Friday, September 23, 2016

Friday Fridge Clean-Out: Links for Writers -- September 23, 2016 Edition

>I love reading about all the MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant recipients, but of course pay special attention to the handful of stellar writers always on the list. Included among them for 2016 is Claudia Rankine, who says the "prize is being given to the subject of race."

>My kids aren't young enough to have enjoyed "Llama Llama Red Pajama," and other books in that series by Anna Dewdney. But I fell in love with the author when, after she passed away this month, instead of funeral services, she asked everyone to read to a child.

>I learn from coaching clients all the time. Recently, a writer looking for new ways to approach complicated essay topics, found "Let's Discuss Shredded Romaine Lettuce," an essay from 2014, by Wendy Rawlings. Whoa. It immediately became suggested reading for my MFA students.

>Part sounds-like-fiction horror story, part you-can't-make-this-stuff-up nonfiction, and altogether creepy/fun reading: Lesley's Kinzel's "The Writing Retreat From Hell: Or, a Completely Weird and Slightly Terrifyig Adventure in Small Town New England."

>I reported over the summer that Beyond Your Blog--a helpful trove of advice and resources for submitting essays and articles--had stopped putting up new material. Now I'm happy to say it's resumed doing so, with a few tweaks.

>Finally, I know I'm late to the Taylor Mali party, but caught on when my college freshman son sent me the link to Mali's  hilarious video send-up on "The Impotence of Proofreading" which he saw in his freshman comp class.  

Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Happy Best American Essay Brithday

When my birthday arrives in about 10 days, my card may say, "Your gift was delivered on  September 13."

Here's why (and I beg of you, imagine this in deep narrator voice-over like at the Oscars): This is Lisa's second nomination, and first…

Let me not bury the lede any further: I received word that an essay of mine, published in 2015, was selected for the Notable Essays list included in Best American Essays 2016. How simple and calm that sentence sounds. So unlike how I sounded when I got the news.

No, that was more like this (imagine this in hysterical barn owl voice at 140 decibels): What?! NO WAY. Wow. Whoa. OMG! Wait, REALLY?

BAE doesn't notify those on the Notables list. I learned it from a Facebook writer friend who'd scoured the Notables pages (using Look Inside) as soon as Amazon put BAE '16 up for pre-order.

As you probably know, BAE is an annual anthology that republishes about two dozen essays that exemplify fine writing craft. Tucked in the back is the Notables list, a few hundred pieces culled from thousands of nominations. When I think about all the essays published in all the print journals and all the online literary journals, and all the mainstream magazines and websites, across a full 12 months, the odds of being selected are small. The honor is huge.

Often, a media venue will let a writer know that it is nominating one's work, as happened several years ago when Under the Sun nominated an essay of mine from 2013 (no booming narrator voice that time around).

But this time, I was not aware that the good folks at Blue Lyra Review, notably nonfiction editor Adrienne Ross Scanlan, had thought highly enough of my essay, "Not Quite Meet Cute" (which appeared in their Spring 2015 issue), to place it in nomination. So the news last week was extra surprising, extra sweet. My heartfelt gratitude goes out to Adrienne and BLR.

If you like this sort of stuff, the backstory on that essay includes the usual forces and vicissitudes that accompany this wacky thing called essay writing.

It's such a personal piece that after the crappy first draft in 2007, I put it away, worried my husband wouldn't like the world knowing how he behaved when we first met, or how I'd behaved before we met. Then there was the inevitable cycle: revise, rewrite, put-it-away-this-is-crap, forget-about-it-for-another-year, revise, this-is-less-crappy-but-it's-still-crap, revise, rinse, repeat.

Finally, it entered the gee-this-maybe-is-not-so-bad stage, followed by revise, submit, rejection, submit, submit, submit. Once it found a nice home at BLR, the only next step I considered was that I might include it in a future essay collection of my own (yes, I'm delusional that way), but essentially, I figured that was the end of that story.

The BAE listing comes with not a dime of monetary compensation, and of course, the Notable pieces themselves are not printed in the book. That booming narrator voice isn't concluding with….and her first win. A Notable is more than a nomination, less than a win, but it's something rather nice, and I'm excited. It means the judging committee and editors think it has merit.

And I’m thinking that, in the everyday trenches of revise, rewrite, put-it-away-this-is-crap, forget-about-it-for-another-year, revise, this-is-less-crappy-but-it's-still-crap, revise, rinse, repeat, gee-this-maybe-is-not-bad, submit, rejection, submit, submit, submit – that's going to help.

Though I guess this means my husband figures he's off the hook for a birthday gift.

Monday, September 5, 2016

When a Targeted Submission Fails: Rinse, Revise, Repeat

Not everything we write lands where we hope. I occasionally write essays for themed calls for submissions, especially for anthologies, and have had some success (10 thus far). But when the resulting essay is declined, there are decisions to make. Like every writer, sometimes I am tempted to forget about it. But not often. Because when I work hard on something, I like to salvage those efforts.

I try to remember what I advise my students: that the gift inside rejection (for something I wrote and submitted exclusively), is that I now have new material. Even if it requires a little (or maybe more than a little) revision, I have something to submit elsewhere.

Last July, I submitted an essay to a planned anthology to mark the 10th anniversary of the mega-memoir, Eat, Pray Love in 2016. I learned in November that mine—along with some 1950 other submissions—was not accepted for what eventually became the book Eat, Pray, Love Made Me Do It.

I let many months go by, mostly because I was busy with teaching and other projects, but eventually realized that if I were going to place that essay, it had to be in 2016.

Fortunately, the original call had a word limit that coincided with what many mainstream online destinations look for in personal essay length. So I examined the content, and zeroed in on an angle that I hoped would help it sell: although Elizabeth Gilbert, author of EPL, was in her thirties when she rebooted her life, my own story of connection with the book was rooted in midlife, so I enhanced that aspect of the essay. When I sent it on its way, I aimed at venues with readerships in that age range and that seemed likely to include EPL fans. I emphasized in my pitch that the globally successful book was celebrating its 10th anniversary.

That piece, eventually titled, "Happy 10th Birthday Eat, Pray, Love: A Big Shout-Out to the Book that Inspired My Three Big Midlife Changes," was published in late August on Purple Clover, a popular site geared to midlife women. The site's tagline is: still crazy after all these years. It seems like a good fit for the piece, the paycheck is welcome, and I love knowing that my original efforts paid off, though in a different manner.

Later this fall, a similar story will play out when a much longer, more literary nonfiction narrative I originally wrote for Creative Nonfiction Magazine's 2015 call for works about the weather will be published by Harpur Palate, another journal where I'm happy to see my work appear. Lately, I've been seeing a number of well-written nonfiction pieces about weather popping up in many quality venues, and I've been secretly wondering if those traveled the same road, too.

Do you have pieces that you intended for one place that wound up in another? I'd love to hear your experiences.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Friday Fridge Clean-Out: Links for Writers -- September 2, 2016 Edition

> Ursula LeGuin, interesting and forthright as always, had something to say about being named to the Library of America (New York Times).

> At Assay Journal, Sarah Einstein probes "
Questions of Authorial Selfhood and Ethics in ​First Person Creative Nonfiction." 

> Did you know that half of those you ask for a book blurb will probably say no? Dorit Sasson, author of the memoir Accidental Soldier, offers "Top 10 Tips I Learned About Getting Book Endorsements," 
over at Funds for Writers.

> Joanna Novak at Bustle features "9 Women Writers Who Are Breaking New Nonfiction Territory."

> Recently discovered Pitching Shark, which offers freelance writers tidbits from editors of print and online venues, including topics they'd like to see pitched, as well as their email addresses. Also, advice about writing, pitching, etc.

>Brag Box: I'm super proud of my coaching clients who landed the assignment to write this cool story for's travel section. (I work with freelancers on polishing their pitches; details are on this page.) 

Have a great weekend!

Image: Flickr/CreativeCommons - James Jones Puggles