Monday, March 20, 2023

TBR: Saying Goodbye by Andrew Stancek

 TBR [to be read] is a semi-regular, invitation-only interview series with authors of newly released/forthcoming, interesting books who will tell us about their new work as well as offer tips on writing, stories about the publishing biz, and from time to time, a recipe. 


Give us your elevator pitch: what’s your book about in 2-3 sentences?


The book details a year in the life of a six-year-old Slovak boy being brought up by his grandparents in Soviet-era Czechoslovakia. In this novella-in-flash, filled with heartbreak and joy, betrayal and love, Adam grows through adventures with his grandfather in a quest for acceptance.


Which character did you most enjoy creating? Why?


As Grandfather guided me through his adventures with Adam, I grew to admire his strength. In Adam’s eyes he is heroic, almost mythical, but the reader comes to appreciate a life marked by poverty, wars, poor health, and, during the events of this story, a daughter who disappears, leaving a child behind. He is complex and the challenge was to present him as not just Adam’s superhero, but a living, loving, flawed human being.



Tell us a bit about the highs and lows of your book’s road to publication.


The book has been in the works for ten years; it has been envisioned as a full-length novel, as a collection of short stories, as a collection of novellas. Many parts have been reworked, many discarded. Once the publisher and I were happy with the format, we decided to race ahead toward an AWP 2023 Seattle launch, which became a marathon. Some authors who agreed to blurb could not meet that deadline. I am thrilled that Sara Lippmann and Nancy Stohlman juggled their schedules to provide generous praise.


A high has been holding the physical book in my hands, being able to sign and gift it to friends.


 What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?


1)    James Baldwin: “Discipline, love, luck, but, most of all, endurance. Write. Find a way to keep alive and write. There is nothing else to say.”


2)    Samuel Becket: “Fail better.”


My favorite writing advice is “write until something surprises you.” What surprised you in the writing of this book?


The process is mysterious. You must allow the characters to lead you, to let them tell the story. But a time eventually comes when that world can overwhelm, when the author feels the weight of too many stories and has to assume control. Aggressive characters can scream bloody murder.


What’s something about your book that you want readers to know?


A childhood is sorrow-filled. Soon after the events of this book, armies of the Soviet Union and three other nations crossed the borders with tanks, to occupy Czechoslovakia and chase Adam’s family and 300,000 other citizens out of the country. The Slovak large, even mythic, stories remain largely untold, although a few authors continue to till that soil.


Inquiring foodies and hungry book clubs want to know: Any food/s associated with your book? (Any recipes I might share?)






1 loaf of day-old white bread

4 eggs

1 cup of milk

6 tablespoons of butter

Salt and pepper

4 tablespoons of parsley (optional)


Cut the bread into one-inch cubes.


Separate the whites and yolks of the eggs into two bowls.


Beat the whites into a stiff meringue with an electric beater.


Add the milk into the bowl with the yolks and beat.


Melt butter.


In a large bowl, using your hands, mix the bread, the milk with egg yolks, the melted butter and the parsley, salt, pepper. Gently fold in the egg whites.


Place a steamer on top of a pot, add water, just high enough so it does not touch the steamer. Bring water to boil. In your hands shape the bread mixture into balls, about two inches in diameter. Place in steamer, cover, reduce boil to gentle, steam for about seven minutes. The finished dumplings should be solid and spongy. In my steamer I do batches of seven balls, and have three batches. If the dumpling is still runny in the middle, steam for another minute.


 Serve to accompany any stew or goulash, like the one below.





1.5 lbs pork tenderloin

2 medium onions (I prefer red)

Liter jar of sauerkraut

2 cloves of garlic

1 tablespoon caraway

1 tablespoon paprika

½ tablespoon hot paprika (optional)

3 tablespoons flour

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

4 cups vegetable stock

1 cup sour cream



Cut meat into one-inch cubes.


Chop onion.


Mince garlic.


Drain sauerkraut.


 Heat oil, add caraway and onion, cook for three minutes on medium heat.


Add cubed meat and garlic, increase heat, stir for three minutes.


Add paprika, flour and salt, stir for a minute.


Add stock, bring to boil, reduce heat to medium, add sauerkraut, cover, simmer for 30 minutes. Stir occasionally.


Check meat for tenderness.


Gently stir in the sour cream, cook through for two minutes.


Serve and ENJOY.




Read more about this publisher:


Buy this book for your own TBR stack:


Read an excerpt from this book, “Rooster Crowed”:




Friday, March 3, 2023

AWP23 Survival Guide!

It’s baaaa-aaaack! AWP23 is about to descend upon Seattle, Washington…and since I started thinking about restaurants and where I’m going to eat, I guess it’s time to post my AWP survival tips, honed after (yikes!) 20ish years of attending AWP conferences. "Survival guide" takes on a different feel in what is being called a "post-pandemic world," so my main point is to do what you need to feel safe personally and to take actions to protect the safety of others. For me, the risk of eating in a restaurant might feel personally worth it, but then how hard is it to sit quietly in a large room, listening to other people speak and wear a mask? My main tip here is to be thoughtful with regard to mask etiquette. 

Twelve thousand writers is a lot of angst, need, and glory to be packed into one convention center…here are my tried & true & freshly updated tips for success, based on my experience at past conferences:

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). I suppose it’s hard to determine who is “famous” and so on…in any event, you don’t want to find yourself scrunched into a 2’x2’ square on the carpet, and so see the following tip:

To avoid being stuck sitting on the floor, arrive early to panels you really, really want to attend. And, in fact, official AWP does not sanction sitting on the floor because it’s a fire hazard and you’ll be creating a barrier to those who have accessibility needs. Not sure how they feel about standing in a herd in the back? The point is, don’t sit on the floor—be mindful of others if there’s a herd of standees, and arrive early.

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 that editor’s panel.

There are zillions of panels. And there's an app. Sadly for me, I dislike apps and I miss the massive tome of information and the smaller printed guide. BUT! Time marches on. If you're not an app person, and maybe even if you are, I suggest taking the 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! (I suspect you’ll end up depressed if every single panel you attend is How To Get Published…remember, the way to get published, really, is to be an amazing writer. You’ll be better of going to some panels that will help you in that pursuit.)

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. Also, everyone is groaning inwardly anytime someone says, “I have a question and a comment” or anytime someone starts out by saying, “Well, in my work-in-progress, the main character is….”

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 absolutely everything you’ve overheard during your offsite dinner.

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/fist-bumping 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 reluctantly yes in the hopes that then you'll go away.

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. Even before Covid, post-AWP Facebook status updates and tweets 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. (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: I miss the Dance Party. It was a good 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. I would love to see it return. In the mean time, look for ways to handle YOUR stress that do not include camping at the hotel bar: the quiet room/s, prompt writing, a long walk, yoga.

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. Wear your mask in every public bathroom, and if you doubt me, google "toilet plumes."

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'm part of a panel about linked short story collections:

1:45pm to 3pm

Rooms 343-344, Summit Building, Seattle Convention Center, Level 3


Minding the Gaps and Mining Landscape in Linked Short Story Collections


Linked short story collections have become more popular, perhaps in part because of their hybrid nature. They can employ recurring themes, characters, and settings to situate readers in worlds that move beyond the borders of many short stories while stopping short of the breadth and propulsion of a novel. Minding the gaps, or the spaces, is key in writing linked story collections. How does space function between and within linked collections, and what stories does one choose to tell and why?


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