Monday, February 28, 2011

Marching Forward at The Writer's Center

A late post today. March is going to be a busy month. Our Publications & Communications Coordinator & in-house graphic designer, Maureen Punte, is laying out the Summer issue of the Workshop & Event Guide. Look for it by the end of the month. We'll also be posting all summer workshops by then. We're especially pleased to announce that we're expanding our offerings to Rockville AND to Annapolis. Good stuff all around.

But we have plenty of workshops coming up this month as well, including Zahara Heckscher's Writers' Staycation (look for her piece about it on Tuesday at First Person Plural),Shannon O'Neill's How2 Find a Literary Agent, the Songwriters' Woodshed with Cathy Fink, and much more. Find All March workshops here.


Plenty of events this month, too. On Friday, March 4th--yes, that's THIS Friday--we kick off our Story/Stereo events for 2011. Emerging Writer Fellowship recipients Matthew Pitt (Pitt's leading a one-day fiction workshop) (Attention Please Now) and James Hannaham (God Says No) will read. Musical guest is The Caribbean, and they're releasing a new album called "Discontinued Perfume." It's getting great reviews, like this one at Pitchfork.

Feel free to visit our recently retooled Story/Stereo Facebook page, Like it, and share it with others.

Also on tap this month: Our Open Door Readings

Sun, March 6, 2:00 PM
Kim Kupperman reads from her recent collection of essays, I Just Lately Started Buying Wings. She is joined by poet J.H. Beall, who reads from Republic. Register for this free event here.

Sunday, March 13, 2:00 P.M
Poetry publication reading with visiting author Jeanne Marie Beaumont, who reads from Burning of the Three Fires, and Michele Wolf, reading from Immersion. Register for this free event here.

Sunday, March 20, 2:00 P.M.
Join editor Joelle Biele in a reading from the recently published Elizabeth Bishop and The New Yorker: The Complete Correspondence. Readers will include Dana Gioia, Sandra Beasley, David Gewanter, and others to be announced. Register for this free event here.

Sunday, March 27, 2:00 P.M.
Terese Svoboda reads from her latest novel, Pirate Talk or Mermalade. She is joined by Jane Satterfield, whose most recent book is a memoir, Daughter of Empire. Register for this free event here.

On the publications front, we've got a couple news items to share. First, member Elisabeth Murawski, who recently wrote for First Person Plural, and her poem, “Emma Hardy Speaks from the Grave,” has won Shenandoah’s Graybeal-Gowen Prize for Virginia poets. It will appear on Shenandoah's Web site soon. Congratulations, Elisabeth.

New member Amin Ahmad, who recently moved here from Boston, has a new story, "A Taste of Revolution," in the New England Review.

And finally, board member Ann McLaughlin has a new book coming out this May. A Trial in Summer, it is called. She will be reading at The Writer's Center in May with one of her former students, Alan Orloff, who also has a new book coming out around then--Killer Routine.

For more details on Ann's book, visit her Web site.

Hope to see you around The Writer's Center here in March!


Friday, February 25, 2011

Open Door Reading: Shirley Brewer, Kathleen Hellen, and Laura Shovan

Those of you who've been expecting video from last weekend's BookTalk event: It's coming (I hope) soon. It has been a busy week, and I've not been able to upload the video yet. Our Flip cameras need mending, so I used my home camera. With a little two-month old at home, I don't have a whole lot of time during the week. So my goal is to do it this weekend.

Speaking of this weekend, we have one event on Sunday. Our Open Door reading with Shirley Brewer, Kathleen Hellen, and Laura Shovan. The event is, as always, free. It begins at The Writer’s Center at 2:00 p.m.

Here are the poets’ bios:

Shirley J. Brewer (Baltimore, MD) is a poet, educator, and workshop facilitator. Shirley won first, second, and third Prizes in the Maryland Writers' Association 2010 Short Works Contest for Poetry, and honorable mention in Passager’s Poetry Contest in 2005 and 2009. She was nominated for a Pushcast Prize in 2009. Publication credits include: The Pearl, The Comstock Review, HazMat Literary Review, Edison Literary Review, Free Lunch, Manorborn, CALYX, Passager, and other journals. Her first collection of poems is A Little Breast Music.

Kathleen Hellen's work has appeared in Barrow Street, Cimarron Review, The Cortland Review, The Hollins Critic, Nimrod International Journal of Poetry and Prose, Prairie Schooner, RHINO Poetry, Salamander, Southern Poetry Review, Subtropics, WITNESS, among others. Awards include Washington Square Review, James Still, and Thomas Merton poetry prizes, as well as individual artist grants from the State of Maryland and Baltimore City. Forthcoming is her chapbook The Girl Who Loved Mothra. A graduate of Carnegie-Mellon University, she is a contributing editor for The Baltimore Review.

Poet Laura Shovan is an artist-in-education for Maryland State Arts Council. She has led children’s and adult writing workshops for The Maryland Humanities Council and CityLit Project’s “Write Here, Write Now” program. Her articles, essays, and poetry for adults and children have been published in newspapers, literary journals, and e-zines. Mountain, Log, Salt, and Stone, her first poetry chapbook, won inaugural the Clarinda Harriss Poetry Prize.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

A Guide to Self Publishing, Part 2

By Becky Wolsk



I hired a professional photographer, Marissa Rauch, to take my picture for the back cover and for my promo postcard. The cost of hiring a professional photographer was worth it—my cover looks professional in large part due to her photo.


Amazon’s main CreateSpace site has some information on Kindle publishing, but if you’re interesting in publishing Kindle editions, it is better to go directly to their Kindle publishing site. They call it Kindle Direct Publishing (*

* Note: KINDLE DIRECT PUBLISHING is the new name of what used to be DIGITAL TEXT PLATFORM. Amazon says all services remain the same.

The customer service representative who phoned me to set up my Kindle conversion was smart and knowledgeable. As importantly, she was easy to reach for follow-up questions via email. I’m grateful to CreateSpace for enabling me to email her directly, instead of having to go through the anonymous roulette of a general tech support email address.


I quickly designed my promotional postcards thanks to the easy interface at This printing company is eco-friendly. I have no personal connection to them, but I hope Pixxlz will thrive so they will always be available if I need to do more promotional printing. I used the author photo from my back cover for this promotional postcard, in addition to photos of my book covers.

I didn’t buy bookmarks or any other type of promotional swag, and I don’t think I will--not that there’s anything wrong with them (to paraphrase Seinfeld).

I send out a huge number of holiday cards every year, and I included my promotional postcards in those envelopes so I wouldn’t have to do a separate mailing. On the back of the postcard, in the area that normally says “Place Stamp Here,” I put “Please Spread The Word.” I’m proud of that tweak.


Per novel, all I had to pay CreateSpace up front was an optional $39 for a Pro Plan (this gives me a better royalty rate). I also had to pay for my proofs, and I had to order several proofs because I make several mistakes that I had missed during the proofreading stage.

Since the books were published, I have spent a few hundred dollars ordering them for close friends and family, and ordering complimentary copies for bookstores and for promotional purposes. I get an author’s discount of $4.50 when I buy the books. Amazon’s list price is $12 for the paperback, and $8 for the Kindle version. I make $2.80 in royalties for each paperback, and $5.60 for Kindle editions because ebooks are cheaper for Amazon to produce. At this time, I do not have a distributor, and I haven’t researched that process much because it’s too expensive for me right now to pay for a distributor.

I didn’t pay any costs for my interior file because I used Microsoft Word to format it, and my Mac makes PDF conversion easy and free. I paid about $175 in cover file costs, not including the cost of a professional photographer.

With regard to Kindle conversion, I paid Amazon $70 per novel to do it for me, because I was exhausted from paperback formatting. I simply uploaded the same PDF interior and cover files that I had used for the paperback versions. I don’t know how much it would cost to only publish an ebook through Amazon, since I already had files ready from my paperback formatting.

Since my novels have been released, I find self-publishing to be as rewarding as if I had published with a well-known New York City publishing house. In fact, self-publishing rewards me more, because I’ve done it myself and I am my own boss. In closing, I want to thank Leslie for letting me guest-blog. Guest-blogging is an enjoyable, collegial way to promote one’s work.

For more information and a complete bibliography of helpful sites/resources:

About: Becky Wolsk writes and quilts through her cottage industry of Text Isle Patchwork. By November 1, 2011, she will self-publish The Text Isle Patchwork Cookbook, most likely through CreateSpace. You can visit her online portfolio at Her blog,, focuses on writing, quilting, and cookbooking. It also provides weekly book reviews, mostly of forgotten jewels and other books that deserve more attention. Becky lives in Washington, DC with her husband and daughter.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Self-Publishing Primer with Becky Wolsk

To self-publish or not to self-publish, that is the question these days for so many writers. For those of you who're considering self-publishing your work, here's a helpful how-to-guide. It is the first of two posts (the second will be posted tomorrow). This post originally appeared on Leslie Pietrzyk's super-awesome blog Work in Progress.

Says Leslie: "If you’re thinking about taking the plunge into the brave new world of self-publishing, you’ll find answers to your questions both here and in some helpful follow-up on Becky’s blog: She’s a walking resource!"

Self-Publishing Advice for Novel Writers, Part 1
By Becky Wolsk

Until September 2010, I felt snarky about self-publishing. My two novels, Food and Worry and Six Words, made me proud enough to assume that perseverance would lead me into the arms of an eager agent. I liked the agent hunt, because it was straightforward, unlike fiction writing and revising. I wrote a confident how-to article about my agent search for Work in Progress in June 2007.

Long story short: I couldn’t find an agent to offer me representation. For my first novel, Food and Worry, I queried 200 agents (between May 2005 and the end of 2009). For my second, Six Words, I queried 100 agents between February and September of 2010.

On September 1, I began the book-formatting process, and almost exactly two months later, on November 2, paperback editions of both novels were available for sale on Amazon. By Thanksgiving, the Kindle editions were available too.

I self-published both of my novels at once because I was sick of seeing them languish unshared in my desk drawer. Also, I mistakenly thought I’d just have to upload a Microsoft Word file. Why not upload both novels on the same day?

But self-publishing wasn’t easy an easy process, because I wanted to do it as cheaply as possible. Despite my ignorance of desktop publishing, I muddled through on my own. If you’re now in the same boat, I hope this account will help you navigate with less frustration.


Formatting is slower when overlooked typos barge in like blemishes. And did you overuse the adjective “very”? Do your characters too frequently start sentences with “Oh,” or “Well,…”

And now for the most unwelcome news in this article:

Even though you are self-publishing, you still need to get permission for quotes, especially if you are publishing fiction. Leslie mentioned the need to get permission from rights-holders in a workshop that I took with her in 2007. I forgot her admonition, or I repressed it. So I didn’t begin writing permission request letters until I had begun formatting, and I wish I’d done it much sooner. This is a bigger deal if you want to quote song lyrics.

According to my research, “fair use” doesn’t apply to fiction, and even if you use a very short quote, you still need permission. Many writers, especially on the Internet, will tell you differently. Since I’m yet another non-lawyer-writer on the Internet, I can’t provide reliable legal advice, so instead check out attorney Joy R. Butler’s The Permission Seeker’s Guide Through the Legal Jungle. Joy Butler specializes in entertainment, intellectual property, and business law. This article, “Staying Legal When Using Quotes,” from her blog is particularly helpful.


I researched the self-publishing websites that are flourishing as the self-publishing stigma decays (and as non-techies become more savvy from holiday card customization on services like Shutterfly).

Although I read equally good things about Lulu, Blurb, and Amazon’s CreateSpace, I quickly chose CreateSpace because Amazon is the most recognizable company. I published in paperback first, then Kindle a few weeks later, at a reduced price. (I discuss costs below.)

Because CreateSpace’s barebones service is almost free, the articles they offer in their Help section are too cursory for formatting novices. I’m not criticizing them for this—you get what you pay for, and if you want to pay for their services, they offer packages that make this process easy. I didn’t go that route because the price range was too steep for me: $300 to $5000. Their packages feature copyediting, formatting, and marketing services.

For a really helpful table which compares prices and features of each package, put this URL address into your browser window (direct-linking with that URL for some reason doesn’t work):

CreateSpace compensates for their lackluster Help files by hosting an outstanding community forum. Createspace’s forum contributors are good Samaritans, but it was time-consuming to decide whose advice to follow.

Get an ISBN number free from CreateSpace, or buy one from Bowker. There are advantages to buying your ISBN from Bowker that are beyond the scope of this article, but I decided to buy mine after reading an excellent article by math educator Larry Zafran.

If you are publishing editions in different formats (paperback and Kindle, for example), you will need an ISBN number for each format.

STEP FOUR: FORMATTING THE INTERIOR FILES (An interior file includes all text and images between the bookcovers.)

Interior files (and cover files) must be uploaded to Amazon in PDF form, so if you are a Windows person, or if you don’t know how to create PDFs on a Mac, you’ll need a PDF converter.

Despite the advice of the best forum members, who find Microsoft Word to be mediocre for formatting, I still chose to format the interior file of my manuscript with Microsoft Word for Mac. This process was made easier after I found an outstandingly helpful template from a kind, smart person who goes by the mysterious name of “tinhorn.” He or she works for Dixie Press (they offer formatting services, but I haven’t tried them). If you go with the tinhorn template, and if you’re publishing with CreateSpace, don’t be put off by the fact that tinhorn’s template is designed for Lulu. It works equally well for CreateSpace.

I also benefited from these websites:

Bryce Beattie provides a wealth of good information including screenshots, which are an invaluable visual aid.

The Catherine, Caffeinated blog: Author Catherine Ryan Howard is so generous with her detailed, humorous advice. Start with these two links:

J.R. Dunster

David Griffiths

If you publish on CreateSpace, you might also consider buying Walton Mendelson’s Build Your Book. His ebook and his CreateSpace community forum postings are frequently recommended by CreateSpace self-publishers


For my cover, I purchased 2 stock photos from for less than $100 dollars. I am grateful to Karen McQuestion for recommending stock photos in her wonderful blog posts. She’s a very successful self-published author.

CreateSpace offers a Cover Creator template for people who want to design their own covers as quickly and easily as possible, but I didn’t like any of the templates. Several people on the CreateSpace forums recommended open source software like Gimp and Scribus for file formatting, because those programs are cheaper and so comparable to Photoshop. I admire open source software, and wish I were an open source ninja, but these two programs took too long for me to figure out on my own. I didn’t want to pay for expensive Photoshop, and at the time, I didn’t know that Adobe’s Photoshop Elements is only $100, and simpler to learn than full Photoshop.

For $100, I purchased standard edition book cover software from the aptly named Book Cover Pro. This worked better than the other alternatives I tried.

About: Becky Wolsk writes and quilts through her cottage industry of Text Isle Patchwork. By November 1, 2011, she will self-publish The Text Isle Patchwork Cookbook, most likely through CreateSpace. You can visit her online portfolio at Her blog,, focuses on writing, quilting, and cookbooking. It also provides weekly book reviews, mostly of forgotten jewels and other books that deserve more attention. Becky lives in Washington, DC with her husband and daughter.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Maryland State Poetry Out Loud Finals This Weekend

Enoch Pratt Central Library's Wheeler Auditorium

400 Cathedral Street, Baltimore

February 26, 2011, 1:00 pm.

Join us for this inspiring event hosted by WYPR's Aaron Henkin of The Signal with MSAC Individual Artist Award winner ellen cherry as musical guest. Nine regional winners will compete for the title of Maryland State Poetry Out Loud Champion, a prize of $200, and an all-expenses paid trip to Washington, DC for the Nationals April 27-29, 2011. The Maryland State Arts Council has partnered with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation to conduct the 2011 Poetry Out Loud Competition, which awards more than $100,000 in prizes to students and schools at the state and national levels. Maryland’s competition is open to 9th - 12th graders in both public and private schools across the state.

A reception with light refreshments will take place after the event.

Please RSVP to MSAC Program Director Chris Stewart at or 410-767-6476.

Those requiring special accommodation must RSVP by noon on February 25th.

C.M. Mayo on The Techniques of Fiction

Guest blog post by C.M. Mayo

C.M. Mayo will be teaching the one day only "Techniques of Fiction" workshop this Sunday February 27 from 1 - 4 pm right here at The Writer's Center. In this post she gives us a little preview of what to expect.

For both beginning and experienced fiction writers, ""Techniques of Fiction"" focuses on generating new material with exercises addressing specificity, point of view, synesthesia, imagery, image patterning, plot, rhythm, and the use and misuse of dialogue. The goal is that by the end of the workshop, your writing will be of notably higher quality.

Date: February 27
Time: 1:00-4:00 P.M.
Days: 1 Sunday
Genre(s): Fiction
Level: All Levels
Location: Bethesda

C.M. Mayo is the author of the novel The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, which was named a Library Journal Best Book of 2009. She is also the author of Miraculous Air: Journey of a Thousand Miles Through Baja California, the Other Mexico, a travel memoir of Mexico's Baja Califorinia peninsula; and Sky over El Nido, which won the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction. She is editor of a collection of Mexican literature in translation, Mexico: A Traveler's Literary Companion. For more about C.M. Mayo and her work, visit

Learning to write fiction is a never-ending, ever-deepening process, and yet, because of the way the human brain is wired, the same very few but very powerful techniques have provided, provide, and-- barring bizarre genetic mutations-- will continue to provide the most effective instructions to the reader to form, in John Gardner's words, "a vivid dream" in his mind. That's what a novel is: instructions for a vivid dream. Sometimes I get all Californian and call it a "mandala of consciousness." But whatever you call it, a novel is about providing the experience of someone else's experience: Anna Karenina's, Madame Bovary's, Scarlet O'Hara's, Harry Potter's, [insert name of your main character here].

How do we, whether as readers, or as any human being (say, folding laundry, or maybe digging for worms with a stick) experience anything? Well, last I checked we are not free-floating blobs of consciousness (except maybe when we have out-of-body experiences and/ or when dead); we are in bodies. We experience what we experience through our bodily senses: sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch-- and I would add a "gut" or intuitive sense as well. So any fiction that is going to be readable -- a successfully vivid dream--- needs to address the senses.

The reader responds to specific sensory detail such as the color of the sweater; the sound of the wind in the ficus; the droplet of honey on her tongue; the mustiness of the refrigerator that had been left unplugged in the basement; the cottony bulk of an armload of unfolded towels; the sudden twinge of tightness in his throat just before he picked up the telephone.

There are an infinite number of techniques, but this -- the use of specific sensory detail --- is paramount.


He was sad.
He sank his chin in his hand. With his other, he reached across the table for a Kleenex.

Poor people lived here.
The hallway smelled of boiled cabbage and a bathroom that needed scubbing.

Rich people lived here.
Everything gleamed and behind her, a pair of white gloves pulled the door shut with a gentle click.

She disliked him.
The sight of him made her grit her teeth.

She ate too much at Mrs Ward's party.
She didn't leave one crumb of Mrs Ward's crumbcake.

The neighbors were obnoxious.
Though the Hip-Hop came from three houses down the block, she could feel it in her breakfast table when she put her hand on it.

Here's my favorite quote about detail, from a letter by Anton Chekhov:

In descriptions of nature one should seize upon minutiae, grouping them so that when, having read the passage, you close your eyes, a picture is formed. For example, you will evoke a moonlit night by writing that on the mill dam the glass fragments of a broken bottle flashed like a bright little star, and that the black shadow of a dog or a wolf rolled along like a ball. . .

In this Sunday's workshop we'll cover this technique, as well as several others, among them, imagery, dialogue, point of view, beginnings, and plot. I'll also address how to identify and cut clutter. I hope to see you then.

P.S. For some fun exercises to generate specific sensory detail, check out "Giant Golden Buddha" and 364 More 5 Minute Writing Exercises. See also my recommended reading list on craft.

And: many more resources for writers here.

Monday, February 21, 2011

BookTalk in Pictures

Thank you to everyone who came out for BookTalk: A Community Reads with Alice McDermott & Blake Robison yesterday. We had a packed crowd for the event (as you can see from the pictures below). A special thank you to the folks at Round House Theatre, especially Blake Robison & Lance Tucker. Also, big thanks to the National Endowment for the Arts, from which The Writer's Center received funding this year (to help launch BookTalk). For those of you who haven't seen Charming Billy at Round House yet, there's still time! A whole new week of shows has been added, so it's now running until February 27. Visit to purchase your tickets.

Later this week I'll post some video for the event. For now, pictures will have to suffice.

Blake Robison, Artistic Director of Round House Theatre and adaptor of the stage version of Charming Billy.

A big crowd.

Alice McDermott discusses female narrators in literature.

Blake Robison & Alice McDermott discuss adapting the novel to the stage.

We had a great time at yesterday's event, and we hope to do it again next year. If you were there and wish to share your thoughts on the event, please do so in the comments section of this blog. And those of you who still haven't gotten enough of Charming Billy or Alice McDermott, don't forget The Writer's Center podcast, which this month features her discussing the book.

Friday, February 18, 2011

BookTalk, Synapse Theatre This Weekend at TWC

A BIG thank you to Synapse Theatre for graciously allowing us to move our BookTalk event on Sunday--with Alice McDermott & Round House Theatre's Blake Robison--into our theatre. Synapse, who'd rented the space, will now have their performance start at 2:30 on this one day only. To learn more about this play, read below. The play is directed by Kathe Park and written by a rising star in UK theatre: Graham Farrow. As an added bonus, Farrow will be leading a workshop at TWC on playwriting called "Fundamentals of Playwriting."

Theatre Performances at The Writer’s Center
Synapse Theatre's Mid-Atlantic Premiere of:
Talk About the Passion
Play by Graham Farrow
Directed by Kathe Park

If your only child, a six year old boy is brutally murdered and the killer produces a best selling autobiography, how do you react? If the public turns on you and blames you because you let go of his hand at the crucial moment, what does that do to you? How do you behave when you confront the killers editor who has made a fortune and a name from your misery? Starring Angel Brown and Craig Miller
Starring Angel Brown and Craig Miller
Performance Dates & Times:

February 11, 12, 13, 18, 19, 20, 25, 26, and 27
Friday and Saturdays @ 7:30 and Sundays @ 2:00pm

Ticket prices are $20.00 for adults/$15.00 for students, seniors, military, and Actors Center members with ID. Groups of 10 or more: $10 per person, children 12 years or under: $7.50 per child, persons with disabilities: $12.50 per person.

For more information, visit the Synapse Web site: Synapse Theatre.

Sunday, 1:00 P.M. to 2:00 P.M. at The Writer's Center
BookTalk: A Community Reads (A FREE event)

The Writer’s Center will host a discussion about Charming Billy, Alice McDermott’s National Book Award-winning novel. At the event, McDermott will join Round House Theatre’s producing Artistic Director, Blake Robison (who wrote and directed RHT’s world premiere version of the play). The event is part of BookTalk: A Community Reads. A new program at The Writer’s Center—one for which The Writer’s Center received funding from the National Endowment for the Arts—BookTalk brings readers and writers together in conversation on a single book, much like a reading group. McDermott and Robison will discuss their involvement with the book and field questions from the audience.

Charming Billy at Round House Theatre

After the BookTalk event on February 20th, attend the play at Round House, followed by a panel discussion on adaptation. The World Premiere of Charming Billy will run at Round House from February 2-20, just a few blocks from TWC. These are ticketed shows. To purchase your tickets, visit their Web site.

TWC podcast with Alice McDermott

Our inaugural podcast is up! Click here to listen as Alice McDermott reads from her novel, Charming Billy, a National Book Award winner, and Shannon O'Neill discusses the novel with her.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Zahara Heckscher on Writing Staycation

In this clip workshop leader Zahara Heckscher discusses Writing Staycation, her week-long writers' retreat at The Writer's Center, which is coming up in March. Here's the description:

Do you dream of participating in a writing retreat, but can’t get out of town? This workshop, a non-residential week-long retreat at The Writer’s Center, is for you. Join us for an intensive, supportive, exhilarating, focused week of writing. Each day begins with a short reading and brief discussion. Then tons of time for working on your own writing–whether it is poetry, a novel, or nonfiction work in your brain, or a manuscript that needs some final polish. Optional lunch speakers, afternoon walks, and group shares.

If you're interested in the workshop after watching this video, you can register here.

The Writer's Toolbox: Your Writer Questions Answered

So here's this week's question (and if you have questions you'd like answered by workshop leaders or our favorite writers, let me know by e-mailing me at

How do I get a publisher or an agent for a collection of short stories?

James Mathews, alum, workshop leader, and author of the Katherine Anne Porter prize-winning collection Last Known Position:

One of the best tracks to follow for a collection is to first get as many stories as possible published individually - in literary or other competitive journals. This greatly increases your chances of landing a publisher or agent as it demonstrates the prose has already been, in a sense, peer-reviewed.

Matthew Pitt, Spring 2011 Emerging Writer Fellow (who'll be reading at Story/Stereo on March 4). He will also lead a one-day short fiction workshop at TWC called "Openers, for Openers":

There’s no short answer to this. But the shortest answer I know—write/revise with unwavering dedication, and be lucky, and have a completed novel in your drawer—seems both true and glib. A longer answer is the "how" differs from writer to writer, project to project, and is a moving target, depending on what particular agents and publishers are seeking at a given time.

So here's a beginning strategy. Read a lot of collections, from publishers large and small. Not only to support fellow writers, but to absorb as much about voice, craft and technique as possible. Think about the collections/writers on your shelves you most admire, or feel your work most resembles. See if they mention their agents in the acknowledgments. If so, query those agents. If you admire a collection with a small publisher, go to the website: many modest-sized publishers will allow writers to submit portions of their work at specified times. Others will hold contests, offering monetary prizes, travel grants, and, best of all, publication.

Leslie Pietrzyk, another alumni-turned-workshop leader at TWC, Pietrzyk has published two critically acclaimed novels, Pears on A Willow Tree, and A Year and a Day:

Story collections are notoriously hard to sell, so make sure your stories have been published first in excellent journals. Most agents aren’t interested in story collections (unless you also have a novel), but you can enter your ms. in contests run by small/university presses. Best list of legit contests: Best database of small presses to query:* And if you want to look for an agent to query anyway, here’s a good place to begin:
Leslie blogs at Work-in-Progress.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Beyond Social Media Basics for Writers

by Alma Katsu

If you’re a writer, chances are you hear the words social media and your throat starts to tighten. Writers have been encouraged to use social media to promote themselves to the point where, for some, it’s become an enormous source of anxiety. Like sex, no one feels that they’re doing it right or doing it enough.

Since you probably already know the basics of using social media—you use Twitter and Facebook, have a blog and of course you have a website – I’m going to focus on some things you want to think about when you want to think more strategically about using social media to obtain some sort of goal. And what makes me qualified to give this advice? My day job involves understanding the complex computational mayhem behind social media. I won’t say anymore about it because it would probably put you to sleep but trust me, it’s fascinating.

Now, I know some of you are going to view what I’m about to say cynically. You may look at social media as being all about hype, and hype that takes you away from doing what you want to do, which is to write. Well, the latter may be true but the former is not. Social media is about communication; it’s the primary way big parts of the world’s population communicate with each other. If you don’t believe me, well… you’re reading this in a blog, aren’t you? Not a printed copy of a newspaper. Or sitting around the cracker barrel down at the buggy whip factory.

Start early. Don’t wait until the month before you book’s pub date: it takes about a year to get a thousand followers and that’s if you are actively trying. That said, it’s definitely better to start late than to never start at all. The early months will be lonely. Don’t get discouraged, just keep plugging away. The important thing to remember is that social media is about becoming part of a community, about joining a network of people who are all interested in the same things. The reason it takes a while to build a following is that you have to become part of that community; people not only have to discover you, but have to value what you have to say, and learn to trust you (and by “you” I really mean your content – that is, what you post.) The exception to this rule is celebrity: celebrities tend to build followers more quickly because there’s no discovery phase. (So by all means if you know a celebrity, ask them to encourage their followers to friend/follow/subscribe to you.)

Use links in your content. Linking to online content – blogs, tweets, Facebook pages, Web sites – is important, because that’s how networks are built in cyberspace. The technical reasons behind this can seem a little convoluted so I won’t go into the details here, but I will give a couple key reasons. First, the algorithms used by most major search engines for indexing, or prioritizing search results, use link behavior as one factor to determine rank. So every time you link to someone’s Web site, you are doing them a favor. What you’re doing, in Internet terms, is voting for that person as a member of the community. You’re saying, I think what this person has to say is important to the discussion. Connectedness is rewarded in networks; the more connected you are, the more central you are to the community. The less connected you are, the more you’re shunted to the outskirts of the community and the lower your ranking.

The second important reason to link to other people’s content you like is because eventually, that person you’ve linked to will look their analytic stats and see who linked to them and chances are they’ll check you out. And once they know who you are, they’ll remember you, and eventually they’ll link back to you or mention you in their blog or tweet about you, and hey, you’re on your way to being a member of the community. (And if you don’t use some kind of analytics package on your website, shame on you. I suppose you’d wear a blindfold to throw darts at a dartboard or shoot arrows at a target in the dark?)

Tag everything that can be tagged. For the same reason as above: discoverability.
Whether or not you can add a tag to your content will depend on the form of social media. An easy example is Twitter: in Twitter, users can add hashtags to their tweet so that anyone searching on that hashtag will see it. For instance, you can tweet about your book, or someone else’s book that you’re enjoying, and add #reading or #amreading or the Book Maven’s #fridayreads so that people following those hashtags will see your tweet, too. Use broad or generic tags – like “write,” “books,” “fiction” – and specific tags, like “biography,” “historical,” or “romance” so you get people who are doing general searches as well as those who have specific interests.

Use a combination of social media to drive traffic to build and keep readers/followers. Sure, some of your followers use all forms of social media. They’ll follow you on Twitter, subscribe to the RSS feed on your blog, “like” your Facebook page. But others won’t. Some people connect with their friends on Facebook and rarely check their e-mail anymore. Some people follow Twitter to find out what’s happening and skip blogs (except to click on the embedded links in a tweet that will take them to someone’s latest blog post.) And some people – they tend to be older – are only comfortable with e-mail and wouldn’t venture onto Facebook if you begged them. It is incumbent on you, the writer, to use all these channels to let your readers know what’s going on. There are online tools that will push your content to all your social media, so you’re not going from your blog to Twitter to Facebook writing the same thing over and over.

And, I apologize if this seems obvious to you, but I’m surprised by how many writers I talk to who don’t use Facebook consistently. They send out e-newsletters, or use Twitter but run out of steam by the time they get to Facebook. However, a sizable number of people do most if not all of their online socializing and get their news via Facebook. (Frightening, yes, but true.) So bite the bullet and set up that Facebook page. And post to it consistently because yes, Facebook indexes its content.

Don’t be shy about asking friends to help you build your audience. On Facebook, for instance, you can politely ask others to repost your content, or post a link to your Web site. Ask them to #ff (follow Friday) you on Twitter. Be polite, don’t take it personally if they don’t. Ask again down the road, or for content that’s really important to you.

Member Alma Katsu is the author of The Taker, due to be released in the UK in April 2011 and in the U.S. in July 2011. Learn more about her at her Web site:

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Lynn Stearns: Memoir & Story Construction

People often enter The Writer’s Center “Memoir and Story Construction” workshops concerned that sticking to the facts will interfere with producing a compelling story. There are many definitions floating around, but most agree that a memoir is a record of events based on the writer’s personal knowledge. The writer does have an obligation to report what really happened; however, it’s possible, and even fun, to turn that record of events into a great story by manipulating the reader’s mood.

With setting, for example, make a list of the available props, the nouns, and then add adjectives. Items with sharp angles and bright, contrasting colors give readers a sense of apprehension or excitement. Think of Halloween – the black cat with pointy fangs and arched back, a jack-o-lantern with triangular eyes and jagged, asymmetrical teeth. Pastels, earth tones, and curves are more soothing. As the scene unfolds, simply weave in the setting details from the list that will help instill the desired mood, and omit those that do not.

Language is another valuable tool. It’s important to use words with the correct meaning, of course, but we have choices here, too. Words that begin with or contain a lot of vowels or quiet consonants (f, h, l, m, n, r, v, w, and y) promote a calmer mood than those with harsher sounding consonants and consonant blends such as c, g, j, k, q, s, x, ch, ck, sp, sq, and st. You may call the floor covering a carpet or a rug, refer to the cat’s claws or her fur.

The Pearl, by John Steinbeck, is fiction, but a memoir with the same setting would offer the same options. The story opens with a young father waking to a pale wash of light, the dog curled up on the dirt floor, waves lapping the shore, and his wife, Juana, humming. She makes a hammock of her blue shawl and places the baby close to her breast. (Do you feel the love?) Then two roosters begin a clumsy fight and a scorpion enters with his stinging tail straight out, the thorn on the end glistening. The reader is lured into the story not by just visualizing the scene, but by feeling the domestic tranquility and the threat the scorpion represents.

Stick to the facts when writing a memoir? Yes, please do, but be selective with the details and creative with language for a tale we’ll all want to read.

Lynn Stearns enjoys leading “Memoir and Story Construction” workshops at The Writer’s Center, and serving as an associate fiction editor for the Potomac Review. Her poetry, personal essays, and fiction have appeared in Bitter Oleander, descant, Haight-Ashbury Review, and other literary magazines, and in several anthologies, including Gravity Dancers, New Lines from the Old Line State, and In Good Company. She is currently at work on a novel in stories, a personal narrative, and a piece of flash fiction.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Week in Review

A semi-sort of new feature here will be the Week in Review, which I'll post at the beginning of each week--so that it's covering two weeks at a time.

Washington Independent Review of Books is now live! In the first issue of this new online review source, you can read reviews of Amy Chua's new (and contentious) new book, watch a video interview with Mary Jane Clark, and read a Q & A with the biographer of the stars Kitty Kelley. AIRB President David Stewart says of the new Web site: "The Independent is a labor of love produced by dozens of writers and editors, mostly in the Washington area, who are dismayed by the disappearance of book reviews and book review sections in the mainstream media."

The big news of last week is that Borders is really hunkering down and, according to Galley Cat, may file bankruptcy by the end of this month.

The future of books? If it's in the hands of America's youth, maybe you'll see fewer and fewer readers of traditional books--in favor of the electronic ones. This New York Times piece posits that 25% of all YA titles were purchased as e-books--up from 6% last year. That is a significant increase. Does it portend the end of traditional print books within the next generation?

Contest/calls for submission news. Two publications have upcoming deadlines:

Salamander is running its 2011 fiction contest. They're accepting submissions from April 15-May 15. Find details at their Web site.

And the Little Patuxent Review

Call for Submissions: LPR Make Believe Issue

Last year, “make believe” meant an album by Kidz in the Hall, an award-winning documentary by J. Clay Tweel, a Chicago project to fill vacant storefronts with art. This year, it’s the theme of the summer issue of the Little Patuxent Review.

If you have a new take on the many meanings of the term, submit your poetry, prose, or artwork to us by March 1. If accepted, it will appear in print and you will have the opportunity to appear in person at our June 18 launch reading.

The deadline is March 1, and the details are available on LPR's Web site.


Friday, February 11, 2011

Round House's "Charming Billy"

All this month--and with a whole week of shows added recently--Round House Theatre is putting on its production of "Charming Billy."

Zach and I made it down to the show on Monday. Gotta say: love it. For those of you who're familiar with the book, Blake Robison, RHT's Artistic Director and the play's adaptor, does a great job of putting it onto the stage. Of particular note, for me at least, was how the "narrator" of the book is presented on the stage. This isn't actually going to be a review of the play because, unfortunately, I wasn't able to take notes (no pen). BUT, I will say it's well worth a trip to RHT. Instead, take a look at The Gazette's description of the show in this week's issue. Or the Post preview here.

The only thing I'll add is that there is no intermission to the show, so plan accordingly!

If you see the play, don't forget that on February 20, TWC is hosting Alice McDermott & Blake Robison at the Center as part of our BookTalk: A Community Reads event, which rec'd funding this year from the National Endowment for the Arts.

And then, of course, we have our first ever podcast, this time featuring workshop leader and literary agent Shannon O'Neill (whose How2 Find a Literary Agent workshop you can find here) interviewing who else but Alice McDermott.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Writer's Toolbox: Your Writer Questions Answered

Two posts today. First, historian & TWC member David Stewart (author of Summer of 1787) answers this question:

"What role do publishers and agents play in today's world?"

Publishers and agents play two critical roles today. They serve the reading public by identifying good writers and bringing it before the world for its consideration. And they serve writers by helping to package their books and helping them figure out business and marketing challenges for which most writers have little intuitive feel. Even with the growth of digital books, there will continue to be great value in having those roles performed well.
For those of you interested in book reviews, David is one of the many forces between American Independent Review of Books, a new initiative aiming to be a force in the industry of book reviewing, locally AND nationally. Once that site goes live, I'll post a link and have a write up.

Post #2 is by Sunil Freeman, The Writer's Center's programs guru. I asked him to give a review of last Sunday's Open Door reading. Here's Sunil:

The Writer’s Center hosted a reading featuring three poets published in Indivisible: An Anthology of Contemporary South Asian American Poetry this Sunday. We’d been looking forward to the reading for several months, having received a proposal from Pireeni Sundaralingam, one of the three co-editors. She noted that poets published in the anthology would be in Washington attending the huge gathering of writers at the Associated Writing Program conference, so an early February reading would be ideal.

She was joined by two other poets published in the anthology, Ravi Shankar and Dilruba Ahmed, who read their own work as well as several other poems from the anthology. Indivisible came into being after a literary publicist suggested that, since South Asian voices had been somewhat marginalized in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attack, it would be fitting to create a small compilation of work by poets from that part of the world. The editors quickly discovered that the project would grow into a much larger undertaking.

They also learned, to their considerable surprise, that there had never been an anthology of South Asian American poets. The call went out for submissions, and hundreds came in, from which the three editors selected 47 poets to include in the anthology. Poems came from poets they already knew and admired, from general calls for submissions, and from the editors’ extensive reading of contemporary literary journals, always looking for particularly striking work by South Asian poets.

Pireeni described how, as word about the anthology grew in the publishing world, several presses expressed an interest in publishing what has become the first ever anthology of South Asian American poetry. In the end, the University of Arkansas Press published the 288-page book. It’s an extraordinary collection, with a wide range of poetic voices. Speaking of it, Yusef Komunyakaa noted “Moments of graceful resiliency are captured again and again, and Indivisible becomes an unbroken map of lyrical recollection. There are lived lives behind these marvelous poems.”

I’ll end with just a taste of the many poems shared at the reading:

Ravi Shankar lent a comedic touch with “The Flock’s Reply to the Passionate Shepherd,” his poem inspired by Christopher Marlowe’s “The Passionate Shepherd to his Love”:

Marooned upon this grassy knoll,
We wander lost from vale to pole,
Our woolly backs resemble thorn,
It’s been a while since we’ve been shorn . . .

From Dilruba Ahmed’s poem, “The 18th Century Weavers of Muslin Whose Thumbs Were Chopped,” inspired by Agha Shahid Ali:

What you’ve heard
of the weavers is no alchemy, it’s true:
they could have woven
you a cloth as fine as pure mist.

Beyond silk. Beyond gossamer.
Twenty yards in a matchbox
like folded air. Or fifteen
through a golden band, diaphanous. . .

And from Pireeni Sundaralingam’s “Vermont, 1885,” inspired by W. A. Bentley, who at age 19 was the first person to photograph a snowflake. Bentley later formulated the theory that no two snowflakes have the same structure:

I go home to my attic’s silence, adjust
focal length and lenses, grind out
the sea-green glass. Microscope
and camera: beneath their quiet stare
the snow disappears, is replaced
by a single, unique, six-pointed star.

# # #

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Michael Kang: A Filmmaker on Writing

Today's post is by new workshop leader Michael Kang, who'll lead the Writing the Television Pilot workshop beginning February 17.

Writing is lonely and painful.

But you must already know that because you came here to read what other writers had to say about writing. You came here to find solace and comfort and hopefully discover that you are not alone. You write because you have to write. You write because as much as you avoid it by checking Facebook and pretending a status update is as creative as crafting a novel, you love to write. You love to sit alone for hours hearing voices in your head and pretending that there is an order to the world.

You love coming out of your cave lit only by the warm fire of a computer monitor and handing over a ream of paper (or bytes of a PDF) and saying to someone “This is me. Please love me. Don’t make me go back into that cave.”

Of course no one ever loves you, not the first time you come out of that cave. The best you get is “Eh, it’s pretty good.” And you are inevitably drawn back into that cave. Even when your best cheerleader lies through his or her teeth and says, “it’s amazing, now come have dinner, you haven’t eaten in months.” You go back to your cave even though you can smell the crispy flesh of a roast wafting from that liar’s kitchen.

You tinker. You play scrabble. You do searches on people you didn’t like in high school. You find out the steps to making a perfect soft-boiled egg. You digitize your CD collection. You start a different story. You play guitar and sing very badly. You take the dog out for a walk. You stare at the computer. You write. You lather. You rinse. You repeat.

Why? It’s that moment when something clicks in the story. And then you find hours, days, weeks have disappeared in a flurry of madness that some call inspiration. Usually, it all leads back to that one moment when you changed something so simple and so obvious like the punctuation mark on the end of the first sentence or the gender of a side character or the use of second person singular vs. third person omniscient when everything started moving – really fast. You were just trying to keep up.

And in those hours that are neither morning nor night, you look up to see that the cave has changed; it’s become a very lofty palace with central air and TiVo. You are too exhausted to enjoy this. You are sure when you wake up it’s all going to be just a very intricate trick of the mind. Nothing has changed and you will be here once again.

And then you come back the next morning after your first cup of coffee and an eviction notice has been posted to the door of your palace. You worked all that time for that one moment where you were satisfied but not really sure if you were truly satisfied. You finish your coffee. And then you crawl off to find another cave. That’s why you write.

Michael Kang is an independent filmmaker currently recovering from a three-year stint in Hollywood. He will be teaching Writing The Television Pilot hence the overly dramatic First Person Plural entry. He has taught screenwriting workshops through The Asian American Writers Workshop, The Poet’s Theater and InDuLoop. He is currently teaching Broadcast & Film Writing at Towson University. His film "The Motel" premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and is currently available on DVD through Palm Pictures. Michael has received numerous awards for his work including the Humanitas Prize, N.E.A. Artist’s Residency Grant at The MacDowell Colony and the Geri Ashur Award in screenwriting through the New York Foundation for the Arts. Michael also received a fellowship through the ABC / DGA New Talent Television Directing Program. He has been a freelance screenwriter whose projects include a feature film script for Wayne Wang and a television pilot script for HBO. Michael’s second feature film “West 32nd” premiered at The Tribeca Film Festival and is currently available on DVD through Pathfinder Pictures. Michael is currently in post-production on his third feature film "Knots" about a dysfunctional family business of wedding planners.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Writer's Center's Podcast

I've been at the AWP conference most of this week, and wasn't able to post today's post until now (5:29 est). I'm here at the Center waiting for tonight's Maxine Hong Kingston event. I'll post a review and brief video clip of that reading on Monday. In the meantime, here is a pleasure for your ears: The Writer's Center's inaugural podcast. It features Alice McDermott and Shannon O'Neill discussing McDermott's novel Charming Billy, which is of course the subject of this month's BookTalk event on February 20. Have a listen!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Writer's Toolbox: Your Questions Answered

Here's a timely post (with the AWP Conference is happening right now just down the road). Workshop leader Angela Render answers this week's question: How do I gain a following if I'm limited in my travel?

If you need to build a following and can't travel, the Internet offers any number of opportunities. With the exception of a handshake, you can use media to cover nearly every other aspect. To reach people with words, you can blog, participate in forums, newsgroups, social
networking, and e-mail. The Internet allows you to present yourself in
pictures through those same avenues as well as through Flickr photo
galleries. Podcasting gets your voice out to your potential following.
Through digital video cameras, you can present yourself talking and
moving. Youtube is only one (and perhaps the most popular) way to
distribute pre-recorded video.

If you want to reach people real-time and establish a dialogue, free conference call services allow you to set up teleconferences with your readership: Q&A, readings, book talks. Video conferencing software allows you to appear before your readership. If they have a camera set
up on their end, you can have a real-time face-to-face interaction with
either a remote group gathering, or with people scattered across the
globe--all in the comfort of their own homes.

For those people with limited mobility, shake off your technophobia and
build your following.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Steve Kistulentz: The Luckless Age

I’d like to believe in an America where ketchup was never a vegetable, where half the population did not revere a president for his fake triumph over a weakened nation that could barely feed its people; I’d like to believe in America where our tax policy is the sign and signal of our commitment to the least among us, our commitment to the public’s health, education, and welfare. I’d like to believe (again) in men who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war, and tried to stop it.

That is the America I was born unto.

I grew up among those who heeded a president’s call to national service as our responsibility in representative democracy, who believed that the best and brightest had both a duty and obligation to serve. They believed in activism and fairness, and in one man, one vote, and they were proud of an America where democracy prevailed and where our long national nightmare was over.

We do not live in that America anymore.

We live in an America of ignorance and gluttonous self-regard. We do not live as communities but as millions of disconnected and distracted individuals. We devalue education and expertise at every turn, yet fail to see how a nation of coddled “A” students cannot solve simple equations, write in standard English, or change their own oil. In other words, we are the end product of The Luckless Age.

I had that title for almost 10 years before I knew what the book would be, how my new book The Luckless Age (Red Hen Press) might come to embody an alternative history of the late 20th century. I wrote enough poems for three books, kept adding and subtracting, and eventually these obsessions came to the surface; there was the pleasant distraction of Top 40 radio morphing into the grinding white noise of guitars and amps; there was the seductive presence of the city, Washington, DC; but mostly, in the tension between the political and the personal, I found a persistent feeling that along the way, somehow all of us had taken a wrong turn. And what I’d learned from these imaginary histories was that even though we often know exactly where we’d gone wrong, we were often still powerless to fix it.

The book is more than a chorus of the dispossessed; it’s reportage from the assassinations of the 1960s, a remembrance of the conspiracies and gas lines of the 1970s, and an indictment of the plastic jingoism and simple slogans of the 1980s. It is the ecstatic music of liberation found in our greatest rock-and-roll anthems. These lyrics tell another story too, illuminated by the abiding hope that America itself is resilient enough to live up to its promises. It’s the optimism found in Senator Robert Kennedy’s paraphrase of George Bernard Shaw: Some people see things as they are and ask why. I dream of things that never were and ask, Why not?

Steve Kistulentz’ The Luckless Age was selected from almost 600 manuscripts as the winner of the 2010 Benjamin Saltman Award by judge Nick Flynn, and was published on February 1 by Red Hen Press. From 1996-2004, he was an instructor at The Writer's Center. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous literary magazines, including the Antioch Review, Barn Owl Review, Barrelhouse, Black Warrior Review, Crab Orchard Review, Mississippi Review, New England Review, Quarterly West, and many others. He is a two-time winner of the Academy of American Poets John Mackay Shaw Prize. He currently lives in Jackson, Mississippi, where he is an Assistant Professor of English at Millsaps College. He will read Friday, February 4, along with a host of other poets at Red Hen Press’s annual AWP off-site reading, held this year at The Big Hunt, 1345 Connecticut Avenue NW, starting at 7PM.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Open Door Reading: Indivisible, Sunday, February 6, 2:00 P.M.

Starting with a little fun. Do you know what books were bestsellers the day you were born? Visit this site to find out! The #1 book when I was born was Centennial by James Michener.

On Sunday at 2:00 P.M., join editor Pireeni Sundaralingam and authors published in Indivisible: An Anthology of Contemporary South Asian American Poetry.Readers will include Sachin B. Patel, Ravi Shankar, Dilruba Ahmed, and Pireeni Sundaralingam. Register for this free, off-site AWP event here.