Monday, March 23, 2015

Small Press Roulette: a grab bag of literary goodies

Do you want to dive into literary journals but don't know where to start? Feel like perusing flash fiction or experimental work, but your local bookstore doesn't carry what you're looking for?
Check out SmallPressRoulette, an etsy store created by "Karen, the Small Press Librarian," aka Karen Lillis, an author who runs a pop up indie press bookstand of literary treasures called Small Press Pittsburgh. You choose your basic genre and price point, and she'll handpick something and send you a grab bag (usually one book with some small extras thrown in).

From her etsy site:

I have a carefully curated selection of contemporary small press books, zines, and literary magazines available. Many books are from Pittsburgh's finest emerging authors or indie publishers, but. I also have a variety of choice indie press books and zines from other cities like SF, NYC, Chicago, LA, and more. I've added a variety of price points, between $2 and $15, so look on my Etsy store for other roulette prices. 

When ordering, please choose one of the following genres: Fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, THIRD GENRE (experimental writing or something in btwn prose & poetry), literary magazine, zine, comix/graphix/illustration, or Total Surprise.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Tinder, Gawker and Other Writing Prompts at First Friday Pens and Pints with Petals & Bones

Had a blast at the Pens and Pints First Friday Writing Bonanza, a monthly event created by Petals and Bones that takes place at Jack and Tony's Whisky Bar in Santa Rosa. About 10 of us crammed into a large corner booth near the bar, notebooks and pens competing for space on the table with a variety of drinks (I had STRAIGHT ON 'TIL MORNING: Hibiscus & strawberry infused Rum, lychee puree, lime juice & rhubarb bitters), garlic fries and lit candles as the space darkened--evidenced by my crappy photo that shows no faces.

Hilarity ensued as Dani Burlison and Leilani Clark led us with three prompts over the course of two hours. We'd scribble furiously for about seven minutes, then go around the table and read aloud. It's great practice for getting words onto the page quickly before the inner critic can rush in, and sharing with others breaks a similar barrier.

Out three prompts included celebrity encounters (" 'Huey!' I yelled out the limousine window"), a letter of complaint or support to Tinder, a dating app ("Any swipe can change your life" is the tagline--check out their promo video that makes hooking up with strangers while traveling solo look oh-so-simple-and-fun), and a Gawker headline (tagline: "Today's gossip is tomorrow's news"). Here's mine:

You can read testimonials about their workshops (including mine) at the Petals and Bones website.

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Ups and Downs of Submissions & Rejections

Thank you for the opportunity to consider your work. Unfortunately, it doesn't fit CutBank's needs at this time. We wish you the best of luck in placing it elsewhere. Regards, CutBank Literary Journal 

The first rejection rolled in mid-February for my essay "Wildish Woman: A Portrait." A writer friend recently remarked that I have 'thick skin.' Honestly, it doesn't bother me to be rejected because I expect it. I usually submit a piece to several publications at once, knowing that statistically it's just more likely a submission will be rejected more often than accepted. It's par for the course. 

Here's what my Duotrope submissions tracker looks like from December 2014 to February 2015: 

I've got that essay pending responses from four more lit journals, with a few more lined up to send it to with future deadlines should I have the misfortune to be rejected from all of the above. I'm always looking at contests and calls for submissions in my Duotrope weekly email catered to nonfiction, my Review Review weekly email, or the monthly Poets&Writers listings in the back of the magazine. 

It's quite fun and interesting to look up new journals I've never heard of and to consider which themes or journal styles may be a fit for a particular essay. cahoodaloodaling, for instance, sent an encouraging and personalized "please send more of your work" rejection and has a March 21 deadline for a "he said/she said" theme for which I aim to revise a blurring-the-boundaries piece I wrote in my MFA fiction class based on a three-month foray into the online world of
What was said? You tell us. This issue we’re seeking submissions with conversations, dialogues, and quotations. While we want a strong conversational component to each piece selected for He Said/She Said, this call for submissions is theme, not form, based. Send us your visual, audio, written, and multimedia work of any genre and style that you feel speaks to this theme. This is a great opportunity to submit a scene from your play or to collaborate with others.
In the meantime, I'm also waiting to hear about two reprints I submitted to Nowhere and Sequestrum; I sent a revision of an essay "Pearls," about my paternal grandmother, to an elders-themed issue of biostories; and I reworked a short essay called "Welcome to Womanhood" for a new anthology chronicling humiliating experiences that should make the reader cringe and wither to consider.

Monday, February 16, 2015

How to be a Better Writer: On Perseverance

Madly at work on several essay revisions, I've been feeling a bit mad (as in crazy, not angry) as I witness the erratic pace of my own writing process. After clocking 60 hours in January on the revision(s) of "Wildish Woman: A Portrait," about a wildlife biologist in Alaska, the writing went dormant in the post-submission phase as I recovered from the burn-out and accompanying self-doubt that followed. It took another two weeks before I could start up again, then--BAM! I spent all weekend writing another short draft for an anthology and completing a 2,500-word essay revision. If I were to graph the inert vs. active phases of my writing like an EKG, the spikes and dips might look like this:

Recently, someone sent a link to "25 Insights on Becoming a Better Writer." Check out this list compiled by Jocelyn K. Glei--what she calls "snippets of insight from some exceptional authors."

9. Sarah Waters: On being disciplined…

Treat writing as a job. Be disciplined. Lots of writers get a bit OCD-ish about this. Graham Greene famously wrote 500 words a day. Jean Plaidy managed 5,000 before lunch, then spent the afternoon answering fan mail. My minimum is 1,000 words a day – which is sometimes easy to achieve, and is sometimes, frankly, like shitting a brick, but I will make myself stay at my desk until I’ve got there, because I know that by doing that I am inching the book forward. Those 1,000 words might well be rubbish – they often are. But then, it is always easier to return to rubbish words at a later date and make them better.

20. Hilary Mantel: On getting stuck…

If you get stuck, get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to music, meditate, exercise; whatever you do, don’t just stick there scowling at the problem. But don’t make telephone calls or go to a party; if you do, other people’s words will pour in where your lost words should be. Open a gap for them, create a space. Be patient.

24. Joyce Carol Oates: On persevering…

I have forced myself to begin writing when I’ve been utterly exhausted, when I’ve felt my soul as thin as a playing card, when nothing has seemed worth enduring for another five minutes… and somehow the activity of writing changes everything. Or appears to do so.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Write Like A Serial Killer: Authors Talk About the Compulsion to Create at Poets&Writers LIVE

At Saturday's Poets&Writers LIVE event in San Francisco, my MFA friends and I found the most interesting panel session to be Why We Write, modeled after the magazine's column of the same name. Melissa Faliveno, the magazine's associate editor who moderated the panel of five writers and poets, referenced a prior stage conversation between David Shields and Caleb Powell regarding their recently published collaboration I Think You're Totally Wrong: A Quarrel, in which the two debate the merits of being wholly devoted to art or to life.

"My job is to curate my feelings as a writer," said Shields, author of 16 books with four more coming out in the next year. He spoke about the weaving of a psychic wound into art: "The best art is in conversation with that wound, even if it never talks about it." 

In an excerpt we watched of the upcoming film adaptation of the book by James Franco, each man pointed to a physical accident and resulting injury that shifted their trajectories toward becoming writers. The prolific Shields, who teaches at Warren Wilson College, said he became "addicted to writing books." In the P&W article "Art vs. Life," he addresses the cost of that singular kind of focus: "I always wanted to become a human being, but I overcommitted to art." Shields accuses his former student Powell, a stay-at-home father of three young girls, of doing the opposite: "My conception was that you wanted to be an artist, but you overcommitted to life."

It was the perfect jumping-off point for this panel of writers who were asked about the challenges of showing up for writing "when family, jobs and other obligations throw a boulder in your path."

Here are some snippets from that conversation that I scribbled into my notebook:

Michelle Tea, an author of five memoirs and two novels, said it was easy to show up for it when she was writing fervently in her twenties. She mentioned her "insane relationship" with her own writing in which she can't trust her inner critic and is baffled each time she sits down to write a new book, and described her writing approach as "barf a bunch out and clean it up later." Tea, who also just had a baby, admitted, "I don't know how I'll ever write again."

D.A. Powell, an award-winning poet who teaches at my alma mater USF, talked about writing as a process of turning outside what we have a natural tendency to do internally (in our observations and introspections). He said quality time means "I'm going to devote this moment" and encouraged: "Keep assembling your language. Something will come from it."

"Consistent practice like a pianist," recommended Alejandro Murguia, an American Book Award author and the sixth San Francisco Poet Laureate. To move past stumbling blocks he reads others' work, which allows him to then "enter my own text creatively inspired." He emphasized the value of reading aloud: "Making yourself sensitive to language." In a melodic voice he described the writing and revision process: "Cut away and expand and cut and expand until that final polished (poem) is like a dwarf star: one spoonful weighing three tons."

Yiyun Li, author of Kinder Than Solitude and several other books, learned discipline first as a scientist. "There's no excuse to wait for inspiration," she said about writing from 12 to 4 a.m. when her two babies were asleep. Aside from the pressures of real life, she said fiction fulfills "a desire to be with my characters."

Wendy Lesser, founding editor of the Threepenny Review and author of nine nonfiction books and a novel, quoted the poet Robert Pinksy: "I enjoy having written." She humorously described the compulsion of writing like that of a serial killer--the pressure to do it builds and builds, he has to do it, then... oh, it feels so great.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Renewing your commitment to writing in 2015: Poets&Writers conference + classes for writers

Jump-start your new year's writing resolutions with a winter writing class in your community or online. I'm headed to San Francisco on Saturday, January 10, for "Poets&Writers LIVE," a conference put on by my favorite writers' magazine. There's still room to register (cost is now $100):
Photo credit: Nicole R. Zimmerman
Join us for a day-long event at San Francisco's Brava Theater Center as we consider many facets of creativity, community, and inspiration. We'll kick things off with a "poetry keynote" by Pulitzer Prize–winner and former U.S. poet laureate Kay Ryan. A highlight of the program will be a multigenre, multimedia “inspiration experiment” featuring acclaimed author Joyce Carol Oates.  
Other sessions will include a discussion with authors and publishing professionals about resources for writers in San Francisco; a roundtable on smart self-publishing options; an interactive panel discussion on the Perfect Pitch in which we will invite select audience members to join an agent, an editor, and a publicist on stage; a conversation with award-winning poets and writers about why we write; and a "quarrel" between David Shields and Caleb Powell over the age-old debate of life vs. art. We'll top it all off with a Literary Mixer—a chance to meet others, share notes, and learn about the work of area presses and magazines.
The young writer at work
Or, consider signing up for an online course with another favorite, Creative Nonfiction magazine, which offers 10-week classes from January 12--March 22. According to their website:
Participants receive personalized feedback on assignments from their instructor, as well as responses from classmates on discussion board forums. All instructors are university professors and/or working professional writers--and there are never more than 14 students in any class. Conversation, firm deadlines, and feedback help keep you writing and improving your work throughout the class.
Check out this chock-full-of-inspiration lineup of classes, including the fabulous Becky Tuch, founder of my favorite writers' resource The Review Review.

Writing the Nonfiction Book Proposal
Instructor: Waverly Fitzgerald

Blogging for the Writer
Instructor: Becky Tuch

Magazine Writing
Instructor: Marty Levine

Narrative Medicine
Instructor: Ellen Ficklen

Creative Nonfiction Boot Camp
Instructor: Avery Leigh Thomas 

Writing the Personal Essay
Instructor: Barrett Swanson

Foundations of Creative Nonfiction
Instructor: Meghan O'Gieblyn

Advanced Memoir and Personal Essay
Instructor: Jonathan Callard

Monday, December 22, 2014

Writing in the new year: what I'm working on now

What to tackle next? In my internet meanderings I came upon my first love: travel writing. Can't believe I'd never heard of Nowhere Magazine: Literary Travel Writing/Photography/Film/Art. This excellent quality digital magazine (Dave Eggers and others have been published in it) features a fall 2014 writing contest judged by Lorin Stein, editor of the Paris Review, with a deadline of January 1.

Writing I'm working on now
We are looking for young, old, novice and veteran voices to send us stories that possess a powerful sense of place. Stories can be fiction or nonfiction, but please indicate which genre at the top of your manuscript. Entries should be between 800-5,000 words and must not have been previously chosen as a winner in another contest. Previously published work is accepted, but again, please indicate this. Every submission will be read blind, so anyone can win...

And... I also happened upon cahoodaloodaling: a collaborative publication, with an upcoming theme:
Issue #15 – Travelogue
We are seeking submissions inspired by unique destinations, travel, international adventures, or simply the comforts of home. Send in your best works of “place” by the end of the year. Remember, we are open for all styles and forms of visual and audio art, poetry, literature, as well as essays, non-fiction, screenplays, collaborations and even letters home. Make us stand up and take notice.
Submissions due 12/31/14. Guest editor April Michelle Bratten of Up the Staircase Quarterly. Issue live 1/31/15
I've got several pieces in various drafts from my 2001-02 travels in New Zealand and Australia to consider for revision for Nowhere. And I've got a piece I've already revised that won a prior contest at Travelers' Tales and... voila!... cahoodaloodaling accepts previously published work.

With a few other story ideas, publications and deadlines before and after the new year, I'm set to go.

Dear Readers: Any writing goals for the new year? Whether you're working on first drafts or you're aiming for polishing and publication, consider setting yourself a schedule with a timed writing or word count per day or per week.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Why am I telling this story? What does it mean?

With several essays simmering or sizzling on the stove, shifting between back and front burners, the question I revisit again and again is: "What is this essay's central theme? What is the takeaway for the reader? What does it all add up to?" It is usually at that point in organization or revision that I get stuck in my writerly rut.

While it can sometimes be good to set a piece aside for a time and return with renewed perspective, I wonder if I'm prone to giving up too hastily, stuffing another unfinished work into the file drawer before giving it enough time to stew.

Suzanne Roberts, the winner of Creative Nonfiction's Fall 2014 "Mistakes" essay contest, has this to say in an interview about her prizewinning piece. It's a good reminder to stick with it and let the story emerge.
E.M. Forster said, “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” That is one of the things about writing: there is no way to know what something means, at least for me, until I write it and re-write it, asking the same questions again and again: Why am I telling this story? What does it mean? Where can I go deeper? What is the story behind the story?

Friday, December 5, 2014

Forthcoming Publication in Creative Nonfiction

Last week, just after Thanksgiving, I was filled with gratitude for receiving the following letter from Hattie Fletcher, the Managing Editor at Creative Nonfiction magazine:

Thank you very much for your submission to Creative Nonfiction's "Memoir" issue, and for your patience during our lengthy review process. I'm writing now with both bad news and good news. 

We received more than 1,700 submissions and after much discussion have decided to publish a special double-length issue, which will be published in March. The bad news: unfortunately, "Crisis" is not among the essays we're accepting for the issue. 

The good news: we received so many great submissions that we have decided to accept another issue's worth of essays from among them. This would be issue #57 / Fall 2015, and would be organized loosely around the theme of jobs/occupations. We think "Crisis" will be a great fit for this issue, and hope you're amenable to its being included. 
I hope that the good news makes up for the bad...

It certainly does! No matter that it took six months to review my essay and will take another 10 months or so to put it in print. I guess that's the reality of the publishing world... the more competitive the lit mag, the lengthier the route from submission to publication can be (or, in this case, postponing for a future issue since they were inundated with entries this year).

According to Clifford Garstang, who voluntarily compiles annual Pushcart Prize rankings of literary journals, CNF has averaged a rank of 21 (out of hundreds of lit mags) to publish in Pushcart Press in the past three years. But aside from that prestige, I'm pleased to have my work accepted in a well-established and visible magazine. From the website:

Creative Nonfiction is the voice of the genre. Every issue is packed with new, long-form essays that blend style with substance; writing that pushes the traditional boundaries of the genre; notes on craft; micro-essays; conversations with writers and editors; insights and commentary from CNF editor Lee Gutkind; and more. Simply put, CNF demonstrates the depth and versatility of the genre it has helped define for almost 20 years.

After nine rejections, my essay about working at a rape crisis center in my '20s has found a home.


Saturday, November 29, 2014

Condensing word count: an exercise in economy

In graduate school I got so accustomed to turning in the required 10- to 20-page submissions that all of my essays now tend to stretch to great lengths. Lucky for me, most literary journals accept works of 4-5,000 words. But when I recently decided to submit something to The East Bay Monthly with a word limit of just 900 (but a circulation of 62,000), I accepted the challenge to condense.

Scroll down and click on the link for "Big Brother" to view the result, online and in print this week!

Put down that Smartphone. Go ahead: Add an extra dollop of whipped cream to your hot cocoa, and let that lap-warming cat get comfortable. Time to settle in for seven very nice reads on a theme, "Something That Disappeared."

The Monthly solicited essay submissions from Bay Area writers for the annual winter literary issue, sharing these chosen few to share. This theme seemed well suited for contemplation and inspiration and prompted essayists to spin yarns and remembrances in unpredictable directions.

This charming collection include prose recounting a wild goose chase for lost keys, the pains of family disruption, an adios to youth, the bittersweet challenge of role reversal, the karma of bike theft, a Moonie conversion, and the wholesale hewing down of redwoods. They're funny and poignant, sassy and heartbreaking, even plucky, suspenseful and deeply thought. Well done.

Thanks so much to all who sent in submissions; narrowing the field was not an easy task, pleasurable as the submissions were. The good news is that The Monthly offers essay contests twice a year.

By L.J. Cranmer
A Berkeley housewife searches--and searches and searches--for her keys.

Loss of Place
By Anne Fox
An Oakland copyeditor recalls what being uprooted after fourth grade was like.

Start the Commotion
By Wendy Winter
A record store Dude drives a 40-year-old woman to tears in this reflection on lost youth.

By Caroline M. Grant
A San Francisco writer contemplates familial role reversal as she cares for her aging mother.

One Bike, Two Bikes, Not Bikes, New Bikes
By Kathy Hrastar
An Oakland writer muses on the karma of bike theft.

Big Brother
By Nicole R. Zimmerman
A Penngrove writer recalls losing her brother to the Moonies.

The Giving Trees
By Russell Yee
A third-generation Oaklander mulls over mass redwood clear-cutting and his own history.

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