Monday, January 29, 2018

Why Do I Need an MFA? THIS....exactly this

With permission, I’m posting the pre-reading remarks offered by Katie Sherman, who graduated in January 2018. from the Converse low-res MFA program with a degree in fiction writing  (Disclosure: I was her very, very proud thesis advisor, all teary in the audience!)

I thought Katie’s sentiments go a long way to answer that age-old question, “Do I need an MFA?” The answer is embedded here: only if you want to find a community like this, only if you’re open to a life-shaping experience like this, only if you long to find that place where your writing self is both revered and challenged, every single day of the program.

And, to be more specific, I suppose that if what you truly want is THIS sort of experience, please join our program. Our application deadline is February 15, so there’s still time…and if you sent in “all” your apps for December deadlines, well, we welcome hearing from you now. Maybe you’re rethinking your strategy? Maybe you might want to be part of our rigorous but nurturing community? Maybe, just maybe, what you need is exactly five semesters of this:

Remarks Prior to Graduation Reading
By Katie Sherman

There are a great many people I need to thank for their help in completing this program. Let me begin with my mentors — Bob, Cary, Bart, and Leslie. You have become the voices in my head asking for “more agency”, “more rising conflict”, for “fewer clich├ęs”, “longer sentences”, “more showing — less telling.” Thank you for helping me become better. Thank you for your patience and your honesty. The students in this room are your legacy, alongside the work you create of course. We carry your words, you can’t be silenced, despite our best efforts. Thank you for the time and care and the extraordinary thoughtfulness you placed in our stories.

I want to thank MFA Director Rick Mulkey: Thank you for seeing something in my work, for accepting me into this group. The people in this program, even those not in my genre, have become my community, and you were the gatekeeper to them.

To the students who came before me, particularly Kay and Angela; I thank you for opening your arms and accepting me at my best and my worst. To those who came after me, I hope I was able to show you one ounce of their generosity of spirit. And, to three special people — those who traveled through this program with me in my genre— I want to extend individual love, attention, and thanks.

Mackinley was the first person I met in the program. He is shy, witty, and brilliant. All of these qualities were imminently apparent. Thank you for bringing your insightful wisdom to each workshop. Linda has taught me grace under pressure. She displays graciousness, creativity, and a willingness to bear her soul that is always inspiring. And, last but certainly not least, Gwen. Thank you for talking me through so many works in progress, for loving elephants, for having eye rolls and sage wisdom and kind words to share.

To my mom and dad —Even when you didn’t understand the program, you listened to my complaints and my successes. Thank you for loving me enough to believe my dreams of publishing aren’t foolish and for teaching me anything is possible. Without the foundation you built, I couldn’t possible stand here.

To my sister, Angela. Thank you for babysitting. For loving my girls like you love your own children. Some people are lucky in life. They are born with someone who knows their entire story, who cheers from the sidelines, who takes care of them and protects them from … everything and everyone. Some people have a built-in soul mate. I’m one such person. Angela, thank you for being my best friend.

To my girls, Ella and Addie, thank you for being good nappers and for inspiring me daily. I write about you, because of you, and for you.

Lastly, to my husband, Ben. You deserve the biggest thanks of all. You helped with the girls, listened to every story, provided comfort when I needed it and encouragement when I longed for it. Every writer needs a good critique group. I get that from the people in this program. But, we also need someone who loves what we write. You always love my work. And, for the time you have given me to write, I am forever indebted to you.

More information about the Converse low-res MFA program:


Katie Sherman is a freelance journalist who covers fine food and parenting—two things rarely related—in Charlotte, NC. As an undergraduate studying news editorial journalism, she was mentored by Pulitzer Prize nominee George Esper at WVU. She recently received her MFA degree in Fiction from Converse College.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

How to Help Your Writer Friend

Let’s say you have a friend who is a Famous Writer or a Published Writer or a Writer. (If she calls herself a Writer, you should too; don’t think a Writer has to have published a book. Also, if she is writing and taking writing classes, start calling her a Writer even if she doesn’t refer to herself in this way.) And let’s say you want to be a good friend to her, the kind of friend that—maybe! Let’s just say!—might see her name in the Acknowledgments page of a book, or even—oh, wow! –the Dedication Page. Or, we could just say that you want to support her work and be a good friend. What are some of the things you could do?

1.     BUY her newly published book. Don’t worry so much about the “right” way to buy her book, unless she’s a Writer who rails against giant corporate behemoths (you know who I’m talking about). Just BUY her book somewhere, off some shelf or some site. DON’T expect her to give you a free copy. DON’T borrow a copy from your book club friend. DON’T check it out of the library. True angels will pre-order it from the giant corporate behemoth so the publisher will feel impressed by sales OR will buy one (or more) copies at the bookstore hosting her reading. You’re thinking that all this feels obvious, but there’s a reason it’s number one. The rest are in random order. Oh, and if there are financial concerns, OF COURSE it’s okay to check out your friend’s book from the library because number 2 is….

2.     READ her book or work. Buying a book is good, but giving a book your time and attention is the truest compliment. Maybe your friend doesn’t have a book yet, but she posted a link on Facebook to an essay she wrote. Yes, it’s easiest to click “LIKE” (which you will do, of course) but also, click on the link and read what she wrote. Maybe you don’t have to do this every time if she’s posting a lot of links or if you are the kind of person who is so important and so busy with your own highly important life…but read her work from time to time.

3.     COMPLIMENT her work after you read it. You know how you never tell someone they look fat in that dress they’re already wearing at the cocktail party? Never tell your Writer friend that her prose is a little “flaccid” or that her characters are “meh.” Try this instead: “I loved reading your story/poem/essay/book.” If you can, find something specific you liked—or throw out some of this phrasing: “it was powerful when….” or “it was masterful how you….” or just the words “powerful” or “masterful.” Or, return to “I loved reading your story/poem/essay/book.” She’s not going to quiz you!

4.     SHARE her with the world. Give her work five stars on Goodreads and Amazon. Write a review that doesn’t give away the ending. Or simply click on 5 stars…no one’s going to quiz you! Invite her to your book club, if your book club is friendly and not the kind of club that “hates everything,” and thank her with a gift card to somewhere good for giving up an evening writing to spend with your book club. Ask your library to buy her book. Repost/retweet her writing news that you see on Facebook/Twitter/etc. Read her book, cover held high, when you ride an airplane or take public transportation. Tell your other friends about your Writer friend and her great book/great book-in-progress. Buy your friend’s book to give as a gift; don’t lend your copy. Offer to host a book party when her book comes out.

5.     ASK questions if you don’t understand her writing. Don’t be afraid of her poetry if you think you’re not a “poetry person.” Say something like, “What a beautiful image.” Or say something like, “I want to understand your poetry better, but I’m not a ‘poetry person.’ What a beautiful image in the second stanza. Can you tell me a little bit more about how it works in the poem?” (Note: I’m not a poet. Maybe this is an incredibly offensive statement. But she is your friend, and I bet she’s doing something brilliant with that image in the second stanza.)

6.     SHOW UP to her readings and book parties if this is not a physical hardship (you only have to attend one event per book!). Raise your hand and ask a question at her reading if no one else does. If she doesn’t have a book (and even if she does), and she’s reading at an event, maybe bring a friend or relative to build the audience. (Don’t skip out right after your friend reads.) If the event has been organized by a literary journal, buy a copy of the journal and ask her to sign the page where her story/poem/essay appears. Save this journal in a special place on your bookshelf. Tell her she looked fabulous! Tell her she did a great job! And if you are this kind of friend, later, much later, tell her that she read too fast and that you know the audience would love if next time she could read a little slower.

7.     STEAL her children if you are this kind of friend. Not forever, but for an hour or an afternoon or a weekend. Give her some time to write. (I’m using “her” in a general sense, but it seems that right now, for whatever cultural reason, I do have to add that “her” also means “his.” Just take those kids somewhere fun and let the Writer parent get some work done.)

8.     LEND your lovely beach house/mountain cabin/city pied a terre to your Writer friend so she can finish her novel/collection.

9.      SHARE all your best stories from childhood and young adulthood and adulthood. Understand if she writes about these things in her fiction. Understand if she doesn’t.

10.  TELL your Writer that writing is important, that writing matters, that she shouldn’t give up now, that one day will come the “yes” she’s waiting for. Tell her that you are proud to “know her when,” that the world needs her unique vision, that she is an artist. These are not lies, by the way. Tell her this over and over, if she is a Writer, a Published Writer, or a Famous Writer. Tell her right now.

Note: I fear this might feel written in self-interest since I have a book coming out! But, really, I wrote it because this morning I woke up thinking about the many, many friends this Writer has had along the way who have helped support the work in a multitude of ways. THANK YOU, everyone!

Monday, January 22, 2018

Tumblr! seems I now have a Tumblr. Look me up if you're a Tumblr-er!

(goodness, I don't even know if this is the right way to pass on my details!)

I think it's going to be pretty me-me-me book-intensive, so consider yourself warned. Maybe find someone with cute cat pictures instead....

Friday, January 19, 2018

Upcoming Classes with Moi!

Two upcoming classes…maybe your resolution for 2018 was to reach more deeply into your creative self? HERE YOU GO!  

Wednesday, January 31
6:30 to 9 p.m.
Politics & Prose Bookstore
Washington, DC
Class: Right Brain Writing: Relationships
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!


Thursday, February 1
1 to 4 p.m.
Politics & Prose Bookstore
Washington, DC
Class: Elements of Writing: Mastering Effective Dialogue
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.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

DMV: Mark Your Calendars; Silver Girl DC Launches on 3/3

The SILVER GIRL book launch is set for Saturday, March 3, 2018, at Politics & Prose Bookstore, at 3:30 PM. I’ll read/talk/answer questions/pass out Tylenol/tap dance [not really that]/and be delighted to see you!

Here’s my FB write-up:

Help me celebrate the publication of my new novel, SILVER GIRL, set in 1980s Chicago, during the time of the Tylenol killer. Publishers Weekly calls it "a profound, mesmerizing, and disturbing novel that delves into the vagaries of college relationships and how the social-financial stratum one is born into reverberates through one’s life." Kirkus adds, "A dark, intense novel on a hot subject: female friendship complicated by class and privilege."

Dark? Disturbing? Intense? No worries...I'm still the same cheerful gal as ever, and I'd love to see you there!!

Here are the other SILVER GIRL events I have set up, in case there’s a location/date that works better for you. Updated information is always available at my website:

Saturday, March 3
 3:30 PM
Politics & Prose Bookstore
Washington, DC


March 7 ~ 10
AWP Conference
Tampa, Florida
(Must be registered participant to attend)
Thursday, March 8, 11:30 am-12:00 pm
Friday, March 9, 11:00 am-12:00 pm

Thursday, March 29
City Lit Books
Chicago, IL

Wednesday, April 4, 2018
6 p.m.
Chop Suey Books
Richmond, VA
In conversation with author Patricia A. Smith


Thursday, April 5
In conversation w/ best-selling author Krista Bremer
Flyleaf Books
Charlottesville, VA


Tuesday, May 8
Reading w/ William Wall
The Ivy Bookshop
Baltimore, MD


Thursday, May 10
Reading w/ Tim Wendel
One More Page Books
Arlington, VA


Wednesday, May 16
Bards Alley Bookstore
Vienna, VA


July 19 ~ 22, 2018
West Virginia Writers Workshop
Faculty: fiction workshop
West Virginia University campus
Morgantown, WV

Friday, January 12, 2018

A Star from PW for SILVER GIRL

I'm so thrilled with the review from Publisher's Weekly, which singled out SILVER GIRL for a STAR, calling it  "a profound, mesmerizing, and disturbing novel." !!!!!

Here's the review:
Silver Girl
Leslie Pietrzyk. Unnamed (PGW, dist.), $17 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-944700-51-5
The latest from Pietrzyk (Pears on a Willow Tree) is a profound, mesmerizing, and disturbing novel that delves into the vagaries of college relationships and how the social-financial stratum one is born into reverberates through one’s life. The unnamed narrator—hailing from a poor family headed by an abusive father in Iowa—is befriended by her roommate, Jess, a charismatic Chicago socialite, during their freshman year at an unnamed university in Evanston, Ill. She wants to hide her past and reinvent herself. Meanwhile, Jess’s father sends his mistress’s daughter to live with the two girls after she accidentally poisons her mother. This strains the alliance between the two young women, already tenuous because of underlying jealousies and competitiveness. The narrator makes the same mistakes over and over again in her personal life, and the author posits that there is a way out, but at a cost. In addition to capturing college life on a Midwest campus, Pietrzyk brilliantly depicts the push-and-pull dynamics between the two women, resulting in a memorable character study. Agent: Kerry D’Agostino, Curtis Brown. (Feb.)

Here's the link so you know I'm not lying!

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Distinguished Fellowships at Hambidge....App deadline 1/15

Act fast! I love-love-loved my two weeks at Hambidge, in the lovely mountains of north Georgia…highly recommended:

Creatives of all kinds applying to the Hambidge Creative Residency Program Summer Session will be considered for a Distinguished Fellowship which provides a 2-week residency and a $700 scholarship for outstanding first-time residents.

We are now accepting applications for the 2018 Summer Session (May-August). The deadline is January 15, 2018Find out more and apply online at our website.

Distinguished Fellowships for Summer 2018

The CPT Bill Badoud Fellowships for Veterans for an outstanding Veteran in any discipline.

The Patricia Callan Fellowship for Ceramics for an outstanding ceramicist working in either sculpture or functional pottery.

The Fulton County Fellowships (multiple) for outstanding applicants in any discipline who resides in Fulton County, Georgia.

The Garland Fellowship for an outstanding applicant in any discipline.

The Griffith Fellowship for an outstanding applicant in any discipline.

The Lee and Margaret Echols Fellowship for Musicians for an outstanding musician and/or composer.

The Wisebram Culinary Fellowship for an to applicant working in or writing about the culinary arts: chefs, cooks, cookbook writers and/or those whose work involves the artisanal preservation or production of food.


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