Thursday, July 28, 2016

September Class at The Writer's Center

Announcing my new workshop at The Writer’s Center: Building Better Characters:

Tuesday, September 20, 2016
1:00 PM-4:00 PM
1 day

This is a very hands-on class, based on an extended exercise I conducted this summer at Converse, and we had excellent results.

Here’s the description:

How does the writer create believable characters with depth and complexity? This interactive, hands-on workshop will guide you through a fun and thorough research process, teaching you how to ensure that your characters—whether literary or genre—will pop on the page. Because we’re doing some online research, you will need a smartphone/laptop along with paper/pen.

Registration/more information:

Monday, July 25, 2016

Interview in The Rumpus!

I was interviewed for The Saturday Rumpus interview by one of my fabulous, former Hopkins students, Tyrese Coleman, who came up with such insightful, smart questions about the lines between blurring fact and fiction that I was really sweating my answers….but here’s a tease:

Rumpus: Most writers acknowledge the moral and ethical implications of sticking to the truth when we say a piece of writing is nonfiction, but do you believe that same moral and ethical responsibility exists when you make a claim that a piece of writing is fiction? If there are obligations concerning fiction, what are they? 

Pietrzyk: Before writing this book, I would have said that my only obligation as a fiction writer is to the story, to make it good, so good the busy reader doesn’t feel that flipping those pages was a waste of time. And I still believe that. But maybe there’s more. Even in fiction, you want to be mindful of the people in your life and of your responsibility in portraying either them or their roles (in my particular case here, for example, “second husband” or “mother-in-law”). A lot of people lost Robb, not just me—and even fictionally, I wanted to be gentle with them while staying true to the story I needed to tell. So my obligations as a fiction writer have grown to include always being hardest on myself. I focused on the “young widow” figure, having her do the worst things (i.e. sleeping with her brother-in-law, being cruel to the mother-in-law) knowing that I would and could handle any flak or emotional fallout. Readers may think those incidents are in the “true” side of the equation of the book, and that’s a risk I’m taking—for myself. I could have drawn in other “true” people from Robb’s life, but that didn’t seem fair to me since they didn’t ask to be part of this highly personal book. (Maybe this kindness keeps me off Team CNF?)


Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Working on a Novel?

Consider this year-long class at the Writer’s Center (in Bethesda) to help you finish that draft. Susan Coll will guide your efforts in this workshop dedicated to novels and the novel biz. I know she’s one of my friends, so perhaps I’m not entirely unbiased, but she is smart and compassionate and organized and generous…in short, everything I would want in a teacher.

Here’s the write-up, followed by the link for pricing information and registration:

Time: 7:00-9:30
Dates: 9/15/2016–8/31/2017
Location: Bethesda
Genre(s): Fiction

Workshop Leader: Susan Coll
Fall: September 15 - December 8
Winter/Spring: January 12 - April 13
Summer: Individual monthly check-ins with instructor, June – August

This twelve-month program is intended to support serious novelists looking to revise and pitch their novels. Novel Year participants will experience the rigor and structure of an M.F.A. program, but with less of an expense and time commitment. 

Working with a published novelist, ten participants will workshop their entire novel-in-progress. Other benefits include:
•Consistent writing deadlines, studying aspects of craft, and being part of a supportive community •Panels and Q&As with experts in the industry, including literary agents and visiting writers •Free access to the Studio at The Writer’s Center during the full year (valued at $1,000) •Free admission to literary events at the Center •Being a featured reader (reading works-in-progress) at the 2017 Bethesda Literary Festival

Participants must have completed at least 150 pages of a novel before enrolling. To be admitted into the program, potential candidates will need to submit:
•A one-page cover letter detailing their interest in the program. •A twenty-five page writing sample from their novel in progress. (Submissions must be double spaced and use a standard font.)
Admissions will be on a rolling basis, and the number of participants will be limited to ten, so participants are encouraged to submit early.

Susan Coll’s website:

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Link Corral: The Business Side of the Writing Biz

Link Corral: The Business Side of the Writing Biz

I’m sharing three links to recent pieces I read and FBed, each about some important aspect of the business side of the writing life.

Everything You Wanted to Know about Book Sales (But Were Afraid to Ask)
An In-Depth Look at What/How/Why Books Sell

…Earlier this year, there was a round of excited editorials about how print is back, baby after industry reportsshowed print sales increasing for the second consecutive year. However, the growth was driven almost entirely by non-fiction sales… more specifically adult coloring books and YouTube celebrity memoirs. As great as adult coloring books may be, their sales figures tell us nothing about the sales of, say, literary fiction. This lack of knowledge leads to plenty of confusion for writers when they do sell a book. Are they selling well? What constitutes good sales? Should they start freaking out when their first $0.00 royalty check comes in? Writers should absolutely write with an eye toward art, not markets. Thinking about sales while creating art rarely produces anything good. But I’m still na├»ve enough to think that knowledge is always better than ignorance, and that after the book is written, writers should come to publishing with a basic understanding of what is going on. …


The first time I applied for a fellowship was in spring 2009. I was about to finish grad school, and I sent out a slew of applications like I was applying for a PhD. I figured it was the next logical step as I readied myself to move beyond my MFA program, and I had the mentors close by to help. I gathered transcripts and letters of recommendation, curated samples of work and wrote project proposals. I remember one mentor agreed to write a letter with what I perceived as little enthusiasm. When all the rejections came in that summer, I read the bios of those who won and took notice of all their previous awards and accolades. I thought back to that mentor and considered her lackluster support the response of someone who understood the literary world better than I did at that time. 
See what I learned from this experience was that “emerging” doesn’t mean new like I thought it did, but more as the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines, “becoming widely known or established.” …..


A writer friend recently asked me a brief but not-so-simple question: How do you decide where to send your work?
 In other words: Faced with seemingly infinite lists, calls for submissions, classified ads, databases, and fair-and-festival tables, how do I select which journals and magazines to send my work to with the hope that, after editorial review, my pages may indeed find proverbial “homes” online and/or in print?...

Friday, July 1, 2016


It’s a pleasure to announce an important new academic book that focuses on the role of creative writing in the academy. [Disclosure: I know the editor, Anna Leahy. Further disclosure: I am featured in one of the essays on the book, talking about different approaches to graduate creative writing program, using the Converse low-res MFA as my model.] Beyond all those disclosures, however, is the serious issue of where creative writing fits into the university and college system, and how can we better teach this craft we love? Anna’s approach to the subject—collaborative conversation essays that felt to me like dialogue that gets stirred up after a rousing panel at the AWP conference—is refreshing yet comprehensive. I could only include a small selection of the contents below, but scroll through, and I know you’ll have questions, opinions, and ideas on each of these topics…and that you’ll want to ask your university library to acquire a copy of this book pronto.

Edited by Anna Leahy (Chapman University)
Published by Multilingual Matters

Quick description:
This innovative edited collection pushes boundaries in both content and form. It discusses how new ways of knowing and doing scholarship produced in Creative Writing departments can make a contribution to a wider academic community and emphasizes the value of personal reflection and sharing stories.

Pre-pub praise:
“Dialogue, experiment, variety… These are at the heart of Creative Writing pedagogy, and reading this book is like eavesdropping on the process at work. Coming straight from the workface of American universities, it raises questions both practical and theoretical, creative and critical, that animate this growing and evolving discipline worldwide.” ~Philip Gross, University of South Wales, UK

Adaptation of one of the essays, in Brevity:

“As we were constructing the conversation essay about writerly reading in What We Talk about When We Talk about Creative Writing, Suzanne Greenberg challenged me—all of us—to think of reading as guiding our students to fall in love with writing. Never before had I thought of matchmaking between writer and book (or individual poem, story, essay) as a fruitful way to view teaching.”

Among the authors and topics covered:
~Cathy Day, Anna Leahy and Stephanie Vanderslice: Where Are We Going in Creative Writing Pedagogy?

~Anna Leahy and Larissa Szporluk: Good Counsel: Creative Writing, the Imagination, and Teaching

~Anna Leahy, Leslie Pietrzyk, Mary Swander and Amy Sage Webb: More than the Sum of Our Parts: Variety in Graduate Programs

~Katharine Haake, Anna Leahy and Argie Manolis: The Bold and the Beautiful: Rethinking Undergraduate Models

~Dianne Donnelly, Tom C. Hunley, Anna Leahy, Tim Mayers, Dinty W. Moore and Stephanie Vanderslice: Creative Writing (Re)Defined

~Mary Cantrell, Rachel Hall, Anna Leahy and Audrey Petty: Peas in a Pod: Trajectories of Educations and Careers

~Nicole Cooley, Kate Greenstreet, Nancy Kuhl and Anna Leahy: The First Book

~Karen Craigo and Anna Leahy: Taking the Stage, Stage Fright, Center Stage: Careers Over Time

BIO: Anna Leahy is Associate Professor of English, Associate Director of the MFA in Creative Writing, and Director of Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity at Chapman University, USA. She has published widely on creative writing pedagogy, as well as creative non-fiction and poetry. She is the editor of TAB: The Journal of Poetry & Poetics.


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