Here I blog about writing, editing, reading, books, submissions, freelancing, getting published (and rejected), journalism, revisions, life after the MFA, teaching writing, and living the writer's life. Welcome. BUT -- if you are a writer: Write first, read blogs second.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Author Interview Interrupted: Essay Writer Sonya Huber's Q-and-A at Cleaver Magazine

Many (many) years ago, I wrote a syndicated interview column for two dozen equestrian publications. Every month I chose someone prominent in the horse show world--a champion rider, a judge, a course designer, a top trainer, a farrier expert in keeping equine athletes' feet in top shape. Because I was on the circuit too (competing, but hardly prominent!), I simply took my target out for coffee, pulled out my Sony tape recorder, asked my prepared, carefully-researched questions, then new questions that occurred to me in the course of the conversation. Back in my hotel room, I typed it up, got copies made, and mailed them out. 

Sometimes, I miss those days. I almost always chose interviewees who I was interested in talking to, someone from whom I could learn. Now, I do Q-and-A interviews here on the blog (the coffee is enjoyed separately, as most are via email) and love bringing their words--of wisdom, caution, encouragement--to my readers. Sometimes, I'm so impressed and/or inspired by what that writer had to share, I'm caught between wanting it on my blog an wanting a wider audience, so that their insights reach more writers.

That's why my most recent interview--with the memoir and essay writer Sonya Huber--first meant for my blog--is now up at the wonderful Cleaver Magazine. (Though I'm an editor there, my narrow lane is nonfiction craft essays, so like everyone else, I had to pitch this. Fortunately, Cleaver said yes.)

I wanted to interview Sonya because I so loved reading her new, curiously-titled book, Pain Woman Takes Your Keys and other Essays from a Nervous System. Here's a small sample from the interview:

SH:  I needed to find larger meaning and research to understand my own experience. So I was driven by self-interest to find those universals. I’m pretty much a ranter inside my own head. Every single essay—or many of them—start in rant mode. That’s great for a paragraph, or for fuel to begin writing, but then I would come back to those paragraphs and see how dull they were to read.
On revision I knew I had to unfold those strong emotions to make them real for the reader. I have learned to do that mainly by reading essays by other writers; doing a lot of that gets the “essay mode” inside one’s head. Every time I’m at a dead end of frustration with a personal experience, the essayist voice—which is developed through that repetition and training—asks, “But what else might that mean?” and then takes the topic at hand from a 46 degree angle.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Friday Fridge Clean-Out: Links for Writers -- June 2, 2017 Edition

> In case you missed it, do read Susan Shapiro's smart, incisive rebuttal, "Taking It Personally: A Feminist Defense Of The First-Person Essay", at Forward, written in response to Jia Tolentino's piece on the New Yorker's website that declared "The Personal Essay Boom is Over."

> I'm not, like so many of my writing friends and colleagues, in Iceland for the biannual NonFiction Now! Conference, so am periodically checking out the Twitter stream #nfnow17

> And I also wasn't at Book Expo in New York City this week, so followed some of the action via #BookExpo and #BEA17. Publisher's Weekly has extensive coverage, too. (Oh, and a NYC tabloid says anti-Trump books were in evidence. True fact!)

> Leslie Pietrzyk has some advice for recent MFA grads, re: keeping in touch with your professors. 

> This past week, I was sad to learn of the passing of Brain Doyle, a remarkable essayist whose work I've long admired. Here is Brevity's round-up/tribute of some of his most memorable passages in their pages. If you've never read his work, go find it! (Start with "Being Brians" because it's fun and unusual.)

> Likewise, we lost Frank Deford, one of the best narrative sports writers, an NPR Morning Edition commentator, and author of a memoir about his daughter's shortened life (from cystic fibrosis)--Alex: The Life of a Child, 1983--at a time when that kind of book was an anomaly. He was one of my early writing idols (I started out writing about sports--ice hockey and equestrian.)

> Recently, as I edited a memoir manuscript for a publisher client that was mostly about the mid- to late-1960s in Haight-Ashbury (as in, it contained plenty of S, D & RnR!), I did a bunch of fact-checking. You can just imagine what my Google and Facebook ad stream looked like after that. I should have been using Incognito mode!

> Finally, do you too have a super duper, always admirable writing process like Hallie Cantor?

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Keeping it Simple: Memoir Finds a Publisher.

Of all the ways I considered announcing this, simple wins out. Here goes.

My memoir, tentatively titled Every Loss Story is a Love Story: The Father Daughter Reunion, will be published by University of Nevada Press in Spring 2018.

If you don't know, the road here was anything but simple, and under the calm simplicity of that sentence, I'm actually screaming with joy, dancing in gratitude, and exploding with a mixture of relief, incredulity, affirmation, and humble pride. 

(Because everyone was out and busy when I got the final news at six on Monday, I had a simple solo dinner. But there was wine (and a nice card) a few hours later when some of the menfolk got back. Yes, hubby owes me a celebratory night out!)

I have a zillion people to acknowledge and thank. For now a blanket thank-you will have to do, to everyone who has and continues to help, by cheering me on, listening to my ideas, reading my pages, offering feedback, sharing publishing advice, telling me plainly when I'm wrong, and of course, by commiserating and celebrating.

Though I've published hundreds of articles, essays, and short memoir pieces over the last couple of decades, and though I've contributed essays to several anthologies, and even though I've ghostwritten chapters and manuscripts--this already feels quite different: my name alone, on the spine.

It feels like my book found its perfect (and, in retrospect, logical) home at University of Nevada Press (more on why in a future post). I'm looking forward to working with the enthusiastic professionals there, who have made me feel like a warmly welcomed and respected artist, from the day I first chatted with the press director at a writers conference this past winter.

I hope you will follow along in my journey from here to next year's published book. I'll try to share useful information that in turn may help other writers. 

In a few days, I begin revisions the publisher wants in a few weeks time. Today and tomorrow, I'm working on completing my author questionnaire and organizing notes with my ideas for PR and marketing. (I did after all, spend 12 years in public relations!)

Here goes.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Guest Blogger Marjorie Simmins on Memoir, Starry Night Memories, and What She Learned from a Workshop Student

How I love the way the internet connects me to like-minded, interesting people across miles, borders, cultures. I was introduced to Marjorie Simmins, a Canadian memoir writer and fellow horsewoman, by Rona Maynard, a writer/editor (Canada by-way-of-New-Hampshire), with whom I've exchanged Facebook posts for years. Rona knew I would like Marjorie's memoir, Year of the Horse (Pottersfield Press 2016). Marjorie also writes essays for magazines, newspapers and anthologies in Canada and the United States, and divides her time between Nova Scotia and British Columbia. In Coastal Lives (Pottersfield 2014), she wrote about loving two coasts and one man, husband Silver Donald Cameron, a noted Canadian author. Marjorie is currently working on a third non-fiction book, which includes tips, essays, and interviews on memoir—an outgrowth perhaps of her many workshops.

Please welcome Marjorie Simmins.

“You forgot something,” says sharp-eyed Sara, a fine essayist and freelance journalist. She points to the flip-chart, on which I've written the day's itinerary. “That last one—'Starry Night Memories'—what's that?”

Sara is right, and she is wrong. I didn't actually forget, but we did run out of time, and in truth, I am relieved, as I haven’t presented that particular writing exercise to a memoir writing workshop before, and I'm not quite sure how it might go over. But I am busted now.

“Right,” I say, “'Starry Night Memories'...” I hesitate again, when I look up to see eight pairs of alert eyes focused on me, expecting some degree of teacherly articulation. You're supposed to be the memoir writing expert, I chide myself. So speak up.

“You know when you are in bed at night, you're getting sleepy, and your thoughts are moving around from subject to subject, and sometimes, from memory to memory?”  Two or three people nod.

Encouraged, I press on. “Sometimes you deliberately take out a cherished memory to visit, and enjoy. It's like an old friend you haven't seen for a while. You're happy when you think about it, and it helps you fall into a happier, more relaxed sleeping state.”

No nods this time, but several heads on a tilt; they're all still listening.

I struggle to underscore the main point. “So those memories—those 'starry night memories,' the ones we keep in our memory vaults—sometimes they're so much a part of us, they need to be written about.” I take a deep breath, wind up for the killer point: “You need to take those memories out from an inner place of safe storage, to a public place of recorded story. One memory could even be the starting point for an entire memoir.”

The group is silent, not a single head nodding now. But I trust this brainy bunch. They just need a moment.

“Ohhhh,” breathes Sara. “You mean our deepest memories – the ones that make us, ourselves.”

“The ones that are as much us, as our fingerprints or our voices,” adds another participant.

“The memory-stars inside us,” chimes a third.

“Yes,” I say. “Those.”
Then I feel that usual slither of fear down my spine – which is probably why I didn't want to do this exercise, hoped no one would notice its omission from our full day of learning and sharing.
More to myself than to the group, I hear myself say: “Of course once you write about those memories, you kinda lose them as your special friends in your own might skies.” I should hold back the next thoughts, too, but somehow I can’t. “Sometimes it feels like there are only a finite number of the most intense, writable memories. So you might … run out.”
A weighted moment of consideration by all, then Sara cries out: “No! That's not it. As soon as you set one memory free, another is able to rise up and take its place. It's like water coming up in our footprints on the beach. All those footprints, all that water and sand:  that can't be counted individually, any more than memories can. And think of this,” her voice is triumphant now, “why shouldn't the memory that comes up be even more special than the one you let go of? It certainly could be as special.”

I will not gasp. I will not cry. I will not sag with relief.
“Yes,” I say, with apparent calm, my interior landscape as a memory-hoarder forever changed. “I can see that, Sara.”

What I see, in fact, is what I've known for ages, as an essayist and a memoirist: the memories do change within after you've offered them up publicly, becoming less vivid in some ways, more substantial in others. Most startling of all, they go on to have their own separate lives apart from you, in the memories of those who read about them.

But I have guarded my deepest, most personal memories partly because they are so connected to people I love, many of whom have passed on, either from simple old age, or complicated early deaths; replaying the memories seems like the only way I can spend time with them. Hence the instinct to hoard. Mine, all mine.

Which goes against every writerly instinct to share stories, I know. Somehow I’ve worked around that, my lifelong need to write and share stories winning out over my fears of losing particular, beloved memories.

What startles me more than anything from Sara's outburst is the idea of memories-in-waiting. Archaeological layers of memories, waiting to be troweled up into the sun. Bonus! I have never before thought of memories as infinite. I am exhilarated and delighted … and a wee bit intimidated. I am used to corralling, then gradually sharing what I thought was a finite selection of memories.
I stand silently in front of eight pairs of intelligent, kind eyes, and I think: I could claim that whole vast universe of memory that exists within us all, and I could experience more beauty, feel more sustenance from my waking, day-skies, too. Balance, I think, it’s all about balancing then and now.
Aloud I say: Close your eyes for a moment. Forget that it's daytime. Settle into a pretend night sky. Stars upon stars. When you go to your memories, what are the bright constellations you always go to?

Eight pens find paper. When I give workshops, next to the epiphanies that often come with the sharing of ideas, these silent, working times are my favourites..I love to see writers write. We've talked in and around memoir for most of a day, sharing what fascinates and frustrates us about this saucy, renegade genre. Now it's time for quiet, and the recording of thoughts, perhaps of epiphanies, certainly memories – starry night and otherwise.

Note: You can connect with Marjorie via her website, on Facebook, at Twitter, and

*Marjorie's next memoir workshop, The Minefields of Memoir, is scheduled for June 17, 2017, at the Thinkers Lodge National Historic Site, in Pugwash, Nova Scotia. Information is posted at her site.


Friday, May 12, 2017

Friday Fridge Clean-Out: Links for Writers -- May 12, 2017 Edition

>I'm just beginning to explore this new-to-me nonfiction site, from across the pond -- The Real Story: Developing Creative Nonfiction and the Essay in the UK.

> Pamela Paul, editor of the New York Times (Sunday) Book Review, talks about the future of criticism and what your books say about you, on the Slate I Have to Ask podcast with Isaac Chotiner.

> Over on Jungle Red, Eight crime fiction writers talk about handling and learning from rejection, developing tenacity, and other bits from the writer's life.

> When I was preparing panel proposals for the 2018 AWP conference (multiple fingers crossed), they had to be under 500 characters, including spaces. When my word processor wouldn't fully cooperate, I found this oh-so-easy Letter Count. It even knows the character counts for all the top social media channels.

> If you do any freelance writing, and need additional places to find markets, check out the listings at All Freelancing Writing.

> For your reading pleasure: there's a lot of Mother's Day related fare floating around this week. One of my favorites so far is this beautiful piece, "My Mother's Eyes," from my former MFA student Susan Davis Abello.

> Finally, after some quiet time on the blog, over the next few weeks I'll be featuring new guest posts (Marjorie Simmins and Sonya Huber are up first), and let you in on what's been happening in my own writing life lately. Meanwhile, thanks for stopping by for the Friday links!

Have a great weekend!

Friday, April 21, 2017

Friday Fridge Clean-Out: Links for Writers -- April 21, 2017 Edition

I'm seeing a big uptick in readers here lately, so welcome! For those who don't know: it's called Friday Fridge Clean-Out because years ago, when I began sharing links, it mirrored the way I fed my family on a Friday night--clearing the fridge of all the tidbits we'd accumulated during the week. (Nowadays, I just call for pizza!). Enjoy.

> My friend Laraine Herring shows us how to write about illness/medical events without a smidge of self-pity. Please read her "Robot Kisses." 

> When I once fell, breaking three front teeth and cutting up my face, someone told there must be a reason. My (slightly annoyed) conclusion: I'm clumsy. Maybe that's why I loved "Being Leery of Everything Happening for a Reason and Other Takes by Ariel Levy," at The Riveter.

> I concur with the headline of this excellent article by , at the Science of Us: "Writing a Memoir Is a Strange Psychological Trip Through Your Past."

> Not sure what to do next with your (writing or any) career? Try Delia Lloyd's approach and ask your future 90-year-old self.

> At semester's end, Aubrey Hirsch gives her college creative writing students a comprehensive handout, "A Beginner's Guide to Publishing" which she's made available at her website.

> I recently discovered Denton Loving's blog, which periodically posts submission calls.

> Sounds like good news from the Boston Globe, for those with books in the pipeline, looking to book promotional stops in the Northeast: "Indie bookstores in smaller towns hatch plan to lure authors for readings".

> In her post, "When You Engage in Some Good Old Literary Citizenship Because, Really, You Just Want New Writer Friends with Whom To Bitch About Publishing," Steph Auteri says a few nice things about me and The Writers Circle, but what makes it terrific is how it confirms the benefits and strengths of having a literary community in person as well as online.

> Finally, in this week's student brag box: Carol Accetta, a writing coaching client, achieved her first publication, a lovely short work of creative nonfiction, "The Geese," at Gravel Magazine.  Former student Vincent Fitzgerald, who is also a therapist, published "I'm a Client And a Clinician" at Psychology Today, and a work of narrative nonfiction in the British literary journal Into the Void. Congrats!

Have a great weekend!

Friday, April 7, 2017

Friday Fridge Clean-Out: Links for Writers -- April 7, 2017 Edition

> Can binge watching have a writing purpose? Reedsy editor (and novelist) Andrew Lowe thinks so, at least about a certain eight shows.

> Somewhat related: I learned about Belletrist, the young actor Emma Roberts's online book clue when she was on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Only mildly interested, I perked up when I arrived at her website to see she'd interviewed Joan Didion about her latest book, South and West: From a Notebook.

> Good listening: an episode of the #CNF podcast features Jennifer Niesslein, founder/editor of the online essay site, Full Grown People.

> Traveling? Or trying to organize a book promotion tour? Check out "The Best Bookstore in Every State," via Real Simple and Yelp.

> Find yourself torn between devoting time to writing, and making sure you are tending to business aspects of a writing life? At Catapult, Melissa Febos asks, 
"Do you want to be known for your writing or your swift email responses?"

>Speaking of Melissa Febos, I heard her read from her new memoir, Abandon Me, this week at Halfway There, a newish quarterly reading series in Montclair, NJ (my literary backyard), and was impressed by how, in the middle of what she explained was a weeks-long, cross-country book tour, she made the material sound new and fresh, even  (it seemed at least ) to herself. If I ever do readings from any book of mine, I'm going to find a video of her reading, and study it.

> Looking to get involved in behind-the-scenes work at an online literary journal? Hippocampus Magazine is in need of volunteers for several different posts.

> Every week, novelist Elizabeth S. Craig compiles a long juicy list of links to writing advice and writing-related articles and posts that appeared that week on the web.

> That collective groan you heard last weekend was thousands of essay, memoir, and other nonfiction writers upset over the demise of the Lives column which will, after 19 years, no longer appear in the New York Times Sunday Magazine. (And the scratching was all of us crossing it off our publication bucket list. Sigh.)

> Three cheers for these high school student journalists who understand the value and power of fact-checking.

> Finally, from the department of that-sounds-completely-crazy-but-it's-still-(alleged)plaigarism, comes this story about how cultish hip-hop musicians apparently stole a poet's work.

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Write. Read. Repeat. Susan Sontag said it first. I just follow Directions.

By now, you probably know that I simply do not understand writers who aren't also constantly reading. Because how--other than through reading--do we even begin to want to be writers? And what's paramount to learning more about writing than reading?

I'm over at Story Dam today, participating in their April A to Z blogging challenge. I was asked to name a favorite bit of writing advice, and then say something about it.

It's posted today under "D is for Directions" and is a brief commentary on the Susan Sontag command: “Directions: Write, Read, Rewrite. Repeat Steps 2 and 3 as needed."

"I’ve heard this advice interpreted several ways. Some folks think it means that you should write and then read what you have just written, then rewrite it. And of course, that’s true. But I take this advice in the broader sense..."

Read the rest here.

Image: Story Dam