Monday, December 19, 2016

Flash Fiction!

I have a piece of flash fiction in the new issue of Phoebe, and they kindly put up a link. I wrote this piece in my prompt group (that’s right, in 30 minutes!) and the prompt words were “hammer” and “jacket” (15 minutes on each word). Also, I remember that I decided to try writing without quotation marks, based on a Facebook conversation I’d recently had about their use, and, honestly, that decision ended up feeling significant as I wrote. Advice takeaway: Change up your style!

There’s not much space for an excerpt without printing the whole story, so I’ll give just the first several lines:

You really hammer down the nail, my boyfriend says the second he swipes shut his phone call. Thank you? Not a compliment, he says.

Read the rest—which will take about about 2 minutes—here:

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Best Books (I Read) in 2016

Here are several lists, randomly ordered, starting with the best books I read in 2016 (ignoring publication date). I do not include books by friends on these lists, though, as you’ll see below, I did include a separate, brief list of some of the books my friends published during the year that I read. PLEASE don’t get mad if your book isn’t on there! I just really had to mention some of these books by beloved buddies, and it was hard not to open the floodgates….

And because I realize I didn’t do this write-up in 2015, I tacked on that list as well. I mean, why not? A good book is timeless, right?


Tiny Beautiful Things (Dear Sugar) by Cheryl Strayed: What can I say that hasn’t been said about the wise and empathetic generosity of spirit that Cheryl Strayed brings to her writing? Advice for all of us, and a hug to make you feel loved, sweetpea.

Manhattan ’45 by Jan Morris: New York City! Published in the 1980s, but researched to show us what NYC was like in 1945, at the crossroads of post-war America.

The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit: An exploration of love and loss and the creative life, one of the most brilliant books I have read. If I were to meet Rebecca Solnit, I would stare in wonder at her.

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler: I can’t resist a girl-goes-to-New-York book, especially when she works in a restaurant! Read this for the New Yorkiness and the food and the astute observations and less for the plot.

All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren: A classic for a reason. From the very first page of the road unfurling, this story pulls us through the cynical underbelly of politics and the South. (Okay, I got a big bogged down in the family history section, but then I’m from Iowa, not the South!)

Chelsea Girls by Eileen Myles: Another girl goes to New York, and writes like the poet she is. Highly readable, so don’t get me wrong, but sometimes I would just read a sentence and set the book aside to ponder the language and its juxtaposition. I don’t get why this is called a novel, but who cares?

Hue and Cry by James Alan McPherson: After he died this summer, I thought it was shameful I’d read only a couple of essays along the way…and I was right. These stories are stunning, especially the first two.

My Body Is a Book of Rules by Elissa Washuta: This is a flawed book, but when it was good it was very, very good—and inventive. A dark memoir told through a variety of forms, including lists and (especially brilliant) a dialogue with the TV show “Law & Order SVU.”

Toby’s Room by Pat Barker: I entered a phase of British/Irish writers while in residency at the Hawthornden Castle in Scotland and resumed my love affair with Pat Barker and her riveting novels about World War I. This is less-battle intense than the Regeneration Trilogy but no less harrowing. I inhaled it from the early shocker in the first chapter, as did two of my fellow writers in the castle! Bonus: It was exciting to be reading a copy signed by Pat Barker (one of my literary idols) that I found in the Hawthornden library.

A Bit on the Side by William Trevor: Another from the Hawthornden library. I’d read William Trevor in the New Yorker, but these stories were a revelation. I’m not sure if it was these stories all at once or that I was living somewhat in the landscape described, but the spare heartbreak of these stories was gorgeous. Please, sir, may I have some more? Luckily I can, despite his recent death…he wrote lots of books!

Birthday Letters by Ted Hughes: Okay, I didn’t read all of this (I had to return it to the Hawthornden Library and head home). But what I read was a thrill. No wonder Britain is still recovering from this poet’s towering presence. (I read some Sylvia Plath alongside for balance and conversation’s sake.)

As noted, I choose not to include books by my friends on my list, but it seems like I can certainly mention a few books by friends that I read (and loved!) in 2016:

Traveler’s Rest by Keith Lee Morris: snowy, spooky novel
Crash Course by Robin Black: short essays on life and writing
Echoes of the Tattered Tongue by John Guzlowski: wrenching poetry about his parent’s experiences in a German slave camp in WWII
You May See a Stranger by Paula Whyman: linked stories about a woman trying to carve out a life for herself
Invincible Summers by Robin Gaines: Claudia’s father dies, and this 60s-70s era Detroit family falls apart
Harmony by Carolyn Parkhurst: a DC couple hopes a parenting guru can save their autistic daughter at this off-the-grid New Hampshire camp
Ghosts of Bergen County by Dana Cann: Ghosts, a dead child, and heroin…a potent combination
Heirlooms by Rachel Hall: linked stories about one Jewish family’s escape from WWII-era France and the burdens they carry into America

As noted, I see that I didn’t put together a list last year, so because I’m compulsive and a completist, here we go, minus the commentary because I have some Christmas tasks to get to!

Best Books (I read) in 2015

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay [essays]
The Love of the Last Tycoon by F. Scott Fitzgerald [unfinished novel]
The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking by Olivia Laing [non-fiction]
The Unspeakable  and Other Subjects of Discussion by Meghan Daum [essays]
Get in Trouble by Kelly Link [stories]
Redeployment by Phil Klay [stories]
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel [novel…and I’ll butt in to say, this may be the book I’ve recommended the most over the past two years]
The Ice Cave: A Woman’s Adventures from the Mojave to the Antarctic by Lucy Jane Bledsoe [essays…the first two are a little slow IMHO…give it a chance!]
Friday Night Lights by H.G. Bissinger [non-fiction]

And some of my favorite books by my friends in 2015:

Pasture Art by Marlin Barton [stories and a masterful novella]
Watch Me Go by Mark Wisniewski [novel]
My Coolest Shirt by W.T. Pfefferle [poetry]
Count the Waves by Sandra Beasley [poems]
Washing the Dead by Michelle Brafman [novel]
Flying Home by David Nicholson [stories, set in DC]

And onward to 2017! I’ve got stacks of books I want to read, but even more exciting is to think about the random discoveries waiting ahead! Happy reading, everyone!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Milkweed Editions Reading Ms. in 2017

One of my favorite small literary presses has just announced its 2017 reading schedule for unsolicited submissions. Milkweed Editions, based in Minneapolis, publishes top-quality fiction, creative non-fiction, and poetry books, and their submission windows are small…so plan ahead!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016


Since today is misty, and since I'm finally organizing my photos from Scotland, how about a few pictures here? (Okay, how about 18? That's a few, right?)

These will be ready to drink in, oh, fifteen years or so.

A view from Edinburgh Castle: 

So excited to be invited to a private whisky tasting at the Balmoral Hotel! Thanks, Scotch...the best whisky bar in Edinburgh!!

The Last Drop...before your head was chopped off at the guillotine across the square.

Yes, this cheese was as good as it looks!

Robert Burns, Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson...Scotland's favorite writers from its seen in:

I became obsessed with stags.

And whisky. And smoked salmon:

This monument to Sir Walter Scott is the largest monument to a writer in the world:

I knew I'd love Hawthornden Castle when I saw this stag outside the garden door:

Did a lot of good writing in this chair:

Lunch was delivered in these cute little baskets:

Another good chair for writing in, this one in the library, where I wrote surrounded by a wall of Paris Reviews:

Isn't this inviting? Residency applications are due in June, though you will have to write to the administrator to have a paper application mailed to internet applications, so plan ahead! Thank you, Mrs. Drue Heinz, for providing this magical castle for ordinary writers like me.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Memoir Your Way: Making Memoir More Inclusive by Joanne Lozar Glenn

I'm delighted to offer blog space to Joanne Lozar Glenn, a  member of my beloved prompt group, who has come out with a fantastic new book that expands the boundaries of memoir beyond the written word.... (If you're wondering if this book might make a good gift for the unconventional memoirist in your life, the answer is YES: it's beautifully produced with lots of lovely full-color photographs and welcoming, reader-friendly design!)

Memoir Your Way: Making Memoir More Inclusive

By Joanne Lozar Glenn

One fall afternoon a few years ago, several colleagues and I were enjoying brunch and sharing stories related to our work with other writers. We soon realized that each of us was creating memoirs in interesting and unconventional forms: cookbooks, scrapbooks, quilts, and more—forms that haven’t traditionally been considered part of the genre. It was an “aha” moment.
Memoir wasn’t just for writers. Memoir could be for everyone.
That moment grew into a book—Memoir Your Way: Tell Your Story Through Writing, Recipes, Quilts, Graphic Novels, and More (Skyhorse Publishing, Inc., 2016)—that we hope inspires “history-keepers” to view and create memoir in ways they’d never thought of before.
As memoir creators, teachers, and crafters, we see these history-keepers in our classrooms every day. They are mothers and daughters hoping to preserve family traditions, recipes, and the stories they and their children tell. They are immigrants seeking to bridge their old and new lives and veterans eager to record their war experiences. They are older people revisiting the adventures of their youth, and younger people working it all out as they mine their experience. Our book suggests alternative “containers” these story-keepers can adapt to their purpose.
Extending the written memoir form to cookbooks, comics, quilts, and other multimedia storytelling formats includes rather than excludes would-be memoirists who are not writers. It encourages them to preserve their histories while still adhering to the key principles of memoir:  memoir is a slice of life remembered and reflected upon, and it is always two stories—the memory, and the meaning we make of it.
As memoir writers know, crafting a memoir can be surprisingly satisfying. By bringing our memories into the world in a concrete form, we can step back and see our experiences in a different, and often healing, light. Why restrict this satisfaction to those who have a talent for writing? The last sketch, the last stitch, the last drop of glue can open the door to a whole new way of seeing and even being.
Beyond that, this:  Memories fade, and sometimes history is rewritten. If those memories are not preserved, they’re lost forever.
When we turn memories into memoir, we build a bridge between the past and the future. What better way to do that than to encourage innovative, less text-centric ways of saying, “I was here. I mattered.”?


More information about Memoir Your Way: Tell Your Story Through Writing, Recipes, Quilts, Graphic Novels, and More (Skyhorse Publishing, Inc., 2016):


ABOUT: Joanne M. Lozar Glenn (writing workshop and retreat leader) is a member of The Memoir Roundtable, which includes co-authors Natasha Peterson (graphic novelist), Linda Pool (quilter), Nadine James  (children’s literacy consultant), Katherine Nutt (teacher and scrapbooker), and Dianne Hennessy King (food editor and memoir writing teacher).  Their book Memoir Your Way is available in softcover and e-book from and  


Monday, November 21, 2016

Linked Stories, Novels in Stories, and "No-Fault Fiction": Rachel Hall & Michelle Brafman Talk Process

Sometimes I have very brilliant ideas, and if I do say so, this might be my very brilliantiest! Two lovely friends each have published a new book, one a collection of linked stories, the other a novel in stories…so who better to conduct their own interview about the ins and outs of linkage, stories, triptychs, “no-fault fiction,” and how to balance the promotion/writing/life.

 Rachel Hall’s collection of linked stories, Heirlooms, was awarded the BkMk Press 2015 G.S. Sharat Chandra prize, selected by Marge Piercy. Her stories and essays have appeared in a number of journals and anthologies, including Bellingham Review, Crab Orchard Review, Gettysburg Review, Lilith, New Letters, and Water~Stone. In addition, she has received awards and honors from publications such as Lilith and Glimmer Train, and New Letters and from the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference, Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts, as well as Ragdale and the Ox-Bow School of the Arts where portions of Heirlooms were written. She is Professor of English at the State University of New York-Geneseo.
 Michelle Brafman’s short fiction and essays have appeared in Slate, The Washington Post, Tablet, Lilith Magazine, the minnesota review, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and numerous other publications. Her debut novel, Washing the Dead, was published by Prospect Park Books in April of 2015, and her second book, Bertrand Court, a novel in stories, is set in Washington, D.C. and was published in September of 2016. She has taught creative writing at The Johns Hopkins MA in Writing Program, the George Washington University, and in smaller workshops throughout the Washington, D.C. area. In 2003, she founded Yeah Write, a writing coaching business.

Heirlooms (by Rachel Hall) begins in the French seaside city of Saint-Malo, in 1940, and ends in the American Midwest in 1989. In this collection of linked stories, the war reverberates through four generations of a Jewish family. Inspired by the author’s family stories as well as extensive research, Heirlooms explores assumptions about love, duty, memory and truth. More information:
Bertrand Court (by Michelle Brafman) intertwines seventeen luminous narratives about the secrets of a cast of politicos, filmmakers, housewives, real es­tate brokers, and consultants, all tied to a suburban Washington, D.C. cul-de-sac. Linked through bloodlines and grocery lines, they respond to life’s bruises by grabbing power, sex, or the family silver. As they atone and forgive, they unmask the love and truth that hop white picket fences. More information:


RH: You've written a novel, Washing the Dead, besides this collection of linked stories. Did you consider writing Bertrand Court as a novel? How, in your opinion, are linked stories different from a novel? What did the genre offer you that the novel form didn't?
MB: I started writing Bertrand Court about fifteen years ago, and at that point I was pretty dedicated to the short story form. That said, I’d read Amy Bloom’s collection Come to Me and fell in love with the idea of writing stories in triptychs. After I’d completed several such groupings of stories, it became apparent to me that all of my characters belonged to the same universe. I had a lot of fun exploring these connections. If I’d written this book as a novel, I’m not sure I would have had the freedom (or maybe the skill) to write about this fictive world from so many different perspectives. I think I also would have felt compelled to tie up loose ends with each of these characters, which I didn’t feel I needed to do here.
It’s funny that you asked this question, though, because as I was reading Heirlooms, I kept thinking that your book was a true “novel in stories.” At times, the book felt like a novel to me, yet each story stands on its own. So now I want to know why you choose this form for your book.  
RH: I love the idea of triptychs!—I may use that for the project I’m working on now. Groups of three are satisfying in a way that a pair isn’t. This also makes me think of Alice Munro’s triptych in Runaway which Pedro Almodóvar has adapted for the film Julieta, and which I’m eager to see.
As far as the linked story form for Heirlooms, I started out thinking I was just writing the first story, “Saint-Malo, 1940.” Then, as I was working on something else—a novel, actually, that I’ve abandoned—I realized there was another story I wanted to tell about Eugenie and Saint-Malo. I gave myself permission to take a day off from the novel (I was on sabbatical from teaching that year) to write that story. When I was done, I understood I had bookends: the first and last stories. I thought I’d turn to Heirlooms when I finished the novel, but I eventually realized that I didn’t really know how to write a novel. Stories, I understand. So in writing Heirlooms in stories, I guess I sort of tricked myself into writing a novel-like book. I’m surprised when people call it a novel, but not at all displeased.
MB: You tricked yourself into writing a novel! Wonderful. And thanks for the heads-up about Julieta! I forgot to mention how much I was influenced by Munro’s The Beggar Maid: Stories of Flo and Rose, a wonderful novel in stories about a mother and daughter.   
RH: Lots of linked collections look at families and family stories. Do you think this subject matter is particularly well suited to the genre of linked stories?
MB: I’d never thought of it that way, but yes, I do think that the subject matter is well suited to the genre. Family dynamics are so complicated and juicy and steeped in history, and this form allows the writer to mine these complexities in a different way. For example, you can write a full story about an important piece of family history, whereas in a novel, you might have to rely on a flashback and in turn worry about slowing down momentum of the book.
I’m also a big fan of exploring triangles in relationships, and I think this form lends itself to writing from each “point” of the triangle. I like the term “no fault fiction,” where the reader comes away from a story understanding all characters’ motivations for behaving the way they do (often badly). Readers might not like the characters any better, but they’ll have a context for their actions. You did a masterful job of providing a larger psychic, social, and historical context for your characters’ relationships. I really felt the emotional heft of the family legacies they shouldered. How did you leverage this form to convey all of this? How did you select the moments that would tell this very big story? (Or the stories between the “bookends” you mentioned earlier?)
RH: I also love the idea of no-fault fiction! I’m certainly going to introduce this concept to my students. I’m always looking for ways to get them to explore character without judgment.
As far as which moments became stories in Heirlooms, I worked intuitively, recalling family stories, digging into some, but not finding a clear way in, moving on to something else. I did have access to old photo albums and copies of letters and those provided jumping off points. Near the end of the writing, I realized I needed certain stories like “White Lies” which would pull together a lot of history, and was therefore hard to write.
This question made me remember that I learned another family story after I’d sent off my manuscript. This story isn’t something that would work in another time period or in another book, so it’s a missed opportunity. I think of that story every now and then, like a friend I’ve lost touch with—did you have stories like this, stories that you thought of later or wish you could add? Is this maybe one of the difficulties of the linked story genre—when do you stop?
MB: Yes, when to stop? There’s always that one killer detail that surfaces too late in the game! I tortured myself with this while editing my first book. Because Bertrand Court sat for so long, I had the chance to revisit “friends I’d lost touch with” and write two brand new stories from the perspective of existing characters who seemed to be calling out for a turn to narrate. For example, in “Two Truths and a Lie,” in the aftermath of their father’s death, two sisters, the screw-up and the golden girl, play a game that demands they shuck these tired family labels and truly see and be seen by one another. I’d written a good deal about the “perfect sister,” and it was a lot of fun to write from the pov of the self-proclaimed “family fuckup.” I also wrote the new stories to perhaps serve the same function as “White Lies,” meaning they filled in gaps and threaded together one of the triptychs.
Switching gears, how has it been for you to release these characters and their stories into the world? Have you learned anything new about your book from your readers?   
RH: It’s been thrilling to have this book out in the world. I’ve been really touched by responses from readers, who say that the stories made them think of their family stories in a new light. And sometimes these people tell me their family stories of WWII and that’s been interesting. One gentleman gave me a box of letters from his great aunt, because he thought her story would interest me—and it does! I’ve been surprised—and pleased—that readers say they couldn’t put the book down. I didn’t think I was writing a suspenseful book. As a reader myself or as a movie viewer, I’m not good with suspense—It makes me too nervous! I understand, of course, that fiction should propel the reader along, so I’m glad Heirlooms does that for readers.
I know you’ve also been busy giving readings and traveling--first for Washing the Dead and now for Betrand Court. I'm enjoying the whirlwind, too, but I'm wondering when does one write? And you've been doing this non-stop, it seems for a couple years! How do you do it?!
MB: WOW. This gentleman’s willingness to surrender his family heirloom speaks volumes about how he (and others it seems) are connecting with your book. I’m not surprised. I too love when readers respond to my books by sharing stories of their own. That’s the best part. I’m still a little shocked when someone (who is not related to me) tells me that they’ve read my book. I hope that never wears off!
My readers’ feedback has also taught me a great deal about what works (and doesn’t) in my writing. I find this energizing, but I do struggle with transitioning between speaking to audiences about my books and settling back into “the chair.” During lulls in my schedule, I’ve been able to write essays and chip away at revising my novel, but now it’s time to seriously roll up my sleeves. What about you? Have you been able to think about your next project amidst the flurry of promoting your book? 
RH: I love giving readings, talking with book lovers, and getting to see old friends and former students at events. That’s been so rewarding, but I’m also feeling antsy, the way I do when I haven’t written for a while. I know I need to get back to work on new stories, but I haven’t been able to write fiction while promoting Heirlooms. Like you, I can write essays, but fiction requires a different head space for me—quiet and calm, which is, I’m realizing, the exact opposite of promoting. I’m thinking that a residency in the near future would be a good way to sink back into fiction.

More information:



Wednesday, October 5, 2016


Work in Progress will be on official hiatus until mid-November.

(Speaking of November, don’t forget my favorite Thanksgiving stuffing recipe, found here!)

Monday, October 3, 2016

On the Road

I had a delightful visit to St. Louis, meeting with students from University of Missouri—St. Louis and giving a reading, and I was interviewed for the school newspaper! (I also ate a Gooey Louie Butter Cake-filled cannoli from an Italian bakery, but that’s another story.)

Here’s the wonderful interview that Leah Jones conducted with me:

In addition to struggling with the difficult emotional content, Pietrzyk said that she also found herself questioning whether or not her grief was enough in comparison to other people’s trauma and grief. In the end though, Pietrzyk said though it may be selfish to write about one’s own grief, that’s fine. “Grief is universal…and yet it’s utterly individual,” Pietrzyk said. Pietrzyk avoids sentimentality in her stories through self-reflexive humor though.

Read the rest:

Friday, September 23, 2016

Tips on Giving a GREAT Craft Lecture at Your Low-Res MFA

~Dedicated to my past, present, and future fourth semester students

This semester, I’m working with two fabulous, about-to-graduate students in the Converse low-res MFA program, and part of the requirement of the mentoring is to help them adapt their big research paper written during the third semester into a lecture that they deliver before the entire faculty (and student body). YIKES! Usually, I work with them specifically on the nuts-and-bolts of their papers (cut your intro here; you need another source here) and also offer general thoughts on delivering such a talk…so why not help John and Manny with the specifics as usual, but this time give the whole wide world my general thoughts on delivering such a talk?! (I'll add that this advice probably applies to a number of settings, such as presenting a panel at AWP.)

Caveat: I don’t know how other low-res MFAs work or what, exactly, their requirements are, so I’m basing my suggestions on what I’ve seen works in our setting, which is a 20-25 minute talk followed by intense Q&A, all wrapped up within 30 minutes. Beyond the logistical parameters, each program will have its own culture and style, so if you’re reading this and graduating from a different program, be mindful that my thoughts are based on the Converse culture and style.

Still, in the end, a good lecture is a good lecture, so I think we can all learn something here. (Including me—I give a craft lecture at each residency and I assure you that every time is nerve-wracking. It’s a stressful situation, not only speaking in public, but speaking SMARTLY and effectively in public, and not really “public” because who cares what a bunch of strangers think—but speaking smartly to your peers and colleagues, the people we most want to impress, and the FACULTY.)

If that paragraph didn’t terrify you enough then perhaps this will: As a faculty member watching and evaluating these talks, I have come to realize that the craft lecture tends to be my greatest, most lasting impression of a student and how successful they were in the program. That may not seem fair—and, admittedly, I’ve worked with the fiction students in workshop and individually so I have a larger view of their scholarship and writing—but in the other genres, it’s only this talk and their graduating reading of creative work. And something about this final craft talk, the high pressure situation and the high stakes, really lock down how I feel about this person as he or she enters the writing community. Will I go out of my way to help? Will I happily introduce this person to my writer friends at AWP? Will I write a glowing letter of rec? (Not that I expect anyone to care about what I think beyond the program, and not that I have any sort of magical power to bestow on people…just that I have limited time and energy to help writers starting out, and I simply need a way to focus my enthusiasm. Trust me, my approval is no big deal…but if you’re about to give a craft lecture, do think about the teacher whose approval IS a big deal for you.)

So a few quick tips and/or observations:

I’m assuming you’ve worked with your mentor on the text of the talk. Basics: intro, topic, conclusion. Use appropriate examples from the text. Quote outside sources. Keep your focus tight. Twenty minutes is not a long time (though it may feel like an eternity as you stand there.)

We don’t require the use of technology in our talks, and it turns out that for better or worse, most of our faculty (and even guest speakers) shy away from it. I avoid technology—because it creates one more thing to worry about. The last thing I want to do on my craft lecture day is run around with cords and laptops, going freaking out of my mind because something won’t sync. Also, speakers staring at a slide on the screen seem to forget time and space and go on and on and on; it’s easy to over-speak with technology. Also, it’s a distraction for the audience as much as an enhancement…when will that creepy picture of Poe go away? Oh, look, the computer logged off. Etc. So, if you MUST use technology, be an expert in it and get to the room EARLY and test out EVERYTHING, including the lights and where you stand and how where you stand affects viewers from throughout the room. (How annoying is it to be a member of the audience who can’t read the poem on the screen because the speaker’s giant head is smack in the way?)

At Converse, you get no extra points for memorizing your talk or speaking off notecards vs. reading it off pieces of paper. In fact, we urge our students to read. I know that sounds “boring,” but I’d rather listen to a good reader vs. someone saying “um” every two seconds or someone who misjudges the time and runs out with four more points left on the outline. If you’ve done a lot of teaching/speaking, probably you can pull off speaking from notecards or an outline…but think about what I said above: this is your big presentation in front of your peers and faculty. Write out your talk, and read it in a clear, animated (but not crazily so! It’s not a performance!), PROFESSIONAL way. Double-space the pages, and maybe even use a larger font (if you don’t want to wear your glasses).

Handouts. I love them. (Sorry, trees…I try to use recycled paper.) What I love about them is that A) if the talk involves reading passages of text, it’s easier for the audience to follow along and feel engaged; and B) this is your chance to begin to learn the lovely realities of where “marketing” meets the literary world…don’t audiences like to take something home? Shouldn’t that something have your name on it? Speaking of handouts—either put them out on chairs before your talk or ask one of your friends to pass them out as you begin. DON’T spend valuable minutes of your craft talk wandering around distributing pieces of paper. DO staple them in advance! DO have more copies than you think you’ll need. DO print them on the nicest paper you can afford if you really want to stand out.

What to wear? Well, I can’t come over to your house to pick something out of your closet—as fun as that would be—and, in theory, you can wear whatever you want. But I’ll use this word again: PROFESSIONAL. Of all the things you will do in your graduate program and in the writing world to follow, this is probably the time where you want to look your best, where you want to dress up—not in a cocktail dress sort of way, but in a professional sort of way. Like a job interview. (That said, try not to wear anything so uncomfortable that it will distract you. If you can’t stand comfortably for 30 minutes in heels, then good lord, no, don’t wear them—no matter how cute they look.) Exude quirky personal style in your reading and your life…but please act professional at your lecture. (Men, this may mean a tie and/or a jacket. At least it probably means NOT a dirty T-shirt.)

Your craft talk will be followed by Q&A. I advise my students to think ahead to questions that may be asked. Lots of times the faculty will ask questions, and if you’ve been to enough talks (which you have, right, because you’ve been attending the talks of previous graduates, right?), patterns may emerge. This faculty member often wonders about such-and-such; another maybe brings up this-and-that. As you think about these patterns—and the possible questions ahead—you have two choices: prepare an answer to that question OR shut the door on that question in your talk. (As a quick example: I often ask questions about women writers…if your paper included four books, and two were by women, and you tell us upfront that in the interest of time you’re focusing on this particular book by a man…well, then I don’t have to ask my woman writer question.)

More on questions, because no matter how well you prepare, someone will ask a hard question or a question you can’t answer. It’s been my observation that the hard questions usually take two tacks:

1. It’s a question that is being asked because the questioner (usually faculty) sees a gaping hole in the talk and is giving you the chance to fill it.


2. The questioner is so excited about your talk that his/her brain is working overtime and here’s a question that takes the topic further. As hard as it can be at the moment, that type of question is a tremendous compliment, especially if it’s asked by a faculty member. You made something think!!

In either event, take a breath. Stave off panic for a moment: “What an interesting question.” And do your best! Rephrase the question if you must, to make sure you understand. And I think an answer is better than no answer—so if you’re really lost, don’t tell us that; instead, tell us something you DO know.

(The third type of hard question is the question that’s really a comment, or worse, someone grabbing the opportunity to talk about how much they know. Just listen avidly [which you really have to do in case a question finally DOES pop up!], agree, and move on, perhaps with mental gratitude that the blow-hard has soaked up some of your stressful question time.)

I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but maybe you should know: no questions means that the audience got lost or drifted off and is now afraid to ask anything in case it was covered. Unfortunately, no questions does not mean you covered everything perfectly. (Don’t tell anyone you heard this here, but maybe have a friend set up who will ask a question if no one else does.)

And lastly about the Q&A: I see that often people are very professional in their presentation, and suddenly it’s Q&A time and they’re slouching, fiddling with their hair, interrupting the questioner to crack a joke. I get it—the hard part feels over, and all that adrenaline needs a release. But in a presentation such as this, you are not finished until you sit down. Be, yes, PROFESSIONAL throughout. Yes, your teachers may be relaxed during their Q&A after their craft lectures (and, honestly, throughout their lectures maybe)—but, as unfair as it may be, that is different. They have, presumably, earned respect through their achievements. You, in this presentation are NOW EARNING that respect. “Earning” is different than “being given.”

All the elements about being a good speaker come into play here: don’t sway and shift your weight; make eye contact; don’t read too fast; exude confidence; pre-open the top on your bottle of water; don’t flip/fiddle with your hair…all the rest. The way to exude confidence is to practice, practice, practice! Film yourself, or practice in front of a mirror or in front of that friend who will tell you (kindly) what you’re doing wrong. Also, practice in front of that person who will tell you you’re absolutely brilliant because we all deserve to appear brilliant to someone. Look up tricky words and learn how to pronounce them...including the author's name! Maybe there are words you don't know you're saying incorrectly...that's where it's helpful to read your talk in front of a smart friend who will gently correct you--maybe some of your fellow grads?

I’m assuming you will also deliver a reading of your creative work to the faculty and student body. THAT is the time to offer (brief) thanks and gratitude; your craft lecture is NOT that time. Just greet the group, maybe make a tiny, mildly amusing comment if you have one and if you are the kind of person who can pull it off, then announce the title of your talk and jump in.

YOU CAN DO IT! We want you to succeed!

Honestly, there is nothing more exciting to me than listening to an impressive student craft lecture that teaches me something, that makes me think a new way about a topic; nothing more fun than running to join the cluster of well-wishers afterwards, showering compliments on a great job; nothing more thrilling than watching our students SOAR after these years of hard, hard work. High stakes, yes, but also high reward. Good luck, everyone!

While this post isn’t geared specifically to low-res MFA programs, here are my tips about giving a good reading:

More info about the Converse low-res MFA…we’d love to have you join us!

Friday, September 9, 2016

Invite These DMV/Baltimore Women Writers to Speak at Your Book Club!

Writers Available for Book Club Appearances
Courtesy of DC Women Writers

I belong to a fabulous and generous networking group of women writers in the DC/Baltimore area, and writer Kathy Flann had the brilliant idea of putting together a list of area writers who are willing to visit book clubs and talk about their writing/book/life/etc. Speaking for myself, I enjoy meeting with readers and listening to their insights about my book—always hearing something new that I hadn’t considered!—so if you are in a book club and have pondered inviting a writer, I say, DO IT! And please start here…these are wonderful writers, wonderful people, and wonderful books!

Contact information is provided, though in some cases you may have to get the email address through the author’s website.

And please check back periodically—I plan to update this list from time to time.


The third collection from an award-winning poet, examining the ways intimacy is both lost and gained over long distances. Available in paperback this winter.
A funny, conversational memoir that doubles as a cultural history of food allergies, weaving in research from science and medicine. Available in paperback now.

Sandrabeasley AT earthlink DOT net

www sandrabeasley DOT com


The perfect cocktail of naughtiness, heart, adventure and humor, The Trouble with Lexie is a wild and poignant story of the choices we make to outrun our childhoods—and the choices we have to make to outrun our entangled adult lives.

Jessicaanyablau AT mac DOT com
www jessicaanyablau DOT com

SHADOW PLAY (Turning Point Books)
Hypnotic and provocative by turns, this novella-in-verse retraces a journey across Asia in search of the marriage that faltered in its wake. Part love poem, part elegy, the book enacts the conflict between memory and estrangement. In his introduction, novelist Vikram Chandra calls it "an incarnation of the ineluctable passage of time itself."

jodybolz AT aol DOT com


THE HOPES OF SNAKES  (Beacon Press) 
An essay collection, with a rare endorsement by poet Mary Oliver, that celebrates the forgotten lives of animals and women in the northeast. Described as "full of rapture, mystery, and surprise . . . a keeper, a teacher . . . "

 ANIMALS/BODIES (Finishing Line Press)
A poetry chapbook with poems about women, birth, and animals. Awarded the 2015 Chapbook Award from the New England Poetry Society founded by Robert Frost.

LCouturier AT me DOT com   
www lisacouturier DOT com


The story of a German woman contracted to work on a farm in Iceland shortly after WW II but who cannot let go of those she lost during the war. Based on a documented migration.

solegg24 AT gmail DOT com              
www solveigeggerz DOT com

*SUE EISENFELD (DMV area only; unable to travel to Baltimore)

A hiking journey through the history of the lost communities of Shenandoah National Park in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains (literary nonfiction).

www sueeisenfeld DOT com


GET A GRIP  (Winner of the George Garrett Award, Texas Review Press)
In this collection of short stories, we meet Estonian brothers trekking from their blighted neighborhood to a college interview, a TV meteorite hunter in town to search for otherworldly treasure, and other colorful Baltimore characters. Named a Best Book by Baltimore Magazine and Baltimore City Paper. Winner of National Indie Excellence Award and International Book Award.  Writer grew up in NoVa.

kathyflann AT yahoo DOT com
www kathyflann DOT com


LUCKY THAT WAY  (Oct. 2013, University of Missouri Press)
Lucky That Way won the American Society of Journalists and Authors 2014 Outstanding Book Prize. Gerhardt is also a frequent contributor to The Washington Post.

gerhardt AT umd DOT edu
http:// pamelagerhardt DOT com


This humorous novel is set in 1989's New York music scene. Jill and her mostly middle class co-workers at Mega Big Record Label are tasked with finding the next big 'gangsta' rapper. They fluctuate between alliances and rivalries, tripping over the stereotypes of race, class, and musical genre.

Garine AT rocketmail DOT com


HER OWN VIETNAM (Shade Mountain Press)
A nurse who served in Vietnam must make peace with her history on the eve of the war in Iraq.

lynnkanter AT gmail DOT com
https:// lynnkanter DOT com


THE DARK PATH TO THE RIVER [originally published by Saybrook/Norton and reissued by the Author's Guild Backinprint series]
A political thriller about strong-minded women and men, The Dark Path to the River tells a love story that moves between Wall Street and Africa.  Barbara Kingsolver has said, "Well-written, thematically  rich. I fell in love with the characters. I didn't want the pleasure to end."

 Jlajoanne AT aol DOT com


Its been 20 years since Sam Pinski, a 33-year-old novelist, has spent the Fourth of July with her family at their cabin on the Susquehanna River in Maryland, and she dreads confronting everyone at once: her father Karl, a manic-depressive former steelworker on disability; her mother Pat, a retired secretary in professional-grade denial; her ex-boyfriend, Michael; her friend Eve; and her brother Steve, who ran away to New Jersey to play in a Bruce Springsteen cover band. 

jen.michalski AT gmail DOT com
jenmichalski DOT com


BE WITH ME ALWAYS: ESSAYS (University of Nebraska Press)
In a way, all good essays are about the things that haunt us until we have somehow embraced or understood them. Here, Randon Billings Noble considers the ways she has been haunted—by a near-death experience, the gaze of a nude model, thoughts of widowhood, Anne Boleyn’s violent death, a book she can’t stop reading, a past lover who shadows her thoughts—in essays both pleasant and bitter, traditional and lyrical, and persistently evocative and unforgettable.

randonbillingsnoble AT gmail DOT com
randonbillingsnoble DOT com


HARMONY (Pamela Dorman Books)
A family struggling to raise an autistic child gives up their ordinary life to follow a charismatic parenting guru to New Hampshire to help start a "family camp."

carolynparkhurst AT yahoo DOT com

THIS ANGEL ON MY CHEST [winner of the 2015 Drue Heinz Literature Prize, University of Pittsburgh Press]
Linked collection of short stories about the death of a young husband, based on the author's life, many set in NoVa.

lesliepietrzyk AT gmail DOT com
www lesliepietrzyk DOT com


YOU MAY SEE A STRANGER is an “honest and sharply observed linked story collection, spanning the life of Miranda Weber from her teens through her late 40s. The opening story, “Driver’s Education,” sets up many of the collection’s themes as Miranda learns to drive while gaining insights into herself, her sexuality, and the class and racial tensions in ...Washington, D.C...Together, these smart, artful stories capture a woman’s life and the moments that define her.“ --Publishers Weekly starred review.

www paulawhyman DOT com
Twitter: @paulawhyman


The perfect cocktail of naughtiness, heart, adventure and humor, The Trouble with Lexie is a wild and poignant story of the choices we make to outrun our childhoods—and the choices we have to make to outrun our entangled adult lives.


A book of fiction set across Africa that follows five women as their lives intersect in unexpected and sometimes explosive ways.

susi AT susiwyss DOT com


MAN ALIVE! (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux)
Lightning strikes Dr. Owen Lerner at Rehoboth Beach, sending his entire family into freefall in this novel of “devastating humor and rare generosity.”  
Washington Post Notable Book

mkzur AT verizon DOT net
www mkzuravleff DOT com


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