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!


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