Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Pre-Publication Praise for SILVER GIRL

I was updating my website (early!) this morning and was just feeling so, so happy about all these kinds words about my forthcoming novel!! And I’m grateful to the writers who took time out of their busy writing lives to read the book and offer their support.

“They think she is a simple, well-mannered girl, quiet and helpful. But the reader has seen into her past, knows her uncle, her little sister, her father, and all that happened back in Iowa. She is anything but. A dark, intense novel on a hot subject: female friendship complicated by class and privilege.”

“Leslie Pietrzyk’s haunting SILVER GIRL begins in 1980, with a nameless narrator starting her freshman year at a prestigious Chicago-area university. The narrator escaped her economically depressed Iowa hometown, but the emotional baggage of a grim childhood and dysfunctional family continue to weigh her down like the bulky, cheaply made trunk that holds her belongings… SILVER GIRL concludes with a surge of hope, like the spring thaw after an icebound Chicago winter.”

~Meg Nola, Foreword Reviews (5 /5 stars)

“In SILVER GIRL, Leslie Pietrzyk fearlessly explores the complex inner life of a young woman and her myriad complicated relationships with friends and sisters, while unearthing secrets about her traumatic past. Pietrzyk treats her characters with incredible empathy and tenderness, producing a deeply affecting novel about the terrible things we ask our young women to endure.”

~Mandy Berman, author of PERENNIALS

“Unflinching, thoughtful, and sharp. SILVER GIRL is the story I’ve been waiting to read: complicated women navigating life with grit and grace. From small town Iowa to Chicago, rural to urban, haves to have-nots, SILVER GIRL delivers a poignant truth about how relationships and regret shape our definitions of home.”

~Melissa Scholes Young, author of FLOOD

“SILVER GIRL is a blunt and piercing character study of a young woman making choices that are both understandable and unthinkably wrong; we watch helplessly as our unnamed narrator digs herself in deeper and deeper, sabotaging nearly every relationship in her life. Pietrzyk writes insightfully about female friendship, personal morality and accountability, unspooling an eminently compelling plot and delivering us, finally, to a redeeming moment of grace.””

~Carolyn Parkhurst, NYT Bestselling author of The Dogs of Babel, Lost and Found, The Nobodies Album and Harmony

“The first thing that comes to mind when I think of Leslie and her stories is the courage and ferocity of her women. Women who must negotiate a culture not of their own design and not of their own choosing. Women who have experienced tragedy and misfortune. Women who have made mistakes. Women who are honest in their testimony, resourceful in their lives, daring, not shy.”

~Robert Olmstead, award-winning author of Savage Country, Far Bright Star, Coal Black Horse, and The Coldest Night

Monday, December 11, 2017

Registration Open for My Winter Classes at Politics & Prose: Prompts & Dialogue

I’ve got two classes coming up at Politics & Prose in DC in the new year…love to see/your friends there!!

Right Brain Writing: Relationships

Wednesday, January 31, 6:30 to 9 p.m.

Explore your creative side in this session, one of a series of stand-alone classes with prompts designed to get your subconscious flowing. Through guided exercises, we’ll focus on writing about the variety of relationships we have in our lives, significant people, people who are still with us, people who are lost, even relationships with people we don’t know. No writing experience necessary! This is a great class for beginners and also for those fiction writers and/or memoirists with more experience who might be stuck in their current projects and are looking for a jolt of inspiration. Our goal is to have fun in a supportive, nurturing environment and to go home with several promising pieces to work on further. Please bring lots of paper and pen/pencil or a fully charged computer. Note: new exercises!

Text: The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Poetry, edited by J.D. McClatchy
*Please note that although this is a poetry book, you are not required to write poetry.


Elements of Writing: Mastering Effective Dialogue

Thursday, February 1, 1 to 4 p.m.

Dialogue is tricky. It’s not simply recorded speech; conversation must sound natural—while also creating a sense of a character and advancing the action. How does the writer learn that balance, knowing when characters should talk and when maybe they should keep quiet? How can your conversations build layers of meaning? This hands-on, interactive class will focus on helping you learn the tricks needed to get your characters to talk the talk! This class is appropriate for fiction writers, memoirists and anyone looking to sharpen their dialogue skills. All levels of experience are welcome. Please bring a notebook/pen or charged computer for writing exercises.

Text: Best American Short Stories 2017, edited by Meg Wolitzer

**Please read "Last Day on Earth" by Eric Puchner, and "Famous Actor" by Jess Walter; other examples from the book may be cited, though these are the only stories that will be discussed fully.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Best Books, 2017

As usual, this list is taken from the books I’ve read during 2017. Who cares what year a good book was published, really? I believe in buying lots of books and then letting them rise to the surface at the right time. I also believe in keeping this list to 10 or under, so I’m being pretty ruthless here (augh, the anguish!). What are the books I relentlessly urged onto other people? What are the books that haunt me months later?

One difficulty with my list is that I try to keep it free of books written by my friends, which feels more honest to me, but I am lucky to have SO MANY accomplished and prolific writer friends! Also, in this age of social media, is someone I know from Facebook a “friend” or a friend? What if I met someone once at an event…are they my friend/“friend” and therefore excluded from my list? (Clearly I have time on my hands to be worrying about this.)

Anyway, my solution is to keep a separate list of books I loved that I read this year that were written by my friends (below), and I allowed two books that blur the “friend”/friend line to sneak onto the first list.

Anyway-anyway, let’s just get to the dang books! Presented in random order:


Mother, Tell Your Daughters by Bonnie Jo Campbell: This is the book I recommended the most this year. Short stories about gritty women in a forgotten corner of Michigan, written by a master. This one went straight to my “Best Books” shelf, my highest compliment, FWIW.

Single, Carefree, Mellow by Katherine Heiny: Smart, funny, insightful stories about contemporary life. I inhaled this book!

You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott: I recommended this one a lot, too. Sort of billed as a mystery, but really an exploration of life inside the family of an elite (Olympics-level) young gymnast. What does it mean, what does it cost to be “special”?

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway: A re-read after seeing “The Select,” an hours-long theatrical adaptation. The antisemitism is tough to take, obviously…but this book is a classic for a reason. Lost, yearning, broken, aimless young people—who are, unfortunately for them, smart enough to recognize their plight.
The Half-Known World by Robert Boswell: A craft book about writing based on a series of lectures given at the Warren Wilson low-res MFA program. I never write in books, but I scribbled the hell out of this one, marking a thousand different passages. I also immediately trashed the opening of the story I was working on and rewrote it, thanks to this book.

Insurrections by Rion Amilcar Scott: Okay, I’ve met Rion a couple of times. Nevertheless, I’m compelled to mention these short stories, which all take place in an imaginary town in Maryland that had the only successful slave revolt in America. (That’s imagined, too.) Smart and hard-eyed stories, and a great writer to study for dialogue and voice.

Robert Lowell: Setting the River on Fire, A Study of Genuis, Mania, and Character by Kay Redfield Jamison: I’m sort of obsessed with Robert Lowell, so obviously I’m going to love a giant NF book that examines his genius and life through the lens of mental illness, written by an expert in the mental health field who writes poetic sentences.

The Boys of My Youth by Jo Ann Beard: I’m probably the last writer on earth to read this fine collection of essays. But if I’m not, YOU MUST READ THIS BOOK. I don’t care if you don’t like essays/prose/reading/women/whatever. Trust me. Here’s her most famous essay, about the grad student who shot professors/students at the University of Iowa physics department, where Beard once worked. You’re welcome.

Eveningland by Michael Knight: I was on a real short story kick this year, and this book is one of the reasons why I kept looking for more. No gimmicks, no flash. Just solid, deep, insightful story-telling. These all take place in the Mobile Bay area of Alabama, which made for an excellent reading experience while I was in Fairhope, AL. And this is the book I gave as a hostess gift to the lovely Fairhopeans (?) who hosted me for dinner…until the bookstore ran out.

Story Problems by Charles Jensen: Okay, I also know Charlie in that “’how are you’ at an event” sort of way. These are prose poems written in the form of (guess!) math story problems that brilliantly explore loss. I know, I know…you “don’t get” poetry. Try just this tiny sample and you will be hooked: http://thediagram.com/17_1/jensen.html

Bad Kansas by Becky Mandelbaum: Might as well wind up with short stories! This book won the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, for which I screened manuscripts. This book was not in my stack to read…and if it had been, I probably would have stopped right there. (Not really, I’m very responsible.) Smart, funny, sorrowful, and voicey—all these stories take place in or relate to Kansas, a geographic place and a state of mind.


Virgin and Other Stories by April Ayers Lawson: uncomfortable short stories; the first and the last are especially stunning

Twin of Blackness by Clifford Thompson: memoir about growing up in old, pre-gentrified D.C.

Magic City Gospels by Ashley M. Jones: Poems! That send ice through your veins, they’re that on point!

Day of the Border Guards by Katherine E. Young: More poems! Remember Soviet Russia? Here it is, harsh and detailed, witnessed thoughtfully through intelligent eyes.

Flood by Melissa Scholes Young: You can’t go home again, or can you? Returning to blue-collar Hannibal, Missouri, home of Mark Twain, here a muse and an all-encompassing tourist industry.

The Confusion of Languages by Siobhan Fallon: A troubled, tricky relationship between two ex-pat diplomatic wives set in the Middle East during the rising Arab Spring.

Apprehensions & Convictions: Adventures of a 50-year-old Rookie Cop by Mark Johnson: You won’t always like what you read in this account of life on the streets of Mobile, Alabama, but your eyes will be opened…widely.

Good House by Peyton Marshall: Dystopian novel where boys with genetic criminal tendencies are incarcerated, and worse. (Really, this all could probably be taking place right now, beneath our noses.)

Perennials by Mandy Berman: How I love great writing about girls at camp! Good one to study for managing POV in a large cast of characters.

Dancing by the River by Marlin Barton: Alabama stories by a master story-teller. A slow burn of a book.

I’m the One Who Got Away by Andrea Jarrell: A chilling memoir about coming to terms with an abusive and confusing girlhood.

Mountains of Light: Seasons of Reflection in Yosemite by R.Mark Liebenow: Memoir and nature writing winding together with the force of El Capitan itself. I read this on the plane flying home from California, and it was as if I were still in Yosemite, treading the paths, gazing at those ethereal granite formations, one with nature.


Finally, thank you to ALL writers EVERYWHERE! I would be lost without books and stories. Believe me, I appreciate how hard it is to write, and I am grateful for each hard-earned word you share.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Apps Due for FREE Jenny McKean Moore Poetry Workshop...Program to be Suspended in Fall 2018

Here’s information about the upcoming FREE Jenny McKean Moore workshop at GW University…there is no website, so this is all the information you’ll need. 

Unfortunately, I received this notice along with a memo noting that the program is going to be suspended after spring 2018 due to financial considerations. Though the letter feels slightly hopeful that the suspension won’t be permanent, I’m still sad. This program was a wonderful addition to our DMV literary community.

The George Washington University
Jenny McKean Moore Free Community Workshop
Spring 2018 – Poetry Workshop

Led by Sally Wen Mao

Wednesdays, 7:00 – 9:00 P.M.
24 January – 25 April 2018

Come take part in a semester-long poetry workshop! To apply, you do not need academic qualifications or publications. The class will include some readings of published writings (primarily memoir and the personal essay), but will mainly be a roundtable critique of work submitted by class members. There are no fees to participate in the class, but you will be responsible for making enough copies of your stories for all fifteen participants. Students at Consortium schools (including GWU) are not eligible.

To apply, please submit a brief letter of interest and a sample of your poetry: 3-5 poems, 12 pt type, no more than 7 pages in length. Include your name, address, home and work telephone numbers, and email address for notification. Application materials will not be returned but will be recycled once the selection process is completed. Applications must be received at the following address by Tuesday, 9 January 2018:

JMM Poetry Workshop
Department of English
The George Washington University
801 22nd Street, NW (Phillips 643)
Washington, DC 20052

All applicants will be notified by email of the outcome of their submissions no later than Saturday, 20 January 2018.

Sally Wen Mao is the 2017-2018 Jenny McKean Moore Writer-in-Washington at The George Washington University. She is the author of Mad Honey Symposium (Alice James Books, 2014) and the forthcoming Oculus (Graywolf Press, 2019). Her work has been published in The Best American Poetry 2013, A Public Space, Poetry, Tin House, Missouri Review, and others. She is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize and fellowships from the Cullman Center for Writers and Scholars at the New York Public Library, Hedgebrook, Kundiman, Bread Loaf Writers Conference, and others. 

Monday, November 27, 2017

New Flash Fiction!

Here’s my story “Valentine’s Day” in Shenandoah that will probably take you about three minutes to read:

“It’s your worst habit.” She accuses him constantly, a waspish buzz to ignore: it’s the toothpick wagging between his teeth, or “Jesus fucking Christ” flying out even on Sundays, or letting crackers go stale with the inner bag left gaping open, or sleepwalking, or. “It’s your worst habit,” she says to all of that and to all the rest, a prissy smirk cemented on her face, and here it is tonight, already.


Here’s my story “Leftovers” in Four Way Review that will probably take you about 45 seconds to read:

My English teacher said yesterday there’s no gift that doesn’t come with chains. No one was listening because she’s always spouting stupid crap but she, right at that exact second, started giving me her sharp-eye and I wrote it down and she smiled this tight way that prickled me.

Both pieces were written in my amazing prompt writing group…more info about that (and how you can incorporate prompts into your writing life) here: https://www.awpwriter.org/magazine_media/writers_notebook_view/39/prompt_writing_not_just_for_workshop

Sunday, November 12, 2017

CRWROPPS: The Writer's Best Biz Friend

This is one of the best resources I know for keeping up to date with calls for submissions and literary jobs/opportunities. It's also the place to share your own press/journal calls for work.Best of all, it is FREE! You can either consult the posts online or get an email sent to you daily. Here’s how to sign up:

Quick List Instructions: CRWROPPS

To join list: send an email to <crwropps-b-subscribeATyahoogroupsDOTcom> (wait for return message to complete sign up)

To exit list: send an email to <crwropps-b-unsubscribeATyahoogroupsDOTcom>

To post a message on the list:
Send post directly to moderator (only moderator may post to list) at

To see list posts without receiving email, bookmark this link:

P.S. To learn more about the list moderator, poet Allison Joseph, visit

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Southampton Review Online Made Me an Offer I Couldn't Refuse

I have a new story in The Southampton Review!

It’s funny that when I submitted this story to this journal, I thought I had put it in consideration for the print journal. When they accepted the story for the online journal I was at first confused and then slightly irritated. But I consulted with the wise minds on Facebook which sparked a long and interesting thread about online vs. print publications. Maybe I have some residual bias toward print…but also, if this story were in print only, I would be begging you to fork out ten bucks to have a journal sent to you a week from  now.

But this is the beauty of online publications, as I was persuaded by FB's hive mind: ALL YOU HAVE TO DO NOW IS CLICK AND READ!

The Speaker claims the Wilson Bridge is his “secret place,” though as a section of I-95 crossing the Potomac (or: the nation’s most crowded highway spanning the river every op-ed reader recognizes as shorthand for out-of-touch politics), the Wilson Bridge is scarcely secret. The secret might be this pedestrian walkway alongside the southbound side of the bridge that is virtually unknown outside Old Town Alexandria (where the Speaker lives). Bridge and walkway link Virginia to Maryland, also not a secret… [Note: It's not Speaker of the House Paul Ryan!]

Fun fact: I now have TWO stories set on this walkway alongside the Wilson Bridge because I started one story that split off into two different stories with different characters, the first time such an odd thing has happened to me. It was rough going for a while, as I tried to wrestle the story into shape...but how happy I am that I gave up on that and accepted my fate! The other Wilson Bridge story will be coming out in Arts & Letters in the next few weeks.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

"The Door of No Return" in South Carolina Review

My story “The Door of No Return” has been published in The South Carolina Review. There’s no link online at this time, but why not support a wonderful journal and buy a copy (see below)?

This story came about when I was part of a group writing to pieces of visual art. We were given a bunch of images and asked to pick four we could write about. I liked this picture because I’m often drawn to doors and paths. Plus, it was pretty. Plus-plus, I was certain I’d get my first or second choice. BUT circumstances led to me being assigned my fourth choice, which sort of annoyed me at first, and then stressed me out as I studied the artist’s work and realized that this “pretty picture” was part of a series about the Middle Passage. I knew I had to think hard about my approach to this image to do it honor, and in the end, I'm grateful for this assignment which pushed me out of my comfort zone…and I’m grateful to the South Carolina Review for publishing this piece.

More information about the artist, Keith Morrison: http://keithmorrison.com/
Keith Morrison’s Middle Passage series: http://keithmorrison.com/?page_id=874

Okay, if you’re desperate to read this story, send me a sweet email and I’ll send you a file: lesliepietrzyk AT gmail DOT com

Thursday, September 21, 2017

REVERSING THE RIVER: Serialized Novel Available

As I mentioned in an earlier post, my historical novel is being serialized this summer. REVERSING THE RIVER is set in Chicago, on the first day of 1900, when the city is completing a major engineering feat to reverse the flow of the Chicago River so the sewage moves downstream instead of into the city’s drinking water.

There are only a few more chapters to go, so now is a good time to jump in and get caught up.

You can find REVERSING THE RIVER on Medium: https://medium.com/s/reversing-the-river  There’s a small fee to register for Medium, which is LESS than the cost of a book AND gives you access to all of Medium’s great content. There’s also an audio file.


You can download the Great Jones Street literary app on your phone/iPad; look it up in the Apple Store/Play Store.

Friday, September 15, 2017

My Fall Classes....Space Left for YOU!

I’m teaching two classes at Politics & Prose Bookstore in September…space for you and a friend still available in each! Both are appropriate for beginners or for more experienced writers. Let me know if you have any questions (lesliepietrzyk AT gmail DOT com).

Who’s Telling Your Story? Experiments in Point of View

Monday, September 25, 1 to 4 p.m.

Location: P&P's Classroom (5039 Connecticut Avenue, Unit #7)
Price:  $50 (10% off for members)

Point of view is one of a writer’s first decisions: Who will tell the story? And how? Everyone knows about first person and third person. But maybe your story or novel could benefit from a more unconventional point of view: collective first person or second person. We’ll talk about the possibilities (and challenges) of several POVs and then dig in with some writing exercises, which can be new or based on your work-in-progress. This class is also suitable for nonfiction writers, and writers of all levels of experience.

Recommended Reading:
The Virgin Suicides, Jeffery Eugenides (only chapter 1 of this book will be referenced)
Bright Lights, Big City, Jay McInerney (only chapter 1 of this book will be referenced)
How to Become a Writer, Lorrie Moore (found the author's story collection titled, Self-Help)


Right Brain Writing: Shifting Perceptions

Wednesday, September 27, 6:30 to 9 p.m.

Location: P&P's Classroom (5039 Connecticut Avenue, Unit #7)
Price: $45 (10% off for members)

Explore your creative side in this session, one of a series of stand-alone classes with prompts designed to get your subconscious flowing. Through guided exercises, we’ll focus on writing about how our perceptions shift, whether through altered landscapes, the passage of time, or being thrust into a different point of view. Is it we who have changed…or the world around us? This is a great class for beginners, and fiction writers or memoirists with more experience who might be stuck in their current projects and are looking for a jolt of inspiration. Our goal is to have fun in a supportive, nurturing environment, and to go home with several promising pieces to work on further. Please bring lots of paper and pen/pencil or a fully charged computer. Note: new exercises!

Recommended Book:
The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Poetry edited by J.D. McClatchy
*Please note that although this is a poetry book, you are not required to write poetry.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

DMV Writers with a Book Ms....

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS: Until November 15, 2017, Washington Writers’ Publishing House (WWPH) will accept manuscripts for entry in our annual book competitions, The Jean Feldman Poetry Prize and The Washington Writers’ Publishing House Fiction Prize. Writers who live within a 75 mile radius of the U.S. Capitol in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia are eligible to enter these competitions. The winning manuscripts will be published in the fall of 2018. Visit www.washingtonwriters.org

This competition and this press have brought forth many excellent books, so I'll only point to a scant few of my favorites:

Kathleen Wheaton | Aliens and Other Stories
Brandel France de Bravo | Provenance
Patricia Schultheis | St. Bart’s Way

Monday, August 28, 2017

Your Low-Residency MFA Guide: Converse!

Back to school time already…which reminds me that the application deadline for the low-residency MFA program at Converse College, where I SOOOOO HAPPILY teach, is fast approaching: October 1.

So, if you’re thinking about an MFA, here are some links to help you start thinking about Converse:

Here’s why I personally love this program! (Bonus: some thoughts from Lisa Hase-Jackson, one of our grads, on why she decided to get an MFA.)

Here’s an interview with our director, Rick Mulkey, who talks about the benefits of a graduate writing program. (This is part 3, but the links for the first two parts are at the bottom.)

Are you nervous about being a student, for any reason? These pieces by two of our first semester students, Frances Neville and Edmund Schubert, will help allay your concerns.

Do you still have concerns? Here’s where to find answers and where to direct any and all questions. Scroll down to the bottom for “contact us” and find Sarah Gray, Associate Director.

Are you ready to apply? GO HERE!

Hope to see you in South Carolina in January!!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Colson Whitehead, Mohsin Hamid, Lev Grossman to Headline 2017 Fall for the Book

Fall for the Book’s 19th annual festival will run from October 11-14 at George Mason University and locations around Northern Virginia. National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Colson Whitehead, author of The Underground Railroad, will kick off the festival on October 11 at 7:30 p.m. in Harris Theater on Mason’s Fairfax campus. Also reading in Harris Theater will be Mohsin Hamid, author of the New York Times bestselling novels Exit West and The Reluctant Fundamentalist on Friday, October 13 at 7:30 p.m., and Lev Grossman, author of The Magicians trilogy—now a hit show on the Syfy channel—on Saturday, October 14 at 5 p.m. to close out the festival.

Other major writers will include poet Ellen Bryant Voigt, author of Headwaters, nonfiction writer David Shields, author of Other People, novelist Karan Mahajan, author of The Association of Small Bombs, and poet Tarfia Faizullah, author of Seam.

The festival will also welcome a robust list of poets, historians, novelists, memoirists, children’s authors, YA writers, cookbook authors and more. For the first time, Fall for the Book is partnering with the City of Fairfax’s Fall Festival on Saturday, October 14, to bring a day of literary and artistic events to audiences from throughout the region. For a full list of authors, visit www.fallforthebook.org or download our free app from your app store.

This is Fall for the Book's nineteenth year, and events are free and open to the public. Last year's festival attracted over 22,000 attendees to our readings, panels, workshops and exhibits. More information about Fall for the Book can be found at our website: www.fallforthebook.org

Here's the complete schedule:

And here are a few friends/friends of friends/Facebook friends/writers I ESPECIALLY recommend checking out:


Tara Campbell
Mollie Cox Bryan
Marita Golden
Elizabeth Hand
Dave Housley
Matthew Klam
Elise Levine
Margot Livesey
Virginia Pye
Melissa Scholes Young
Amber Sparks


Kim Roberts
Ellen Bryant Voigt


Joanne Lozar Glenn
Anna March

History & Biography

Andrea Pitzer
Michael Sims

Memoir & Creative Nonfiction

Douglas R. Dechow
Timothy Denevi
Anna Leahy

Monday, August 14, 2017

What Writers Talk about When They Talk about Short Story Writing

Looking up something for something, I came across this list of quotations about writing short stories, and they are so brilliant and so inspiring, that I absolutely had to drop the something I’m working on and share these IMMEDIATELY. I suggest that you drop everything and read them right now!

Here are few of my favorites:

A short story is the ultimate close-up magic trick – a couple of thousand words to take you around the universe or break your heart.” – Neil Gaiman

“A good [short story] would take me out of myself and then stuff me back in, outsized, now, and uneasy with the fit.” – David Sedaris

“Most stories we tell in real life are under 500 words. You’re at a party, everyone has a glass of wine, and suddenly you have the floor. You throw out your little story like a grenade. ‘Once I knew a guy who…’ And if you have any social graces at all, you probably keep it under 500. So my advice would be this: Don’t get all up in your head thinking short-short stories have to be poetry without the line breaks. Don’t put on your beret. Just tell a story, an actual story. Quick, while they’re still listening.” – Rebecca Makkai

Monday, August 7, 2017

Creating a Community: A Conversation with Andi Cumbo-Floyd on Using Social Media Effectively

By Carollyne Hutter  

Social media can be so helpful to writers, offering ways to connect with other writers, bringing in fresh audiences for their work, and generally, helping with the business side of writing.

Andi Cumbo-Floyd lives in rural Virginia working as a writer, editor, and teacher, and a farmer. She uses various social media to create a supportive online writing community, promote her writing, expand her editorial / critique business, and advertise her onsite writing retreats on her farm.

When my clients ask how to use social media effectively, I always say: create conversations and build a community. Sounds simple, but many organizations fail to do this well. Andi, on the other hand, does a seemingly effortless job of making social media warm, inviting, and supportive. I’m a member of her online writing group and although we converse through computers, tablets, and phones, Andi creates such a heartfelt community that it feels like we’re meeting over coffee and chatting about our work. How does she do it?

Andi was kind enough to discuss social media with me and answer my many questions.

Carollyne: Which social media are you active on?

Andi: I am active on Facebook with my personal page and three business pages, once for each my websites—Andilit, God’s Whisper Farm, and Our Folks’ Tales.  Plus, of course, the writing community.  I also have a Twitter page that I use less robustly but do share regularly there and retweet. I also post photos from the farm and often of books I’m reading over at Instagram.  I’ve set up profiles on most social media sites, on the advice of Jane Friedman who recommends a presence everywhere even if you don’t use the medium particularly, but these are the ones I use most.

Carollyne: How do you use the different social media and for what purposes?

Andi: I’m not super great about dividing myself into categories, so I don’t have very solid guidelines for what I share where, which some people advise against.  I, however, like to be my integrated self as much as possible.  I only post about writing, or farming, or African American history and genealogy on my respective FB pages, and Instagram is mostly farm photos and bookish photos. On Twitter, I do tend to do more about racism and history there, but not exclusively.  So, I have leanings in certain ways, but ultimately, my goal is to be myself everywhere.

In terms of purpose, I pretty much hope to connect with people in a genuine, engaged way everywhere. I love people—introvert though I am—so I love meeting them and finding ways that our lives speak into each other.

C: In what ways is social media helping your writing and your business as a writing consultant, editor, and teacher?

A: Honestly, social media is at the heart of my business. I get clients through the groups I organize. I meet other writers and build strong relationships that often lead to business through social media. I’ve hired others I’ve met through social media.  It’s a fundamental part of how I do my work. . . but that’s been a long time coming. It’s taken years of being available online, of being intentional about cultivating true relationships with people, relationships that are not driven by a “I hope they will hire me” mentality.  I find that kind of thinking to be really gross, honestly. Rather, I’d rather be myself, get to know people, make what I do known, and let people find me for the work if they think I’d be a good fit for what they need. 

C: You’re an independent author. How do you use social media to promote and sell your books?

A: I typically set up launch teams for my books and use social media both to communicate with them AND to promote the book through them.  I share new covers or interviews I do about my books, and when they are forthcoming, I use memes and all the standard things to promote. I have tried sharing reviews as a way to bump up sales and get more reviews, but I don’t do that much anymore.

Honestly, after the initial push when a book comes out, I mostly don’t promote it much directly on social media. It feels disingenuous to me to do that, and I also know that social media isn’t the greatest venue for book sales.

That said, I’m also not shy about sharing what I write. . . after all, if I didn’t want people to read it, then why bother publishing.

C: What advice would you have for other writers using social media?

A: Be consistent and be genuine.  If you post regularly, people will look for what you share. But you also can’t just throw things into the void and then disengage. You have to really respond to people – every comment if at all possible in as genuine a way as possible.  And then, just be yourself. Share what you love (and a little, tiny bit of what you hate on occasion.) Be honest. Be open. And be wise – make intentional choices about what you share and where you share it.

C: I’m a member of your wonderful online writers’ group. Why did you establish the group?

A: I started it because I heard so many writers saying they didn’t know how to connect to other writers, and I’d felt that way myself.  I wanted to create a place where writers could make friendships and business relationships with other people in the field.  At first it was a pay-per-month deal, but a few months after it began, I decided to make it free because I enjoyed it so much. There are paid components – critique, workshop groups – but the heart of the group is free to any writer who wants to join, and I love that.

C: Your writers’ community is so warm and supportive, which is difficult to do with an online group. How do you create such an atmosphere?

A: Oh, thanks for those kind words. I’m not sure how that happened – I think it’s partially the nature of the people in the group, partially the fact that I try to be very present there, and partially the fact that I don’t tolerate any disrespect or ugliness in the group. . . or really anywhere in my online spaces.  For me, every interaction I have with a person – on my good days – is about honoring the person on the other end – be that in person or through a screen – and I hope that comes through in the community. 

C: We all learn from failures. Are there any activities connected to your writing work that you tried on social media that were not successful?

A: Yeah, for a while I was trying to post several times a day in all the places that I am via social media, and honestly, it was exhausting and felt very forced. I was using a scheduler and just pushing out content, and I was drained by it every day. So I stopped and found that I could be present every day if I just set out to do that, and that I could share more honestly if I shared when I felt I had something worthwhile to share.

C: Social media can be quite a time sink, especially for writers. Do you have a schedule when you’re active on social media or another way to limit your social media time?

A: Oh glory, I wish I did have a schedule because it is a time-sink. I’m honestly online most of every work day.  It’s not the ideal. But I find that if I get my posting done or scheduled in the morning then I’m mostly checking in and responding to folks throughout the day, which I do enjoy and find important to build real relationships online. 

In the evenings, I sometimes get up images, which works well since lots of folks are online after their day jobs. But by then, I’m pretty much hands-off on the computer or phone.

Andi Cumbo-Floyd is a writer, editor, and farmer who lives at the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains with her husband, 38 chickens, 6 goats, 4 dogs, 4 cats, and 3 rabbits. Her books include The Slaves Have Names and Discover Your Writing Self. She writes regularly at andilit.com, godswhisperfarm.com, and ourfolkstales.com

Carollyne Hutter, www.HutterWriter.com,  regularly writes on environmental, international development, and scientific topics for both adults and children.  

Saturday, August 5, 2017


Here's the new cover for SILVER GIRL, which will be out in February 2018. I am THRILLED!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

My Online Novel, Serialized!

Here’s where you can access REVERSING THE RIVER, my historical novel set on one day in Chicago at the turn of the (previous) century, when the citizens of Chicago completed their massive engineering project to literally reverse the flow of the Chicago River to ensure safe drinking water.

We meet Jozef, a Polish immigrant who is struggling to care for his newborn son and understand his complex relationship with love and family, and Lucy, an affluent young woman who is learning the secrets behind her recent, hasty marriage. How will the course of their lives be reversed on this momentous day?

So…I’m not sure if you can go directly to that link or if you’ll have to sign up for Medium first (do it! It’s a cool site!). You can also download the Great Jones Street literary app and look me up by name (that’s ZYK, not yzk!).

New chapters will be released weekly…or so I hear!

If you try this, and it works—or doesn’t—or you have questions/problems—please let me know. I’m just as curious as you are about how this all will work out! The one thing I know is that it’s a darn good book, and I’m very proud of it.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

My Great Jones Street Story on Kindle (in case you're not into apps)

This is why people look themselves up...I didn’t realize that one of my Great Jones Street* stories was also available on Kindle…here’s the Amazon link (99 cents): 

Here’s the opening to the story (which I started in my prompt writing group):


I’m meeting my stupid father “pre-performance” at the Kennedy Center bar on April 15. Which happens to be his wedding anniversary to my stupid mother. I know, who gets married on tax day? Who meets their kid on his wedding anniversary? They’re not married now, but still. I’m supposed to be there at 6 pm sharp. That’s how he still talks, like he’s a hundred-and-ten years old, like people say “sharp” every two seconds. I don’t even know what show we’re seeing, ballet or symphony or whatever. He brings the tickets.

I shoot for 6:15. He’ll be late. Plus, it’s a bar and I know I look like I’m at least eighteen, but I’m fifteen, and sometimes people act like I’m a child and sometimes I catch grown-up men staring like they want to hike my skirt with one hand and fuck me, like they’re imagining no underwear in the way. Anyway, either makes sitting around a bar waiting for his entrance exactly what I’m not in the mood for.

He’s always late. He’s a very important man in Washington, DC, always “running behind,” with some assistant whose whole job is texting bullshit about how late he’ll be. Delete.

*Great Jones Street is a fabulous literary app, available for free download via Apple or Google/android: “the Netflix of short fiction.” Details here: https://www.greatjonesstreet.press/

Thursday, June 29, 2017

"Beware of Historians": Historical Research for the Fiction Writer

I wrote for the AWP Writer’s Notebook about my experience doing historical research for REVERSING THE RIVER, my novel set in 1899 Chicago, about to be released on the Great Jones Street literary app (free to download for Apple & Android!).

The piece is called “Eight Things This Fiction Writer Learned about Historical Research,” and here’s an excerpt:

Number 1: The concept of “enough.” Perhaps the most important thing that the writer should remember is that one single word: “enough.” There is “enough” research when you’re writing fiction. You’re not going to learn everything about your time period, and, frankly, you don’t need to know everything: you only need to know “enough”—enough to tell your story in a believable way. You’re not writing an authoritative history; you’re writing a STORY. People are reading your book to see what happens next to your characters, not so they can understand trends in Elizabethan England. So, beware of historians. Historians think you should know everything. You really only need to know “enough.” I know what kind of carriage my character Lucy rides in and what the road is like, but I don’t know if there are still posts to hitch up horses in the street. I don’t know if rich people in Chicago preferred black horses or brown horses. Sure, it would be nice to know those things, and if I did, I might throw the information into the story, but it’s not relevant and it’s not necessary....

And here is the rest:

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Deadline to Enter Drue Heinz Literature Prize is 6/30!

My writing life changed when THIS ANGEL ON MY CHEST won this contest—and no matter how many times I express how grateful I am to University of Pittsburgh Press and Mrs. Drue Heinz (benefactor), it will not be enough! The deadline for entries is June 30…please do consider entering if you have a collection of short stories.

The Drue Heinz Literature Prize Call for Submissions 2018


The University of Pittsburgh Press announces the 2018 Drue Heinz Literature Prize for a collection of short fiction. The prize carries a cash award of $15,000 and publication by the University of Pittsburgh Press under its standard contract. The winner will be announced in December or January. No information about the winner will be released before the official announcement. The volume of manuscripts prevents the Press from offering critiques or entering into communication or correspondence about manuscripts. Please do not call or e-mail the Press.



The award is open to writers who have published a novel or a book-length collection of fiction with a reputable book publisher, or a minimum of three short stories or novellas in magazines or journals of national distribution. Digital-only publication and self-publication do not count toward this requirement.


The award is open to writers in English, whether or not they are citizens of the United States.


University of Pittsburgh employees, former employees, current students, and those who have been students within the last three years are not eligible for the award.


Translations are not eligible if the translation was not done by the author.


Eligible submissions include an unpublished manuscript of short stories; two or more novellas (a novella may comprise a maximum of 130 double-spaced typed pages); or a combination of one or more novellas and short stories. Novellas are only accepted as part of a larger collection. Manuscripts may be no fewer than 150 and no more than 300 pages. Prior publication of your manuscript as a whole in any format (including electronic) makes it ineligible.


Stories or novellas previously published in magazines or journals or in book form as part of an anthology are eligible.


Manuscripts may also be under consideration by other publishers, but if a manuscript is accepted for publication elsewhere and you wish to accept this offer, please notify the Press immediately. Manuscripts under contract elsewhere are no longer eligible for the Prize.


Authors may submit more than one manuscript to the competition as long as one manuscript or a portion thereof does not duplicate material submitted in another manuscript.

Dates for Submission

Manuscripts must be received during May and June 2017. That is, they must be postmarked on or after May 1 and on or before June 30.

Format for Electronic Submissions


During the submission period (May 1 - June 30) simply click the link above. You'll be taken to our secure submittable.com web page where you'll find easy-to-follow instructions:


Manuscripts must be double-spaced and pages must be numbered consecutively.


Each submission must include a list of all of the writer's published short fiction work, with full citations. You will be given an opportunity to enter this information into a field in Submittable.


Manuscripts will be judged anonymously. Therefore, the author's name, other identifying information, and publication information must not appear within the manuscript. Only your uploaded manuscript is visible to the judges.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Happy News!

The happiest news, really: I’m thrilled to report that my next novel, SILVER GIRL, is going to be published by Unnamed Press, a fabulous small press based in L.A.  It seems entirely possible that the novel will be out in the winter of 2018!!

In a fortuitous turn of events that indicates that this pairing absolutely has to be destiny, I actually conducted an interview with Unnamed Press in 2014, so you can read how fabulous they are right here: http://www.workinprogressinprogress.com/2014/04/favorite-small-presses-unnamed-press.html

I’m working on my “elevator speech” about the book, but here’s an attempt: Set in the 80s, SILVER GIRL is about a destructive friendship between two girls from very different backgrounds who end up at a fancy college in the Chicago area…set against a backdrop of the Tylenol murders, when someone stuffed cyanide into Tylenol capsules and returned them to the drugstore shelves (which one could do because this was before product packaging was sealed; actually, this is WHY intense product packaging came about).

Here’s the opening:

            My roommate arrived first, staking her claim. Probably someone told her do it that way, her cum laude mother or Ivy League dad or an older sibling or cousin in college. I had no one telling me anything. So I didn’t know to take the overnight bus to Chicago from Iowa instead of the one arriving late in the afternoon, meaning when I unlocked the dorm room door I saw a fluffy comforter with bright poppies already arranged on the bed along the wall with the window, cracked open to grab the only breeze. Several dozen white plastic hangers holding blazers and skirts and blouses filled the closet with the door where F.U. wasn’t gouged into the wood.

            I rubbed my fingers along the grooves of those letters, imagining a deeply angry freshman girl digging a nail file from the clutter of her purse, carving those letters into the wood while at the library her roommate wrote a smart paper about Jane Austen or blew her boyfriend in a car parked by the lake or spray-painted acorns lustrous gold for table centerpieces at a sorority mother-daughter tea. I hoped my roommate wouldn’t be that angry girl.

            Also, I hoped I wouldn’t be.

 Here are two chapters that appeared online, in slightly different form:

~~~“Headache,” in WIPS/Works (of Fiction) in Progress Journal: http://www.wipsjournal.com/leslie-pietrzyk-headache-a-chapter-excerpt-from-the-novel-silver-girl/

~~~“Shadow Daughter,” in The Hudson Review: http://hudsonreview.com/2017/01/shadow-daughter/#.WUmdTWjytPY

So much to do to bring a book into the world…and please, please do let me know if there’s a reading series or bookstore or party at your house that you think I should know about! I’d love to do a reading and see YOU there!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Flash Fiction in The Collagist!

So thrilled to see one of my new pieces of flash fiction up in the June edition of The Collagist: “What We Know of the Animal” was written in my prompt writing group, and revised later, of course.

The two prompt words were “dating” and “curtain,” and here’s where to read the result (which will take you about three minutes, tops):  http://thecollagist.com/the-collagist/2017/5/19/what-we-know-of-the-animal.html

Here’s the first paragraph, in case you need more information before committing to that three minutes:

"No one says dating anymore." Thirteen-year-old Stephanie is always proud when she's able to correct an adult, especially her father, who's barely listening. To be honest, he barely listens to most conversations, so she shouldn't feel particularly special or at all dissed, though whenever she's with him, she feels both. He's gifted with the politician's ability to sustain lengthy, complicated, even heartfelt conversations while barely listening; questions, answers, words are an empty flow, like the whooshing sound spiraling through a seashell.

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Complex Machinery of Space Shuttles & Love: An Interview with the Authors of GENERATION SPACE: A LOVE STORY

By John Newlin

Generation Space: A Love Story
Stillwater Press, 2017

Anna Leahy and Doug Dechow have written a superbly crafted dual chronicle of their love affairs with space exploration and each other.  Generation Space: A Love Story is as good a history of the space program as any to be found.

Anna is an English Professor at Chapman University.  Her collections of poetry include Aperture and Constituents of Matter, winner of the Wick Poetry Prize.  Doug, a librarian at Chapman University, is the co-author of SQUEAK: A Quick Trip to Objectland, Intertwingled: The Work and Influence of Ted Nelson, and The Craft of Librarian Instruction.  They have written the Lofty Ambitions blog together since 2010.

JN:  When I began reading the book, I thought, this is going to be overwhelmingly technical, a slog through mind-boggling scientific and mechanical terminology and detail.  One of your great accomplishments is that you produced a book ABOUT a highly technical subject without overpowering your reader with scientific minutiae.  How did you do that?

Anna and Doug:  That’s terrific to hear because we wanted to strike a balance in which we acknowledge that a complex machine like the space shuttle is a collection of interrelated scientific and engineering facts without the reader being distracted from the story by jargon. We thought about this book as a story—our story and the story of the Space Age. And we thought about people—characters—as an important way for this story to come alive for readers.

In Generation Space, we talk about why particular shuttle launches were scrubbed, for instance, and try to convey how caught up we were in learning about mechanical parts like a GUPC or a thermostat because they were an integral part of our story of seeing—and not seeing—launches. We want readers to feel a sense of learning NASA lingo right along with us and to understand how quickly some of the basic jargon became natural to us as we immersed ourselves in the newsroom culture at Kennedy Space Center. We kept in mind, too, that there are a lot of space nerds out there who already know RTLS means return to launch site and we hope they are reminded that, at some point, they had learned to talk and think in such terms, that they carry this terminology in their minds. Of course, we didn’t talk about all of the 2.5 million parts in the shuttle configuration sitting on the launch pad, but we wanted to give a sense of how intricate the shuttle was because that had everything to do with how amazing it was to see one actually rise from the ground into orbit.

JN:  Collaboration in writing a book or poem has to be tricky.  Would the two of you comment on the process as well as some of the challenges you faced (and overcame) in writing Generation Space?

Anna and Doug:  It is tricky for any two writers to collaborate, and we don’t recommend anyone begin with a big project. For us, collaborating as writers was very much wrapped up in being a couple romantically as well, so that probably doubles the risks as well as the benefits. We joke that we haven’t figured out how to share the task of doing laundry—we each do our own—and that may be because we don’t care much about laundry. When the stakes are low, why increase the risk of discord?

That said, we started with a small writing project and a big reward years before we tackled Generation Space together. On a lark, we sent an abstract to a call for conference papers about World War II. It was accepted, so we drew from our dates at aviation museums to write about the theory and practice of how museums display WWII aircraft. Figuring out how to write together allowed us to travel to Amsterdam. And then, we spun that writing into a book chapter and an article in Curator. That early validation made us think we were onto something.

JN:  It struck me as I read Generation Space that both of you were able to maintain your own voice while at the same time crafting a piece without a jarring difference of style while shifting from one point of view to the other.  Are your writing styles naturally similar?  Was this something of a happy accident, or was it a conscious effort on your parts to create this stylistic consistency?

Anna and Doug:  In a way, this issue of voice has been thorny for us. We had developed what we call a together voice—the one we’re using now in this interview—for Lofty Ambitions blog. When we started that project in 2010, we would have weekly date nights at a local watering hole and write our posts together sentence by sentence. In the process, we got to know each other’s voices and negotiating ways to represent both of us authentically. Figuring out who “we” are meant more than just writing together. And with that ongoing reference point of the other, we each honed own individual voices too and understood that we each notice and value sometimes very different things.

An early partial draft of Generation Space was in our together voice. We liked it, but readers didn’t trust it. No one believes we can agree on a single way to look at something. Ultimately, we admitted that we needed the two perspectives, we remembered things differently, and we find meaning in different ways. So, the lack of a jarring difference probably stems from years of writing together and, as couples do, hashing through topics over time so that we became more similar generally. Over time, we end up agreeing a lot but definitely maintain our distinct opinions and turns of phrase, too.

JN:  At one point Doug says, “…and I wouldn’t be sure about Anna without these last few years together” (260),  and Anna says, “I’d reshaped myself, and Doug and I had become closer than ever before” (229).  This is an extremely personal question, but can you compare briefly the difference in your relationship before and after your immersion into the exploration and experience of the shuttle launches and landings?  I guess I’m thinking about how two very independent people with somewhat parallel but very different careers can forge a lasting and loving relationship with each other.  What’s your secret?

Anna and Doug:  In 2008, we moved to California. That Thanksgiving, we drove into the desert to see a space shuttle land. The following Thanksgiving, we eloped. In our minds, these events are all of a piece. We’d fallen in love twenty years before we married, and there are all sorts of ways it’s difficult to grow into adults as a couple. Moving to California was a conscious choice to start a new stage together. Looking out at the tarmac at Edwards Air Force Base to see the shuttle moments after it had been up in space gave us a sense of being situated between the past and the future.

In the book, we open with the line, “Ours has never been a conventional love story.” Even before we knew we wanted to be academics or had much sense of career paths, we discovered early on that we both enjoyed research, travel, and writing. Over the years, these interests—the next trip or move, the next question or blog post—have underpinned our relationship. As a writer or as a couple, you never master it once and for all. The next place or the next writing project presents different challenges and different opportunities. In order to stick with it, a person has to get a kick out of the process itself. And each experience reshapes you a bit. Our secret may be that we’ve been willing to reshape ourselves.

JN:  Have the two of you developed any ongoing relationships with any of the astronauts you met on your journey?

Anna and Doug:  The first time we met astronauts together was an unexpected accident that we recount in the book. We mostly talked with astronauts in our role as journalists. We talked with a few astronauts—Charlie Duke and Mike Barratt, for instance—more than once, and we’ve talked with Garrett Reisman informally as well as in our official roles. Over the last several years, we’ve found astronauts to be amazingly engaging, intelligent, quirky folks. In other words, they are just the sort of people we’d like to hang out with. But we run in different circles, and astronauts are relatively rare among us. Only twelve men walked on the Moon, and fewer than 550 people have been to space.

JN:  Doug, have you heard anything in response to the application you sent in to NASA?

Doug:  As I expected, I was not among those applicants brought to Houston for in-person interviews last fall. I knew when I applied that, if I made the final cut, I would have to be the oldest astronaut candidate ever selected. Don’t get me wrong, that would have been amazing.

The new class of astronauts should be announced very soon. I won’t be among them. The average age for an astronaut candidate is thirty-four. I talk about the magic astronaut age and timing in Generation Space. I actively pursued becoming an astronaut early on, then missed the most obvious window. What a different life I’d have lived if I’d been able to clear my ears during a physical when I was eighteen. But I can’t imagine a better mission for my life than the one I’m on right now—and I wouldn’t have met Anna. I’ll be cheering the new group on—on to Mars.

JN:  Do the two of you plan to collaborate on another book?

Anna and Doug:  Long before we started writing Generation Space, we had talked about writing a book about particularly intriguing aircraft. Last fall, we were fellows at the American Library in Paris so we could get back to that project. As we answer these questions, we are getting ready to head back to France for more research in the amazing history of French aviation and for the International Paris Air Show. We’re not sure how this research will pan out—isn’t that why any couple sticks with it? Isn’t love a long-term research project in which we create something that didn’t exist in the world before?

JN:  So true!  We look forward to learning of your new adventures.



John Newlin’s work has been published in Short Story America, Independent School Magazine, South85 Journal, and Night Owl Journal.  He is the Review Editor for South85.


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