Friday, July 29, 2011

Language Overlay: A Technique of Fiction

This article was originally posted on C.M Mayo's blog, Madame Mayo,on July 4, 2011. She will lead a Techniques of Fiction workshop at The Writer's Center on September 24.

One of the simplest and yet most effective techniques of fiction is "language overlay." I first learned about this from the Canadian novelist Douglas Glover. In his essay, "The Novel as Poem," (in Notes Home from a Prodigal Son, Glover talks about how he dramatically improved the original draft of his first novel with this technique:

My first person narrator was a newspaperman, he had printer's ink in his blood. [I went] through the novel, splicing in words and images, a discourse, in other words, that reflected my hero's passion for the newspaper world. So, for example, Precious now begins: "Jerry Menenga's bar hid like an overlooked misprint amid a block of jutting bank towers..." Or, in moments of excitement, the narrator will spout a series of headlines in lieu of thoughts.

The key word here is "passion." What is in your character's world that he or she would feel passionate about? There's not a linear formula to follow; just take a piece of paper and jot down any nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, phrases, concepts-- in short, whatever pops into your mind that might do.

For example, if your character is a doctor, perhaps her world might include:

stethoscope, Rx, nurse, pills, scalpel, sterile, billing, paperwork, white coat, bedside manner, cold corridors, patient, tubes, IV, tongue depresser, "Say 'ahhh!'"

If your character is a chef, perhaps:
skillet, toque, cooking school, spices, basil, aroma, seasoned, blisters on hands, oven mitt, scalloped potatoes, seared, grilled, boiled, steamed, souffle, sweating in a hot kitchen, hsssss of sausage hitting the oil, Salvadorean pot-washers, waiters, paté, fois gras, freshness, crispness, apron

And surely, with a few minutes and pencil you can add another 10 to 100 more items.

But to continue, let's say your character is a beekeeper:
Bees, hives, smoker, sunshine, blossoms, clover, lavender, moths, gnats, sting, hive tool , veil, gloves, seasons, orchards, Queen, drone, worker, nectar, pollen, propolis, furry, wings, extractor, candles, farmer's markets, bottles, pans, wax, comb, jars, raspberry, apple, recipes, candy, pesticides, "ouch!" mites, cold, wind, directions, forest, nature

Or a shaman:
drum, flutes, shells, spells, chimes, stones, nature, mmm-bb-mmmm-bb, animals, wolves, robes, chants, tent, walking, dancing, running, wind, rain, sun, moon, stars

A writing conference organizer (this went over with a few chuckles at the San Miguel Writers Conference last year): Internet, paper, books, authors, per diem, agents, writers, money, volunteers, hotel, telephone, e-mail, facebook, "what's he published?"

Of course you needn't incorporate everything on your list anymore than you would eat everything laid out on a smorgasboard. Browse, sniff, nibble, gorge, ignore-- as you please.

To give you an example from my own writing: one of the main characters in my novel, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, is Maximilian von Habsburg, the Austrian archduke who became Mexico's ill-fated second emperor. One of the techniques I used to find my way into his point of view was, precisely, language overlay. Before coming to Mexico, Maximilian had served as an admiral in the Austrian Navy, so no doubt he would have used or oftentimes thought of such words as: starboard, deck, batten the hatches, gimbles, compass, bridge, wake...

In short, I made a long messy-looking list and kept it pinned to the bulletin board by my desk. I also used a Thesaurus, adding terms I didn't think of right away: "kedge" was one. So I had a scene where, in land-locked Mexico City of 1866, Maximilian informs his aide that they're going on a brief vacation to Cuernavaca. "We'll just kedge over there..." Ha! Kedge! One of those perfectly precise words that makes novelists unhunch from their laptops, raise both fists and shout, YEEEE-AH!!! Which, you can be sure, will startle the dog.

The exercise I always give my writing workshop students:

First make your language list for the doctor. Then, in 5 minutes (about a paragraph), have him take a cooking class.

Douglas Glover's essay "The Novel As Poem" is such an important one for any creative writer to read, I would recommend buying the collection, Notes Home from a Prodigal Son, for that alone-- but the collection does in fact include many other excellent and illuminating essays. Visit the publisher's website here.

UPDATE: I'm teaching "Techniques of Fiction" for the San Miguel Writers Workshop in San Miguel de Allende in February 2012. Read more about that here.

P.S. For a free copy of my e-book "C.M. Mayo on Creative Writing: The Best from the Blog," a fully formatted PDF download, which can be read in iBooks, click here. My workshop schedule can be found here. Most recent podcast for writers: Decluttering Your Writing: The Interior Decoration Analogy.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Nobodies Does It Better: A Profile of Carolyn Parkhurst

Bestselling author Carolyn Parkhurst credits The Writer’s Center with starting her on the path to a career as a successful novelist. Carolyn explains that, right after college, “I was feeling aimless. I knew I wanted to ‘become a writer,’ but I had no idea how to make that happen.”

She was working at the now-defunct B. Dalton’s on K Street and writing in her spare time. Unlike many who consider themselves “beginners,” she had already published a few short stories in literary journals, and nonfiction work in outlets like Seventeen magazine. But Carolyn readily admits that “without deadlines, it wasn’t easy to motivate myself to stay on track.” 

When she found her way to The Writer’s Center, she found her focus. Classes with Richard Peabody and Ann McLaughlin, among others, provided deadlines and helpful critiques as well as an antidote to the isolation of the writer’s life. She realized that part of what had been missing for her was this critical feedback on her work. An early story of hers that was critiqued in a Writer’s Center workshop went on to be published in the North American Review

Ultimately, Carolyn’s experiences at The Writer’s Center convinced her to consider enrolling in an m.f.a. program. She graduated from The American University’s program and soon went on to publish The Dogs of Babel, the first of her three novels, which propelled her to bestseller stardom. Her second novel, Lost and Found, was selected for USA Today’s 10 Hot Summer Reads list. And in a review of her newest novel, The Nobodies Album, Publishers Weekly said that she demonstrates the “gift of the real storyteller.” That book is now available in paperback.(Visit Carolyn's Web site to learn more about each of her books.)

In case anyone thinks Carolyn’s range is limited to serious literary fiction, the book trailer for The Nobodies Album showcases another side of her talents—her comic genius. She conceived and wrote the script herself. 

After all this time and success, Carolyn still feels a strong connection with the Center. “I always recommend classes at The Writer’s Center to beginning local writers who are floundering on their own and would like to be part of a writing community.” 

Paula Whyman's fiction has appeared in literary journals and anthologies, including Writes of Passage: Coming-of-Age Stories and Memoirs From The Hudson Review. Her humor and commentary have appeared in The Washington Post and on NPR, and she's the creator of the online parody Bethesda World News (  Paula teaches through the Pen/Faulkner Foundation Writers in Schools program in DC, and The Hudson Review's similar program in NY. She's a VCCA Fellow and was recently selected for a MacDowell Colony Fellowship.  Her fiction is forthcoming in Gargoyle Magazine. Visit her online at

The book trailer in question:

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

K.C's Corner: Dog Days of Summer Reading List Part One

by Kelley Coyner

In the tradition of Ancient Rome, the Dog Days started on Sunday, July 23th. For many in Washington, the Dog Days begin when Congress goes home and locals are left in the heat albeit with easier commutes. For me, the Dog Days come in waves with the heat, slip away, and then slam down again and again. Last week when a dome of stagnate, dog breath air sat on us for days—I knew the Dog Days had arrived.

What to do but read and sip iced drinks.

 Having gorged myself on a baker’s half dozen of mysteries, a couple of novels, and clutch of poems in honor of Midsummer’s Eve, I am ready to return to nonfiction.  What makes my summer nonfiction reading list? I mostly am drawn by a good story, intriguing characters, a slightly askance point of view, drama, weirdness, mystery, and, most of all a good pace.  Occasionally I will pursue a themed reading. In summer, I especially like polar adventures like stories by and about Shackleton and tales of faraway places like lost Inca Ruins of Manchu Picchu.
Here a handful ideas for your Dog Days reading. Next week in part 2 I will share some more lists and what you said you are reading. 

Stories, stories, and more stories. In The Immortal Henrietta Lacks Rebecca Skloot tells several stories. She draws a picture of Henrietta Lack’s life, her struggle and death to cervical cancer and Skloot tells how Mrs. Lack's cells – known as HELA--become the workhorse cell of biological research. Along the way she tells the story of Mrs. Lack’s children, of how legal  and research communities view the ownership of cells, of medicine in the 1950s, of life in segregated Baltimore Maryland and Clover, Virginia, of cancer care at Johns Hopkins and more.   

News of the unusual. In the category of strange but not funhouse weird, The Hare with Amber Eyes tells the story of potter and sculptor Edmund de Waal’s Jewish family of grain traders who moved from Russia to major cultural centers of Europe before being destroyed by the Nazis and the story of their netsuke collection. De Waal’s ancestor Charles acquired the netsuke – tiny Japanese carvings that the author is pulled to as "small, tough explosions of exactitude”--in the last half of the 19th century during a fad of Japonismo.  De Waal inherits 240 netsuke, none of which are larger than a matchbox from his great Uncle Iggie. In like measure, de Waal is intrigued by the intricate netsuke and the intricate stories of his ancestors. (By the way, for those of who prefer print versions of their books, the paperback is due out next Tuesday.) 

Three makes good company
One and two: In Good Soldiers by David Finkel and When Janie Comes Marching Home by Laura Browder and photographer Sascha Pflaeging, the writers go to the soldier to learn and then tell his or her stories. As Washington Post reporters embedded for much of their 15 months in Baghdad during the surge, Finkel reports the stories of the soldiers and commanding officers of Batallion 216 or the Rangers. Finkel looks over the shoulder of soldiers--in Humvees, during prep for promotion review, on foot patrol, at a burn unit in a military hospital--and tells the story of Iraq from their point of view.  Browder, a Richmond-based film documentarian, captures the oral histories of the women who are marching home in record numbers from combat zones in Iraq, Kuwait, and Afghanistan. She tells her story of writing the book in the preface and tells Janeys’ stories of camaraderie, voluntarily extended deployments, and motherhood through interviews of more than 50 active-duty and retired military women. I was put off by the When Janeys’ coffee table book format. Bear with it. The layout is needed for the photographic portraits that are paired with Browder’s interviews.

And Three. In An Unexpected Light, Jason Elliot’s Afghanistan travelogue evokes a very different sense of the place of this contemporary war theater than Good Soldiers or  When Janie Comes Marching Home. Elliot contrasts the Afghanistan he traveled in as a 19-year old in 1979 during the time of mujahedeen with the version he found when smuggled into the country during the Soviet occupation. Finkel and Browder give us a window on these modern war zones from the perspective of the soldier. Elliot gives a view of Afghanistan in the context of two earlier modern conflicts from the perspective of an adventure traveler rather than an embedded journalist or documentarian. I read Elliot’s book in October 2001, the year it was first published. An Unexpected Light will be reissued next week.

Noir meets Memoir.  David Dow’s memoir The Autobiography of an Execution is not light beach reading, but it gripped me like a noir mystery. The book is peopled with puzzling characters and gritty scenes. The story taunts and yanks you along with unexpected turns and detours to an unavoidable end. The book jacket blurbs focus on Dow’s critique of the death penalty and work as a post conviction defense lawyer—one who represents clients after they have been sentenced to die. Dow does set out his cases against the death penalty, but through the stories and characters of defendants, the warden on death row, raunchy bars, mountain bike rides in the heat of Houston, trips to death row in Huntsville. He does not defend death penalty clients because he believes they are innocent; in Autobiography he tells the story of a man who might in fact be innocent. (A disclosure: I have known David since I was thirteen. He has always been a terrific storyteller.)

Nothing quite hits the mark? Stay tuned for Part Two of Dog Days. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Welcome to the Young Writers' Corner!

Adele Steiner is a workshop leader for younger writers at The Writer's Center. She will be leading two workshops this fall, Young Writer's Circle and Artscape News. More information can be found in the fall course guide. Here she is talking about her summer workshop (a sampling of student work is included below).

One part Glen Echo Park and its lovely natural surroundings combined with two parts imagination equals magic for creative writing! That’s exactly what we had this summer in my Natural Magical Writing Workshop for 8-11 year olds.

Students kept journals on nature walks, a sight seeing tour of the park, a visit to the on-sight photo gallery of historical circus prints, an interview with a local artist, and even a ride on the historical Dentzel Carousel. The experiences provided words, and my students’ imaginations and play with those words resulted in a lovely collection of chapter books, short stories, and poems. Fascinating, too, was how each experience seemed to inspire writing in a different genre. The final work, however, was magical, suspenseful, sometimes a bit scary, funny on occasion, and often beautiful too.

This latest installment of the Young Writer’s Corner is a sampling of my students’ writing, so many thanks to them for their excellent work; and of course, many thanks to parents and The Writer’s Center for an opportunity to showcase their work. So please enjoy!



(Chapter 1)

Down by a small creek that sparkled like jewels, there lived a young girl with a silky soft complexion, and light red hair that flowed like the creek where she had built her home so many years ago. Her voice was so soft and sweet that it sounded like honey. Some people with too many troubles to count would come down and listen to her magical voice.

The town’s people called her Zoe, which means “life” in greek. Every day, Zoe would wade into the river and enjoy the gift that God had laid out for her.

To the average human’s eye, she seemed perfectly happy. But Zoe was far from perfect or happy. She had a deep, dark secret that haunted her and would haunt her until the end of time itself.

Now I know what you’re thinking, and the answer is, “No.” I will not tell you what the secret is. What kind of author or storyteller would I be if I told you? Yup—a lousy one! So, no, not even a hint. If you wish to find out, you must travel back in time with me—to about 500 years ago….


In a World that is Upside Down

In a world that is upside down,
people walk on the ceiling,
trees have roots in the sky,
water fountains are like water falls,
and sprinklers are like rain.

In a world that is upside down,
people swim on the roof,
yurts are like upside down cupcakes,
and lamplights are sticks with balls on the ends.

In a world that is upside down,
traffic cones are ice cream cones,
swings are in the sky,
flowers are planted in the sky,
and slides go up!


Word Play

The moon sea is magical and wild.
It always has a mystery at night time,
and the secret is light


Katie’s Rainbow

(Chapter One)

Katie Fisher stared out the window at the dismal day outside--rain, rain, rain. It just had to stop raining! It just had to. Katie was supposed to go with her dad on their annual picnic! Katie willed the rain to stop one more time, then continued to read her book, Password to My World. “I bet Seana Riley never has to worry about rain ruining her picnic,” Katie muttered. “This is sooo annoying!”

Katie listened to the rain outside her window for quite a while, until finally, finally, the pitter patter of the rain slowed and stopped. But, seeing as Katie was such an avid reader, she didn’t notice this until about half an hour later. “Dad! Dad! Dad! Dad! It stopped raining! We can go on our picnic now!” Katie ran downstairs when she realized that the sun had come out.

Katie’s father was a tall, thin man with a diamond-shaped face who loved his four children, Carrie, Katie, Sam, and Jack. He was a carpenter with a workshop in the Fisher’s basement.

Moments after Katie had informed her father, the father and daughter were on their way up the hill to their favorite picnic spot. “Wow, look at the gorgeous rainbow!” said Mr. Fisher. Katie, fork midway to her mouth, looked up and saw the rainbow her father was talking about. “Wow! That’s really … beautiful!” she breathed. “That’s the power of light for you,” Mr. Fisher said.

Katie couldn’t stop looking at that rainbow all through the picnic. “I should really learn what a rainbow is…,” Katie thought to herself. Katie turned back to her sandwich, and her brain began to whir. There was something special about that rainbow, all rainbows, and Katie Fisher could feel it.

At home, Katie slid into the computer seat. “Internet…Google…rainbows…” she muttered the steps as she typed and clicked. “Aha, About” Katie sat back and began to read. When she finished, she found herself with a four-page long report. “Time to show dad,” Katie sat he father down in the living room and told him she had typed up all of this information about rainbows. She opened her mouth and began to read….


Looking Upside Down

Looking at stuff upside down
is sooo annoying. It makes me frown
because looking at stuff upside down
makes my head feel funny.
It makes my eyes feel like they’ll fall out,
and my ears feel like they’re full of honey.
I’d rather be standing straight.
I wish I were late.
I wish I went to the zoo
or had the flu.
Then I wouldn’t have to stand upside down.
I don’t like it—that’s why I frown.


Word Play

I free the wild life.
I touch the sea full of rain.
I love the hot, magic night,
the true love of secrets.


Monday, July 25, 2011

An Interview With Susan Coll

by Rebecca Shaw

Hello, my name is Rebecca Shaw. I am a Political Science Major and Creative Writing Minor at Bryn Mawr College, which is located outside of Philadelphia. This summer, I am interning for Kyle Semmel at The Writer's Center. As part of the internship, I had the opportunity to interview Washington D.C. writer  and the newly appointed Editorial and Programming Director at Politics and Prose, Susan Coll. I read her recently published novel, Beach Week, while spending a week-long family vacation at a beach in Delaware.  

Here is Susan's bio from her official Web site

Susan Coll is the author of the novels Beach WeekAcceptanceRockville Pike, and She has worked as a travel and feature writer, and has also written a few op-eds and book reviews, published in such places as The Asian Wall Street Journal, the International Herald Tribune, the Far Eastern Economic Review, the Washington Post, and “Fire Safety Week,“ a short story set in New Delhi, was broadcast on the BBC World Service. She once wrote an essay about overscheduled kids and parents in the Washington Post. She is the Editorial and Programming Director at Politics and Prose Bookstore in Washington, DC.

I found it intriguing that you used multiple points of view to tell the story. When writing Beach Week did you always plan to write the story from different points of view?

Certain of the point of view choices in this book were deliberate: I knew from the outset that I wanted the perspectives of a mother and her teenage daughter, for example, and I also knew that I wanted to offset this story of suburban excess with something darker, hence the disturbing Noah character. Charles, the father, was never meant to have a direct point of view; his voice appears at a relatively late stage in the book and I fretted about breaking convention, yet the unexpected shift seemed to inject new energy into the narrative, or at least into the author. Originally the book began from Noah’s POV, but I was told this was too dark an opening, that I shouldn’t begin a book called Beach Week from the POV of a mentally disturbed peeping Tom. Too dark is probably the most consistent comment I get on my work from editors.

Noah is the co-owner of the beach house rented by the teens in Verona. Because of a novel his ex-wife, Clara, wrote, he is perceived negatively by society. Her novel was based on a real experience in which Noah was caught spying on a neighbor. Do you believe when you or any writer produces fiction, such as this novel, you base some of the story on reality? Do you (or other writers) distort the truth because it’s a work of fiction?

With Beach Week, as with my previous novel, Acceptance, I did use real events as the springboard for the stories I wanted to tell, but because the characters are complete inventions I hope I avoided inflicting the sort of damage that Clara did to Noah. I set out to document, as well as satirize, the way we live, and parents, in contemporary affluent suburban Washington. Beach Week was actually inspired by a legal contract, and I used a fictionalized version of this in the narrative. Similarly, much of the humor in Acceptance was drawn from actual statistics. The industry of college rankings inspired that book, and I did a fair amount of research and reporting. So yes, in the case of these two books anyway, the stories are based in reality, but distorted for the purposes of fiction. But to answer your larger question, I think there’s no way around the fact that fiction is filtered reality, even if it’s pretty thoroughly refracted and then channeled through vampires or trolls.

One of my favorite aspects of the novel stemmed from how the Verona parents cared mostly about legal liability and contracts when planning beach week rather than being realistic on how the Verona teenagers would behave, despite the contracts. It highlights the disconnection between the parents and teenagers. How important was this dynamic between the parents and teenagers when writing the story?

This question goes to the very heart of what I set out to capture. My intention in writing this book was to highlight the fundamental disconnect between a group of highly educated, liberal-leaning, philosophical-minded parents who pool their collective wisdom and just want to do the right thing. But they are completely misguided, and in the end they are pretty clueless about their kids, and about the ability to control teenage behavior generally. They are also, for the most part, oblivious to the fact that they are enabling their kids to behave irresponsibly by giving them too many luxuries and too much freedom while thinking they can compensate by legislating their behavior.

Can you talk about your new role at Politics & Prose. What will you be doing there?

I’m still a little giddy about having a job where I’m being asked to think about books all day. The new owners of Politics and Prose are full of creative ideas about ways to keep the store vibrant in this changing climate of bookselling, and they have hired me to work on building additional programming and events, and to also work as part of a team to develop a new web strategy. The store is similar to the Writer’s Center in that it plays a role beyond its essential function: in many ways the bookstore doubles as a community center, and I hope to expand the ways people feel connected to the store.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Fall Workshops Now Available! Register Today

The Fall workshops are now available online at! Please click through to this link to view them all. The Workshop & Event Guide has been printed and will be delivered early next week to those of you who've signed up to receive it by mail.

In addition to our Bethesda workshops, we're excited to offer workshops at the new Hill Center in Capitol Hill, in Annapolis, online (we'll be switching to a cleaner, easier-to-use Moodle site this fall), and in McLean.

Here are some of the highlights of the fall season. Please note: we expect these workshops to fill up quickly. If you'd like to register for one or more of these workshops, we STRONGLY encourage you to do so quickly:

Visiting writer &poet Martin Espada (Barbaric Yawp)
Barbara Esstman (Advanced Novel & Memoir)
James Mathews (Building a Page Turner)
Lynn Schwartz (Life Stories: Intermediate)
Lynn Stearns (Memoir: Story Construction)
William O'Sullivan (Advanced Personal Essay)
Stanley Plumly (Poetry Master Class−an application is required for this workshop)
Sue Ellen Thompson (Writing the Narrative Poem & 2 others)
Rose Solari (A Sense of the Whole)
Laura Fargas & Elizabeth Rees (Getting Started: Creative Writing [Fargas], Getting Started: Creative Writing [Rees])
Mary Carpenter (Transitions)
Robert Bausch (The Art of Fiction: Online)
Sandra Beasley (The Strategic Poet)
(Sandra's new memoir, Don't Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life, has been drawing rave reviews.)
David Taylor (Writing Brilliantly About Science)
Kathryn Johnson (The Extreme Novelist 1 & The Extreme Novelist 2)
Click on your genre of interest below to discover what other workshops we're offering for you this fall.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Mario Baldessari: Improvisation for Storytellers

Mario Baldessari is a new workshop leader for The Writer's Center. FPP is a perfect opportunity for him to introduce himself to our community. Here he discusses writing and improv and his upcoming workshop, Improvisation for Storytellers.

Although I majored in creative writing in college, it wasn’t until I joined the improvisational comedy troupe W.I.T. (Washington Improvisational Theater) here in DC – in my mid-20s and the last century’s mid-80s – that I began to truly appreciate and understand storytelling.

The improvisational philosophy and exercises developed by Keith Johnstone influenced me greatly – with their emphasis on spontaneity (developing the uncensored content for stories); status (developing the character interactions required for good stories); and specific storytelling techniques that tend to generate immediate action and interest.

It wasn’t long before I abandoned the improv troupe to co-found my own sketch-comedy troupe, Dropping the Cow, where we wrote and developed set pieces through improv. Dropping the Cow performed regularly for seven years in a little out-of-the-way theater in Georgetown. Back then, the Washington Post said our group performed “sketches ... like inspired bits from the old days of Saturday Night Live” and the Washington Times praised our “side-splitting comedy material ... [and] comedy scenarios in which Gary Larson would take pride.”

From sketch writing, it was a logical leap to playwriting, which is where I have had most of my writing successes during the past decade. I still rely on the improvisational techniques that Johnstone developed – only instead of using them onstage as a character with fellow actors in real time, I use them in my head with the characters who live in my plays; and sit down and write them up on my computer.

The class I’m teaching this September at The Writer’s Center, Improvisation for Storytellers, is probably going to be unlike most creative-writing courses you’ve experienced. For one thing, we’re going to be learning on our feet, rather than sitting at a desk or table. For another, we’ll be “writing” scenes by acting them out live on the spur of the moment – without any advance preparation or thinking – for the entertainment of our classmates.

These in-class exercises and games will be supplemented with more traditional creative-writing exercises that participants will take home and work on between classes and share at the next class. These exercises will either be improv games reconfigured into entertaining creative-writing prompts, or specific creative-writing prompts developed by the North Carolina novelist and writing instructor Daphne Athas.

If you’re only used to writing by yourself, sitting at a keyboard, you’re bound to find the class invigorating, fun and challenging – and rest assured, no previous improv experience is needed. Johnstone’s motto for all improvising storytellers has always been, “Don’t be prepared.”

Mario Baldessari is the 2011-2012 Playwright-in-Resident at First Draft, an Artistic Associate with Charter Theater and an acting instructor for the National Conservatory of Dramatic Arts, the Actors’ Center, Imagination Stage and the Educational Theater Company. For many years, he was the lead writer and a founding member of the comedy troupe, Dropping the Cow. His most recent plays include “Fat Gay Jew” at Charter Theater and “Jack and the Bean-Stalk” at 1st Stage.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Ilse Munro: The Story Of A Story

Today's post is by member and writer Ilse Munro. I've known Ilse for a couple years now. When she told me recently that one of her stories was being published at TriQuarterly, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to get her to write for this blog. Here she is discussing the story of that story.

I like telling stories. The first short story I presented in public was about making soup. It was also about being bombed. And because there’s not much you can do until the shelling stops and the soup’s ready, it was also about telling stories.

How “Making Soup” went from a single sentence my late mother tossed at me—she rarely felt the need to elaborate—to something that the storied TriQuarterly deemed fit to publish is itself a story. One centering on The Writer’s Center.

Having arrived at fiction writing late and sworn after an unconscionably lengthy pursuit of a doctorate never again to set foot in a conventional classroom, Nani Power’s Advanced Fiction workshop at the Center was exactly what I needed.

Nani was kind in critiquing “Making Soup.” Her primary concern was that the point of view—the narrator was a one-month-old infant—didn’t do my material justice. A fellow workshop participant, Dan Ryan, was far more blunt.

“You can’t do that,” he said. “Not unless you’re Alice Munro.” Then, recalling that that Munro had written a similar story—“My Mother’s Dream,” one I hadn’t yet read—he took time to locate it in The Love of a Good Woman.

I read it, word by word, line by line—Francine Prose would’ve been proud—and then researched what the author and others had to say about it. Turned out it was one of Munro’s favorites as well as one of the ones least liked by the critics.

Not only was that Munro’s story written from an infant’s perspective but it also challenged other conventions. I loved how she abruptly switched from the past to the present tense, instantly increasing the immediacy of a bygone event.

So my task became learning to write as well as the author with whom I shared a surname. Fortunately, Judith McCombs was starting a workshop on Alice Munro at the Center. I showed up with my manuscript in hand and an agenda in mind.

Somehow—it was clearly beyond the scope of the workshop—I induced Judith to read my short story. She pored over several drafts, using her fine poet’s eye to spot each vacuous word, each bland generalization I’d managed to slip in.

When I couldn’t look at the manuscript anymore, I submitted it to a Glimmer Train contest and placed as a finalist. That made me want to get published by the best. I set up a database of journals ranked by their 2010 Pushcart Prize scores.

After 20 electronic tries—going as far as licking stamps seemed excessive given the low probability of success—TriQuarterly accepted “Making Soup” for the Summer/Fall 2011 issue. The same journal once willing to take a chance on the early works of Joyce Carol Oates, Charles Baxter and Amy Hemple.

So it seems you can do that, even if you’re Ilse Munro. And you have people like those I had at The Writer’s Center to support you.

Ilse Munro is a federal government consultant (NASA, DoD) turned writer. She is working on a short story collection and a novel (Cold and Hungry and Far From Home, Anna Noon) and serves as outreach coordinator for the Little Patuxent Review and the Oella Community Garden, which she co-founded. Born in Latvia, she arrived in the United States as a five-year-old war refugee. She now resides in a historic millworker’s house on the Patapsco River.

She has been a member of The Writer’s Center since 2008. In addition to Nani Power and Judith McCombs, she has worked with Barbara Esstman, Kathryn Johnson and Peter Brown. More recently, she has turned to the Center’s Kyle Semmel for help in getting the word out about the Little Patuxent Review. Even the photo accompanying her TriQuarterly piece is connected to the Center: it was taken by Greg McBride, poet and former war photographer, who borrowed her iPhone to snap the pic in the Center’s lobby following his reading.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Literary Contests & Prizes

Journal of Experimental Fiction : Kenneth Patchen Award For the Innovative Novel

The information comes from the Journal of Experimental Fiction Website.

In the 1990s, The Kenneth Patchen Prize for Literature was a much-coveted prize administered by Pig Iron Press of Youngstown, Ohio, in honor of famous experimental fiction author, proletarian poet, and Ohio native Kenneth Patchen. Beginning in 2011, the Award will be reinstituted as the Kenneth Patchen Award for the Innovative Novel, and will honor the most innovative novel submitted during the previous calendar year.

• Manuscripts must be submitted via email as Microsoft Word documents or as PDF files.
• The $25.00 reading fee is payable via Paypal to
• Send documents without identification of author anywhere in the file.
• The name “Patchen Submission” should be followed by a four-digit number of your choice as the file name (i.e. “Patchen Submission 1234”).
• Attach a second file that states author’s name, your four digit number and actual title).
• Do not mention the name of the work anywhere in the body of your email.
• Preliminary selection of manuscripts will be done by Journal of Experimental Fiction (JEF) and Civil Coping Mechanisms (CCM) editors, who will select the ten finalists, which will then be sent on for selection by the judge, famous novelist Yuriy Tarnawsky, himself an admirer of Patchen’s fiction.
• The winner receives $1000 and publication by JEF/CCM as well as 20 complimentary copies of the book.
• Deadline for entry: All submissions must be postmarked between January 1 and July 31, 2011.
• Winner will be announced in September.

The 8th Annual Gival Press Short Story Award

All information comes from the Gival Press Web site

August 8, 2011 (postmarked)
Our dates never change, if the date falls on a Sunday, then Monday becomes the default postmarked date.

Submissions of a previously unpublished original (not a translation) short story in English must be approximately 5,000 to 15,000 words of high literary quality, typed, double-spaced on one side of the paper only, with word count in the upper left hand side of the first page, along with the title. The author's name should not appear on the numbered pages of the ms which should be clipped together. Author should keep a copy of the submission as it will not be returned.

Author Identification:
Submit name, address, telephone number, email address on a separate page, along with the title of the short story submitted.

A short bio should also be included.

If the short story wins, the author must make the manuscript available to Gival Press on an IBM-compatible disk or CD in Rich Text Format (RTF)—this refers to how one saves the document on one's computer disk.

Reading fee:
$25.00 (USD) by check or money order drawn on an American bank for each short story submitted. Payable to: Gival Press, LLC.

International entrants must send a check drawn on a USA bank routed through a USA address, such as Bank of America; no international money orders are acceptable.

Please note that Gival Press can also accept the entry free by major credit card; however, we only take credit card information by phone (703.351.0079).

Mail to:
Robert L. Giron, Editor
Gival Press Short Story Award
Gival Press, LLC
PO Box 3812
Arlington, VA 22203.

Notification of the Winner:
Include a self-addressed, stamped envelope (SASE) for notification of the winner or visit our website (, where the winner and finalists will be announced.

We try our best to announce the winner in the fall of the same year. Unfortunately it takes time to read and judge the entries and to contact the individuals involved.

Author will receive $1,000.00 and the winning story will be published on the Gival Press website and in a future anthology of short stories.

Short stories will be judged anonymously and the decision of the judge will be final. The winner for the previous award will be the judge for the follow.

The Manchester Fiction Prize

The information is from the Manchester Metropolitan University Web site.

Under the direction of Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, the Manchester Writing School at MMU is launching the second Manchester Fiction Prize – a major international literary competition celebrating excellence in creative writing.

The Manchester Fiction Prize is open internationally and will award a cash prize of £10,000 (approximately $16,200) to the writer of the best short story submitted. The competition is open internationally to entrants aged 16 or over; there is no upper age limit.

All entrants are asked to submit a complete short story of up to 3,000 words in length. The story can be on any subject, and written in any style, but must be fiction and new work, not previously published, or submitted for consideration elsewhere during this competition. The deadline is August 12, 2011.

The Manchester Fiction Prize celebrates the substantial cultural and literary achievements of Manchester, building on the work of the Manchester Writing School at MMU and enhancing the city's reputation as one of Europe's most adventurous and creative spaces. The prizes will be awarded at a gala ceremony hosted as part of the 2011 Manchester Literature Festival.

To enter the competition, click online entry.

To download a printable entry form for postal submission, click here. If you would a printed entry pack to be sent out to you by post, or if you have any queries, please contact:
James Draper, Project Manager
The Manchester Writing School
Department of English
Manchester Metropolitan University
Telephone: +44 (0) 161 247 1787

Common Ground Review

All information comes from the Common Ground Review Web site

We publish two reviews a year: Fall/Winter and Spring/Summer. Deadlines are August 31 and March 1. You may submit up to three poems. We will also showcase a short work of creative non-fiction in the Fall/Winter issue and a short story in the Spring/Summer issue. Submit only one per issue.

We look for well-crafted poems under 61 lines. Poems should be single-spaced indicating stanza breaks. If other than single spacing is integral to the poem, please indicate where breaks occur.

Creative non-fiction and short stories must be no more than 12 pages, double-spaced.
Manuscripts must bear the author’s name, address, email address and phone number. A brief biography and SASE must also be included.

We will accept simultaneous submissions, but not previously published work. If you intend to submit work simultaneously, tell us so in your cover letter. Once we have notified you of an acceptance, it will be published as a first time publication. All rights revert back to the author after publication.

We do not accept responsibility for incorrect guidelines obtained from other websites or outdated sources. For full details, see our website:

Questions? Mail to
Send all work to Janet Bowdan, Editor, E-5309
Western New England University
1215 Wilbraham Road, Springfield, MA 01119

Good luck!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Weekly Round-up With Upcoming Events

Jaycee Dugard's memoir, A Stolen Life, topped Amazon's bestseller list on Monday, July 11. The memoir was officially released a day later. Jaycee was kidnapped by Phillip Craig Garrido and his wife Nancy in 1991. A Stolen Life conveys Dugard's personal story about her eighteen-year imprisonment.

Forensic psychiatrist and Fox News contributor Dr. Keith Ablow acquired rights to write a book about the Casey Anthony case. Casey Anthony was recently acquitted by a jury in Florida.

USA Today expands its coverage of books by launching a new Web site (

Google will not allow an ex-employee, Paul Adams, to release his book, Social Circles. Adams left Google in January 2011 to join Facebook.

A couple weekly round-ups have followed the arrest of Bahraini poet and student Ayat Al-Gormezi. Ayat al-Gormezi was released from prison and placed under house arrest on July 13. She had been arrested in March for reading poetry at a pro-democracy rally in Pearl Square. Authorities released Ayat under the condition that she sign a paper saying she would stay at home, would not join protests,and would not speak to the media.

The final Harry Potter film is released in the United States today: Time Magazine provides insight on how fans keep the series alive by writing fan fiction.

Book Signings and an Open Door Reading

Jael McHenry: The Kitchen Daughter
One More Page Books
2200 N. Westmoreland St., #101
Arlington , VA 22213
Saturday, July 16, 2:00 p.m.

Join food and cooking blogger Jael McHenry as she discusses her first novel The Kitchen Daughter. A book signing will follow.

Maya Soetoro-Ng: Ladder To The Moon
Politics and Prose
5015 Connecticut Ave. NW
Washington , DC 200008
Saturday, July 16 , 1 p.m

Maya Soetoro-Ng, the sister of President Barack Obama discusses her new children's book, Ladder To The Moon. The book is illustrated by Yuyi Morales. A book signing will follow.

Open Door Reading: Elisavietta Ritchie, Ellen Aronofsky Cole, and Kimberly Becker
The Writer's Center
4508 Walsh Street
Bethesda, MD 20815
Sunday, July 17, 2 p.m.

The Writer’s Center presents three poets with recent collections: Elisavietta Ritchie (Cormorant Beyond the Compost), Ellen Aronofsky Cole (Prognosis), and Kimberly Becker (Words Facing East).

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The TWC Facebook Summer Reading Club: Michael Kimball's Us

The summer reading club has begun. Stop on by our Facebook page to participate. Here's the first prompt:

Our summer book club will last the next three weeks. We'll be discussing Michael Kimball's novel US. Today we'll start by discussing part one. ONLY part one. Try not to give too much away for those who've not yet read the entire book. You're more than welcome start your own discussions. Check back in to the conversation from time to time.

Week One: Part One
What strikes me about part one is the voice. It's an incredibly strong voice, and it has to be to tell this spare story. It also does something very interesting: it uses repetition.


"I stopped outside the doorway. The hallway was so much brighter than her hospital room was that I had to close my eyes. I turned around to look back inside her hospital room at her, but it was already too dark inside there for me to see my wife anymore."--page 38.

Let's talk about the voice in part one. What do you think about it? What makes it successful? Why do you think Kimball chooses to use repetition here?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Serena Agusto- Cox: Savvy Verse & Wit

Today we have member Serena Agusto-Cox discussing her incredible--and influential--blog Savvy Verse & Wit. I've known Serena for a couple years now. Few people work has hard as Serena, and I'm delighted she agreed to find the time to discuss her blog here on FPP. Here she is.

Savvy Verse & Wit began as a space through which I could record the memorable poems I found in various literary journals and what I thought about those poems. The name of the blog reflects just a portion of what I wanted to share with readers, though for a long time I only had one reader who commented regularly. My first post was about a poem called "Spoons, An Appreciation” by Tim Barnes. The poem was so inventive, particularly the lines “but to spoon is to make love, cuddle together” and “but spoons are the shapes of breasts and buttocks.”

I never set out to have a book review blog online, but that’s how it has evolved over the last four years. While I probably have an estimated 500 faithful subscribers, I couldn’t tell you how many hits each post receives or how many times each post is shared through social media. I primarily use those tools to spread the word through automatic updates when new blog posts are posted, but with my new Savvy Verse & Wit Facebook page, I’ve found that I can offer my readers quick updates regarding local events, online gatherings and chats, and giveaways. The page also is a great place for discussion, allowing me to converse with my readers on a more personal level rather than simply discussing my latest review or author interview on the blog.

Building a following takes a lot of effort, mostly through commenting on other blogs, interacting with the online community of other book bloggers/reviewers, and spreading the word via Twitter and other social mediums – which takes a lot of time and requires dedication. I’ve gone through spurts of using these methods all of the time to not at all, but mostly I’ve found a balance that works for me and that ensures that reviewing books will remain a fun expression of my ideas without making it feel like work.

But I’m most proud of the work I’ve done to promote poetry and poets, who unfortunately are not as well publicized by their publishers or media gurus and whose work – in my humble opinion -- should not be ignored. I’ve read poetry for its economy of words, the images, and the larger concepts hidden within for as long as I can remember. But it wasn’t until I read Molly Peacock's How to Read a Poem and Start a Poetry Circle that I wanted to create an online space in which readers and I could discuss a posted poem once per week – The Virtual Poetry Circle was born. The circle is meant to be low-key, allowing readers to select images that strike a chord with them or lines they want to discuss because they think they know the meaning or what to hear what others think, which is why I selected Saturday as the day for these “meetings.” I’ve hosted more than 100 of these gatherings since the Virtual Poetry Circle started, and I’d like to think of myself as a crusader for the good of poetry. Like fiction, nonfiction, and other genres, poetry has something to offer everyone, and I hope that I can have even a small part –through Savvy Verse & Wit and other ways -- in shining the light on a genre that continues to thrive.

Serena Agusto-Cox is a Bachelor of Arts graduate of Suffolk University in Boston, still interested in the nuances of politics and the interplay of words on a page to create vivid imagery, convey meaning, and interpret the world. She has moved from the sticks of small town Massachusetts to the outskirts of Washington, D.C. where she writes more vigorously than she did in her college seminars. Her poems can be read in issues of Beginnings Magazine, LYNX, Muse Apprentice Guild, The Harrow, Poems Niederngasse, Avocet, and Pedestal Magazine.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

TWC Names Emerging Writer Fellows

The Writer's Center is pleased to announce the recipients of its 2011-12 Emerging Writer Fellowships. The Emerging Writer Fellowships are awarded to writers who have published up to two book-length works of prose and up to three book-length works of poetry. We received 80 submissions for this round of awards. Writers applied from across the country and included a diverse pool of voices from a variety of backgrounds and traditions. 23 writers in three genres were selected as finalists, and from those, six writers were recommended by our committee to receive funding. This coming year, as in 2010-11, the Emerging Writer Fellowships will receive funding by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Our selection committee included members from our community: Margot Backas represented our Board of Directors; Deborah Ager, Bernadette Geyer, Laura Fargas, and Peter Brown represented our workshop leaders; and our membership was represented by Serena Agusto-Cox, Bettina Lanyi, and Mary Westcott.

The recipients will receive a cash prize and will appear in our fall & spring event series at The Writer’s Center. The lineups for the two events appear below.

Emerging Writer Fellowship Fall Celebration & Reading
Friday, September 23
Time: 7:30 p.m.

Ellis Avery
Ellis Avery is the author of two novels and a memoir. Her first novel, The Teahouse Fire, set in the tea ceremony world of 19th century Japan, won Lambda, Ohioana, and American Library Association Stonewall book awards and has been translated into five languages. Her second novel, The Last Nude, inspired by the Art Deco painter Tamara de Lempicka, is forthcoming from Riverhead in January. Avery teaches creative writing at Columbia University and lives in New York City.

Chris Goodrich
Christopher Goodrich teaches English and Play Directing at the Academy of Musical Theatre, Northwood High School, in Silver Spring, MD. He has also taught at New York University and Frostburg State University. His poems have appeared in Margie, Entelechy International, Diner, 5AM, Kestrel, Hotel Amerika, Rattle, The New York Quarterly, The Sycamore Review, The Cimarron Review, Cider Press Review, and The Worcester Review. He has been featured on Verse Daily and NPR. He is the recipient of a Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Prize and holds an M.F.A. from New England College. A Chapbook, By Reaching, was published in 2007. His first book, Nevertheless Hello, was published in 2009. He has recently completed a second manuscript, "No Texting at the Dinner Table."

Angela Woodward

Angela Woodward is the author of the fiction collection The Human Mind and the novella End of the Fire Cult. Her stories have appeared in numerous literary journals, including Ninth Letter, Diagram, Salt Hill, 13th Moon, Pebble Lake Review, Gulf Coast, and Quarter After Eight. She has been a resident fellow at Ragdale (Lake Forest, Illinois), the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts (Nebraska City, Nebraska), and the Northeast Frontier Foundation (Norton Island, Maine). She is a past recipient of an Illinois Arts Council fellowship for fiction. Several of her short stories have been adapted for the stage and performed at Chicago’s Rhinoceros Theater Festival and elsewhere. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin.

Emerging Writer Fellowship Spring Celebration & Reading
Friday, March 23
Time: 7:30 p.m.

Ira Sukrungruang
Ira Sukrungruang is a Thai American, born and raised in the southside of Chicago. He co-edited with Donna Jarrell two literary anthologies about fat: What Are You Looking At? The First Fat Fiction Anthology and Scoot Over, Skinny: The Fat Nonfiction Anthology. His work has appeared in The Sun, Creative Nonfiction, North American Review, and other literary journals. Recently, his memoir Talk Thai: The Adventures of Buddhist Boy was published by University of Missouri Press. He is the co-founder of Sweet: A Literary Confection, an online periodical, and teaches in the MFA program at University of South Florida.

Traci Brimhall
Traci Brimhall is the author of the forthcoming Our Lady of the Ruins , selected by Carolyn Forché for the 2011 Barnard Women Poets Prize, and Rookery, winner of the 2009 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award. Her poems have appeared in New England Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, Slate, Missouri Review, Kenyon Review, and Southern Review. She is a former Halls Poetry Fellow at the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing and currently teaches at Western Michigan University, where she is a doctoral candidate and a King/Chávez/Parks Fellow.

Joanne Diaz
Joanne Diaz is the recipient of fellowships from the the National Endowment for the Arts, the Illinois Arts Council, the New York Times Foundation, and the Bread Loaf Writers Conference. Her book, The Lessons, won the Gerald Cable first book award and was published in 2011. Her poems have been published in AGNI, The American Poetry Review, The Southern Review, and Third Coast. She is an assistant professor in the English department at Illinois Wesleyan University.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Book Giveaway! Sandra Beasley's Don't Kill the Birthday Girl

Don't Kill the Birthday Girl, a memoir about food allergies written by TWC workshop leader and board member Sandra Beasley, will be published by Crown on July 12th. To celebrate the occasion, TWC is going to do a raffle to GIVE AWAY one FREE copy of the book. Here's how you can participate in the raffle. Visit and "like" TWC's Facebook page. Then post your response today's status question. On Monday, I'll randomly generate a winner from the thread of comments. That person will get a free hardcover copy of the book. Sandra will also be reading from the book on Saturday, July 23 at Politics & Prose book store here in DC. Click here to get more info on that event.

I asked Sandra a few questions about the book to give us some insight. At the very bottom you'll see her book trailer for Don't Kill the Birthday Girl. It's very well done. Check it out after reading the Q & A.

Kyle: I'll start with a confession: I have no allergies. When you're at a restaurant asking the waiter whether (insert x food here) or (insert y food here) is something you can eat, do people like me--those who can eat anything without consequences--make you mad?

Sandra: I am amused by the ways in which people voluntarily restrict their diets; when I was younger I was slightly disdainful, considering such choices a luxury of privilege. Having grown up with only two categories of food, i.e. "safe" and "deadly," it didn't occur to me until I was a teenager that I could even choose to -dislike- a food, much less veto a whole category such as meat. But that's a personal right, and watching my sister choose a vegetarian diet forced me to confront my own prejudices. (Or as she might phrase it, to get over myself.)

The only thing that makes mad is when people falsely claim a food allergy because someone doesn't like a food ("I'm allergic to cilantro"), or is on a diet ("I am allergic to chocolate, I swear"). If that person puts a kitchen through the precautions of adapting a dish to accommodate someone's "allergy," but then ends up ingesting that "allergen" to no ill effect--whether by accident or by cheating on your diet with a cookie at the end of the night--it damages the credibility of everyone with legitimate, life-threatening allergies.

K: Allergies seem to be in the media more these days than when I was a kid, especially peanut allergies. Are people more allergic today? Or is it like everything else in our media-saturated world: the more you see it the more it seems to be true?

S: The numbers don't lie: there has been a catastrophic rise in the incidence of food allergies in America, particularly among children, and we do not know why. Where the media veers toward sensationalism is in their fixation on peanuts (which are not the bad guy--dairy allergy, for example, is just as vicious and pervasive), and their perpetuation of the idea that airborne exposure to minor amounts of an allergen, such as pulverized peanut bits escaping from a bag opened on an airplane, is likely to cause anaphylactic shock. Where the media is missing an alarming and important story is in their lack of attention to the increase in children with not only one major food allergy, but several. Take me for example, allergic to five of the "Big Eight" allergens: in my case dairy, egg, shrimp, soy, and some tree nuts. Such conditions greatly compromise the potential for desensitization and other treatments.

K: Can you give us a sneak-peek into what readers can expect to find in Don't Kill the Birthday Girl?

S: I tried to balance a substantive, interesting look at the science of food allergies (from prick tests to epitopes) with the quirky realities of managing them in the everyday. Hives from a kiss? Yep. Stunt-eater friends who sit next to you at weddings and make your dinner plate look like you had a few bites, so as to not offend the bride? Yep. Having a mother who tries to keep you safe by packing your suitcase for every trip with a loaf of "Sandra-friendly" bread and the knife to slice it with? Yep. You can bet how surprised the security guard was to pull an eight-inch serrated blade out of my suitcase on my way to Disney World with my high school choir.

I hope the book gives people something to think about, because these issues are serious and of national impact. But I also wanted to have a little fun along the way. As I say in the introduction, "This is not a story of how we die. These are the stories of how we live."

Thursday, July 7, 2011

A Weekly Round-up with Upcoming Events

We'll combine upcoming area events in the D.C metropolitan area with the weekly roundup this week, and it'll post a day early to make room for a special book giveaway tomorrow. Much of the literary news featured on this blog is on our Twitter feed.

Over the holiday weekend, Amazon announced plans to buy The Book Depository, a bookselling competitor in the United Kingdom and Australia.

It turns out the late writer Flannery O’Connor was also a cartoonist. A book containing her cartoons will be published later this year. The cartoons are taken from her time in high school and as an undergraduate at Georgia State. According to her biographer, Brad Gooch, O’Connor considered a career as a cartoonist. She tried submitting cartoons to The New Yorker, but received rejection slips.

Writer John D MacDonald wrote a satirical rejection letter to magazine editors who wanted to publish his work. He received many rejections throughout his career.

J.B Dickey, the owner of the Seattle Mystery Bookshop, refuses to stock books from Amazon's Thomas and Mercer mystery imprint.

On Wednesday, June 6, HarperCollins Children’s Books teamed up with Barnes and Noble’s Nook Bookstore and the Apple iBookstore to launch a digital “I Can Read Series.”

The Millions provides a list of the sixty-six most anticipated books in the second half of 2011.

Upcoming Events: Book Signings, Open Door Readings, and Poetry Series events

David J. Solove: Nothing To Hide: The False Tradeoff Between Privacy and Security
Politics and Prose
5015 Connecticut Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20008
Saturday, July 9, 6 pm

David J. Solove, a law professor at George Washington University, signs and discusses his new book, Nothing to Hide: The False Tradeoff between Privacy and Security. This event is free and open to the public.

Open Door Reading Series
The Writer's Center
Sunday, July 10th , 2 pm

Here at The Writer's Center, Joan Dye Gussow reads from her book Growing Older: The Chronicle of Death, Life , and Vegetables. She is joined by poet W. Perry Epes, who reads from his collection, Nothing Happened. This event is free and open to the public.

The Iota Poetry Series
Iota Club and Cafe
2832 Wilson Blvd
Arlington, VA 22201
Sunday, July 10th , 6 pm

This monthly poetry series includes readings from the anthology of poems inspired by Alfred Hitchcock. Readers include Christopher Conlon, Lyn Lifshin, Miles David Moore, Norman Prentiss, and Anne Harding Woodworth. This event is free and open to the public.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Take A Hint: Jenn Alandy's Long Walk to Print

I was twenty-four years old when I discovered Welcome to the Monkey House. A former writing teacher, Lisa Alvarez, deepened my appreciation for Kurt Vonnegut by introducing me to this short story collection. Some of the stories were familiar to me, while others – like unopened gifts – were brand new. One of these gifts was a particularly uncharacteristic Vonnegut story entitled “Long Walk to Forever.” In this peculiar and sentimental story, there is no dystopia, there are no Trafalmadorians, no United States Handicapper General, and no Suicide Parlor Hostesses. There are just two young adults named Catharine and Newt.

Catharine is on the verge of marrying another young man named Henry Stewart Chasens, but Newt shows up at her door unexpectedly to visit and notices that she’s clutching a bridal magazine, presumably dreaming of a fruitful, fairytale-esque future. Newt, ever present-minded and spontaneous, disrupts her daydream and asks her to take a walk:

“A walk?” said Catherine.

“One foot in front of the other,” said Newt, “through leaves, over bridges—“

You see, much like Catharine, many emerging writers tend to be farsighted and dream of the fanciful end results: a future book deal, a future six-figure advance, a future book tour. Instead of focusing on the present, writers dream about publication. But this is not why we should write, nor is it why I write.

The same year that I opened up Welcome to the Monkey House, a friend gave me a copy of John Fante’s Ask the Dust. In the preface, Charles Bukowski (another literary hero of mine) describes Fante’s books as “written of and from the gut and the heart.” Bukowski goes on to write that each line of Fante’s prose “had its own energy and was followed by another like it. The very substance of each line gave the page a form, a feeling of something carved into it. And here, at last, was a man who was not afraid of emotion. The humour and pain were intermixed with a superb simplicity.”

I was inspired. I decided that this was going to be the standard that I held myself to, that I was going to challenge myself to write “from the gut and the heart.” How was I going to start?

“One foot in front of the other—through leaves, over bridges—”

Though I was in the middle of a cross-country move and disheartened that I would be leaving Lisa Alvarez’s workshop, I picked up my pen again. I unearthed old stories from a banker’s box that I had kept at the bottom of my closet. I read them. I cringed. There were long periods of time where I didn’t write. Then, in the middle of my sixty-hour work weeks, I thought about what I would write instead – I thought about it on the metro, in my office during the day, at the restaurant where I waited tables in the evenings. During slow nights, I would sit at the same table as the delivery drivers and cooks and scribble fragments down in my journal. Then, I came across this call for submissions on Lisa Alvarez’s blog.

W.W. Norton wanted to publish a collection of extremely short stories that were 25 words or less. 25 words? I thought this would be a good exercise for myself and focused on carving a feeling on the page, one word in front of the other . . . and then on August 17, 2009, on a whim, I clicked send.

I had just taken my first step.

On October 13, 2009, I received the following e-mail:

Dear Jenn,

Thanks for submitting to this anthology. I must say I enjoyed
“Checking In” very much and would like to accept it for publication . . .

In a short essay for Quarterly West, George Saunders (a modern-day Kurt Vonnegut and yet another literary hero of mine) writes “Publication in Quarterly West was a huge and defining moment for me because it meant that, to somebody out there, I was making sense . . . I had gone deep into my mind to get the story, and someone out in the world got it, which meant that I wasn't a crank, wasn't insane, was,in fact,in a small way, a Success.”

Our Hint Fiction editor, Robert Swartwood, had received more than 2400 stories and selected about 100 for publication. Something about my story stood out and made sense, and this “Success” was a side effect of merely focusing on carving out “a feeling of something,” word by word.

The art of Hint Fiction has challenged me to put a microscope on my prose and make every word count. If I could carve something out of 25 words, I could carve something out of 2500, 5000, even 10,000 words. I just had to do it one word at a time. And, thanks to writing workshops at The Writer’s Center, I have also found excellent teachers – just like Lisa Alvarez – in John Morris and Dan Gutstein. They have been there to encourage me and my fellow writers to tell the best stories that we can, regardless of length.

Hint Fiction was published last November. We received favorable mentions in The New Yorker and NPR, and my story was referenced by Maggie Galehouse, book editor at The Houston Chronicle. I also participated in Hint Fiction contributor readings/signings at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena in November of 2010 and at KGB Bar in New York City in February of 2011, where I had the opportunity to connect with other emerging writers just like myself.

But, none of this would have happened if I didn’t take that first step, if I didn’t stay focused on what was right in front of me, if I didn’t first focus on writing from the gut and the heart. My journey has only just begun.

How can you begin?

One word in front of the other, through leaves, over bridges --

Jenn Alandy was born in Houston, Texas to Filipino immigrant parents. She was raised in the San Francisco Bay Area and received her B.A. in English from the University of California, Irvine. In 2008, she received a Carlisle Family Scholarship to attend the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley. Jenn currently manages a process serving company in Washington, DC and volunteers as a tutor at the Washington Literacy Council. Jenn resides in Rockville, Maryland, with the love of her life. She has been a member of The Writer’s Center since 2009.