Thursday, July 30, 2015

Flash Fiction: "The Tension Between What Is Said and Unsaid"

I’m intrigued by flash fiction, tending as I do to write on and on and on, so I was as avid a learner as the students described in this piece by Virgie Townsend that discusses the experience of teaching flash fiction to a group of high school students (oh, and getting an appendectomy halfway through the 2-week session!):

But my explanations [of what flash fiction is] felt incomplete. They didn’t describe what fascinates me about flash: The tension between what is said and unsaid, and the stunning language that emerges from the form’s roots in ancient fables and its kinship to poetry. These are flash’s ineffable qualities that the students must be shown, not told. The first step in that process was creating a reading list with representation from different genres, writers from diverse backgrounds, and various styles.

The article offers great flash fiction reading suggestions, and also gives hope to writers who may worry that they don’t have an MFA…neither does Townsend.

Read the rest:

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Why I Love the Gettysburg Review & A Contest for a Free Subscription!

I’m honored to announce that I’ve been invited to serve as an Advisory & Contributing Editor for The Gettysburg Review, which is one of my favorite literary journals—to read, and to see my work published in. As you probably know, it’s impossible to subscribe to every single excellent journal out there, so I tend to pick 3-4 to read for a year or so and then rotate on to a new batch (as heart-breaking as it is to say goodbye to a beloved journal). But The Gettysburg Review is so very, very beloved that I’ve kept my subscription going for years and years.

Five of my stories have appeared in its pages, most recently “The Circle,” which is part of my forthcoming collection, THIS ANGEL ON MY CHEST, and they’ve honored me with a Pushcart Prize nomination in the past.

Beyond that loyalty toward its writers, here are 11 other (randomly numbered) reasons I love The Gettysburg Review:

1.     The journal features a portfolio of full-color artwork.
2.     Writers are paid with $.
3.     The font and layout are elegant and uncluttered.
4.     The paper feels lush and the ink doesn’t smudge.
5.     The editing is rigorous and thoughtful and smart.
6.     The work, the work, the work! It is one of the few journals where I enjoy reading and admire equally each genre: fiction, poetry, and non-fiction.
7.     They support AWP by buying a booth at the bookfair and taking the time to carefully answer every single question, even the possibly annoying ones: “How can I get my work published in your journal?”; “Why did you reject me?”; “What are you looking for?”
8.     The journal works with and trains interns in the art of editing, helping ensure thoughtful editors in the next generation.
9.     They often offer discounted subscriptions (not that full-price isn’t worth the bucks!).
10.  They will (and have) published looooooooong stories (including one of my loooooong stories).
11.  They listed my name on the cover once. (Okay, that’s a totally self-absorbed reason to love a journal, but it was dang exciting!)

Let me share my love with one blog reader in a contest for a subscription.  Simply email me your mailing address (U.S. only…sorry, but I’m not made of money and can’t afford the overseas mail rate!) by FRIDAY, July 31, and I will select one person at random to get a free, one-year print subscription to the Gettysburg Review. And yes, it's okay to enter if you know me!

1.     Write “Gettysburg Review” in the subject header. If you don’t, I promise your email won’t be selected because it won’t find its way into the gmail search.
2.     Send this email to: lesliepietrzyk AT gmail DOT com (only, you know, with the proper formatting).
3.     Include your mailing address (which I will not share with anyone else). If your mailing address isn’t included, I’m not going to track you down. Remember, US addresses only.
4.     Send all this before FRIDAY, July 31, at 5 PM, Eastern Standard Time.
5.     The winner will be selected at random and will be notified privately and announced the following week on this blog.
6.     If there are other rules I’m forgetting to imagine needing, I’m the one in charge here, so I get to make up more rules on the spot! J

Feel free to pass this blog post along to your friends…come on—don’t be selfish!

More information about the journal, including digital and print subscriptions:
Submission information (but not until September 1!):

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

My Short Essay in Washingtonian Magazine

If you wanted to read my flash essay recently published in Washingtonian magazine but either A) couldn’t get a copy of the paper magazine or B) forgot to read that back page in line at the grocery store, here it is online now:

“…People gaze into tiny screens, lost in tiny worlds of … what? We can’t see if it’s Facebook, games, Netflix. We don’t know which e-book is so enthralling, what the incoming text message advises. Most times the Metro is as quiet as an old-fashioned library. It’s what I thought I wanted, but I don’t like this desolate silence, either….” 

Monday, July 20, 2015

My New Work in Progress Published in WIPs...the journal for works in progress!

One of the (many!) challenges about writing a novel is those looooong periods of time where you’re afraid you don’t know what you’re doing, where you’re afraid that what you think you’re doing is no good. Combine that with the difficulty of getting a burst of satisfaction that you might be on the right path that comes (rightly or wrongly) from seeing your work published, from getting that scrap of approval from the larger landscape. Because who would sign up for this plan: Write on your own for three years and then we, the world, will let you know what we think. But please don’t bother us until then!

(Okay, we, the hopeful writers, sign up for this plan.)

So it’s nice to discover a literary journal that offers encouragement by exclusively publishing works in progress: Works (in fiction) In Progress, or WIPs.  Even more nice (for me anyway), is that the first chapter of my novel-in-progress was selected to be featured!  And I love that the editor, Roland Goity, interviews each author with a set of thoughtful questions that explore the work and offer context to the greater whole.

Here’s the opening to my novel, SILVER GIRL; this chapter is called “Headache”:

Suburban Chicago, 1982

The phone on the kitchen wall rang. Jess and I stared at it in surprise. Though we had been sharing this college apartment for two weeks already, we still didn’t feel as though we belonged here and the ringing phone seemed to emphasize exactly how out of place we were.

 “You answer,” she whispered.

 It was eleven AM, hardly a time for whispering, but I whispered back, “No, you,” and then we laughed.

 We had met last year when we were freshman living in the same hormonal all-girls dorm that had been built with money donated to the university in the early 1960s by some uptight woman who sensed—and feared—the coming sexual revolution. Allison Hall. The school packed all the freshmen girls there. The halls smelled like hairspray and popcorn. The joke was that entire floors of girls synched their periods. It was a place to escape from.

 And we had. Now Jess and I were sophomores—long since free of all those girls, free of Allison Hall, uninterested in sororities, and living together off-campus on the first floor of a small house half a block from the el tracks.

 The phone still rang. This was a time before answering machines, before voice mail, email, instant messaging, and Skype. Letters and phone calls were what we had. This was a time where not answering a ringing phone was an act of subversion. We wanted to be subversive—or I did, anyway, secretly—but we were basically good girls, depending on how “good” might be defined. Anyway, letting a phone ring was something we couldn’t do….

Here’s an excerpt from the interview about the chapter:

The narrator “liked seeing that someone one could care deeply about something like a poem. I couldn’t be that way, even when I tried.” And later expresses guilt for not being a good listener, and not always providing Jess support (“that’s what a friend does”). Are we to question her telling of events as they unfold? 

The unreliable narrator fascinates me. I’m interested not necessarily in the ways a narrator might lie outright to the reader, but more so the ways in which a narrator might—or must—lie to herself. We’re all liars to some extent—though we may be uncomfortable thinking of ourselves so—and it seems to me that self-deception is a fascinating complexity to explore through fiction. Maybe the classic unreliable narrator is Humbert Humbert in Lolita, but I think my early model was Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye; first reading that book in my teens was a window into complexity in literature and in life. In more recent reading, Eva Khatchadourian in Lionel Shriver’s outstanding novel We Need to Talk About Kevin is the ultimate unreliable narrator, stripping off layers to work her way, slowly and relentlessly, to a core of truth that took my breath away.

 Like Holden and Eva, I don’t think my narrator is a natural liar; I think circumstances have brought her to this tenuous place, where she has been pushed into secrecy and silence, and the pressure is too much to bear. Like the saying goes, chase your main character up a tree and throw rocks at her…which sounds cruel, especially since I’m sure this narrator expected to find safe haven up that tree, and I know she deserves a bit of shelter.

 Finally, I think I’ve become so fond of lying narrators and lying characters that often when I’m teasing out a story or chapter and feel stuck, I drop a lie into someone’s mind or mouth. Insta-tension!

And here’s the link to this fantastic journal… …and information about submitting your own work in progress:

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Richard Kostelanetz on Creative Space: Black Mountain College Revisited


By Richard Kostelanetz

What was important, it seems to me, about Black Mountain was the dining hall, because everyone had breakfast, lunch, and dinner together.  And the classes were less important than the meals. Every time that it’s attempted to make Black Mountain over again, it’s not understood that all the meals should be shared by all of the people.
—John Cage, in an interview

I’d grown up with the image of Black Mountain as the premier American arts college, having heard about it first from John Cage in the mid-1960s, a decade after it closed, and then again in the late 1970s from my good friend Mary Emma Harris who was working on her book on The Arts in Black Mountain (1985). Located inauspiciously in western North Carolina, it housed as either teachers or students such future eminences as Cage, Merce Cunningham, Buckminster Fuller, Josef Albers, Robert Rauschenberg, Kenneth Snelson, Charles Olson, et al. Black Mountain became the subject of more books than Harris’s, each of them accounting for its uniqueness, all of which I’ve read, wondering, as have others, whether it could happen again.

The closest I’ve come to experiencing something like Black Mountain Collage occurred during my stay as Master Artist at the AtlanticCenter for the Arts in the sleepy ocean-side town of New Smyrna Beach, FL. The ACA, as it is called, customarily invites three established personages in any of several arts. People apply to be “associates” for three weeks. No more than ten are chosen. Most of the previous Master Artists were more conservative in their aesthetic orientation than myself, which is to say, for one measure, that the Black Mountain precedent would have small relevance to them. Photos made of previous sessions with writers customarily show the associates grouped around the Master.

Mine in Experimental Writing worked differently. At our first gathering, I asked each associate to introduce his or her work. I suggested that the general assignment for each of us was to produce something radically different from what they or anyone else had done before. A secondary consideration was that we were also required to help make one another’s work better. The ACA generously made available facilities that include computers, a music recording studio, and video editing equipment. Tuesday morning we all met again in the small building I’d set aside for our group activities.

Wednesday morning I went to the appointed place, only to find no one there. Scarcely anyone came by until12:30, which is time for lunch. Where were they? Working with one another in several locations around the ACA. On Thursday morning, only one associate joined me, mostly because he preferred working on paper, often with words and challenges provided by his colleagues. Nonetheless, at one time or another he collaborated with everyone else in the group, sometimes narrating their texts for recordings, at other times reworking their words to his own ends. 

I began to feel the odd man out. When the regular ACA photographer arrived during the second week to take the customary picture of the “group,” only two of my associates were there. I was less a leader than a facilitator. Instead of lecturing to them all, I advised them individually, usually to take a further step in whatever they were doing.  Unlike too many other short-term creative courses, the ACA residencies are not designed to fleece savings from aspirants with modest talents and ambitions. Bless ‘em.

The group as a whole had extraordinary qualities. Though the ACA billed me as a writer, rather than a media artist (which is something I also am), all but one took their undergraduate degrees in areas other than English literature or writing—the standard certificates for graduate writing students. Indeed, most remembered negative experience with institutional writing courses.

Nearly all of these writers wanted to work directly with audio, video, and computers, some of them staying at these machines into the night. They taught one another how to use Photoshop and video editing programs. One designed and produced an artist’s chapbook from a text that was previously just a manuscript uniformly typed. Some collaborated with the eight visual artists who formed a companion group during our three weeks there. Need I say that all of us—masters as well as associates, visual artists along with writers--took all our weekday meals in a single refectory. The wisdom of John Cage’s advice was not lost.

All of my associates had accepted unreservedly the premise of Expanded Writing that I first articulated three decades ago—that a truly contemporary “writer” must know how to put words on more than paper. Though the associates ranged in age from 22 to 60, none regarded any of the others as esthetically unacceptable. Since they had, like myself, previously experienced situations in which their work was dismissed, this degree of colleagial acceptance was an unprecedented pleasure. None had ever before experienced a situation where everyone was so supportive. All of them were knowledgeable not only in literature but music and the visual arts. Only one talked about the limitations in marketing/exhibiting/publishing their current work, promising to establish a website in which visual poetry incorporating color could be made available to everyone.

After overcoming initial feelings of teacherly neglect, I realized that in collaboration with the ACA I had set in motion something resembling Black Mountain, where, as I recall, the ambitious students likewise helped one another under the benevolent guidance of Master Artists. I, whose grandparents came from old Smyrna, spent most June afternoons at New Smryna’s nearest beach, which I rank among the best in North America. Scarcely authoritarian in temper, I didn’t want to get in anyone’s way. I love to try something similar somewhere else sometime.

Individual entries on Richard Kostelanetz’s work appear in various editions of Readers Guide to Twentieth-Century WritersMerriam-Webster Encyclopedia of LiteratureContemporary PoetsContemporary Novelists, Postmodern FictionWebster's Dictionary of American WritersBaker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, Directory of American ScholarsWho's Who in, and, among other distinguished directories.

~Richard Kostelanetz’s website:

~“Previously Unpublished, Sometimes Incomplete Entries Drafted for a Third Edition of my Dictionary of the Avant-Gardes (1992, 1999)”:

Thursday, July 16, 2015

First Book Review of THIS ANGEL ON MY CHEST

To quote an ancient TV show that I was once fond of despite its obvious terribleness,

You take the good
You take the bad
You take them both
And there you have
The facts of life, the facts of life.

If you recognize it, I’m sure you’re thanking me for putting this song into your head! Here’s a link to really lock it in:

All this to maintain modesty in the light of some very good news, which is the first review of THIS ANGEL IN MY CHEST, which is starred, which is from Kirkus, and which makes me so, so, so, so happy! So, yes thank you, I think I’ll take this good for right now.

“The author's wit, clarity, and literary inventiveness dance circles around the omnipresent sadness, making this book a prime example of the furious creative energy that can explode from the collision of grief with talent and craftsmanship.”

Read the whole thing:

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

My Summer Reading

What are you reading this summer? I love talking about books, so I was pleased to be invited to share my summer reading ideas with The Washington Independent Review of Books. The only trick was trying to cram as many book titles as possible into one list!

I often assign myself “projects” in my summer reading — one summer was spent delightfully immersed in Moby-Dick, reading it for the first time after a life of studiously avoiding it; another summer, I appreciated The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James, thanks to a more leisurely reading pace than the first go-around for English class. I’m taking a different tack with this summer’s “project” by catching up on some buzzed-about contemporary books that sound compelling and, perhaps, will prove as enduring as a “project” book should be. 
Read on:

Monday, July 13, 2015

FREE Jenny McKean Moore Community Fiction Workshop at deadline 8/28

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 AUGUST 28. I took one of these workshops many years ago and had a great experience! (If fall doesn't fit your schedule, there will be another opportunity in the winter/spring, with a different application deadline.) 

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.
8 September 2015 – 8 December 2015
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 Friday, 28 August 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 Saturday, 5 September 2015.

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, July 6, 2015

The Enduring Popularity of Southern Gothic Fiction

If you're a fan of writing--or reading--Southern gothic fiction, this article will help you understand why:

...I also have to wonder: why is southern gothic literature so popular across the globe? Here’s my idea: the southern gothic is like a trusty bicycle. (Note: this is not simply because southerners talk too slowly for a car metaphor to work. It is instead a kinship in the way the two things are assembled and ornamented. Stay with me.)...
 Read on.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Yearlong Novel Classes in DC

I’m passing along this message from writer Mary Kay Zuravleff, author of three novels, including Man Alive!:

Go ahead and play this summer, especially if you're enrolled to start a Master Class with Mary Kay Zuravleff in September! 

I am currently taking applications for two classes, Writing Your Book in a Year and Transforming Your Draft. Information and application requirements are at

Writing Your Book in a Year will take place two Tuesdays per month, 4-7 pm, beginning September 8. Transforming Your Draft will take place two Tuesdays per month, 3-6 pm, beginning September 15.

Each class runs a full 9 months, from September 2015 to May 2016 and will be held behind the house at 3506 35th St, NW in DC.

Class size is capped at 8 for each.

I would love to fill the table with talented writers and get more of our books out into the world! 

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Memoir Is Scary...

…but I wrote a short piece and am happy to report that it's appearing on Salon:


…The houses we passed [in Charleston] were vast, boxy mansions, as lavish and as importantly grand as wedding cakes, with columns and pastel paint and porticos and wrought iron. Maybe it was how our tour guide’s gossipy stories of past and present intertwined melodramatic deaths with mournful ghosts—having learned tourists tip better on ghost stories. Hand in hand on a sunny afternoon, the houses swelling on one side of us as water sparkled on the other, with Fort Sumter on the horizon and dinner plans for shrimp and grits, I asked Steve, “Have you ever seen a ghost?”…

I’m in awe of writers who are able to splash out their lives for the world to read, review, and learn from. I’m in awe of writers who are able to ponder their experiences and push themselves to extract deep, dark truths that may be uncomfortable. I’m in awe of writers who have interesting personal lives that make good “material.” Can I say it one more time? I’m utterly in awe of (and maybe even a little afraid of) memoirists! 


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