Friday, February 23, 2018

On Finding a Great Writing Book and Chatting with Andi Cumbo-Floyd

by Carollyne Hutter

I have to confess: every once in awhile I buy a book about some element of writing, either at a writers’ conference or at Barnes and Noble. Then I make myself some tea, sit down with the book, and prepare to read it, but I usually don’t actually read it. Instead, I skim the table of contents and read the back blurb and think how good it would be for me to read this book, sort of like eating Brussel sprouts, and then I sigh, reach for a novel to read and put the writing book on my bookshelf in the writing book section, where it lives with all the other never-to-read, good-for-me books on writing.

When I heard Andi Cumbo-Floyd had written a book on writing, LOVE LETTERS TO WRITERS: ENCOURAGEMENT, ACCOUNTABILITY, AND TRUTH-TELLING, I sadly assumed that the book would just live on the moribund writing book section of my book shelf, but to my surprise, I am actually reading this book. It comes with me in my backpack, living right next to my laptop, and when I have a free moment, I’ll read a chapter or two.

Why is this writing book different for me? First, Andi has a warm, engaging way of writing that draws me in and it feels like we are chatting over coffee about writing and her life on the farm.  Second, Andi really understands what it’s like to be a writer and has wise advice and, more importantly, great encouragement. Three, the book is composed of 52 short chapters, which works nicely for me as I can read a chapter or two in a few minutes and muse on what she is saying.

I was curious about LOVE LETTERS TO WRITERS: ENCOURAGEMENT, ACCOUNTABILITY, AND TRUTH-TELLING and Andi was kind enough to answer my questions.

Q: What inspired you to write this book?

Well, I’ve been writing letters to a community of writers that I coordinate for over two years now. Because I know those people, because I love them, and because I know some of their individual struggles with writing, my letters to them come from a very personal place inside myself. So, when one of the community members suggested I compile some of the letters into a book, I listened and compiled 52 of the letters into this book.

Q: You said the letters come from your weekly letters to your online writing community. How did you select which letters to include and which ones to leave out?

It was a highly scientific process.  Ha!!  Like everyone, I have good writing days and bad ones, good ideas and poor ones, so when I read through the two years of letters I’d compiled, I looked for the letters that had elicited large responses from the community members, the ones that still evoked some emotion or deeper thought in me, or the ones that seemed to align with what I was seeing other people in the writing world talk about.  Letters that were too pedantic, too set in a specific time, or too boring got left out.

Q: Which of your chapters have been the most popular and why?

There’s a chapter on the way strong emotion can lead you into a deeper truth, a chapter drawn from seeing an infant after my miscarriage. That one gets a lot of commentary.  The chapter on sales and writing also gets a lot of response since so many of us really struggle with marketing as part of our work as writers, especially in the 21st century.

Q; Which is your favorite chapter and why? (My favorite is “When We Feel Guilty for Writing.”)

Oh, I have lots of chapters I really like (is it arrogant to say that?), but at least today, my favorite is “The Call to Bravery” because one of the hardest things for me to do as a writer (and a person in general) is to ask for help. Yet, as much as the act of writing is solitary, the writing life cannot be. . . and so we need to reach out and ask for people for assistance with our work.  It’s an act of courage, but a necessary one.

Q: If you could give just one advice to writers (both newbie and established writers) what would it be?

Be true to yourself while staying open to learn new things.  Not all of us are going to get a million Instagram followers and not all of us want to write romance novels. Not all of us can go on national book tours and not all of us can write every day at 5am.  We have to do what works for us, even as we try out new things, consider lessons from other writers, and stretch our muscles in places that are uncomfortable, like marketing.  In the end, though, we answer most to ourselves and need to honor who we are in the world in our writing lives.

Q: How do you get the ideas to write your weekly letters? Do you have them planned out ahead of time?

Oh gracious, planning—what’s that?  No, I’m really very much a seat of the pantser when it comes to all things writing.  So usually, on Sunday evening—the letters go out on Mondays—I spend a few minutes pondering what has “stuck in my craw” about writing the previous week. It might be something someone mentioned in a blog or shared in our community online space. It might be something that’s coming in my own writing life.  It might be something I draw from one of the writing books on my own shelves.  I look around a bit and find what feels like it has the most energy for me that week, and I write about that thing. 

Oh, thanks for asking.  The book is available everywhere books are sold—Barnes and Noble , OverDrive , IndieBound , iBooks,  Amazon, and  . . pretty much everywhere. 



Andi Cumbo-Floyd is a writer, editor, and farmer who lives at the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains with her husband, four dogs, four cats, six goats, and thirty-five chickens.  She writes regularly about writing at

Carollyne, regularly writes on environmental, international, and scientific topics for both adults and children.  

Leading up to Pub Week for SILVER GIRL!

Leading up to Pub Week for SILVER GIRL!

Some goings on before the publication date of 2/27/18:

Here’s my blog tour (no, it’s not cheating to appear on other blogs). Check out the reviews and interviews, something new each day:


Here’s an essay I had fun writing about comfort food in the 1980s (yes, with recipes!). I’ll confess that ever since this was posted, I’ve had a terrible craving for an old-time TV dinner: 


And here’s a wonderful interview in the new blog hosted by The Gettysburg Review (where a chapter of SILVER GIRL first appeared):

Here’s an excerpt from that interview:

“I think about point-of-view a lot; it’s perhaps the most powerful tool the writer has: who’s telling the story? I like to think of POV as keys to the car, which in real life I wouldn’t easily hand over. I like reading the first person, but it’s a POV that needs quite a bit of justification from the writer: Why do we see everything only through these eyes? As this narrator emerged, I saw that she was reserved, more than a little sly, and that she had secrets she was keeping from the reader (such as her name). What surprised me as I wrote was discovering that she was also keeping secrets from herself. Once I knew I had an unreliable narrator on my hands, there was no turning back from the first person. I shifted my focus from pondering my POV choice to embracing it--working to ensure her voice stayed true, and that life inside her head didn’t turn claustrophobic.”

Thanks for reading—thanks to those of you who bought/pre-ordered books—thanks to ALL for your support along the way! No writer is an island…though on a bad day, it may feel that way. xoxox

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Survival Tips for #AWP18!

Again? Already? Wasn’t it just a year ago I was trying to persuade everyone that despite recent developments, Washington, DC, was NOT a pure and total den of evil and that everyone should have fun in our city. Not so sure now that I was right about (or ever totally believed) that highly optimistic view of such developments…but, anyway, the democracy is still surviving(ish), and now it’s time to pack up our black clothing and head to Tampa for #AWP18! (I’m sure that black clothing will fit right into Florida, and damn it, I don’t care what the temperature is, I’m bringing my boots.)

I’m feeling that this crowd may be a bit smaller than the most recent AWPs, but we’re still talking 10,000 writers, at least. 12,000? When will we crash the ceiling to 20,000 (#AWP19 in Portland, I’m guessing)? However many, A LOT by any standards, but especially by introvert standards: How can you survive the madness that ensues when thousands of anxious, needy, glorious writers all pack into one place for 4 days?

Here are my tried & true & freshly updated tips for success, based on my experience at past conferences (I’ve been a regular since New Orleans!):

Wear comfortable shoes, at least most of the day. There’s lots of traipsing around long hallways and the long (sometimes uncarpeted) aisles of the book fair. It’s also inevitable that the one panel you really, really, really want to see will be in a teeny-tiny room and you’ll have to stand in the back…or sit on the floor; see the following tip:

Wear comfortable clothes, preferably taking a layer approach. Wherever you go, you will end up either in A) an incredibly stuffy room that will make you melt, or B) a room with an arctic blast directed at you. Bulk up and strip down as needed. Also, as noted above, despite their best efforts, the AWP conference staff has a knack for consistently misjudging the size of room required for a subject matter/speakers (i.e. Famous Writer in room with 30 chairs; grad student panel on Use of Dashes in Obscure Ancient Greek Poet in room with 300 chairs), so you may find yourself scrunched into a 2’x2’ square on the carpet; see the following tip:

To avoid being stuck sitting on the floor, arrive early to panels you really, really want to attend. If you are stuck on the floor, hold your ground with a big bag and/or coat. Whatever you do, do not be nice and squeeze over…those panels can seem VERY LONG when someone’s knee is wedged in your ribs. (I know this sounds mean, but I did call these “survival” tips, not “how to win friends” tips.) UPDATE FROM OFFICIAL AWP: Actually, don't sit on the floor. It creates a fire hazard and a barrier to those who have accessibility needs. [I will see if people discontinue sitting on the floor--I'm guessing unlikely!--and report back on my findings next year.]

If a panel is bad, ditch it. Yes, it’s rude. Yes, everyone does it. (Be better than the rest by at least waiting for an appropriate break, but if you must go mid-word, GO.) I can’t tell you the high caliber of presenters that I have walked out on, but think Very High. Remember that there are a thousand other options, and you have choices. The only time you have to stick it out is if A) the dull panel participant is your personal friend or B) the dull panel participant is/was your teacher or C) the dull panel participant is your editor/publisher. Those people will notice (and remember) that you abandoned them mid-drone and punish you accordingly (i.e. your glowing letters of rec will flicker and fade). Undoubtedly this is why I have never been published in Unnamed Very High Caliber Magazine, having walked out on the editor’s panel.

There are zillions of panels: When you pick up your registration badge, you’ll get a massive tome with information about all of them, and also a shorter schedule that’s easy to carry around. Be dutiful and glance through the ads in the tome since these are the funders who subsidize our conference. Then ditch the tome and carry around the smaller master schedule….unless you are an app person (I’m not). Either way, do take time NOW to go to AWP’s website and scroll through the schedule and select EVERY panel that sounds even moderately interesting, and load those into the “my schedule” feature. Keep that stored on your favorite technology (mine is a sheaf of printed paper…which may be smart since I often forget how/where to re-access “my schedule,” which requires logging in and somehow finding “my account”; I assume app people are more adept than I am).  Anyway…no point waking up early on Friday if there’s nothing you want to attend. I checkmark panels I might go to if nothing better is going on and star those that I will make a supreme effort to attend. Give yourself a couple of options at each time slot so that if a room is too crowded, you have an interesting alternative.

I like to choose a variety of panels: people I know, people I’ve heard of, genres I don’t write but am curious about, topics I want to educate myself on. Stretch yourself. I also like to go to a reading in which I don’t know any of the readers, just to have a lovely sense of discovery! And don’t forget the ninety-trillion off-site events!

Someone will always ask a 20-minute question that is not so much a question but a way of showing off their own (imagined) immense knowledge of the subject and an attempt to erase the (endlessly lingering) sting of bitterness about having their panel on the same topic rejected. Don’t be that person. Keep your question succinct and relevant. If you don’t, I promise that everyone will mimic your annoying question to their friends in the bookfair aisle.

Don’t say anything gossipy on the elevator, unless you want the whole (literary) world to know it. Do listen up to the conversations of others on the elevator, and tell your friends what you’ve overheard over your offsite dinner, embellishing as necessary.

Same advice above exactly applies to the overpriced hotel bar.  Also, if you happen to get a chair at the bar, or, goodness, EVEN A REAL LIVE TABLE, hang on to it!!  People will join you if they see you’ve got a spot!  Famous people!  I mean it: the only reason to ever give up a table in the hotel bar is because the bar has shut down, you’ve consumed every bit of liquid in the clutter of glasses, and a beefy bouncer is headed your way. (Also, here’s a fun fact: AWP alcohol consumption often breaks sales records at hotels.)

Speaking of famous people or former teachers or friends…do not say something like this in one long breathless opening sentence right after hugging hello: “Great-to-see-you-can-you-write-a-blurb-letter-of-rec-piece-for-my-anthology?” Ask for favors AFTER the conference! I mean, unless you enjoy that uncomfortable moment and awkward triumph of trapping someone into saying yes.

Support the publications at the bookfair. Set a budget for yourself in advance, and spend some money on literary journals and books and subscriptions, being sure to break your budget. Do this, and then you won’t feel bad picking up the stuff that’s been heavily discounted or being given away free on the last day of the conference. But, please, definitely do spend some money! These journals and presses rely on OUR support.

Just because something is free, you don’t have to take it. Unless you drove, you’ll have to find a way to bring home all those heavy books/journals on an airplane. Or you’ll have to wait in line at the hotel’s business center or the UPS store at the convention center to ship them home. So, be as discerning as you can when you see that magic markered “free” sign on top of a pile of sad-looking journals, abandoned by the grad students with hangovers who didn’t feel like dealing with their university's bookfair table.

Try not to approach the table of each journal at the bookfair with this question:  “How can I get published in your journal?” Also, I recommend avoiding this one: “How come you didn’t publish my poem/story/essay/screed?”  Try instead: “What a beautiful journal. Please tell me more about it.” Even better: “I’m thinking about subscribing.”

It may be too late for some of you, but it’s inevitable that you will see every writer you’ve ever met in the aisle of the bookfair at one AWP or another…so I hope you were nice to all of them and never screwed anyone over. Because, yes, they will remember, and it’s not fun reliving all that drama as the editors of The Georgia Review gaze on.

Pre-arrange some get-togethers with friends/teachers/grad student buddies, but don’t over-schedule. You’ll run into people, or meet people, or be invited to a party, or find an amazing off-the-beaten-track bar.  Save some time for spontaneity! (Yes, I realize that I’m saying “plan” for spontaneity.)

Don’t laugh at this, but bring along Purell and USE IT often.  For weeks after, post-AWP Facebook status updates are filled with writers bemoaning the deathly cold/sore throat/lingering and mysterious illness they picked up at AWP.  We’re a sniffly, sneezy, wheezy, germy bunch, and the thought of 12,000 of us packed together breathing on each other, shaking hands, and giving fake hugs of glee gives what’s left of the CDC nightmares.

Along the lines of healthcare, don’t forget to drink a lot of water and pop an Advil before going to sleep if (haha…if!) you’ve been drinking a little more than usual. OR: come find me! I will be handing out small packs of Tylenol to celebrate the recent publication of my new novel SILVER GIRL, set in Chicago during the time of Tylenol murders! (Also note that AWP offers a daily 12-step meeting open to all in recovery. Please take care of yourself.)

Escape! Whether it’s offsite dinners/drinks/museums/walks through park/mindless shopping or whatever, do leave at some point. You will implode if you don’t. Also, the food on the convention floor is consistently overpriced and icky…you will starve if this is your entire diet.

Bring your cellphone charger and maybe even a portable charger. Or maybe you like huddling around electrical outlets?

I can’t believe I’m writing this: the Dance Party is FUN! I mean it! You don’t even have to go with anyone or be a great dancer (call me Exhibit A). It’s how to work off stress and reenergize after a long, sometimes daunting day after too many snubs, imagined and real. I mean, I’m sure there are all kinds of interesting undercurrents and nuances out there in the depths of that packed dance floor…but also, on the surface, it can just be FUN.

This is a super-secret tip that I never share, but I’ll share it as a reward for those who have read this far:  there will be a bathroom that’s off the beaten track and therefore is never crowded. Scope out this bathroom early on. Don’t tell anyone except your closest friends the location of this bathroom.

Finally, take a deep breath.  You’re just as much of a writer as the other 11,999 people around you.  Don’t let them get to you.


If you're interested, I will be signing SILVER GIRL at two different times. Come say hi!

Thursday, March 8, 11:30 am-12:00 pm

Friday, March 9, 11:00 am-12:00 pm


Friday, February 9, 2018

How to Get SILVER GIRL Right NOW! (well, almost)

The Chicago Review of Books has named SILVER GIRL one of the best books of February: 

If you order directly from Unnamed Press, you won’t have to wait until February 27 to get your copy! They will send it out to you right away. Just a thought…. 

Here’s the link to order:


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