Friday, February 22, 2008

Snow Days, Muses and More

A little while back, I posted about lusting after a byline in the New York Times column, Modern Love. Then, this past Sunday, who has the ML spot but Ann Hood, novelist, essayist extraordinaire, and one of my former MFA faculty mentors. Her piece is about the how a blue-red line runs down the center of her marriage. If you missed it, read it now here.

Then today, a snowy cold day in New Jersey, a day when I was desperately summoning the elusive muse, I came across a lovely little essay by the erstwhile leader of my local MEWS (Montclair Editors and Writers Society). If you are even slightly curious about the places where writers write, you'll like Pam Redmond Satran's piece, and you can read it here.

As I said, a snowy day here, and a snow day – the first this winter – for the kids. Since they knew Mom had a deadline, they promised to keep busy and get along. After shoveling and snowball fights, they busted a glass bowl holding Maine beach rocks (a Wii casualty) and I thought it might be all downhill. But I had to head back to my office. Then, it got so quiet around mid-afternoon, I had to investigate…only to find older son reading to younger son…and the next time I looked in, at 4:00…it was 100 pages later, but they were both still on the couch.

I met my deadline.

I'm liking snow days better and better.

"Literature is like any other trade; you will never sell anything unless you go to the right shop." - George Bernard Shaw

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Outside Your Literary Comfort Zone

It's been a few weeks since the AWP Conference in New York and I'm still getting asked what I thought of it. First, AWP was overwhelming – sometimes as many as 17 simultaneous sessions to choose from every 90 minutes. AWP was exhausting, without an official lunch break, and sessions, readings, panels, seminars, and other events scheduled from 9 a.m. till 6:15, then evening happenings too. And the AWP Book Fair? Don't even get me started: two huge ballrooms crammed with tables representing literary journals, writer centers, MFA programs, contests, and publishers of all stripes – small literary and specialty presses, university publishing programs and the big Manhattan publishing houses, too.

So even if I had not been eligible for the low grad student rate, and even if I was not able to hop a train and be in Manhattan in less than an hour, I still think this conference was time well spent. And time I did spend – one full day, one three-quarter day, and one half-day.

What a lot of my writer buddies wanted to know was that, did it serve me as a nonfiction writer? Yes. Overhelmingly yes. Most of the time, I felt like a writer among fellow writers and the atmosphere -- even in rooms where the combined publishing experience of the panelists was staggering -- felt collegial, open and supportive.

And here is, I think, the surprising reason: AWP was not only about nonfiction.

First, some background: My name is Lisa and I am a former nonfiction snob.

If it wasn't about nonfiction, I didn’t want to hear or read about it. That is, until I entered an MFA program 19 months ago. Once there, bumping up against poets, nonfiction writers, popular fiction students, I realized, in the space of about three hours, that one of the most important ideas I'd come away with was this: Writers are writers. I can, and should, learn from all of them, from all genres, from all aspects of craft and forms, from all types of writers and writing. So that's the attitude I took to AWP.

Nonfiction writers have so much to learn from our colleagues who are novelists, short story writers, investigative journalists, classical poets, dramatists, experimental poets, playwrights, critics, children's book authors...the list is as endless as the myriad ways the written word is artistically found alive in our world.

So, at AWP, I purposely attended some sessions that addressed areas of writing I might not otherwise have considered relevant. Important as the subject is, why sit through another debate by memoirists about the relevance of accuracy vs. emotional truth, no matter how brilliant the writers represented, if I've already heard that debate played out at four other venues over the last year – at Nonfiction Now, for example, and at my MFA residency, and at the Art of the Memoir symposium, and other events?

Instead, I took a seat at the nonfiction panels that touched either on issues that were new to me, or those that I had been curious about but had not yet taken the time to delve into. But what intrigued me more was attending sessions that on first glance might not seem my cup of literary tea.

It was sitting at those seats that I felt both completely out of my league and at the same time, more excited as a writer than usual. Ideas crashed around in my head, my hand flew across my notebook; some of it I knew I'd dismiss later as passing fancy (try a screenplay?), but more of those remembered discussions and my scribbled notes will, I suspect, feed me for months: Turn that stubborn essay with family secrets I can never reveal, into a short story? Read the work of 19th century women essayists who were then considered in the vanguard? Think about how writers' blogs can build community? What about truth in poetry?

So, if you are wondering if the trip to Chicago for AWP 2009 might be worth it for you, I say if you can budget for it, GO. While there, make it a point to attend sessions that seem a little outside your comfort zone.

And then there's this: closer to home look for other opportunities for literary cross-pollination. Write fiction? Sign on for a half-day nonfiction workshop. A poet? Check out the science fiction or essay writing panels at the next regional writers conference you attend. Local, less costly conferences are an ideal way to try on some new literary skin.

You never know, it might not be such an odd fit after all.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Two friends of mine who understand the way life should be are now over at a brand new site, RaisingMaine. Check out my talented friend Raye Tibbitts, who has brought the vibe of her cool print zine, The Bad Mother Chronicles, to the web. Raye is a really good mother, a college instructor, and part-time reporter; who, like the rest of us, struggles to find enough hours for her craft. Unlike me, she is one of those women you just sort of want to hate – you know the type, who most of the time cook from scratch, raise their own veggies, keep their kids engaged mostly without TV, who can sew/can/craft/make anything from discarded scraps, who shops organic, volunteers and who earned an MFA while raising two really young kids and giving birth to a third!

Problem is, I can't hate her because (1) she's a truly caring and kind person who is usually interested in anything I have to say (or whine about); (2) I love her writing; (3) I make a point to be really nice to people who might one day write a best seller and need a friend along on the book tour to turn pages. Raye's questioning musings on motherhood, marriage and work remind us that not only does she not have all the answers, but that no one really does. The "answers" may be in posing new and different questions. Read her honest, wry and witty
blog here.

Then there's Sharon Ross, who is a marketing specialist, a reporter and who, as my student-guide during the first exciting, terrifying, confusing residency of my MFA program, somehow helped me figure out that I was not in the wrong place after all. Sharon is blogging about being a single mom in Maine. She's quietly funny as you'll see if you read her post, "with apologies to Lorrie Moore" here.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Rice and Reading and More

In the spirit of the universal need for procrastination websites that actually serve a purpose, here's one to boost your vocabulary and, at no cost, send food where it's needed too. Go ahead, word lovers, show off a little. Click here to play.

Every few days, a different Iowa writer is featured on
this website, dedicated to putting a spotlight on the poets, fiction and nonfiction writers in that talent-rich state.

Next time you clear out the clutter, see if there is a Magazine Literacy collection point near you. Their mission: "At, we get new and recycled magazines into the hands, homes, and hearts of at-risk children and families so they can learn and love to read." Check
the site for more info and local initiatives – if your area is not represented, maybe you can be the one to get something going.

Freelancers, have you heard of
Reporterist? Two enterprising individuals are testing a new web-based service to connect freelance writers with editors. Sounds like it more or less eliminates the often time-consuming pitch/query/response/submission process. The concept: write something, post it on a secure site, an editor "shops", and makes an offer….there's a lot more to it, as the folks at the Online Journalism Review found out, so read more here. I'd love to hear from anyone who has tried this or any other such services, such as WonderVoice.

Reading right now: The teetering pile of magazines that have piled up since the holidays…and you?

Friday, February 8, 2008

Show Me the Modern Love

If, like me, you start your attack on the Sunday New York Times by reading all the personal essay columns -- Lives, Generations, Home Work, Rituals, Book Review Essay, and especially the Style Section's Modern Love, then this article – about Modern Love's popularity and the power of a Modern Love byline in garnering book deals for some of its authors -- is sure to either give you encouragement, get you depressed, or both. In any case, it's certainly of interest.

Which makes me wonder. How many of you writers have "get published in Modern Love" on your writing-goal radar? I'll admit it's always on mine, though the intensity wavers; otherwise how to explain that I've made only one submission ever (and yes, received a rejection).

So fess up. Do you hanker for a Modern Love byline? Made any submissions? Gotten any feedback? Is there any other column or piece of journalistic real estate – in the Times or elsewhere – that represents your ultimate byline nirvana?

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

On Not Reading

Now reading: Nothing. That's right, nothing.

First, it was because I needed the space in my head to digest all that I had heard while attending the AWP conference last week.

Then, it was because I had to catch up with all the many sections of the Times which had stacked up on the dining room table while I was attending the AWP conference last week.

Finally, it's because I am living inside of the 150 pages of my fourth-semester MFA manuscript which are due in less than a week and which I maybe should have been working on instead of attending the AWP conference last week.

However, if I were to start reading a new book right now, it would be: Chosen By a Horse, by Susan Richards. Why? Let's see, it's a memoir, it's written by a woman, and it's about her relationship with a horse. Any other questions? Oh, and it's been calling out to me from my to-be-read bookshelf since a friend sent it to me two months ago.

But it will have to wait. I'm sure Susan, a writing instructor as well as an author, will understand.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Maybe 2008 can start now.

The Giants won the Super Bowl. I can stop waiting to exhale. So total is my exhaustion, words abandon me. That says something.

Friday, February 1, 2008

My Super (Bowl) Essay

While I was being very serious about writing at the AWP conference in NYC today, this essay of mine went up online, which in the whole scheme of things was much more important…at least if you are a Jersey girl and New York Giants fan. Of all the hundreds of thousands -- millions? -- of words that will be written about the Super Bowl this weekend, they may not be the most significant. But they made me kind of popular with the boys in my house!

Tired, Sore...Charged Up

What do you get when you attend the first day of the biggest writing conference in the country in the city that is home to more writers than any other? Besides a sore you-know-what from sitting all day at panel after seminar after presentation, a sore arm from carrying a tote that quickly fills with give-away literary journals from the bookfair tables, and a serious case of laptop withdrawal and sticker shock ($19 for Caesar Salad)?

Why, you get a bunch of terrific ideas, an overflowing handful of new contacts, and the overwhelmingly satisfying feeling of having connected with writing friends not seen in weeks, months or maybe years. That’s how I felt last night after my first day at AWP in New York City

It would take me house to relate all I heard and learned…and so I won’t.

Just one tidbit from the day…from the panel Do You Have to Be Mean to Be Funny?
- “Always make fun up the ladder, and only for things people can be held accountable for.” – David Rakoff
- “Choose big targets, or else it’s bullying. Presidents are good. Most of the work is done for you and you’re just reporting the ridiculous.” – Roger Rosenblatt
- “An interesting question. Last night my boyfriend and I tried an experiment. He said, ‘You try to be nice to me all night and we’ll see if I laugh.’” – Patricia Marx

Back to the circus today…my family hopes I’ll remember the way home sometime tonight.