like a loser when I think about how long it’s taking me to write my first novel. Yes, I have a lot of good excuses (writing it while earning an MA in Writing and while birthing/adopting/raising three young children and writing it during my family’s three-year living abroad experience). Perhaps I’m supposed to cut my teeth on one novel that’s a decade in the making while other writers learn to write by writing two or three novels…but none of those things makes me feel like less of a loser. 

So I read a book on time management. It was awesome! It turns out – light bulb! – that I’ve got a few bad habits that might contribute to my slow pace. While I can’t control my kids’ sick days or school holidays, there are many small changes I can make to be more productive…..

Thursday, October 29, 2015

DC-Area Poets: See Your Work on a Bus!

From my friend, Kim Roberts:

Call for Poems: Moving Words 2016

Thousands of commuters could be reading your poetry!

Poetry in Arlington is quite literally on the move.  The annual poetry contest Moving Words is now open for submissions. Deadline: January 11, 2016.  The work of six winning poets will be printed on colorful placards and displayed prominently inside area buses, enlivening the ride for thousands of commuters. This year’s Moving Words competition is juried by poet, editor and literary curator, Francisco Arag√≥n.

Six winners will have their poem displayed inside Arlington Transit’s (ART) Buses for three months between April and September 2016 where it will be seen by thousands of riders. They will also each receive a $250 honorarium, and will be invited to give a public reading of their work in April 2016 during National Poetry Month.  The Moving Words Program was launched in 1999, conceived by award-winning poet and literary historian Kim Roberts (co-editor of Beltway Poetry Quarterly), who continues to consult with the program.

Poets who live in the D.C. Metro transit area and are over 18 years old are eligible to enter.  There is no fee to enter.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

November 4: Shop Opp at Union Market in DC...Shopping Extravangaza!

This looks like a fun time...I'll be here selling/signing books, but I'm going to find it hard not to stray a bit to see what else is going on!

From the My Little Bird website:

Save the Date–November 4!

COME TO MyLittleBird’s first Shop Opp, a pre-holiday gift-shopping extravaganza!

We’ll be at Dock 5, the cool industrial-vibe event venue at DC’s verrrry cool Union Market in the city’s wholesale district off New York Avenue NE. 2 to 8 pm. Be there or be . . . very sad.

Who’s going to be selling at the sale?

Well, to start, the outrageously popular Scout BagsCore 72, bringing activewear and lotsa gifts for the active lifestyle; Yinibini Baby, with cute cotton clothes; Erwin Pearl, whose accessories last month made their local debut at Tysons; the National Museum of Women in the Arts gift shop; Via Umbria, with fabulous Italian imports; for guy gifts, The Grooming Lounge;The Cheeky Puppy (woof!); great selections from Sophie Blake New York,Urban Pearl and J.McLaughlinJoe Elbert‘s hand-crafted furniture, made from hardwood trees felled by the 2012 derecho. And how could we forgetShoeLaLa and the online home decor store Mintwood Home!? And more, of course–about 30 vendors.

We’ll offer skincare analysiscustom-color lipstick, rugs, vintage jewelry, and much more. Oh, and two tables of DC authors signing and selling their new books (thanks to Upshur Street Books). [That's me!!!!!!!!!]

Have we forgotten something? Yes: refreshments from Teaism and Occasions and goodie bags from Bluemercury and Follain.

So please come! Wander by in the afternoon. Stop by after work. We’ll be there waiting for you. Bring girlfriends. Bring boyfriends. Bring your holiday shopping list. (And on top of all this wonderfulness, there’s lots of free parking plus a whole market full of vendors downstairs–hear me, Salt & Sundry and Righteous Cheese?)

MyLittleBird Shop Opp, at Dock 5 at Union Market, 1309 5th Street NE, 2 to 8 pm. More information: 202-213-6916.

Details: http://mylittlebird.com/2015/10/save-the-date-wednesday-november-4/

VA Classes on Memoir & Publishing

Some local classes of note for VA writers:

From Memory to Memoir: Writing Your Life's Stories(NOVA Annandale). Explore the literary elements of plot, setting, character, and theme, and use them to recreate some of the events and relationships that have influenced your life. Instructor: Nina Sichel, Nov. 4-Dec. 16, 7-9 p.m. Call 703.323.3168 to register or register online at www.nvcc.edu/workforce.

On Creative Change and Transformation: A Guided Writing Program (Vienna Community Center).  This six-part workshop combines writing exercises and discussion to explore personal change and creativity. Instructor: Nina Sichel, Nov. 5-Dec. 17, 1-3 p.m. Call 703-255-6360 to register or register online at www.vienna.gov.

Publishing Your Manuscript (Fairfax County ACE). Guidance for authors who wish to sell their writing, including digital and other forms of self-publishing. Instructor: Joanne Glenn, Saturday, Nov. 7, 9:30 a.m. - 1:30 p.m. Call 703-658-1201 to register.

The Smart and Savvy Writer (Fairfax County ACE). How do you know if the "contract" you've been offered is a sweet deal or a scam? This class will present lessons learned, from writers who've "been there," so you can learn from their experiences. Instructor: Joanne Glenn. Saturday, Nov. 7, 2 p.m. - 5 p.m. Call 703-658-1201 to register.  

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

DC Reading!

Join me if you can:

~reading and conversation and celebration!

Saturday, October 17
6PM ~ 7PM
Politics & Prose Bookstore
Washington, DC
Free & open to the public


Monday, October 5, 2015

Why Readers Ask "Did It Really Happen?"

I have a piece up on Literary Hub today, pondering why readers always want to know if the events in a novel or short story “really happened”:

As a fiction writer, it’s my job to fool you, to trick you into thinking that something happened, that the woman riding the Greyhound with the ring of mosquito bites on her upper arm exists, that the just-baked pie cooling on the cork trivet on the table is apple not pumpkin. We want to believe. That’s why we pick up stories, because we want to be carried off into this distant world; what happened next, we whine, did the boy get the girl? So why can’t you relax into the story, why must you ask the question, oh readers, or wonder in the secret places of your heart, or pretend you don’t care but then do a little research into the author’s life: Did it really happen? If writers were leading the complicated and conflicted lives they write about, they wouldn’t have much (any?) time for writing. We love to think writers are more interesting than the average person, but I’m not sure that’s true. Some are, some aren’t—just like average people. No one is average anyway. Readers are nosy. People are nosy. Part of the question is simple nosiness. But only part. 

Also, you really should subscribe to Literary Hub. Their daily email pulls together the most interesting essays/interviews/literature on writing and writers from around the web. And there’s always something you must read on the Literary Hub itself…in short, perfect for procrastination! Here’s more info: http://lithub.com/

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Books, Books, and More Books: Shelf-Awareness Column

Everyone loves a list, and today I'm featured on Shelf-Awareness with a list of some of my favorite books and bookish opinions, including this, which will be familiar to long-time blog readers who lived the Moby-Dick experience with me:

Book you most want to read again for the first time: Moby-Dick by Herman Melville. I read it later in life, having studiously avoided college classes where it might be required, and I devoted a summer to the project, self-shamed into tackling the Great American Novel. I read as a reader, savoring the prose and not worrying about footnotes and English department interpretations, and I often found my way to the pages at four in the morning thanks to a bout of insomnia, startled to find myself immersed in a postmodern book written before modernism was a twinkle in anyone's eye. I cried when I reached the end as Labor Day loomed, and honestly considered starting the whole thing over again right then. It remains the most majestic and perfect reading experience of my life.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Interview about This Angel on My Chest

An interview about my new book on writer Caroline Leavitt’s book blog:

“Grieving a loss, to me, is not getting back to normal and carrying on as if nothing has changed; it’s understanding that absolutely everything has changed, and finding the strength to forge a new path to an unexpected destination.”

Friday, September 18, 2015

Link Corral...NOT About Me!

Feeling discouraged about your writing and the marketplace at the moment? Then read this, immediately; the title is “Should I Just Give Up on My Writing?”:

…It's not good to pretend that you DESERVE rare success, and it's also not good to tell yourself that you're just another faceless member of the crowd. You can empathize and connect with other writers and still believe in some ineffable magic that wells up from deep inside of you. I sure as hell do. Sometimes! But that still doesn't mean that you or I DESERVE SUCCESS. We don't deserve MORE, you and me. We're lucky to be writing for a living. Hell, we're lucky just to be here…. So what do we deserve? We deserve to work really hard at what we love. That's a privilege. We deserve that....


I’m distraught that I won’t be able to attend this reading on October 4 at the Writer’s Center: poet Tanya Olson.  Her book Boyishly is wonderful, and the title poem is one of my all-time faves. You should get yourself to this reading in my place—and thank me later. (Read one of her poems here and learn more about the book.)

Sun, 4 Oct, 2015
2:00 PM - 5:00 PM

 Emerging Writer Fellowship recipient Tanya Olson reads from Boyishly, her collection of poems. She is joined by Nancy Carlson, who reads from recently published translations, Abdourahman Waberi’s The Nomads, My Brothers, Go Out to Drink from the Big Dipper, and Calazaza's Delicious Dereliction by Suzanne Dracius.

The reading will be followed by a reception and book signing. Tanya Olson lives in Silver Spring, Maryland and is a Lecturer in English at UMBC. Her first book, Boyishly, was published by YesYes Books in 2013 and received a 2014 American Book Award. In 2010, she won a Discovery/Boston Review prize and was named a 2011 Lambda Fellow by the Lambda Literary Foundation. 

The Writer's Center
4508 Walsh Street
Bethesda, MD 20815Free admissionDetails: http://www.writer.org/calendar?cid=1&ceid=1769&cerid=0&cdt=10%2F4%2F2015


Finally, no link, but I loved this description of the writing process in Ann Patchett’s collection of essays, This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage. This is from “The Getaway Car,” which was also released as a Kindle single, but apparently it’s no longer available. Anyway:

…For me it’s like this: I make up a novel in my head (there will be more about this later). This is the happiest time in the arc of my writing process. The book is my invisible friend, omnipresent, evolving, thrilling. During the months (or years) it takes me to put my ideas together, I don’t take notes or make outlines; I’m figuring things out, and all the while the book makes a breeze around my head like an oversized butterfly whose wings were cut from the rose window in Notre Dame. This book I have not yet written one word of is a thing of indescribable beauty, unpredictable in its patterns, piercing in its color, so wild and loyal in its nature that  my love for this book, and my faith in it as I track its lazy flight, is the single perfect joy in my life. It is the greatest novel in the history of literature, and I have thought it up, and all I have to do is put it down on paper and then everyone can see this beauty that I see. 

And so I do. When I can’t think of another stall, when putting it off has actually become more painful than doing it, I reach up and pluck the butterfly from the air. I take it from the region of my head and I press it down against my desk, and there, with my own hand, I kill it. It’s not that I want to kill it, but it’s the only way I can get something that is so three-dimensional onto the flat page. Just to make sure the job is done I stick it into place with a pin. Imagine running over a butterfly with an SUV. Everything that was beautiful about this living thing—all the color, the light and movement—is gone. What I’m left with is the dry husk of my friend, the broken body chipped, dismantled, and poorly reassembled. Dead. That’s my book….

More about This is the Story of a Happy Marriage: http://www.amazon.com/This-Is-Story-Happy-Marriage/dp/0062236679

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Link Corral...of Good News!

Goodness! An embarrassment of riches over here, so let me offer a few links and you can pick and choose or ignore altogether, as you see fit. There will NOT be a test at the end—though if there were, because I’ve been watching a lot of “Jeopardy!” lately, I suspect the answers would be in the form of questions.


First, I’m thrilled that Kirkus Review has named THIS ANGEL ON MY CHEST as one of “9 Books You Shouldn’t Overlook”--!!


I wrote a short piece for BookRiot about the books that I read while grieving the loss of my husband. As I wrote, I thought about the so-called stages of grief:

Denial Before the funeral, a friend handed me a copy of A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis, the classic book about loss in which Lewis offers a diary-like glimpse of his life following his wife’s death and his meditations on his struggle to understand this pain. It’s a heartbreaking book, but I felt a sense of numb distance as I read. This poor guy, I thought, he’s so sad. There’s no quick and jolly conclusion, no “and then I lived happily ever after,” which should have signaled something to me. But I was in denial, and this book let me rest there a little longer....


My dear friend and writing pal Marty Rhodes Figley invited me to write a foodie piece for her blog, so I wrote, “Love, and Welsh Rabbit,” which includes a beloved recipe:

I didn’t realize that the death of a loved one brings along with it an additional thousand tiny losses, some of which are not immediately apparent. In my case, because I love to cook, and Robb (and I) loved to eat, it turned out there were recipes I could no longer make because eating and preparing those particular dishes made me sad....

P.S. One of my favorite picture books is Marty’s Emily and Carlo, about poet Emily Dickinson and her dog. Read more about it here: http://www.amazon.com/Emily-Carlo-Marty-Rhodes-Figley/dp/1580892744


In case you missed the previous post, I was interviewed by Barrelhouse editor Dave Housley about THIS ANGEL ON MY CHEST and Patrick Swayze:

In each story in this collection, a young husband dies suddenly. Obviously, that plotline (such as it is!) could get awfully repetitive, so as my writing progressed, I found myself playing with form, which was a stylistic departure for me (and so fun!)… 


And last, but not least—but not linkable—the new issue of River Styx, the fabulous literary journal based in St. Louis, arrived in my mailbox. It’s the REVENGE issue (oh, juicy!!) and it contains my story, “Bad Girl” (which is a section from my novel-in-progress):

            …He wore a blue shirt—nothing special, something vaguely denim with white buttons that were more lustrous than regular white buttons. Faded, milky blue, soft to the touch. Well, I didn’t know it was soft because I couldn’t touch it, not even the sleeve, not even that way girls might laugh too long at a dumb joke, that laugh the excuse to seize the guy’s arm. Flirting 101.            But I wasn’t allowed to do that with him, with my best friend’s boyfriend….

Here’s more information about River Styx: http://www.riverstyx.org/

Also, whatever you do, do check out the journal’s gallery of amazing and hilarious cover letters, all reprinted with permission, so no gratuitous mocking: http://www.riverstyx.org/coverletter/index.php


Okay, there IS a short, Jeopardy-style quiz:

Answer: Infinity x 1000

Question: How grateful is Leslie on a scale of 1 to 10?

Monday, September 14, 2015

Interview with Barrelhouse and Conversations & Connections Writing Conference

I’m happy to be interviewed by Dave Housley, one of the editors over at Barrelhouse, which is a wonderful literary journal and also a literary empire, responsible for—among many things—organizing and hosting one of my favorite one-day writing conferences: Conversations & Connections. 

I’m excited to be taking part as a speaker at the Pittsburgh conference, which will be held on October 10 this year. Participants receive a free book, a literary journal subscription, enjoy a day of panels about writing and publishing, and have the chance to meet with lit journal editors…and to top it all off, continue the conversation over Boxed Wine Happy Hour! There is space available if this sounds as irresistible to you as it is to me! (Oh, and only $70 for all of this!)

Okay, the interview! I’ll only give a short teaser here because I say lots of things about writing and about my new book. But I also answer this question:

Okay, we need to wrap up with the standard Barrelhouse interview finisher: What’s your favorite Patrick Swayze movie?

You know you (vaguely) want to know, if only to pick a fight about my choice!

Learn more about the fabulous Conversations & Connections conference: http://writersconnectconference.com/

Friday, September 4, 2015

Fall Reading Schedule for THIS ANGEL ON MY CHEST!

Here are my open-to-the-public fall reading dates for THIS ANGEL ON MY CHEST. Send your friends & family, and bring your own sweet self! I worked really hard on this book and it is time to CELEBRATE!

Wednesday, September 30
6 PM
Fall for the Book Festival
George Mason University
Fairfax, Virginia
Research Hall, Room 163
More information: http://fallforthebook.org/

Thursday, October 8, 2015
7 p.m.
Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens
One Schenley Park
Pittsburgh, PA 
More information: http://bit.ly/1UnA3E2 and 412.383.2493

Saturday, October 10, 2015
9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Conversations & Connections Writing Conference
Chatham University
N Woodland Rd
Pittsburgh, PA
Featured speaker

Thursday, October 15, 2015
1 pm
Montgomery College
Rockville Campus
Conversation & reading

Science Center 152

Saturday, October 17, 2015
6 PM
Politics & Prose Bookstore
5015 Connecticut Ave. NW
Washington, DC
More information: www.politics-prose.com

Saturday, October 24, 2015
4:30 PM
Wisconsin Book Festival
Madison, WI

Tuesday, October 27, 2015
8 p.m.
Converse College
Bain Room, Wilson Hall
580 East Main Street
Spartanburg, SC

November 2, 2015
6:00 – 7:30 PM
Chop Suey Books
2913 W. Cary St
Richmond, VA 23221

For more information: http://www.chopsueybooks.com/

Wednesday, November 11, 2015
5:30 P.M.
Northwestern University
University Hall 201
1897 Sheridan Rd.

Evanston, IL 60208

Thursday, November 12, 2015
5 p.m.: social
5:30 p.m.: reading
6:00 p.m.: signing
Powell's Books Chicago (University Village)
1218 S. Halsted St.
Chicago, IL
More information: http://www.powellschicago.com/

Sunday, November 15, 2015
2 p.m.
The Writer’s Center
4508 Walsh Street
Bethesda, MD
More information: https://www.writer.org/

Tuesday, November 17
5:30 -8:30
National Press Club Book Fair
5:30 – 8:30 PM
The National Press Club
38th Annual Book Fair & Authors’ Night
529 14th Street, NW
Washington, DC
Fundraiser to support The SEED Foundation

For more information: http://www.press.org/bookfair

More to come!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Call for Submissions

South 85, the journal of the Converse Low-Res MFA program is open for submissions:

We Want to See Your Work!
After taking a break for the summer, South 85 Journal's editorial staff has opened its reading period for its 2015-2016 issues!

We will be accepting poetry, fiction, and non-fiction through April 30, 2016.  We will continue to accept blog and visual art submissions year-round.  For more information, check out our submission guidelines.  Or visit our Submittable page to submit now!

We look forward to hearing from you.

Monday, August 31, 2015

“The Bright Particulars of the Situation”: An Interview with Poet Sandra Beasley

By Lisa Hase-Jackson

Because Sandra Beasley’s newest collection of poetry, Count the Waves, arrived within the slim period of time between the end of the spring semester teaching and the beginning of my summer graduating residency, I had to relegate it to a stack of books for later reading. Before doing so, though, I glanced over the dust jacket notes to get a sense of the book’s focus. I was struck by a line in the third paragraph suggesting that the poems in Count the Waves “illuminate how intimacy is lost and gained during our travels.” Since my own travels these past ten years have led me from the Midwest to the Southeast United States by way of New Mexico and South Korea, both gaining and losing friends with each move, I felt certain I would find resonance within the collection’s pages. At least, I reasoned, I had something good to read when I returned home. When Leslie Pietrzyk later approached me about interviewing Beasley, I was happy for the opportunity to get to know the poet behind the poems knowing that the encounter would also enrich my reading of the book.

As is often the case for writers in the summer, Beasley and I had a number of obligations to juggle, but she was eventually able to carve out time to graciously answer my interview questions. I found her responses insightful and enlightening and am happy to share our exchange here.

1.     Titles are often tricky for writers, especially when it comes to entire books or collections. Can you speak to the significance of the title “Let Me Count the Waves” and what connection it has to the Elizabeth Barrett Browning sonnet quoted at the book’s beginning?

The phrase, "Let me count the waves," first appears in I WAS THE JUKEBOX in "Love Poem for Oxidation." In that incarnation, the "waves" literally denote the movement of water. As a child, when I was out bodysurfing with my dad in Florida or North Carolina, you had to "count the waves" in order to catch one big enough to carry your body to shore. By the time the phrase was re-appropriated as a poem title, I was paying attention to secondary connotations: the iterative patterns of "counting" required by a sestina's repetitions, and the "waves" of third- and fourth-wave feminism. That poem is very much about struggling to position myself as a poet versus being a "woman" poet. I was trying to figure out whether that demarcation is trivializing, or productive. 

In choosing what would provide the collection's title, I wanted something with bravado, and in the imperative tone. I also got back to questioning why the phrase "Let me count the waves" had lodged so firmly in my head in the first place: the answer being, a ghost-memory of reading Elizabeth Barrett Browning's sonnet, "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…." back in high school, and perhaps mishearing it to suit my own purposes. When I looked a little more deeply into Browning's life--in which a long-distance love inspired an overturning of everything, flight from an oppressive household, and eventual happiness--I knew I'd found my inspiration point. 

2.     Many of the poems in this collection are titled after specific lines in The Travelers Vade Mecum, which is an important influence in this collection. So many, in fact, that it is a little surprising to find poems that are not overtly related to that compendium. Can you provide some insight into how you decided which poems to include and your method for ordering them? Are the “non-numbered” poems related to those which are numbered?      
The Traveler's Vade Mecum series began as the solicitation for a single poem, for an anthology that will be published in 2017 by Red Hen Press. I usually hate prompts, but I loved the exercise as a way of thinking about intimacy over long distances, so I just kept going and ended up with over two dozen poems, most of which are in COUNT THE WAVES. The inspiring book exists, so my titles are a straightforward representation of A. C. Baldwin's lines and the numbers assigned to them. But I didn't want those indexing numbers to control my sequence, so the challenge became to find an internal "order" that respected the individual poems. It's not as simple as saying that the TVM poems are of one world, and the non-TVM poems are of another. About half the poems in the collection speak to a discernible, personal--I stop short of saying "confessional"--narrative, and that category that cuts through both groupings. 

3.     Though they do not announce themselves, there are six varieties of sestina in your collection. Besides an organizing pattern, they share inventive language and common themes, almost as if they are part of a larger organization. What attracts you to the sestina, and what other elements of form are at play in this collection?

The sestinas aren't so much different varieties as different stanza arrangements; I've kept the pattern of end words entirely intact, with an approximately ten-syllable line, and always opted to include the envoi. At one point, they were all formatted in the traditional sestets. But my early readers were experiencing visual fatigue. They'd spot the shape of the poem on the page, know "Oh, a sestina," and it would temper their subsequent engagement. I understand the phenomenon, because I do the same thing; you start looking for the tricks of the form, instead of absorbing the content. I changed the stanza breaks as a way of tricking the eye. 

I love sestinas because they channel the energies of two modes I am also drawn to, parallel structure and anaphora, and lexical repetition that approximates rhyme. The "Valentines" build upon the interest in dramatis personae that I raised in I WAS THE JUKEBOX. The best examples of the form, with Miller Williams' "The Shrinking Lonesome Sestina" coming to mind, feel playful and absurdist right up until the moment they break your heart. 

4.     Like many of your poems, “The Wake” incorporates really wonderful details, like “dovebelly brown,” “caress the bend of waists slendered by work,” and (my favorite) “still the silk jutting from his pocket matches / the band on his hat,” all of which lend a sense of authenticity and verisimilitude to this reimagining of Whistler’s life. Each line contributes to the poem’s dimensionality yet maintains a very satisfying pace that leads the reader to the poem’s conclusion. It made me feel as if I gained some insight into Whistler’s experience of the world and especially made me wonder how you were able to create that impression. Do you have a background in art history, or does Whistler hold particular importance for you?

I'm thrilled to have you focus on "The Wake," which is probably the oldest poem in the manuscript, though I did revise before adding it in. The text takes many cues from a Washington, D.C. exhibit on "Whistler and His Circle in Venice," which resulted in a 2003 book of the same name curated by Eric Denker. I had recently been to Venice when I saw the show at the Freer Collection, and the delicate pastels and works on paper made an indelible impression. Whistler is an interesting figure because of his ego, his personal life, and his eye for the possibilities of mass reproduction and distribution; he was the Charles Dickens of the art world. I have always been drawn to ekphrasis and the visual arts. My mother is a painter and a collagist, and my husband is a painter and photographer. In another life, I could have happily worked in a museum to the end of my days. 

5.     The title poem, “Let me Count the Waves,” includes the epigraph “We must not look for poetry in poems” from Donald Revell. While there is more than one way to interpret this aphorism, can you talk a little bit more about where, for you, poems come from?

In fairness to Revell, his suggestion is reasonable: Poems should not be overly self-referential. They should not be smug in their own performance. A poem should not reach for the low-hanging fruit of what has already been deemed "poetic." Read in that light, I can agree with him. But at the other end of the spectrum, and historically, one way upstart voices have tempered the privilege and power of others is through enacting verbal fireworks. So there has to be a place for a showy and brazen. There has to be a place for that which will not be denied.  

For me, most poems begin in the struggle to identify something. I operate from an emotional or philosophical perception, an instinct, without quite knowing what I'm trying to say. The irony is, once I decide what I am trying to say--and the poem is not a mature work until that happens--my craft is to articulate as thoroughly as possible. I thread a needle with what I refer to as the bright particulars of the situation. Bonus points if there is an opportunity for humor. 

6.     This is your third full-length collection of poetry. How did your approach to this book of poetry differ from your approach to your first book?

In assembling a third book, I was aware from the outset that the pile of pages could be a manuscript. That is both a strength and weakness. On one hand, I knew to avoid repeating the same images or stylistic moves, because what provides satisfying closure in one standalone poem will fail when you attempt to use it on three poems in a row. On the other hand, I may have prematurely curtailed some ideas of drafts because they felt too far outside the growing body of work. But overall, this is the biggest and rangiest collection I've ever done. Though the theme of adult love is unapologetically singular, that still leaves a lot of ground to cover.  

7.     What projects are you working on now?

Well, to be fair--an author isn't "done" with a book once it is out in the world! I'll be pursuing whatever combination of readings, classroom visits, and other opportunities that I can find to get the word out about COUNT THE WAVES. 

But in terms of new directions, I have a proposal for a nonfiction project, which I'll convert to a long essay if it does not find a publisher. I am writing poems commissioned by the Southern Foodways Alliance, in anticipation of an October gathering in my beloved town of Oxford, Mississippi. I'm also in my second year of teaching with the University of Tampa's low-residency MFA program, and I am really appreciating the opportunity to mentor in both poetry and memoir, not to mention the appeal of getting to know a new town with visits twice a year. And meanwhile, I'm settling into a new neighborhood of Washington, D.C., with my husband. Life is busy, but it is the best kind of busy.

~Buy Count the Waves on Amazon or through an independent bookseller.



Lisa Hase-Jackson holds an MFA from the Converse College Low-Residency program and teaches poetry and English Composition at the College of Charleston in Charleston, S.C. Her current projects include an anthology of poems celebrating New Mexico’s 2012 centennial and a manuscript of her own poetry. Her work has appeared in Midwest Quarterly, Kansas City Voices, Pilgrimage, Jasper/Fall Lines and elsewhere. She is the Review Editor for South 85 Journal and keeps a poetry blog at ZingaraPoet.net.


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