Wednesday, March 31, 2010

FREE Workshops Available Through Arts & Humanities Council of Montgomery County

Thanks to our friends at the Arts & Humanities Council of Montgomery County, The Writer's Center is pleased to offer 2 FREE slots in two upcoming AHCMC workshops taking place at The Writer's Center: Business Entity Formation (April 8) and Negotiation Skills (April 29). They are part of the "Legal Issues for Creative Entrepreneurs" workshops. To register, please call us at 301.654.8664 and mention you saw this post (or saw it on our Facebook fan page). Learn more about the workshops right here.

Update: only one slot remains in each class. If you're interested, please call us or contact me directly at

Part II of Charlie Jensen Discussing The Writer's Center's New Web Site

 For week two of The Writer's Center Web launch videos, I am posting Charlie Jensen discussing the ease of control members will enjoy with the new user-friendly Web site. Please feel free to share this with your friends.


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Monday, March 29, 2010

David A. Taylor: Live Screenplay Reading

David A. Taylor, workshop leader in science writing and documentary film-making, will have his screenplay read live this Thursday. Check it out if you can.  

Date Thursday, April 01, 2010
Time 7:00 pm EDT
Where Arlington Independent Media
2701 North Wilson Boulevard
Arlington, VA
Notes Live Screenplay Reading!
Thursday, April 1
Four scripts will be read by professional actors, and critiqued for their content and viability for the big screen. This is a great opportunity for filmmakers to witness the process that prepares text for the big screen. Professional and audience feedback is encouraged to help focus and edit the scripts for future production. The feedback received from the audience might be instrumental in making your writing even stronger.
The Live Script Reading event is a program of the DC Film Salon and is co-sponsored by Arlington Independent Media

Call for Submissions/Snapdragon Poetry Competition

While my writers deliver their book reviews, I thought I'd post a couple  submission calls that were sent my way. Disclaimer: Just because I'm posting them here doesn't mean I'm endorsing them. As you always should, you should check them out before you submit.

Some Ways to Disappear is a biannual publication of new Photography and Literature, with no advertising or extraneous fluff.

Currently, Some Ways to Disappear is inviting photography and literary submissions, considering all styles, genres, and formats.

The first issue is due to be released on the 30th June 2010.

If you wish to submit any work please e-mail it directly to: somewaystodisappear[at]

Submissions should be no longer than 3000 words, and e-mailed as a word document or PDF. All styles, genres and formats considered.

The deadline for all submissions for the first issue is 30th April.

For further information please visit or

contact us at

THEN: The Snapdragon Poetry Competition

Original poems, in any style, and no longer than 18 lines, inspired by the experience of breast cancer, word-processed, three copies, on 9" x 11" paper. The competition is open to all. Winners will be announced on the Breast Cancer Survivor Paddler Forum and Women Poets’ list serves, the website, and, if time allows, in the program for the Festival.

First prize: $150 and reading at the Carnation Ceremony of the 9th Annual International Dragon Boat Festival, Washington, DC, May 15.-16, 2010.

Second prize: $75

Third prize: $50

Closing date: April 16

Entry fee: $5, payable by check made out to the Chinese Women’s League

Mail to Suzanne Yuskiw, 301 High Gables Drive #407

Gaithersburg MD 20878

For explanations of the International Dragon Boat Festival please visit and

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Discovery Friday: New Letters

Today's guest is Ashley Kaine from New Letters magazine, yet another literary journal discount program member. Here she is:

At New Letters magazine, we have street “cred.” That’s what 76 years of pushing the finest literary goods gets you. Here at University House—our beautiful, century-old brick house on a high hill among Locust and Evergreen trees—you’ll find New Letters magazine, an international quarterly of writing and art, New Letters on the Air, our nationally syndicated on-air affiliate, and BkMk Press, a small award-winning press. We deal the finest essays, stories, art and poems. You can find them in our magazine, in BkMk Press collections, or discussed on public radio with award-winning host of New Letters on the Air Angela Elam. We work hard to find the best in literature and art, and once we find it; we look for more.

Under the guidance of the late editor, Alexander P. Cappon, the magazine published Thomas Hart Benton, Diego Rivera, Edgar Lee Masters, Pearl S. Buck, J.D. Salinger, e.e. cummings, among others. Over 70 years later, we still publish today’s strongest writers, some well established like Chinua Achebe, Kim Addonizio, Sherman Alexie, Conger Beasley Jr., Robert Day, Albert Goldbarth, Maxine Kumin, Mary Jo Salter, and Thomas E. Kennedy, who alongside New Letters’ editor Robert Stewart, won the 2008 National Magazine Award for the essay, "I Am Joe's Prostate," published in New Letters Vol. 73 No. 4. In addition to beating out magazines like The New Yorker for the National Magazine Award, we won the 2010 “Pushcart Triple Crown” for “Two Studies in Entropy” – a fiction work by Sara Pritchard; “How to Succeed in Po Biz” – an essay by Kim Addonizio; and “In Africa” – a fiction work by Edward Hoagland.

“For a single publication to be selected for three Pushcart Prizes in one year is nearly unheard of,” said Robert Stewart, editor of New Letters. “This shows that New Letters remains – in its 76th year – on the front line of national magazines that publish literature. I am especially gratified that recent honors for New Letters have come from diverse sources, ranging from the 2008 National Magazine Award, with its more commercial component, to The Pushcart Prize, with its emphasis on literary writers and editors.”

On the same pages as our established, award-winning contributors, you will find new writers with savagely provocative voices, like our 2009 literary award winner in poetry Heather Bell. Or D.L. Tucker in his striking essay “Double Vision.” Some of the fiction, essays, and poetry found in our issues go on to find the limelight.

The short story "Dirt Men," by Tim Johnston, first appeared in New Letters’ winter 2009 issue, and became the lead story in his collection Irish Girl (U of North Texas Press, 2009). That book won the Katherine Anne Porter Prize. The story "Dirt Men" now has been nominated for a Pushcart by board editors. Johnston reports that "Dirt Men" is the story he reads most at author events, and that David Sedaris selected Irish Girl as one of his favorite books of 2009 (The New Yorker, The Book Bench, Dec. 11, 2009) and has now chosen Irish Girl as the book he will be recommending on his 34-city, 2010 book tour. And it was found here first.

See? Here at New Letters, we don’t avert our eyes to surprising literature. We publish it. We promote it. We hold annual literary award contests to honor it. Then we keep looking for more. Come hang out with the gang online at, and request us as a friend. Or visit our Web site for information on our writers, issues, submissions, and annual literary awards (deadline mid-May), where we award $4,500 in cash prizes to winners in the categories of essay, poetry and fiction.

Subscriptions to New Letters are $36 for two years and $22 for one year. Call (816) 235-1168 or visit to join the New Letters family of subscribers.

Give the Green Light to Arts & Humanities in Montgomery County

Today I'm posting a special announcement from our friends at the Arts & Humanities Council of Montgomery County.

On March 15, Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett presented his recommended FY11 Operating Budget which included a 10% reduction in funding to AHCMC's budget for grants and administration. Given the state of the financial crisis and the many demands on the County's budget, we are encouraged by the Executive's recommended support and are grateful that the reduction was not more severe. As the County Council turns its attention to the budget, Council members need to hear from YOU!

Show your support and thank County Council for their past support, then ask them to Give the Green Light to the Arts and Humanities and approve the County Executive's 2011 appropriation.

Your Advocacy Toolkit is just a click away!

Download everything you need for the 2011 Arts & Humanities Advocacy Campaign to the Montgomery County Council!

Check out:

County Council contact information

Sample e-mails/letters and talking points

Advocacy Etiquette

Advocacy Potluck Supper information

Sample Tweets

Sample Facebook status updates

Easy-Sign Advocacy Postcard for your constituents

Advocacy button for your website

Click here for the Advocacy Toolkit

Show Your Support at the Advocacy Potluck with Montgomery County Council

When? Monday, April 5 at 6:00 PM before the Public Hearing at 7:00 PM (attendees should arrive by 5:45 PM to set up)

Where? 5th Floor Conference Room in the County Office Building, 100 Maryland Avenue, Rockville, MD 20850

What's Our Message? Thank you for all your past support and Give the Green Light to the Arts and Humanities by approving the County Executive's proposed FY11 appropriation.

Benefits of Attending? Talk one-on-one with individual Council members about the importance of the arts and humanities in our community. Volume speaks volumes to Council members! This is one time when being a face in a crowd is good. Council members pay attention to the volume of letters and emails they receive and the numbers they see at the Public Hearing. Help us make a strong statement by joining the Give the Green Light to the Arts and Humanities crowd this year at the Public Hearing.

Who Should Come? Every arts and humanities organization that receives a grant from AHCMC should send at least one Advocacy Ambassador to the Potluck . You are welcome to send as many people as you wish. Representatives can be Board members, staff members, patrons, volunteers and program participants. Please wear GREEN to show your support.

What to Bring? Bring a dish to share (for about 10 people) that is easy to serve and easy to eat standing-up. What you should bring depends on the first letter of your last name. Please follow this distribution so that there is enough food for all!

A-L Main Dishes

M-R Appetizers

S-Z Desserts

A Kosher food space will be available for those observing Passover.


5:45 PM - Arrive to set up your dish

6:00 PM to 7:00 PM - Meet, greet and eat with Council members

7:00 PM - Public Hearing, 3rd Floor Hearing Room, County Office Building, 100 Maryland Avenue, Rockville, MD 20850

Want to find your Councilmembers? Click here!
Questions? Email Suzan Jenkins:

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Charlie Jensen Discusses The Writer's Center's New Web Site

For the next six Wednesdays on First Person Plural, I will post a video of The Writer's Center's Director Charlie Jensen discussing our new Web site, which we will launch later this spring. Please feel free to share this with your friends. Here's Charlie:

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Board Member Linda Sullivan Named President and CEO of The Arts Council of Fairfax County

One of the board members of The Writer's Center, Linda Sullivan, has been named the new President and CEO of the Arts Council of Fairfax County. From the press release, Doug Brammer, chairman of the Fairfax Arts Council board, says: "Linda's breadth and depth of experience in the arts field will greatly serve the Arts Council and our arts community."

Linda Sullivan has been terrific on the board here, so she'll no doubt be a valuable asset to Fairfax County. Congratulations, Linda! Her bio:

Linda Sullivan has served the greater Washington area as an arts management consultant since 2001. She specializes in executive and governance services, strategic and organizational planning, capital project planning and fundraising. As a consultant Ms. Sullivan has worked with museums and exhibition centers, literary, performing arts, and multi-arts presenting centers. Prior to beginning a consulting business Ms. Sullivan served as Executive Director of the Mississippi Museum of Art, the Academy of the Arts (now Academy Art Museum) in Easton, Maryland, and Director of the development of BlackRock Center for the Arts in Montgomery County.

She teaches in the Museum Studies Program at George Washington University, conducts organizational development workshops for the Maryland State Arts Council, and serves as a Standards of Excellence reviewer for Maryland Nonprofits. She holds an MFA in Arts Administration from Columbia University and has served as a National Endowment for the Arts – Arts Management Fellow. She has served as a commissioner and board member of numerous state and local arts councils, including as member of the board of the Arts & Humanities Council of Montgomery County for two terms, and as Chair of its Grants Committee. Currently Ms. Sullivan sits on the Board of The Writer’s Center and on the Executive Committee of ArtTable’s DC Chapter.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Just Another Manic Monday

After a busy (but exciting) weekend featuring 4 major events at The Writer's Center--Story/Stereo, Writing the Future, the Open House, and birthday reading with Carolyn Forche and Pagan Kennedy--today is a day of rest. No book review today.

Thanks to everyone for coming out over the weekend. If you'd like to read about Writing the Future from local blogger extraordinaire over at Savvy Verse & Wit, click here. Later this week, we hope to have images/video from the events up on the blog.

But! Even though we're resting today, in my ideal world First Person Plural never stops. So a quick post with some information you might enjoy. First, Writer's Center director Charles Jensen will be reading with No Tell Books' publisher Reb Livingston at Gallery Neptune on March 27th. It's art, Jazz, and spontaneous poetry, and it should be a good time. Read more about that here.

Then, apropos of last weekend's Writing the Future conference, here's an interesting article in Sunday's Book World by Stephen Lowman on the future of children's books. Someone in one of the sessions asked about this very topic at Writing the Future. Whether you're writing children's lit or not, this is worth a long look.

One last thing relating to Book World, Jonathan Yardley wrote a very nice review of Thomas Kennedy's newly released (in the U.S) novel In the Company of Angels. Kennedy, a fellow Danish translator whom I admire a great deal (though I have never met him personally), has written a lot of books--as Yardley points out. He's a little under the radar over here (he lives in Copenhagen). But check out the review. Then check out the book. He'll be reading at Politics & Prose in April. In a cruel twist of fate, I will be at the AWP conference in Denver when he's reading there, so I won't even be able to see it.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Discovery Friday: 32 Poems

Local poet Deborah Ager, one of the founding editors of the excellent literary journal 32 Poems, is my guest today.

Tell us about 32 Poems. What separates it from other literary journals?

I started 32 Poems in 2003 with John Poch. We're celebrating our seventh anniversary with plenty of chocolate cake.

The magazine contains 32 Poems, helps promote the writers it publishes, and fits into a purse without breaking your shoulder in half. Poems that first appeared in 32 Poems have appeared in the Best American Poetry and Best New Poets anthologies and on Verse Daily and Poetry Daily. Poets we've published include Heather McHugh, Billy Collins, Brigit Pegeen Kelly, Medbh McGuckian, Jennifer Militello, Amit Majmudar, and Jehanne Dubrow.

Please come visit us at the 32 Poems blog and join the 32 Poems Facebook page.

How did you come up with the concept of 32 Poems?

I wanted to create a magazine that would break all the lightbulbs in every house. To do that, I created a recipe of one gig poster designer (Dirk Fowler), one hard working poet/editor (John Poch), one layout designer (Rikki Campbell at pixiedesign), and myself. My goal was a magazine with 32 poems that would publish work that takes off the top of your head AND your socks. The final magazine would have to be print and be easy to slip into a shoulder bag.

What would you like our readers and members to know about you?

My book Midnight Voices was published in 2009 and signed copies can be had at Last year, I received a Walter E. Dakin Fellowshp to attend the Sewanee Writers' Conference, three of my poems were nominated for a Pushcart, and I was awarded a Cafritz Foundation Fellowship. This year, we learned 32 Poems had another poem taken for the new Best American Poetry anthology. My poems have appeared in Los Angeles review, The Georgia Review, New England Review, New South, and Quarterly West.

I love speaking to groups and classes. Recently, I spoke to students at Grinnell College and Drake University. In the coming months, I'll speak to students at Catholic University and SUNY Fredonia. If any teachers out there would like me to talk with students, they can contact me at deborah (at)

Can you tell us a little bit about what you like to publish?

After editing a magazine for seven years, it becomes easier to figure out what is desired and harder to describe. Emily Dickinson said it best when she talked about a good poem creating a physical experience. I want a poem that has something to say and that says it with music, sense, and style.

What advice do you have for anyone submitting a manuscript?

If you have not submitted before, please read the submission guidelines at the 32 Poems website. Support the print journals you want to publish your work by buying them. At only $14 per year, 32 Poems Magazine is less than cable and offers gig poster art.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Writing the Future, Carolyn Forche/Pagan Kennedy Tickets Still Available. Plus Open House Workshop Specials!

This weekend is an EXTREMELY exciting one at The Writer's Center, with four major events in three days (read further for details). At the March 21 Open House, everyone in attendance will get the opportunity to see The Writer's Center's NEW WEB SITE—and learn about some of its special features—before the site launches later this spring. We're even throwing in some Open House bargains. Find out which workshop leaders are scheduled to attend here (but note that we’ll be adding more as the week goes on).

We've added several new workshops to our spring/summer session, including a Master Poetry Workshop with Maryland State Poet Laureate Stanley Plumly. In order to register for this workshop, you must be admitted by the workshop leader. PLEASE DO NOT register online or submit a payment unless you are accepted into the workshop. And please review guidelines carefully.

To view all of our upcoming workshops, visit

SUMMER WORKSHOPS FOR KIDSIs your son or daughter interested in a writing workshop? Did you know The Writer’s Center offers summer workshops for kids? To view a list of summer kids’ workshops, click on the banner along the top of this page.


Director (and workshop leader) Charles Jensen has been nominated for a Lambda Literary Award. Congratulations, Charles!



Story/Stereo: A Night of Literature & Music welcomes visiting emerging writer fellows Kathleen Flenniken (Famous) and Anthony Varallo (Out Loud). The Musical guest: More Humans. We’ll also show the exciting trailer of the film Docs in Progress will debut at our upcoming LitArtlantic festival in May. Learn more here.


The Writer's Center is stoked to offer this very unique opportunity for members and local writers. If you're a writer and want to know what the future holds in store for you, this is a must-see event. For the price of a one-day workshop, you get to see some of the most important writers and publishers in the industry. Up close and in person.

Admission: $90. Admission includes a FREE one-year subscription to the revamped Creative Nonfiction Magazine AND a FREE one-year membership to The Writer's Center. To view the entire schedule of events and to register, click here.

Here’s more about Writing the Future (and yes, we will be taking registarations on the day of the event):

WRITING THE FUTURE, a one-day, information packed conference for writers in all genres and media, reporters, editors, and publishers will explore and explain the transitions and innovations taking place in the literary and publishing worlds. Panelists include Nick Bilton, NY Times tech writer and interface specialist; Richard Nash, former editor of Soft Skull Press, social publishing visionary, and founder of Cursor; Carolyn Forche, poet and essayist; Tom Shroder, writer and former editor, The Washington Post; Jay Ogilvy, co-founder of Global Business Network; Lee Gutkind, author of Almost Human: Making Robots Think; and many, many more. This event is sponsored by The Creative Nonfiction Foundation, Arizona State University's Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes, and The Writer's Center.

That same evening, from 5:00 to 7:00 P.M., join Lee Gutkind and the editors of Creative Nonfiction for a FREE reception to honor the Creative Nonfiction re-launch. Here's your opportunity to mingle with the editors and some fine writers and creative minds.


The Writer's Center has moved its Open House from April 10 to March 21 at NOON--right before our 33rd Birthday reading (rescheduled from Snowmageddon in January). The Open House is FREE and open to everyone. As usual, you’ll be able to meet individually with workshop leaders and get feedback on what workshops are right for you. And now we're offering specials:

Everyone in attendance at the Open House will receive a $25 coupon on a Spring/Summer 2010 workshop.

Additional $25 coupons will be available on selected spring/summer workshops, which we'll announce at the Open House only. That means a potential value of $50.

Restrictions: Cannot be combined with other offers. Cannot be used on completed workshops, or workshops you're currently registered in. The selected workshop sale is for the Open House only.


Name the E-newsletter contest

Favorite Writer Quote contest

At the Open House, we're going to open two ongoing contests in conjunction with our new Web site. With our new Web site we'll be going to a snazzier, more reader-friendly version of a newsletter, and we'd like your help coming up with a good name for it. We'll announce details (and prizes for the winners) at the Open House and next week on Facebook.

We'll also announce details on our Favorite Writer Quote contest at the Open House, and what you can win.


Following the Open House, stick around as Pagan Kennedy and Carolyn Forche help celebrate The Writer's Center's 33rd Birthday. A champagne reception will follow this event. Admission: $20. Register here.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Pagan Kennedy's Writer 2.0

This has been a busy, busy week to say the least. I spent a great morning on a publishing and writing panel at the Department of State. Part of what I talked about had to do with the changes taking place in publishing. So this seems like a good time to give a shout out to one of The Writer's Center's "alumni", Pagan Kennedy, who'll be visiting us twice this weekend: First at Writing the Future, as a panelist, and then at the 33rd Birthday Reading with Carolyn Forche on Sunday. (Right after the Open House.)

Just today, she launched a brand new Web site for writers: Writer.2.0. And at first glance it looks really impressive. Everything from the future of books to how to pitch to This American Life. Lots of information for writers. Check it out: Writer 2.0.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Monday Review: The Millionaires by Inman Majors

The Millionaires

by Inman Majors
WW Norton, 2009
480 pages

Reviewed by Kate Petersen

Even if the book jacket didn’t proclaim this a southern Great Gatsby, it doesn’t take a reader long to see that in his third novel, The Millionaires, Inman Majors is invoking that cautionary tale of what sudden money can do to you. “You can have old money, and you can have no money, but you damn sure can’t have new money,” quips a character early on, and when Majors takes us to the gates of the inevitable party, and the “great house glows like a tiara to greet guests who ride up the long and curving drive,” you can’t help but think: Gatsby.

The Millionaires follows brothers Roland and J.T. Cole, hardscrabble country boys born to a dry-goodsman-turned-banker who establish a banking empire in the fictitious town of Glennville, in eastern Tennessee. The novel spans Roland’s 1978 gubernatorial campaign, the brother’s ultimately successful bid to bring the 1983 World’s Fair to Glennville, and the rise of their banking empire against the backdrop of the U.S. savings and loan crisis. To run their campaign, the Cole brothers hire Vanderbilt golden boy and veteran politico Mike Teague, who’s connected in Nashville and provides the establishment credentials the backcountry brothers lack. Majors has created a big, believable world here.

But beyond the familiar plot points of a new-money fable, want—the centrifugal force at the heart of Gatsby and other American class novels—is largely absent here. One never doubts that the brothers want the Expo to happen, and for it to be a success, but it’s never clear whether they want it to go because it’s good for business, for the sake of the win, or to prove something to someone.

Late in the novel, Roland tells Teague during a nighttime tennis match that seeing his father “getting the high hat” from city bankers rubbed him the wrong way as a young man. But as a motive, this seems too dilute to support the empire it inspired. There are scenes that suggest Roland wants to get back to the land where he was raised, and that J.T. yearns for the simple appraisals of boyhood [“his father knew they wouldn’t always do their best [but] that he would love them anyway”], but these scenes seem more diversions from the brothers’ political and business escapades than their fuel.

Majors has crafted a world that is all ambition but very little want, save the prolific affairs the men engage in. And even there, Majors undercuts any allowance for real desire. When J.T. muses that the only reason he could cheat on his wife whom he loved and respected “came down to an undue fondness for strange pussy,” Majors seems to say: this isn’t desire, this is the fast lane. And Teague’s old affair with Valerie, a power-player in Nashville’s political circles, is explained by her ability to let him play a Fallen Man when they first took up. But if this was want, it’s historical, and like ruins, we are made to guess.

The women here, mainly wives and mistresses, are a spirited bunch, undifferentiated in their agreement that life is easier for their men. Inasmuch as they have desire, it is a reflexive one: a desire to get back to the time they were the most wanted thing. None of them are anymore, not even Teague’s “Cool Customer” Valerie. The Cole’s mother and sister are interesting peripheral characters, but Majors never really seems to find a place for them beyond humanizing the swindling duo.

Perhaps because the story is such a straightforward one—ambition which o’erleaps itself—Major’s near-constant shift in point of view end up feeling more vertigo than verity. Moving often between characters’ vantages, Majors sweeps frequently into a too-formal omniscience (think the overly-basso voiceover in certain romantic comedies): “Setting, yes, setting and a quick update. For time has passed like invisible ink into air.” Within a single scene, that omniscience—“Now the eye did not know where to go”— would tilt to the second person—“You walk in a crowd”—only to slip back into limited third in the next paragraph.

This ever-shifting point of view, coupled with Major’s experimental use of scene formats (studio format of a screenplay, subheads, and an unrhymed poem with line breaks) make a reader feel that neither she nor the characters on the page are to be completely trusted with the story. Like the hand in the dollhouse, you’re never allowed to forget for very long that Majors is setting the scene for you.

And that’s a shame, because these characters (bank fraud aside) should be trusted. They are intelligent and well-articulated people, especially Teague, whose loyalties and sensibilities made this reader sorry every time the narrative moved away from his limited-third charm.

But despite these weaknesses, Majors well-shaped plot and quick dialogue keep the reader engaged. His prose is lyric, luminous at times, and when he isn’t telling us what to look at, Majors can make us nostalgic for memories that aren’t even ours, the way a football game on an afternoon in early fall makes the men “feel a kind of happy longing, loose-limbed and prodigal, hand to wallet more readily than usual, memory and moment merged as nearly to perfection as this life allows.”


Kate Petersen’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Iowa Review, The Pinch, Brevity, The Collagist, Quarterly West, Phoebe, Pearl, Best of the Web 2009, and The Fourth Genre: Writers of/on Creative Nonfiction. She lives and works in Boston at a nonprofit organization working on health care reform, and writes for Postscript and Health Policy Hub.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Discovery Friday: Copper Nickel

On Discovery Friday this week is Copper Nickel, a fine literary journal out of the University of Colorado Denver. The most recent issue (I'm a subscriber, and have been reading it all this week) includes Holly Goddard Jones (author of Girl Trouble), Bob Hicok, Dan Albergotti, and a whole slew of others. Great stuff. Here's senior editor Jake Adam York to answer some questions.

Oh, and Copper Nickel is part of The Writer's Center's Literary Journal Discount Program.

Tell us about Copper Nickel. What separates it from other literary journals?

Two distinguishing characteristics are important to us.

First, we don't have an "aesthetic." Many journals, whether deliberately or not, seem to have a style, which is why a lot of writers ask us what we're looking for, or whether we're "experimental" or "traditional." When we talk amongst ourselves, we talk about wanting to take whatever is "good." And we work hard to discover how each piece wants to work and try to judge each submission on its own terms. The result is, I believe, a truly eclectic journal---interested in emerging and established writers, in experimental and traditional work, in local and national talent.

Second, we're working to be a national literary journal with a largely undergraduate staff. We have an undergraduate Creative Writing program here at UC-Denver, where our students continue to maintain that they're not interested in publishing or publishing in a traditional campus literary journal. Our students want more, and I and the other faculty members work to connect our students to a national community.

What would you like our readers and members to know about you? Can you tell us a little bit about what you like to publish?

Again, we're interested in anything that's "good." I have a particular interest, and many of my editors share this interest, in pieces that communicate their own parameters and then proceed to fulfill them. We're excited about strong realist fiction, but also interested in experimental fictions. We like narrative poems as well as near-hermetic lyrics. With non-fiction, I think we favor the lyric essay, and are excited to see pieces that arbitrate their forms rather than expository pieces. But, if something is accomplished, we're often happy to find a home for it.

Each issue, we believe, is carefully crafted, presented in an order that allows, for those who want it, to read the issue like a book written by a series of different authors. We'd like to see, in our own community, the literary journal become more visible and more widely circulated, and for us that means working to create a satisfying reading experience that isn't self-congratulatory, either to our readers or to ourselves.

That means we work not to repeat ourselves, but we're also eager to reach new readers. We publish the journal, first and foremost, to connect writers with readers.

What advice do you have for anyone submitting a manuscript?

Take yourself and your work, your time and our time seriously. We're happy to review manuscripts from anyone, but with almost 4000 manuscripts to process each year, it's frustrating to read a manuscript with a lot of typos, a cover letter that seems to feel this is all a joke, to receive robo-submissions (the author just keeps firing them off like a Gatling gun) or see a writer submitting and then withdrawing a manuscript several times over the course of a month.

We read each manuscript carefully which takes a lot of time. We try to offer comments when we feel we are close to connecting to a writer, and we hope writers will spend the some time thinking about us, as readers, as we think about them.

At the upcoming AWP conference in your home base of Denver, you’re going to have a pretty high profile. Where can we find you? What kind of events will you be promoting there?

We're major sponsors, so you'll see our name everywhere. On Thursday night, we're presenting Michael Chabon's reading at the conference as well as a reading of eight debut poets---Dan Albergotti, Jericho Brown, Stacey Lynn Brown, Michael Dumanis, Farrah Field, J. Michael Martinez, Alison Stine, and Allison Benis White---on our campus, just two blocks away, earlier that evening. On Saturday night at the Denver Press Club (just two blocks from the convention center), we're presenting what I'm calling "an edited reading," which will be presented as if it were an issue of Copper Nickel, with a table of contents, and a slate of writers who have contributed to the journal over the last few years. In between all that, we'll have a booth in the bookfair, where we'll be selling subscriptions for a very sweet low price, with some giveaways, and some new hot t-shirts. We receive submissions from more than 1500 writers each year, yet we have fewer than 300 subscribers. We're hoping to attract a few more at AWP, because we're hoping to be around for more than a few years.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Writing the Future: A One-Day Conference at The Writer's Center, March 20

The Writer’s Center is pleased to host a special collaborative event: WRITING THE FUTURE, a one-day, information-packed conference for writers in all genres and media, reporters, editors, and publishers that will explore and explain the transitions and innovations taking place in the literary and publishing worlds. Register for this event here.

Following the WRITING THE FUTURE program we will have a CREATIVE NONFICTION LAUNCH PARTY from 5 to 7 p.m., which is FREE and open to the public.

Event: Writing the Future
When: March 20, 8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.
Where: The Writer's Center, 4508 Walsh Street, Bethesda, MD 20815
Admission: $90. Admission includes a FREE one-year subscription to the revamped Creative Nonfiction Magazine AND a FREE one-year membership to The Writer's Center.

Creative Nonfiction launch: 5:00-7:00 p.m. follows Writing the Future and is FREE and open to the public.

The panelists and presenters at WRITING THE FUTURE will address technological advancements affecting the ways information is delivered to readers, how the content itself will change, and what writers will need to know to remain relevant in the second decade of the 21st Century—and beyond.

Panelist Richard Nash, a former editor at Soft Skull Press and visionary founder of Cursor, a new social publishing medium, gets right at the heart of the dilemma facing writers today: “Most writers have avoided asking what goes on inside the sausage factory that up until recently semi-reliably connected them to their readership. It is now clear that gazes can no longer be averted, that an understanding of business models and technology is as much a part of a writer’s toolkit as an understanding of grammar and narrative tension.”

That understanding is what local poet and essayist Sandra Beasley, another of the scheduled panelists, sees as an opportunity for area writers. “What’s unique about this conference is that it addresses technology’s impact on publishing without reinforcing a specious divide between the ‘literary’ and ‘journalism’ communities. As creative nonfiction evolves as a genre, writers must adapt to survive.”

Lee Gutkind, the godfather of creative nonfiction, agrees. And adaptation, he adds, is exactly why this is a necessary conference right now. “Writing the Future will help writers understand and adjust to the transition that will be/and is taking place in the literary/publishing world for reporters, essayists, poets, editors—anyone and everyone involved in the writing world.”

Featured guests at WRITING THE FUTURE include Nick Bilton, NY Times tech writer and interface specialist; Richard Nash, former editor of Soft Skull Press, social publishing visionary, and founder of Cursor, a groundbreaking new publishing venture that uses social media; Peter Ginna, senior editor of Bloomsbury Press USA; Jack Sallay, VP of marketing for; Carolyn Forche, poet and essayist; Jeff Kleinman, literary agent, Folio Literary Management; Sandra Beasley, poet, essayist, and former editor of the American Scholar; Tom Shroder, writer and former editor, The Washington Post; Dan Sarewitz, co-director of Arizona State University's Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes; Pagan Kennedy, teacher, writer, journalist, and zine pioneer; Jay Ogilvy, co-founder of Global Business Network, and author of Many Dimensional Man: Decentralizing Self, Society and the Sacred; Living Without a Goal; and Creating Better Futures; and Lee Gutkind, editor of Creative Nonfiction, and author of Almost Human: Making Robots Think; plus many others.

Writing the Future is sponsored by The Creative Nonfiction Foundation and Arizona State University’s Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes, and The Writer’s Center.

8:00 to 9:00 AM Registration

9:00 to 10:30 AM


Advances in science and technology have changed society almost overnight. Writers and reporters will document that change, as they have done in the past. But to do their job, writers will need to understand and to a certain extent foresee—or predict—the future. Two leading philosophers and writers, Dan Sarewitz and Jay Ogilvy, will present the future in both corresponding and conflicting ways.

Everything You Know About the Future is Wrong.

Beyond Optimism/Beyond Pessimism: Plotting the Future.
"It's time for a new stance toward the future," says Jay Ogilvy, “one that is fundamentally pluralistic or scenaric; we must learn how to hold in mind at once both optimistic and pessimistic scenarios. I will share a little tradecraft from the discipline of scenario planning. HOW do you frame scenarios, whether optimistic OR pessimistic?" For pessimistic scenarios, says Ogilvy, “You just take reality as we know it and kick the hell out of it.” Optimistic scenarios are more challenging: “You have to dream a little, and solve problems no one has ever solved, to create positive visions that don't get dismissed as 'utopian'."

Sarewitz, Ogilvy

10:45 AM to 12:15 PM

Lee Gutkind will join Ogilvy and Sarewitz for discussion and debate and then open up the program to a panel of writers and editors for questions and discussion

Kennedy, Beasley, Nash, Sallay, Courteau

LUNCH: 12:15 to 1:30 PM

1:30 to 2:15 PM


Nick Bilton will explore the effects our bit-sized culture is having on our work, as well as the new narrative that is being formed at unabridged speeds around us. He will be joined by Richard Nash, former editor-in-chief, Soft Skull Press, founder of Cursor, a new writing and publishing community linked through social media.


2:15 to 3:00 PM


What will the media of the future be, and what kinds of writing will they demand? Editors, writers, and publishing techs talk about skills needed to write for and within emerging technology venues.

Bilton, Nash, Sallay, Ginna

3:15 to 4:00 PM


Writers and editors discuss shifting ethical standards in “objective” reporting, the acceptance of subjectivity, and the messiness of “truth” vs. “fact” when inserting yourself into your writing.

Ginna, Kleinman, Courteau, Fletcher


From USA Today to Twitter, the world is moving toward faster and shorter writing. Writers, editors, publishers, and bloggers discuss the ways to maximize efficiency without sacrificing quality.

Kennedy, Forche, Bilton


What will happen to the long essay in the hands of the NOW generation? Writers and editors discuss the future of the long essay, promising publishing venues, and their ideas about how to engage readership in the long essay for the future.

Forche, Beasley, Gutkind, Shroder

4:15 to 5:00 PM


Specialization in writing, just as in medicine or law, helps focus writers and allows them to build an identifiable “brand.” Writers who have developed professional specialties explain how they built their practices and offer tips for writers seeking a niche.

Kleinman, Kennedy


Creative Nonfiction has long been the place to go for “true stories, well told.” Now, after 15 years as the leading nonfiction journal in the nation, it’s getting a new look. Following WRITING THE FUTURE there will be a launch party for Creative Nonfiction Magazine! Stay and join Creative Nonfiction and The Writer's Center for this FREE evening event featuring readings by today's best nonfiction writers, free copies of the new magazine, free food and drink, and a chance to talk with Creative Nonfiction's editors.

About The Creative Nonfiction Foundation: The Creative Nonfiction Foundation pursues educational and publishing initiatives in the genre of literary nonfiction. Its objectives are to provide a venue, the journal Creative Nonfiction, for high quality nonfiction prose (memoir, literary journalism, personal essay); to serve as the singular strongest voice of the genre, defining the ethics and parameters of the field; and to broaden the genre's impact in the literary arena by providing an array of educational services and publishing activities.

About the Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes at Arizona State University: The Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes is an intellectual network aimed at enhancing the contribution of science and technology to society's pursuit of equality, justice, freedom, and overall quality of life. The Consortium creates knowledge and methods, cultivates public discourse, and fosters policies to help decision makers and institutions grapple with the immense power and importance of science and technology as society charts a course for the future.

About The Writer’s Center: The Writer’s Center cultivates the creation, publication, presentation, and dissemination of literary work. We are an independent literary organization with a global reach, rooted in a dynamic community of writers. As one of the premier centers of our kind in the country, we believe the craft of writing is open to people of all backgrounds and ages. Writing is interdisciplinary and unique among the arts for its ability to touch on all aspects of the human experience. It enriches our lives and opens doors to knowledge and understanding.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Member Profile: Kathryn Erskine on Mockingbird and How it Got Published

When I sat down to blog about how Mockingbird got published, I realized it would be a short (and somewhat annoying) post: I had an editor already and she loved Mockingbird so she published it. The end. The real story is how did I get an editor in the first place? And how long it took to get the point where I could blithely say my editor loved it.

Once upon a time . . . OK, it wasn’t that long ago, but it has been thirteen years, I took a neighborhood class on writing for children. Perhaps the best tip I learned from that class was to form a critique group, not only for giving and getting feedback on my work, but also as a support group. The core group of us is still together and a big part of how I got this far. Working as a lawyer and raising young children, I had much less time to write than I would have liked, but my group kept me on task.

I decided to write short stories for magazines. That was a mistake. If I’d ever had any skill at writing short, my legal training ruined it for me (note the length of this post!). Anything I tried to write turned into a novel. So I took Mary Quattlebaum’s writing workshop as the “outstanding” newbie—and by outstanding, I mean standing out from the much more talented and seasoned writers. They were very nice and patient with me, especially Mary, who teaches for The Writer's Center so, fortunately, many others can benefit from her kindness, encouragement, and mentoring wisdom.

I took classes, went to conferences, read books, practiced my craft and, after two whole entire years without success, I was wondering if I should give up. Since I’d already paid for a local conference, however, I decided to attend. There I heard an inspirational keynote address by Patricia Lee Gauch, famed children’s author and publisher, icon of the industry. What she said spoke directly to me – the only thing that separates you (the audience of wannabes) from published authors is that you won’t give up, which means you will be honing your craft and eventually gaining the attention of editors. All that the quitters do is open up the field for you. OK, I was in it for the long haul.

Eventually, I sent my first novel to a print on demand publisher because the big name publishers didn’t snap it right up and, well, I didn’t know any better. It was fun to have a book in hand, assuming you could pay $20 for a rather shoddily made paperback (at least the cover is cool). And it was fun to tell people you’d written a book, except they’d never heard of it and neither had their bookstore. It did not feel like the pinnacle of success.

I slogged on. More courses, more workshops, more conferences, more practice. And a very supportive husband. Finally, I sold a novel to a publishing house you’ve actually heard of! Except it merged with another publishing house, my manuscript went to a different editor and, in the end, did not get published.

More slogging. More pep talks. More years of form rejections, and then handwritten notes on the form rejections, then nice notes directly from the editor until . . . I had several editors interested in my young adult novel, Quaking, which was eventually purchased by an imprint of Penguin. The editor? Serendipitously, it was that very same editor who kept me from quitting about 5 years before, Patricia Lee Gauch.

After getting to know one another, she asked what else I was working on. That’s how Mockingbird came to be acquired and published.

If this sounds like a lovely fairy tale, remember the slogging part, which went on for years (ten!) before Quaking was published. To borrow a line from a favorite film, Galaxy Quest: “Never give up! Never surrender!”

Oh, and that manuscript that was sold but never published? It’s not dead. In fact, it’s being resurrected right now and, while it keeps the characters and feel, there’s a momentous transformation happening on the screen in front of me. How fitting that one of its many possible titles included the word Phoenix.

And that’s what we all are. Phoenixes. We have those days that we just want to give it all up or, at least, burn that manuscript. But we rise up. And so does that manuscript. (Come on, I know those characters talk to you even when you’re trying to ignore them!) We can’t help it because being a writer is something we have to do. It’s part of our spirit. We can’t not do it, even if we haven’t been published (yet). It’s who we are.

So, go ahead. Be yourself. Write!

Want to learn more about Kathryn Erskine and her novels? Visit her online.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Review Monday: The Way It Was: Walter Lord on His Life and Books

The Way it Was: Walter Lord on His Life and Books
Edited by Jenny Lawrence
294 pages
Published in 2009

Reviewed by Kyle Semmel

The Way It Was is an indispensible introduction into the mind (and work) of one of America's foremost historians of the 20th Century, Walter Lord. Without Lord, James Cameron's Titanic--one of the highest grossing films of all time--would not have been made. It was Lord, you see, who wrote the book on which that film was based. That book, A Night to Remember, is a riveting account of the night the Titanic sank, told in Lord's signature eye-witness style: through various personae on board the doomed ship. As Evan Thomas of Newsweek (whose father was one of Lord's editors) puts it in the preface: "His style of you-are-there-narrative and eye for telling detail, combined with his prodigious researching abilities, made him a model or inspiration for later popular historians, including David McCullough."

Published in 2009 and available on Amazon, The Way It Was serves as a kind of posthumous memoir--and a very personable, enjoyable one at that. Edited by his close friend Jenny Lawrence--a daughter of one of Lord's college friends. (You can read Lawrence's account of Lord in a First Person Plural "Whatever happened to" feature posted last year.) Because of her unique proximity to Lord, she had valuable access to him in the waning years of his life. Though some of the material in the book comes from writings he'd left at various archives in the U.S. and England, the bulk of the material, she writes, comes from interviews she conducted with him at his New York City apartment.

A Night to Remember was Lord's second published book, but already here the seed of his later iconic style was planted, one that humanized the study of history and made engaging narratives part of the story. In Lord's books, the people that populate history are not submerged beneath facts and dates; they are part of the very fabric of the events. Take the passengers of the Titanic as an example:

Minute by minute, the reader will live with the ship's company during her last breathtaking hours. The book will pick up several of the most interesting people and follow them straight through. The emphasis will be on those tiny details that will make the night seem to live again. And when he finishes, the reader will go on his way, knowing well that--in the words of the title--here was A Night to Remember
Those tiny details, it turns out, make for really interesting reading. As a history major in college and a would-be fiction writer, I was really absorbed by the world that Lord created. But it's important to note that Lord didn't fictionalize his facts here. While working full-time at an advertising agency--the same one that developed the ad campaign for Brommel, Beau Brommel, and Aqua Velva--he sought out and found survivors of the sinking.

Space doesn't permit for too much elaboration on Lord's process of writing A Night to Remember here, but suffice it to say that by uncovering the tiny details of that night, as remembered by those who survived, Lord created a truly new and fascinating story that resonated with his readers (the book became a bestseller and he could suddenly devote himself entirely to writing). Read the book today and you get the same reaction. The book is a deeply fascinating account--even more exciting than the film. Yes, that's possible.

Lord's career spanned the decades and The Way It Was covers the books he wrote in a fashion similar to how Bob Dylan's Chronicles covers the production of his early albums. During his career, Walter Lord published books on a wide body of historical topics, from WWII to the Alamo, and he was a master at coming up with great book titles: Day of Infamy (1957), The Good Years (1960), A Time to Stand (1961), Peary to the Pole (1963), The Past that Would Not Die (1965), Incredible Victory (1967), Dawn's Early Light (1972), Lonely Vigil (1976), The Miracle of Dunkirk (1980), and The Night Lives On (1986).

Though it's hard to know just how many of these titles will be remembered a hundred years from now, Lord's impact on the study of history is not in doubt. His use of eye-witness accounts was groundbreaking in its time, and has contributed to the narrative style of writing history that has rejuvenated that field of study. And The Way It Was is a fine contribution to his canon, a great case study for historians and novelists alike.

Kyle Semmel is the publications and communications manager of The Writer's Center and administrator of First Person Plural. In addition to his work at TWC, he is a writer and translator (under the name K.E. Semmel) whose work has appeared in Ontario Review, The Washington Post, Aufgabe, The Brooklyn Review, The Bitter Oleander, Redivider, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and elsewhere. His translation of Jytte Borberg's classic Danish story "Englene" will soon appear as "Angels" in The New Renaissance. His interview with internationally acclaimed poet Pia Tafdrup is in the current issue of World Literature Today. For his translations of Simon Fruelund’s fiction, he received a translation grant from the Danish Arts Council.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Discovery Friday: Redivider

Today we have Redivider, a really terrific literary journal out of Emerson College. If you take a look at the authors they publish, you'll find a nice mix of emerging and established. Sherman Alexie's in the new issue, for example, next to names you may not recognize (at least not yet). We sell Redivider in our bookstore, so next time you're here check it out. Here's editor Matthew Salesses:

Tell us about Redivider. What separates it from other literary journals?

I like to ask what people think of our aesthetic, and what comes up a lot is: eclectic. This is kind of a lazy answer, but it's also true. We publish anything so long as it's good. There's a crazy story by Ron Carlson in our upcoming issue like a comic half-act play that I mostly admire for its pure ballsy act of existence.

It's hard to make an aesthetic out of everything. A lot of it may have to do with the staff turnover each year, but I think it mostly has to do with open-mindedness.

Though this is not to say, "send us anything." It's more: "send us your best anything."

What would you like our readers and members to know about you?

We need your support! Why are people put off when a magazine comes out and says, "ye who claim to like us, please subscribe" (or at least buy an issue)?

Like all "little" magazines, we need subscribers. Spend the price of a movie ticket on a year's worth of literature. If not Redivider, then subscribe to another lit mag. It's worth it!

Can you tell us a little bit about what you like to publish? What you’re looking for?

I mostly covered this above, but here's where the "eclectic" label gets tricky. The writing we publish does have a definite "feel." Whether traditional or experimental, there is something about the way that the work we take compels the reader that is similar. I don't like tricks. Things should be earned.

What advice do you have for anyone submitting a manuscript?

Read and follow the guidelines before submitting. Some magazines don't have guidelines. That's wonderful. But we do. I mean this in a good way.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

March 13 Songwriters' Concert at The Writer's Center

                                           Victoria Vox

The Writer's Center and Songwriters' Association of Washington
present a Songwriters Concert
with Victoria Vox, Cathy Fink, Kevin Dudley
7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 13, 2010
at The Writer's Center
4508 Walsh Street, Bethesda, MD
Admission: $15
Register here

It's been a few years since our assistant director Sunil Freeman took a writing workshop, but he's recently been inspired to take two that we've offered in partnership with Songwriters' Association of Washington ("SAW").  He writes here about our March 13 Songwriters Concert and the workshops.

I had a great Writer’s Center moment a few months ago, when a long-time member of the Quotidian Theatre Company accosted me, astonished, to ask, “What in the world were Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer doing at The Writer’s Center yesterday?” The evening before she had been directing people to the box office for the company’s extraordinary production of Conor McPherson’s Port Authority. She’d seen Cathy and Marcy, two-time Grammy award winning musicians who have been pillars of the songwriting community for decades, hanging out at The Writer’s Center, sitting with others in a ragged circle. People were singing, playing guitars, and clearly having a great time.

The gathering she’d seen was an unexpected bonus for those of us who were fortunate enough to take Cathy and Marcy’s first songwriting workshop at The Writer’s Center in the fall. They had suggested the informal get together as a celebration to cap off the six-week workshop. Cathy is now leading a second workshop at the Center, and we're expanding our songwriting partnership with SAW by presenting a songwriters concert featuring Cathy, Victoria Vox, and Kevin Dudley. It takes place 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 13 here at The Writer’s Center.

Here’s some information on the songwriters who will perform that evening:

Participants in Cathy’s winter songwriting workshop were fortunate to meet Victoria Vox when she lead a dynamic session with us one week when Cathy was out of town. Victoria had no idea, when she graduated from The Berklee College of Music with honors and a degree in songwriting, that one day she’d showcase her stellar mouth trumpet on the Jay Leno show. (We got to hear it briefly in the workshop when she constructed a jazzy solo over ukulele chording that sounded, to me, almost vaguely reminiscent of Django Reinhardt.)  She accompanies herself on the ukulele, tours over 125 dates a year and this year has the honor of being an Artist in Residence at the Music Center at Strathmore. She has shared the stage with and opened for Jackson Browne, Jane Weidlin (of the GoGo’s). Mindy Smith, Tom Chapin, and Jake Shimabukuro. Vox has also been awarded runner-up for “My Darlin’ Beau” (Jumping Flea) and First Place for “C’est Noye” (from her 2008 album, Chameleon) in the International Acoustic Music Awards.

Cathy Fink is a prolific songwriter with 2 Grammy Awards, 11 Grammy nominations and 50 awards from the Washington Area Music Association in bluegrass, folk and children’s music. Cathy and her music partner, Marcy Marxer, maintain an active tour schedule as folk/roots/country/swing artists and children’s/family performers. They have worked in the studio with a wide range of musicians, including Tom Paxton, Si Kahn, Pete Seeger, Riders in the Sky, Brave Combo, Mariachi Los Camperos, Mike Seeger, Patsy Montana, Pete Kennedy, and Ysaye Barnwell. Cathy’s song “Names” about the AIDS Memorial Quilt was recorded by over 20 artists in several countries and won the Mid Atlantic Song Contest in the folk category. Cathy has won the John Lennon Songwriting Contest and International Songwriting Contest. She writes songs in many styles for listeners of all ages. Cathy describes the latest Grammy nominated CD,  Banjo to Beatbox, in which she and Marcy collaborated with hip-hop artist Christylez Bacon: "We combined Appalachian sounds with urban sounds, hip-hop rhymes with traditional stories, and created a whole new sound."

Kevin Dudley sings about love, death, diners and most everything in between. His appearances at local open mics has built a grassroots following that made his fellow SAW (Songwriters Association of Washington) members all recommend him highly for this show. Former front man/guitarist with Atomic Hillbillies, WAMA and SAW member, Kevin received a Silver Award in the Mid-Atlantic Songwriter’s Contest with “Texarkana Diner.”

The concert is co-sponsored by The Writer’s Center and Songwriters' Association of Washington.

Looking Ahead

We look forward to offering a range of songwriting workshops in partnership with SAW in the future. To date our participants have included relative newcomers and singer-songwriters with years of experience as soloists and band members. Some of them, who composed tunes before writing lyrics, brought guitars to the workshop and performed their "submissions" as full-fledged songs. I only brought drafts of lyrics, but felt welcome in the group. (It helped that Cathy set some of those lyrics to music.)  As I mentioned in Carousel, if I ever seriously return to studying piano, having had very rudimentary lessons as a child, I'll title that chapter of my memoir "Re-murdering Chopin." Cathy writes of her experiences in the workshop: "I feel very lucky to 'teach' at The Writer's Center. Really, I am simply sharing some of my experiences while guiding writers to find the best in their work." If you'd like updates on future programs please visit our website, email us at, and ask to be put on our email list.

Impossibly Busy: Pamela Ehrenberg

New workshop leader Pamela Ehrenberg is our guest today. She is the author of two novels for young people, Tillmon County Fire (2009) and Ethan, Suspended (2007). A former junior high teacher and AmeriCorps alumna, she is currently a higher education consultant and mom to a four-year-old and not-quite-one-year-old. For an introvert, she can be found on a surprising number of social networking sites, including, Facebook, and MySpace, as well as on her own Web site ( She has three upcoming workshops at TWC, including one on how to make time to write in an "impossibly busy" life. View all her workshops here.

"I have so much to do today!" my four-year-old said recently. "I have to make a picture, and do my sticker book, and take my dollies for a walk . . . ."

So much for thinking that life grew "impossibly busy" only when parenthood came along--or adulthood, or was it those pesky college applications when I was seventeen? I now know that impossible-busyness can begin by age four. (My one-year-old son is busy in a different way, exploring electrical cords, household products, etc. His life might not feel impossibly busy to him, but he sure lends a different definition of the term to the rest of us.)

Impossible busyness--the feeling that one can't possibly find enough hours in the day for everything that needs (or "needs"?) to be done--is both a luxury and a curse. In January, Washington Post Magazine reporter Brigid Schulte kept a diary of her time, in an effort to figure out why she had none. That article was the first time in years that I read the Post Magazine immediately on pulling it out of the plastic wrapper, rather than piling it on my nightstand or stuffing it in my laptop case for those "free" moments on the Metro. Clearly I wasn't too busy to read about how busy I was.

The article talks about busyness as a status symbol, but I think it offers yet another false benefit for writers: a surprisingly sturdy protective armor. Ah, the novel/memoir/poetry that would fly off my fingertips, if only I weren't so busy. Free time leads to freedom of discovery: discovering that I can write some pretty terrible poetry, discovering that writing a third book is as hard as writing a first. Discovering these truths is much scarier than fantasizing about a word-filled life of leisure.

But supportive others can help. This spring and this summer, I'll once again be offering an online workshop, "How to Make Time to Write in an Impossibly Busy Life." True confession: as a widowed mom of two young children, I originally devised the course because I felt I was too busy to lead a traditional-style workshop; I wanted something where I'd complete the exercises along with the participants, leading me back to the kind of disciplined writing where I've found success in the past. Previous participants indicated that the experience "really help[ed] me focus and prioritize" and that the supportive environment affirmed that "someone is listening (reading)." Individuals may log in at 6 a.m., 11 p.m., lunch hour, or their baby's nap time; while on a business trip or in pajamas. But together we form a community that recognizes there is something to gain from shedding the armor and making time for what matters.

Impossibly busy? Or just having trouble getting around to what's important to you? Either way, I hope to "see" you online in the workshop--or that another Writer's Center workshop or activity helps you carve out the writing time you need this spring and summer.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Dialogue Dos with Workshop Leader C.M. Mayo

This Sunday at The Writer's Center, the inimitable C.M. Mayo leads another one-session workshop on dialogue. (On Friday she'll be at Leesburg First Friday.) Here she is with some "dialogue dos."

In both fiction and creative nonfiction, dialogue, whether a single line spoken by a character to herself, or a page or three in a complex scene with multiple characters, is one of the most effective ways to show character, conflict, mood, and/ or relationship. In my one day workshop at the Writer's Center this Sunday March 7th, which is geared to both beginning and advanced writers, we'll be working with handouts, so everyone can easily follow the examples. Here's a snippet from one, of wonderfully effective dialogue, from Sandra Gulland's splendid historical novel, The Many Lives and Secret Sorrows of Josephine B:

Bonaparte has made a proposal of marriage. I told him I would consider.
"For how long?" He began pacing the room.
"I will give you my answer in two weeks."
"One week."
"Then the answer will be no."
He smiled. "You are stronger than you look, Josephine. I like that in a woman."
"My name is Rose."

We'll be looking at use of body language, sound and rhythm to re-enforce meaning, tags, use of appropriate (and vivid) detail and much more. And we'll examine at the most common mistakes--- so you can steer wide around them. The goal is that by the end of the workshop your dialogue writing will be of markedly higher quality.

P.S. To try some five minute dialogue writing exercises, check out the index at "'Giant Golden Buddha' and 364 More Five Minute Writing Exercises." 

Dialogue Intensive with C.M. Mayo at The Writer's Center in Bethesda MD this Sunday March 7th 10 am - 5 pm. For more information and to regster on-line, go here

She will also be offering a talk for the Leesburg First Friday series this Friday March 5th from 7:30 - 9:30 pm on "Staying Focused: Researching and Writing the Longer Book Project." For more information, go here.


C.M. Mayo is the author of the novel The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire (Unbridled Books); Miraculous Air: Journey of a Thousand Miles through Baja California, the Other Mexico (Milkweed Editions), and Sky Over El Nido (University of Georgia Press), which won the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction. Her many other awards include three Lowell Thomas Awards for travel writing, three Washington Writing Prizes, and numerous fellowships, among them, to the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, MacDowell Colony, Virginia Center for Creative Arts, and Yaddo. Her work has appeared in many outstanding literary journals, among them, Chelsea, Creative Nonfiction, Kenyon Review, North American Review, Massachusetts Review, Paris Review, and Tin House. An avid translator of contemporary Mexican literature, she is also founding editor of Tameme and editor of Mexico: A Traveler's Literary Companion. For more about C.M. Mayo and her work, visit