Monday, February 29, 2016

Class at the Beach!

I’m excited at the prospect of heading to Rehoboth Beach for a reading and to teach this class, which is open to the public. Please come join me—or Lisa, who is an AMAZING teacher. (If I wasn’t teaching at the same time, I would be taking her class, actually.) And go ahead and pass along the word.


Hosted by the Rehoboth Beach Writers' Guild:  
Two workshops! Two Terrific Writers

Saturday, March 12, 10AM - Noon
Rehoboth location (will be provided via email)
$55 RBWG members; $65 non-RBWG members
To register email Maribeth:  fischer.maribeth AT gmail.com



In the Beginning: Get Your Novel/Story/Memoir Off to a Great Start! Leslie Pietrzyk

Most writers know they have to “hook” their reader from the start of the story or novel, but how exactly do we do this? What are the elements that make a great beginning to a story or novel or memoir?  You’ll find out in this class, as we explore ways to strengthen your opening pages.  Everyone is invited to bring 10 copies of the first two pages of one of their stories/novels/essays/memoirs for some hands-on advice (optional). 

Finding the Flow-Lisa Couturier

Imagine language as a river and the writer as a captain who steers us along tributaries of thought, who lingers on islands of the past, and who bides time reflecting in the bay--all to carry us to some destination of meaning. How is this accomplished? We will investigate the secrets and techniques that writers use to free their mind and their language in order to arrive at deeper emotional levels.  Using examples from the growing world of "hybrid" writing-- lyric essay, fragments, poetic memoir, and short-form nonfiction--we will apply our discoveries to your writing.  It is optional, but encouraged, to bring copies of ONE PAGE of your work to "work on" in a supportive and encouraging environment. All levels welcome. 


Here’s info on the reading, which is the night BEFORE these classes:

March 11, 2016
Rehoboth Beach, DE
Reading: 6 pm ~ 8:30 pm
(order food/beverages @ 6; reading starts @ 7)
Nicola Pizza (upstairs)
 8 N 1st St
Rehoboth Beach, DE
Reading with Lisa Couturier



Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Lost in an Elaborate Dream with Real-Life Consequences: An Interview with Keith Lee Morris

I read Keith Lee Morris’s new novel Travelers Rest, under perfect conditions: during the recent Snowzilla snowstorm that shut down the DC area for several days. Perfect conditions because of course there is no better time to sink into a novel when you know you have all the time in the world, and perfect conditions because the story takes place in a mysterious Idaho town where the Snow. Never. Lets. Up. Ever.

Elegant yet accessible prose, vivid characters with thoughtful POV shifts, swirling snow carrying us through time, a creepy hotel…the writer in me was battling with the reader in me. What will happen next!? And how did he do this!?

Lucky for me, I know Keith, who has visited the Converse low-res MFA program several times, including one summer where we ran workshop together. He was kind enough to answer a few questions I had about the book and offer some writing tips…and if you do nothing else today, you MUST read his response to #6, where he reimagines The Great Gatsby in the age of smartphones. Hilarious!!
  
1.     Describe your book in ten words or less. (I’ll spot you the words of the title as freebies!)

Family explores old hotel, upsets fundamental balance of the universe.

2.     Much of the story in TRAVELERS REST takes place during a major snowstorm, and the falling, whirling snow is described many times, each time uniquely and elegantly. What advice can you give for writers who struggle with descriptive writing? How did you approach writing about this ongoing snowstorm and keep the writing fresh?

Because I'm one of those people who walks around with his head in the clouds most of the time, physical description is always a challenge for me. I don't pay much attention to physical detail as I go about my everyday business, so I have to really force myself to concentrate on it in my writing. The snow in Travelers Rest presented an extreme version of the problem--I knew from the outset that the snow was going to keep falling throughout the entire novel, and I knew that I was going to try to use it as a way to both create the overall mood and explore the individual characters’ perceptions. That meant I was going to end up describing it over and over again,  and I had to figure out how to keep it interesting, to make the snow feel like a constant presence without merely being repetitious. Add to that the problem that I now live in South Carolina, where we only see snow once or twice a year.

Ultimately, my memories of growing up in Idaho came to my rescue. When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time standing at my bedroom window, in the dark, watching the snow outside in the hope that enough would pile up for school to be cancelled. I watched so often and so intensely (I really hated school) that I got to be an expert on the finer points of drifting and falling snow. When I had to write those descriptive passages in Travelers Rest, I would often just sit in a dark room and close my eyes and go back to that place by my bedroom window as a child and channel those memories; it was an exercise in making memories live in the present moment, which, perhaps not coincidentally, turned out to be a very important part of what the book is about.

As far as advice for younger writers goes, I’d say that being good at physical description is just like everything else in writing fiction—you have to be willing to slow down, concentrate fully, experience the world you’re describing with your own senses, and stick with the moment doggedly until you find just the right words to represent the tangible, real-world subject you’re attempting to bring to life on the page.      

3.     The book balances four major points of view. What advice do you have for those writers wishing to try multiple viewpoints? Did the book start with four voices in your original vision?

To me, by far, the trickiest element to deal with when you’re employing multiple POVS is not character, but plot. Yes—there’s always a danger that one of your characters will simply be more compelling than the others, or less compelling, so that readers find themselves becoming impatient when they’re not reading about the characters or situations that most interest them. I think that happens to some extent in Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, which is one of my favorite novels published in the last few years, and was hugely successful, obviously—but as much as I was absorbed in the movement of the story, I couldn’t help feeling a slight sense of disappointment every time the narration switched to the character that I found the least interesting of the two. I was so caught up in one of the POVs that I didn’t want the author to take me away from it.

But I think the hardest part of writing from multiple POVS is managing the timing and keeping the plot from stalling out or becoming repetitive. There will, after all, almost certainly be some overlap in the shifting POVS, and one challenge is to navigate that overlap without making readers feel as if they’ve heard the same thing before—the trick there, to me, is to make each of the POV characters’ experiences and thoughts distinct enough that going over the same ground from inside one characters’ perspective feels almost nothing like covering that same ground from another’s (Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying is the quintessential example of how to do that effectively). And of course you have to keep the plot from feeling like it’s bogging down.

Another challenge when you’re working with multiple POVS—especially when that means as many as four or five—is to keep the character present in the reader’s experience of the story even when that character’s perspective isn’t being represented. For instance, there’s a stretch of about 100 pages or more in Travelers Rest in which the father, Tonio, doesn’t appear at all. That’s where the good old-fashioned notion of the cliffhanger comes into play a little bit—if readers aren’t going to see or hear from a character for a long time, it’s a good idea to leave that character in an interesting predicament that readers won’t forget or become tired of speculating about—it can even help to increase the tension, as long as you don’t try to stretch the situation out too far, in which case it can become frustrating or annoying. 

4.     I simply love 10-year-old Dewey! He’s smart yet vulnerable and always 100% believable as a kid. So many young literary characters feel overly-precocious and precious, but I never worried that Dewey was going to disappoint me. How did you capture him so wonderfully? Any tips for writing about kids?

You know, I wish I had some really great secret to impart here, but I don’t. I don’t write about kids a whole lot, so I’m happy to hear you say that you liked Dewey. It helps, of course, to have raised kids yourself, or to be in the process of raising kids yourself. [Note: I do not recommend procreation for the sole purpose of writing more believable elementary school characters]. One thing I’ve always felt is that you shouldn’t try overtly to make children sound like children—just stay true to what kids do and think and let them interact more or less like adults, like your other characters. Nothing’s worse than a five-year-old character who prefaces everything she says with shouts of “Mooommmmy! Daaaaadddy!” Kids don’t do that anyway. It also really helps in writing child characters, I think, if you have vivid memories of your own childhood and can recollect clearly how you thought and felt at a particular age. But that’s obviously not something you can teach anyone.

5.     Why did you choose to include the supernatural element in this story? Was that your intention from the start, or something that showed up along the way that you initially embraced/feared?

For about twenty years, I’ve been writing what I like to call “dream stories”—narratives that are based loosely on actual dreams and that adhere to a kind of dream logic rather than what we think of as the operating principles of the everyday world. Travelers Rest was just the extension of that mode to novel-length form. I was shocked, honestly, when people started referring to it as a genre novel or even a cross-genre novel—that never occurred to me. I was just writing the same kind of fiction I’d been writing for a long time and publishing in literary magazines. There’s definitely something otherworldly in the novel, if not downright supernatural (I guess I’d be hard-pressed to explain the distinction between those two terms, but the first one sounds more appropriate to me for some reason), but the way I thought of it the whole time was that the characters were lost in an elaborate dream that nevertheless had real-world consequences.

6.     Technology had to be part of the challenge when putting this plot together, dispensing with cellphones and the like. Any thoughts about how modern technology helps/hinders writers today as they consider plot?

Oh, God, yes, this is one of my favorite things to whine about! 90% of the conflicts in literary history can be resolved in five minutes or less with a cell phone. Gatsby and Daisy have been in touch all these years as Facebook friends, so when he gets to West Egg he already has her number in his contacts list. He shoots her a text and she asks Siri for directions and heads right over. Meanwhile, Nick Carraway has run a Google search on Gatsby and turned up his past criminal history and fake identity and tweets something about how his new neighbor is f-ed up. Daisy follows her cousin Nick on Twitter, so she sees the tweet and aborts her trip, opting to call up her husband and Jordan Baker on speaker phone and propose a round of golf instead. The End.

Of course, one solution to the problem is to fully embrace technology and social media, keep up with all the latest trends and be able to employ them artfully in your work, but for this you need access to a 7-year-old. I only have an 18-year-old at home, and he’s long since grown tired of my ineptitude, so that he now answers my questions about technology with nothing but three-letter texts from behind the bathroom door, where he’s blow drying his hair—lol, idk, wtf? And then of course if you do go this route, unless you publish your story or novel online immediately upon completion of a first draft, everything you wrote will be outdated and all but indecipherable, capable of being dredged up only from the deepest caverns of cultural memory, by the time it ever gets to its first reader.

So yes, in this case, with Travelers Rest, it seemed essential to get rid of most forms of contemporary technology, and my editor, Ben George, and I spent way more time than probably either of us wanted to talking about what would happen in the magnetically charged atmosphere of the town of Good Night, Idaho (which was the explanation I came up with for why things don’t operate normally) if you were to, say, plug in a toaster. The problem did lead to some fun scenes, though—like the ones in which everyone in town keeps refusing Tonio’s credit cards, or how Robbie (Dewey’s derelict uncle) finds all the old 70s songs on the town’s one ancient jukebox.    



About Keith Lee Morris
Keith Lee Morris is the author of two previous novels, The Greyhound God and The Dart League King, a Barnes & Noble Discover pick. His short stories have been published in New Stories from the South, Tin House, A Public Space, New England Review, and Southern Review, which awarded him its Eudora Welty Prize in fiction. Morris lives in South Carolina, where he is a professor of creative writing at Clemson University. 




Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Join Me at the Sun Writing Retreat in May...Scholarships Available!

“Excited” is hardly enough of a word to describe how I feel about being part of the upcoming Sun magazine writing retreat in the mountains of North Carolina in May. I’ll be leading three classes, giving a short reading, and mostly absorbing the amazing creative vibe that I experience whenever I’m lucky enough to hang out with Sun people—whether it’s the folks who edit the magazine, fellow Sun writers, or the readers who are as passionate as I am about this community and this publication.

The good news is that YOU can join in. I’ve copied some of the details below from the website, but you can find a list of all the sessions and more info on registration at this link: http://thesunmagazine.org/get_involved/events/41 This is a low-key, stress-free, egos-left-at-the-door, open-to-all-levels sort of gathering, and I know that you will return home with your creative soul feeling nourished.

And even better news: You can apply for a scholarship to this writing retreat! Scroll through for more info, but note that the application deadline is fast approaching: March 10.

It truly is not possible to feel MORE enthusiastic about this event!


Program Description
To write about our lives in a way that affects others and affirms our common humanity, we must be willing to leap — with all our passion, fear, and longing — into the fire.

Since 1974, The Sun has published the kind of brave, revealing writing that lives up to the magazine’s motto: “What is to give light must endure burning.” We invite you to join Sun readers, authors, and staff for a weekend of celebrating the written word. The authors will lead workshops geared to bring forth the best in your own essays, short stories, and poems. A Readers Write session will help get your pen moving. There will be opportunities to speak with editor and founder Sy Safransky. And the weekend will also include readings by Sy and the authors.

You don’t have to think of yourself as a writer to attend, because the best part of a Sun gathering is getting to meet people who appreciate the magazine’s compassionate, unflinching view of the world as much as you do. We hope you’ll join us.

Schedule
The retreat runs Friday, May 20, through Sunday, May 22.

Friday: Check-in begins in the afternoon. Dinner is followed by the Opening Session and a reading featuring Sun authors.
Saturday: Workshops begin after breakfast and run until 5:45 pm with a break for lunch. After dinner, there is a reading by Sy in the auditorium, followed by a reception and book signing.
Sunday: Final workshops begin after breakfast and are followed by the Closing Session. We depart at 12:15 pm.
Individual meetings with Sy Safransky will run throughout the workshop sessions on Saturday and Sunday.


Location

Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina, Wildacres Retreat is a nonprofit conference center dedicated to “the betterment of human relations and interfaith dialogue.” Situated on 1,600 acres of lush woodland near the Blue Ridge Parkway, Wildacres offers hiking trails, mountain views, and delicious, plentiful meals served family style. Its facilities are modern yet rustic, providing a cozy setting for writing. Each guest room has a private bathroom and accommodates two people. To maintain a true retreat environment, there are no televisions, telephones, or alarm clocks in the rooms. For more information visit the Wildacres website: wildacres.org.


Registration and Cost

The all-inclusive cost for the weekend is $395, which includes five meals and shared lodging in a double room with a private bath. ($155 of the registration fee covers meals and lodging; the rest covers tuition.) The Sun is offering four full scholarships. For details, see below or click here.

Registration
You can register online or download a registration form. Fax your completed form to (919) 932-3101 or mail it to:
The Sun
Attn: Wildacres Retreat
107 N. Roberson St.
Chapel Hill, NC 27516
You may also register by phone by calling The Sun at (919) 942-5282, 9–5 est, M–F.
A large enrollment is expected, and spaces are limited. We recommend registering soon.

Scholarships
The Sun is offering four full scholarships to writers who would benefit from this retreat but are unable to afford it. Scholarships cover lodging, meals, and tuition for the weekend. Application materials must be received by March 10.

Click here to apply for a scholarship online. You can also download an application form to complete by hand and return to us. Mail your printed application materials to:

Attn: Wildacres Scholarships
The Sun 
107 North Roberson Street
Chapel Hill, NC 27516
We will notify you of our decision by April 1.

Authors Scheduled to Appear
Fred Bahnson is the author of Soil & Sacrament: A Spiritual Memoir of Food and Faith and co-author of Making Peace with the Land. His essays have appeared in The Sun, The Oxford AmericanImageOrionWashington Post, and Best American Spiritual Writing. Fred’s writing awards include a Pilgrimage Essay Award, a Kellogg Food & Community fellowship, and a North Carolina Artist fellowship in creative nonfiction from the North Carolina Arts Council. He teaches at Wake Forest University School of Divinity and lives with his wife and sons in Transylvania County, North Carolina.
Chris Bursk was first published in The Sun in 1977 and is the author of thirteen books, includingThe Infatuations and Infidelities of Pronouns, Cell Count, The Improbable Swervings of Atoms(winner of the Donald Hall Prize in Poetry), and, most recently, Selected Poems. He has been the recipient of nea, Guggenheim, and Pew fellowships and his work has won the Another Chicago Magazine Award, the 49th Parallel Award from Bellingham ReviewThe New Letters Prize in Poetry, and the 2011 Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award.
Frances Lefkowitz is the author of To Have Not, a memoir of growing up poor in 1970s San Francisco. A former senior editor of Body+Soul magazine, she is now a freelance writer, editor, and writing coach. Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in The SunTin HouseGlimmer Train, and Martha Stewart’s Whole Living. In 2011 she founded the Community Memoir Project to sponsor free writing workshops in public libraries, and she blogs about writing, publishing, and footwear at PaperInMyShoe.com. She lives in Northern California, where she enjoys surfing and speaking Spanish.
Leslie Pietrzyk is the author of two novels, Pears on a Willow Tree and A Year and a Day. Her collection of short stories, This Angel on My Chest, won the 2015 Drue Heinz Literature Prize. Her short fiction and essays have appeared in The Sun, Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Literary Hub, Gettysburg Review, Shenandoah, Cincinnati Review, PMS, Greensboro Review, and River Styx. She lives in Virginia and teaches in the Converse low-residency mfa program and in the Johns Hopkins Graduate Program in Writing.
Sy Safransky was editor of his junior-high-school newspaper, his high-school newspaper, and his college newspaper. (Guess where this is heading.) He earned a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University, then worked as a newspaper reporter until he discovered that the real news is what connects us. Twice divorced, in 1983 he married an adorable hippie who today is an adorable psychiatrist — a good thing for him. He has one stepson, two daughters, and three grandchildren. Miraculously, the magazine he founded in 1974 survives to this day, but in heaven things sometimes turn out that way. He is editor and publisher of The Sun.
Joe Wilkins is the author of the memoir The Mountain and the Fathers — winner of a 2014 Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award — and two collections of poetry: Notes from the Journey Westward and Killing the Murnion Dogs. A Pushcart Prize winner and National Magazine Award finalist, he has published essays, poems, and short stories in The SunThe Georgia ReviewThe Southern ReviewHarvard ReviewOrion, and Slate. Wilkins lives with his wife, son, and daughter in McMinnville, Oregon, where he teaches writing at Linfield College. As the winner of the Boyden Wilderness Writing Residency from pen Northwest, he spent the fall of 2015 living with his family in a remote cabin along the Rogue River in southwest Oregon.

Full program details, including the workshop schedule and a list of what to bring, will be available online on April 1.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Author Dan Elish on Rereleasing his Novel THE WORLDWIDE DESSERT CONTEST

I will sound like I just hopped out of a covered wagon, but one of the things I love about modern life is that wonderful books can be reborn thanks to technologies like print-on-demand (and probably other technologies I don’t even know about). My dear friend Dan Elish (author of 9 novels and co-writer of the Broadway musical 13) is re-releasing his fabulous first novel (technically for kids, but I also feel I'm the ideal audience): THE WORLDWIDE DESSERT CONTEST.

Obviously, any book that focuses on dessert should not be limited to kids!

If you love books like The Phantom Tollbooth and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and an oldie that I bet no one else has heard of but that I remember quite fondly, The Search for Delicious, this one is for you—and/or the kids in your life.

Here’s a quick description, followed by an interview with Dan, in which he talks about the writing and publishing process.


Description:

Meet John Applefeller, the chef who always finishes last because his apple desserts unexpectedly change into other things at the last second - often causing humorous mayhem at the dessert grounds.

Luckily, Applefeller has the loyal friendship of a boy named Stanley and a scraggily janitor named Josiah Benson.

Together, our heroes fly an apple soufflĂ© balloon (one of Applefeller’s most notorious failed desserts) to the home of Captain B. Rollie Ragoon, a dessert genius who speaks only in rhyme.

Will the famous Ragoon be able to teach Applefeller how to create a dessert that stays a dessert? Will Applefeller’s new dessert be able to defeat arch culinary villain, Sylvester Sweet? To find out, devour this book! 


Interview:

What inspired you to write The Worldwide Dessert Contest? 

When I came to New York after college, my goal was to write musicals. But one day, on a whim, I found myself re-reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I loved it and got the idea about writing my own children’s novel. Not to date myself, but this was just before laptops. I wrote most of the first draft of the book on yellow lined note pads, then edited it by hand. Finally, I got a home computer and typed it out. The entire process or writing and re-writing took about a year and a half.

How did the book get published?

I was accepted to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference in Middlebury, VT.  The book was sprawling then, around 300 pages, and the manuscript was single-spaced. But I gave a reading there that went really well. I was so nervous but people really went nuts – it’s one of my fondest career memories. Several faculty offered to introduce me to agents and editors. Luckily, one of the editors was Richard Jackson, one of the biggest names in kids’ publishing. So I definitely had a lucky break. Richard Jackson and I met me for lunch and offered to publish the book – first he wanted me to cut close to 100 pages (which I did) then we got to work honing the story. It was a great experience.

In the middle of the story, the character’s travel to a land where everyone speaks in rhymes. Was that section fun to write?

Yes, absolutely. I had written lyrics for shows (and still do) and I loved Dr. Seuss. So having a land where everyone spoke in rhyme came pretty naturally. I have great memories of sitting in my small NYC apartment with pages in front of me and a rhyming dictionary. I also remember reading the rhymed sections to my friends.

What do you think makes the book special?

The plot is outlandish and whimsical, but I’m proud of how it manages to seem believable, despite all the craziness. Call it beginner’s luck, but I’m really pleased at how the plot comes together in a way that is fun but doesn’t seem forced. I don’t know if I’ve ever done it quite so well since. Also, there are roller-skating apple pies, a flying apple soufflĂ© balloon, and a dessert genius who speaks only in rhymes. How could that be bad?

Does the book have a message?

The book’s primary goal is to be entertaining and funny. But as I wrote, a message developed that seems to resonate with readers. The hero, John Applefeller, is a hapless guy who comes in last every single time he enters to contest. But he never gives up. The book is his story, one where simplicity and good-heartedness are eventually rewarded. I think the world can always use a little bit more of that.

What made you want to republish it?

Because I love it. Maybe that’s an obnoxious thing to say about your own book, but whatever…The Worldwide Dessert Contest was a success in its day, but like most books isn’t read as much anymore. A year or so ago a young filmmaker approached me about making it into a movie. (It was his favorite book as a kid). That got me thinking about re-issuing it. The original artist, John Stephen Gurney, gave me permission to use his amazing cover and drawings. Now I can re-introduce it to a new generation of readers. I thought it would be funny to call it The 28th Anniversary Edition. Hard to believe that much time has gone by.

What age group is the book for?

Really, any age. It’s a 200 page novel but I’ve known kids as young as first grade to read it. I also know older kids and adults who have loved it, too. That being said, I’d say between ages 7 and 12 is ideal.

What’s your favorite dessert?  

I am obsessed with mocha-chip ice cream. As a kid my favorite brand was Howard Johnson’s Mocha Chip. Today I favor Ben & Jerry’s Coffee Buzz Buzz.

Most important, where can you buy it?

Any website where books are sold or on Xlibris.com. Just type in my name or the title.






Where can I find out more about you?

My website: www.danelish.com


Praise:

From Booklist (starred review)
John Applefeller loves desserts. He especially loves apple desserts and his dream is to win the prestigious Worldwide Dessert Contest held each year in his very own town of Appleton. Not only does Applefeller never win, he always comes in last, because his desserts have the disconcerting habit of turning into other things. The perennial winner of the contest is Sylvester Sweet, the self-proclaimed King of Dessert, Captain of Consumption, and Duke of Decidedly Delicious, but who is, in fact, a bounder using a stolen recipe for his every-year entry, a double-chocolate-fudge-raspberry-coconut-lime swirl. Applefeller and his able assistant, a fifth grader named Stanley, are becoming decidedly discouraged, until they hear about a genius chef who might be able to help. The addition of Captain B. Rollie Ragoon to their team leads to some new recipes and recognition, as well as to the downfall of the sniveling Sweet. The plot goes down as easily as ice cream and is topped with plenty of laughs, both subtle and broad. Certainly its silliness makes for a pithy read-aloud and a booktalker's dream. Call this delicious.

Publisher's Weekly: "A little dash of Charlie and Chocolate Factory with a dash of Homer Price's donut maker, this novel pays homage to the longstanding rapport between children and sweets…Elish writes with a sure hand of this sugary world, his tongue squarely in the area of his sweet tooth. For his ability to praise desserts in an endlessly original fashion, he deserves a blue ribbon."

“When we were kids, my sister and I loved The Worldwide Dessert Contest so much that we called it The Bible.” Eben Smith, dessert-lover, avid reader, and film-maker

More about Dan Elish:

Dan Elish is the author of nine novels, including The School for the Insanely Gifted  (for kids), Nine Wives (for grown-up types), and Born Too Short, which won a 2004 International Reading Association Students’ Choice Award for young adult literature. Dan is also the co-book writer for the Broadway musical 13 and is the book writer and co-lyricist of MANN…and WIFE, a new musical comedy that recently had its world premiere at the Lyric Theater of Oklahoma. He has also written many kids’ musicals and scripts for TV shows, notably Cyberchase. He lives in New York City with his wife and two children.








Friday, February 19, 2016

Lit Journal Contest: The Pinch

Here’s information about a contest sponsored by The Pinch, a wonderful journal out of the University of Memphis. I’m the fiction judge, and I have received clarification that if you know me, you may enter your work in the fiction category if it is something I have never read before. The finalists will be given to me anonymously. So, if you’ve got something good…send it on in!

Note: While there is a fee to enter this contest, you will receive a copy of the journal.


Call for Submissions


The Pinch invites you to submit muscular, off-tilt, heart-rich fiction, poetry, and literary nonfiction for our 2016 Literary Awards. The reading period for the contest ends on March 15, so send your best work.


First place in each genre each receive $1000 and publication in our spring issue. Our award-winning judges are Leslie Pietrzyk for fiction, Nicole Hardy for literary nonfiction, and Alex Lemon for poetry. Full details can be found at our contest guidelines page​: 


www.pinchjournal.com/2016-contest-guidelines/

The Pinch – Memphis proud since 1980. Now with more stuff: www.pinchjournal.com

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Taking on Mighty Themes: A Conversation with Andi Cumbo-Floyd


by Carollyne Hutter


Herman Melville said: “To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme.” In her young adult novel Steele Secrets, Andi Cumbo-Floyd takes on the mighty themes of slavery and racism. Steele Secrets tells the story of a 16-year-old girl named Mary Steele, who meets the ghost of a slave named Moses. As she gets to know Moses—and battles with her community to save this cemetery—Mary learns some secrets about her own past that make her question her own stories and the stories of her small town.

Andi, this is your first young adult novel. What drew you to this genre and age group?

What a good question, and I’m not sure I have a great answer.  I typically write creative nonfiction for adults, so I’m well-versed in the tools of fiction—plot, character development, scene-work—but I’ve always found myself fascinated by what has actually happened. 

This time, though, I wanted to try to weave together a lot of stories—stories based on actual events I’d witnessed—and the best way to do that seemed to be through fiction.

As for writing for young adults, I honestly think that came from Mary, the protagonist. From the get-go, I knew she was the center part of this story, and since she was a teenager, it seemed obvious that the book needed to be written with teenagers in mind. That said, I didn’t really set out to write a book for young adults, but in our culture, we label things—if it’s a book about women, it’s women’s literature. If it’s a book about African Americans, it’s African American literature.  So a book about teenagers becomes young adult literature.  I don’t know if I love that labeling, but I sure do love Mary Steele.

What challenges did you face writing for teens?

Well, it’s been a while since I was a teenager . . . a couple of years ago – so I did struggle with some of the pop culture stuff.  For example, I don’t even know what Snapchat is. . . so I had to just own my strengths and make Mary a little out of step with her classmates.  Hence the Johnny Depp and Veronica Mars references. 

Also, it’s hard to push away what I know now about slavery. One astute early reader pointed out that my voice shifts from being a teenage voice to being an adult one when I talk about what I didn’t know about slavery.  That’s why I wrote the book in past tense, using Mary’s more mature voice to look back on this time in her life. 

Your book takes on the mighty themes of slavery and racism. Why did you pick those themes?

I feel too grandiose saying that these themes are my calling, but they kind of are.  My deepest passion is the recovery of the stories of enslaved people and my work to help heal the wounds rooted in slavery, i.e., racism.  I am a southern woman, born and raised in North Carolina and Virginia, and I was raised on a slave plantation in Virginia from the age of 14.  So the history of slavery is everywhere I go, and some of the places that are most dear to me were built by enslaved workers—the home that my dad still occupies and my farm now. 

But for the early years of my life, slavery was amorphous—written in numbers and as a small shadow cast behind the great nostalgia that is southern identity.  It wasn’t until college—and then in my 20s when I worked for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Papers Project—that I realized that this was not history—i.e., something that lived only in the past.  In those years, I learned what my education and southern culture had—through intention and apathy—left unsaid—that the legacy of slavery was long and very much alive.

So now, I take as my work the effort to recover the stories of enslaved people because I believe if we look honestly at slavery, if we gazed into the eyes of people who lived under it and sometimes succumbed to it and often persevered through it, we can find healing as a country and as individuals.


This book has a lot of details and information on slavery. What type of research did you do for the book?

For the past five years, my research interest has been primarily the experience of enslavement in Virginia. In particular, I have dedicated myself to archival work to locate the names and as many facts as possible about the people who were enslaved at the plantation where I was raised and at other plantations in the area where I now live.  I’ve also done a lot of genealogical research about these individuals and their families, so the genealogical aspect of this work comes from my experience of research—and from my own family’s story. 

I loved the setting for the book. Is the town a real town or based on a real town?

Terra Linda is a fictional place, and I want that to be clear: I don’t know any towns in Virginia where the White Citizens Councils take this kind of action (although I’m sure many towns here do have active white supremacists groups).  But I took the landscape and the geography for Terra Linda from the beautiful town of Buena Vista, Virginia, the place where my father-in-law was raised and my husband spent his childhood.  In fact, the idea for the book came to me when we visited Neriah Baptist Church there in Buena Vista and my father-in-law told me about the time he saw a ghost in a graveyard near his childhood home.


I was sad when the book ended because I wanted to spend more time with Mary Steele. Any thoughts on a sequel?

A few people have asked me that, and honestly, I’m not sure.  I, too, love Mary, so maybe she’ll have some more adventures of this nature sometime.  We’ll see. . .

You’re a writer, editor, and farmer. How do you balance these different demands?

You know, it’s actually really hard in some ways—mostly in terms of time and money—but it’s absolutely rewarding in every other way.  Writing and farming are pretty symbiotic occupations because they both require, for me at least, a weddedness to a place and an openness of space.  Editing—the way I help to pay our bills—is something that I am constantly adjusting in terms of balance because I often let it creep into my writing time. Also, because I read all day for work, I sometimes don’t read for pleasure, which can hinder my writing.  So all that’s to say, it’s a constant struggle to get balance, and balance looks differently here on the farm in different seasons.  When spring comes, my focus shifts to vegetable farming and less away from editing. . . but then I find that I write more in the summer, maybe because I’m not focusing so much on other people’s words.  Still, despite the struggle, I wouldn’t trade a bit of this wordy, animal-filled life for anything in the world.

Andi Cumbo-Floyd is a writer, editor, and farmer who lives at the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains with her husband, 4 dogs, 4 cats, 6 goats, and 22 chickens.  Her books are Steele Secrets, Writing Day In and Day Out, The Slaves Have Names, and God’s Whisper Manifesto.  When she’s not gathering eggs or pulling weeds, she writes over at andilit.com, and she’d love to connect with you there.  A free chapter of Steele Secrets as well as all the ordering options for the book are available at andilit.com/steele-secrets

Carollyne Hutter, www.HutterWriter.com, enjoys writing for children and adults. Often her work focuses on environmental, scientific, health, and international development issues.









Wednesday, February 3, 2016

South 85 ISO Excellent Work!


We Want to See Your Work!

South 85 Journal is currently accepting poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and visual art submissions through April 30, 2016 for our Spring / Summer 2016 issue.

For more information, check out our submission guidelines.  Or visit our Submittable page to submit now!

We look forward to hearing from you.

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This call for submissions is from the journal that is edited by the smart and talented MFA students and grads in the Converse low-res MFA program. To read the most recent issue of the journal, go here.



Monday, February 1, 2016

Guest in Progress: Ryan Krausmann on Writing Two Pages


One of the things I love most about teaching writing is hearing from former students and seeing what their writing life is like. Here’s a lovely piece by a student who was in one of my workshops at the Writer’s Center, back in the olden days, and what I love most about reading this is that it echoes  exactly what I like to say: It is NEVER too late to write. All you need to do is…start.


The Leather Journal
By Ryan Krausmann

My wife knows me to be a writer.  She knows I graduated from college with a degree in Creative Writing. She knows I took time off between jobs in my twenties to write a novel which was never published or workshopped.  She knows I talk about wanting to be a writer.  She just never saw me doing any writing in the three and half years we have been together. 

Maybe she wanted to change that.  For our one year anniversary in 2015, my wife got me a present – a small leather journal.  It’s a present many writers probably receive.  Leather journals are beautiful things when they are blank and my first irrational fear is that I would hate to fill it up with poor, meandering writing.

This pretty collection of paper forces you to write by hand.  After a few days of writing I decided on a pattern – every day I would write two pages on a different character.  As the days went on I freed myself from that initial irrational fear – dirtying a perfectly clean journal with my weakly written words.  An empty journal untouched in a closet is like a nice leather jacket – it is meant to be used and to be among the elements.

I didn’t write every single day.  I was able to get writing done on Saturdays and Sundays.  On weeknights, I sometimes got around to writing at night after work and while my wife was cooking dinner.  I’d go into the bedroom, get my pen and journal from my nightstand, come over to the couch or leather chair, and I dove right into it.  Let the words come out.

 What I have experienced in my life since the last time I did any writing several years earlier was being put into words – marriage, relationships, and being a man in his thirties.  Again, the only goal when I sat down to write was to complete two pages.  I liberated myself and my psyche by not producing writing that I would re-read or re-write, or at least not re-read or re-write immediately.  I wrote like some would walk around their neighborhood at sunset – solely for the brisk act itself, to collect and articulate thoughts, to be reflective, and to find joy in the simple act.  I spent some small amount of minutes of my day doing something I enjoyed - something I have always told myself and others that I enjoyed doing.  And then, I closed the journal, put the cap on the pen, and put the journal back on my nightstand.

I wrote from March 1, 2015 to the journal’s completion on January 23, 2016.  I plan to sit down soon and re-read it in its entirety.  Maybe with a glass of red wine in one hand.  The leather journal has a first draft of something in there.    


ABOUT: Ryan Krausmann and his wife live in Sausalito, California.  He graduated with a BA in English from the University of Central Florida in 2002. 

Work-in-Progress

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