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.




Friday, November 30, 2012

Friday Fridge Clean-Out: Links for Writers, November 30, 2012 Edition

> You know the year is just about over when the "100" lists begin to appear. The Sunday New York Times Book Review editors have compiled "100 Notable Books of 2012."

> Flavorwire has chosen "New York's Most Important 100 Living Writers," and you'll have to click through 100 times to get to number one (someone I adore). I noticed immediately that at least half a dozen on the list live in New Jersey (we Jersey literary folk know this stuff!) -- and to be fair, the article intro does say, "we’ve chosen writers and journalists in the NYC area." Still, why do they have to be listed as "New York writers"?

> Scholars & Rogues offers a list of online resources for creative writers -- literary journal lists and databases, submission and tracking tools -- including a few I had not known about.

> In case you were busy this week, you know, writing...and missed the controversy that immediately erupted over Simon & Shuster entering the self-publishing market (via Archway Publishing), Porter Anderson has carefully summarized the issues

> What do you do while your agent sends your completed book manuscript around to publishers? First, you try not to think about it, which is not so easy, according to Natalia Sylvester; and then, when the rejections creep in, you learn something.

> Think you're having a rotten writing/submitting/rejection kind of day? Check out the Face Lift/Guess the Plot posts, like this one, over at Evil Editor, where we're given a list of possible (usually preposterous) plots and then the real synopsis for one of them, which Evil Editor then slashes -- while offering solid advice.

> Finally, of all the items on a soon-to-be-published author's to-do list, tchotchkes. Karen Pullen mulls it over (and could use some ideas!).

Have a great weekend.

Monday, November 26, 2012

'Tis the Writing and Submitting Season.

One of my mother's best pieces of advice -- really more a slice of wisdom -- was:  Timing is everything.  Though she didn't work outside the home, and dated my father exclusively since the age of 15, she offered the adage to me when I was in my 20s, in relation to bosses and dating. And boy was she right! I've found it holds up in many other areas of life, too.

Like when it comes to timing our writing submissions. 

Last week, two former writing students asked me about venues where they could submit holiday-themed essays. By now of course, the choices were daily or weekly newspapers (and their online versions), and websites.  Monthly, or less frequent print publications, were out of the question.  

One writer, whose piece revolved around an event unique to her area, decided to stay local and submit to regional newspapers and websites. The other, whose essay was wider in scope,  brainstormed a list of web venues and major daily newspapers. Both resolved to start the submission thinking process sooner next year.

The ideal is to have plenty of time to submit the work to the top venues on our lists, which often means planning out and beginning submissions many months (sometimes a year) in advance.  

Which brings to mind my own philosophy about when to write  (not submit) the seasonal essay, and explains why -- four days after Thanksgiving -- I'm working today on a Thanksgiving essay, and why last week I was revising a piece about visiting a child's college in the Fall for Parents Weekend. 

Do you write ahead like that?  Storing up an inventory of pieces to submit at some future date when the timing or season is right? How does timing fit in with your writing or submission process?

Friday, November 23, 2012

Friday Fridge Clean-Out: Links for Writers, November 23, 2012 Edition

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving yesterday!  As always, I'm grateful that you take the time to read my blog, comment and pass it along. 

> Have you explored the new website for Creative Nonfiction, the journal?  This short piece, by a family physician and CNF writer, made some interesting parallels between those endeavors. (If you're a visual artist, editors are seeking illustrations for future issues.) 

> If you were considering a subscription to Poets & Writers magazine (or if it's on your holiday wish list), now might be a good time. Their offices were flooded during superstorm Sandy, and part of the special $35 Friends rate will go towards restoration.

> Speaking of P&W, here is their list of 27 small presses worth following on Twitter.

> Narratively  is a new site devoted to literary journalism about New York City, and according to MediaShift will offer original in-depth storytelling, as well as Q&A's with authors. This week's topic is "The Flipside of Food."

> A writer on Facebook noted he'd gotten an email rejection from a literary journal early on Thanksgiving morning. Gee, thanks!  Well if he submits to this new online venue, at least he won't get one on...his birthday.

> Finally, according to young adult author Angela Scott, Editors Hate Everything. She's right!  

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

What We Talk About When We Talk About The Storm


Gathering, we swap stories. In New Jersey (and I'm guessing surrounding eastern seaboard states), much of tomorrow's holiday table exchanges will be about our experience during and after superstorm Sandy.  I can't help but think how much we communicate underneath the surface talk:
Because when we talk about the storm and its challenges and aftermath, what we are really talking about is something else entirely. When we complain about being unprepared for how long power was off, the high cost of generators, the downside of TV/phone/internet bundling, we are talking about vulnerability, loss of control, the underbelly of modernity. When we cite crippled mass transit systems, we are talking about anxiety, isolation. The stories about discarding ruined food are stories about guilt and money; the stories about fighting with spouses over not having batteries or working flashlights are stories of blame.
The stories themselves are about more than, often something other than, their topline narratives. This is the goal of memoir, the personal essay, and nonfiction narratives: to illuminate what’s percolating under the surface, what drives the unfolding event, and what it tells us about ourselves.
This is why people read creative nonfiction in the first place.
The renowned spiritual thinker Henri Nouwen wrote, “That which is the most personal, is the most universal.” Readers must be able to find, in any nonfiction work about a personal experience, that which is universal – but the only way through to the universal is by way of the personal.

The excerpt is from an article of mine at the blog of The Writers Circle, titled "What We Talk About When We Talk About the Storm." I invite you to click over and read the full piece, which explores this craft aspect of writing creative nonfiction, how CNF writers must constantly excavate the real story from under the one we talk about.


Monday, November 19, 2012

Full Circle, Storm Surges, Writing, and a Reunion

Today, I have a guest post running over at Empowered Spirit, a lovely blog published by Cathy New Chester.  My essay explores how an 8-day power outage spurred (Cathy would say empowered!) me to make some changes in my life after the lights came back on.

Cathy and I grew up in the same small northern New Jersey town (where I again live). We knew each other only slightly in grade school (through mutual friends), better in high school when we shared many classes, and then, for a few decades, fell out of each other's circle.

About five years ago, Cathy and I were brought back together via class reunions, mutual friends,  and her desire to make writing an integral part of her life. Conversations and emails followed, and while we talked about writing classes, programs, and options she might pursue, her life was already brimming over with career, family, and dealing with multiple sclerosis.

Challenged by time and budget, she simply got busy, making her writing vision happen when ever and how ever she could. Today, Cathy writes for several health websites, in addition to frequently posting inspirational pieces at her blog. More, I'm certain, will happen in her writing life.

I'm really proud of her progress, and honored that Cathy credits me for helping her get on the writing path; but really, she did that herself -- because she wanted to. Cathy recently asked me to be her first guest blogger, and I'm so pleased. There's something lovely -- Cathy would likely say empowering! -- when strands once undone early in life, knit themselves back later on.

I hope you'll hop over to her blog to read my post, and some of Cathy's too.


Friday, November 16, 2012

Friday Fridge Clean-Out: Links for Writers, November 16, 2012 Edition


> The National Book Awards have been decided. All the winners and nominees, with links to excerpts from each, are at GalleyCat.

> The upside of being stuck in traffic: catching an NPR interview with Barbara Kingsolver talking about her newest novel, Flight Behavior - which by the way, has the glorious opening line: "A certain feeling comes from throwing your good life away and it is one part rapture."

> Now that the Silver Linings Playbook is in movie theaters, I'm reminded that Matthew Quick, author of the original novel, wrote a guest post for this blog back in 2008, about meeting readers during the early leg of his debut book tour.

> In a Bookslut interview, Dinty W. Moore, author of The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Nonfiction: Advice and Essential Exercises from Respected Writers, Editors, and Teacher, has this to say: "...I'm almost always scrapping my beginning and ending somewhere in revision, because it is somewhere in revision that I begin to realize what it is I am trying to say in an essay, and thus for me to nail it, to get it as nearly-perfect as can be, I have to start somewhere new, and often end somewhere other than where I thought I was going."


> I was introduced to the Reddit feature AMA (Ask Me Anything) months ago by my teenage son. The idea is, an expert of some sort, or at least someone others want to ask questions of, agrees to answer any inquiries readers toss at them for a specified period. Last week, there was an AMA with Jane Friedman, former publisher of Writers Digest and current web editor of the Virginia Quarterly Review.


> If you are one of my New Jersey contacts, you know I can't stop talking about my upcoming teaching assignments at The Writers Circle. Yesterday I wrote about TWC's director, novelist Judith Lindbergh, and her turn as expert commentator on the History Channel documentary series Mankind. Such fun to know such interesting people.

Have a great weekend! 

Monday, November 12, 2012

The One.


Every writer has at least one. Some, I think, realize it at the moment they reach the last line of the finished draft of a particular piece of writing:  a realization leaps up -- this is it, the one. Others only see it only in retrospect.

I'm talking about a breakthrough piece, a piece of writing which embodies a clear jump from one level of craft and skill to another one, a level a good distance up the slippery hill that is our writing climb.

Last week, a writer with whom I have been working on and off for about three years, had hers. I suspected it was coming, was watching for it, hoping for her it wouldn't be much longer; and then I knew. I knew it from the first page; it was the latest draft (number six, I believe) of a long nonfiction narrative she's been working hard at for about seven months. 

This was her breakthrough piece.  

Everything had come together - narrative arc, character development, pacing, rhythm, language, voice, dialogue, detail, description. There was a confidence on the page, a conviction, a assured hand, that had not been there before.

Let me be clear – this is a talented, hard working writer anyway, and her work is already good. Yet she was, shall we say, working her B game, maybe B+.  I knew there was an A game in her. And then, in this particular draft, she stepped up, dramatically; she'd found her sweet spot and I could tell it wasn't a fluke. The piece was at once both powerful and carefully planned, and yet appeared effortless, organic. 

Bam.

We talked about it, and I was not surprised to hear that she already knew there was something different, something important about this revision. We talked about the wonder of the moment when a writer realizes how much more she can do on the page.

Oh, I can do that?  Yes, I can do that. I can do that.  I have an A game.

That's delicious, and a little bit terrifying. Because next, of course, comes the idea of maintaining that A game. But that's another writing life story.

A breakthrough, meanwhile, requires savoring. 

Friday, November 9, 2012

Friday Fridge Clean-Out: Links for Writers, November 9, 2012 Edition


> The 2013 Pushcart ranking of literary magazines has been released, and Clifford Garstang has posted the lists along with brief commentary about the nonfiction, fiction, and poetry honorees.

> Laura Brown constantly pulls together links to dozens of writing-related material at Creative Writing Inspiration.

> Looking for an online tracking system to keep tabs on progress toward your goals?  Lifehacker lists five interesting options

> I may be late to the party, but I just discovered The Mayborn and can't stop reading;  I suspect most creative nonfiction writers will want to dive in too.

> Some literary journals are not charging small reading fees, typically in the $2-$4 range. Justified?  Jessica Bell says no.

> From a writing instructor, some common writer fears, and how to conquer them (or help someone else).

> What should journalism education look like in the (not-so-distant) future? Jeff Jarvis weighs in.

> And finally -- Yes, old books really do have a specific smell; here's why and what it is, scientifically.

Have a great weekend!

Monday, November 5, 2012

When Just One Word Will Do. Or, 22.


For me (and many others) in New Jersey this week, three words have been key: continue, adapt, laugh

In the 7 days before power returned to my street this afternoon, we have dealt with: cold; dark; spoiled food; a leaking refrigerator; no power at my husband's warehouse; and worry about how my son's flooded school will manage to re-open.

Today, I thought about the list of helpful words for any crisis situation, which I once posted here. I don't recall where I first saw the original list of 17 words, but I've been carrying it in my wallet for years, and added rest and ask myself a few years ago. Now, it's up to:

22 Words

Accept
Act
Believe
Care
Change
Choose
Focus
Forgive
Listen
Persist
Pray
Prepare
Relax
Risk
Smile
Trust
Wait

Rest
Ask
Continue
Adapt
Laugh

Have you any words to add?

Friday, November 2, 2012

Friday Fridge Clean-Out: Links for Writers, Post-Hurricane Sandy Edition

Friday Fridge Clean-Out - for real. 

My Friday link round-up gets its name from the way I sometimes feed my family on a Friday night, using as many leftovers as possible. I have been doing a version of that frequently since our power quit on Monday. Living in New Jersey is challenging this week but fortunately we had no property damage and family members are all okay. 

Packing coolers with ice and thawed food, cooking and eating by flashlight, piling on warm clothing, and long gas lines are nothing compared to the devastation to our south, now a Jersey Shore no one would recognize. Right now I'm camped out at my mother-in-law's dining room table, where there's heat, lights, and a neighbor's wifi signal. Hoping my East Coast readers are faring well. 

And so, the links...

> What happens to your submission once it reaches the editorial offices of a literary journal? If The Missouri Review's process is any indication, it does NOT fall into a big black hole, as writers sometimes suspect.

> Jody Hedlund has some tips for Using the 5 Senses to Make Our Stories Jump Off the Page.

> Nick Flynn, poet and author of the memoir Another Bullshit Night in Suck City (now a film titled "Being Flynn"), answers Laurie Hertzel's 10 questions about writing.

> Over at Jane Friedman's blog, guest poster Gabriela Pereira has a three step plan (that includes rolling actual dice!) for "Using Prompts to Write Better & Get Published."

> I haven't poked around there that much yet, but Storylane looks like a promising new social-media-type way to find interesting essays and other nonfiction to read. Based on the people behind it, TechCrunch thinks the sharing platform and options could spell success.

> Two things I love: Ben Yagoda and the em dash.

> Finally, what a way to go. Flavorwire's slide show of "Famous Last Words: 15 Authors’ Epitaphs." 

Have a great weekend!