10 LIFESAVING REVISION STRATEGIES FOR MANUSCRIPTS Top tips FOR MAKING FICTION COME ALIVE Improve your writing WITH AN ONLINE CRITIQUE GROUP The cardinal rules OF GOOD WRITING CONFERENCES Plus CONFERENCES, WORKSHOPS, RETREATS: WHICH ONE IS RIGHT FOR YOU? FREE DOWNLOAD! Get your free guide to finding a literary agent, including the contact information and submission preferences for more than 80 agencies! Visit writermag.com/giveaways to download this valuable resource today! GUIDE TO FINDING AN AGENT IMAGINE WRITE PUBLISH February 2018 • Volume 131 Number 2 FEATURES 14 Stuck Trapped in the middle of your manuscript? Here’s how to move forward. BY SUSAN BREEN 20 Convention apprehension Residency, workshop, or conference: Which is right for you? BY ELIANA OSBORN 24 Cardinal rules of writers’ conferences Three must-follow guidelines to ensure a successful writing conference. BY YI SHUN LAI 26 Putting words to work Figurative language in fiction results in deeper meanings and poetic beauty. BY JACK SMITH 32 Drafting those many drafts The 10 revision phases your novel needs to endure before publication. BY JESSICA STILLING DEPARTMENTS IN EVERY ISSUE ESSENTIALS 10 WRITING The art of visualization 4 From the Editor 5 Take Note Featuring Jeannie Vanasco, Libby Cudmore, and more. How to make your characters and settings come alive. BY K.L. ROMO STUFF 12 WRITE Making connections 42 Markets Online critique groups offer support, guidance, and friendships. 12 BY JENNIFER L. BLANCK SPOTLIGHT 38 LITERARY Black Fox Literary Magazine 47 Classified advertising 48 How I Write Kristen Iskandrian: “I really wanted to plunge into the all-consuming world of the novel. I wanted to try it because it really scared me.” This seven-year-old publication courts writing of all genres. BY MELISSA HART INSIDER 40 CONFERENCE Killer Nashville This thrilling conference allows participants to learn about the industry, sharpen their crime-solving skills, and net a publishing deal all in one weekend. 32 BY MELISSA HART Put our free e-mail newsletter to work: Check out our weekly newsletter, which offers highlights from our website and the magazine, and directs you to more articles about craft from The Writer’s vast archive. Find the “Newsletter Signup” box on our home page, enter your e-mail address, and you’re in business. GET SOCIAL Cover: mr_bigote/Shutterstock 40 writermag.com facebook.com/ TheWriterMagazine twitter.com/ thewritermag instagram.com/ thewritermag writermag.com • The Writer | 3 FROM THE EDITOR IMAGINE WRITE PUBLISH Senior Editor Nicki Porter Contributing Editor Melissa Hart Copy Editor Toni Fitzgerald Art Director Carolyn V. Marsden Graphic Designer Jaron Cote R eaders, I have a confession: Every time I step into a home décor store, I get a little nauseous. Naturally, this is a bit of a problem when you’re still trying to furnish a home you moved into last July. But every time I enter these stores, I become overwhelmed at the sheer amount of words plastered on every mug, rug, or pillow shanty. “IT’S FALL, Y’ALL!” scream the decorative cheese plates. “LIVE EVERY DAY LIKE A NEW ADVENTURE!” admonishes the wall art. “I LOVE TO COOK WITH WINE,” confesses the cutting board. “SOMETIMES I EVEN PUT IT IN THE FOOD.” I hate it. I hate it so much it makes me dizzy. And for the longest time, I couldn’t figure out why. It doesn’t bother me a bit when others fill their homes with meaningful quotes or clever sayings. Words are my life’s work, my most loyal obsession. Why didn’t I want to paper my walls with them? Eventually, I realized my nausea had nothing to do with taste; it was about my needs as a writer. I craved a home full of images that tell their own stories. I wanted a house full of metaphors, not similes. And most importantly, I needed to make room to write my own words. I couldn’t have my private space cluttered up with someone else’s. That’s not to say we mustn’t seek out the words of others; we must read, widely and often, to become better writers (and humans). But these words have their place: between covers of books, magazines, journals. Then it’s time to close them and tell our own stories. Please, please do not underestimate the need for a safe space from which to call forth your own magic. Tear the clichés from the walls. Rip down the weighty words of others and give yourself permission to tell your own. This is your home, your cocoon, your well. Make room for it. Perhaps “room” means a literal room of one’s own. Maybe it’s time apart from kids, chores, work obligations. Or perhaps it just means you muster up the will to write unfettered by self-editing or self-doubt. Whatever your own room is, please promise you’ll find it. Chin up, chest out; seize it with both hands. That’s the easy part, dear readers. Now you must work – every day – to never, ever let it go. Keep writing, Nicki Porter Senior Editor 4 | The Writer • February 2018 EDITORIAL BOARD James Applewhite, Andre Becker, Eve Bunting, Mary Higgins Clark, Roy Peter Clark, Lewis Burke Frumkes, Gail Godwin, Eileen Goudge, Rachel Hadas, John Jakes, John Koethe, Lois Lowry, Peter Meinke, Katherine Paterson, Elizabeth Peters, Arthur Plotnik MADAVOR MEDIA, LLC EXECUTIVE Chairman & Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey C. Wolk Chief Operating Officer Susan Fitzgerald SVP, Sales & Marketing Robin Morse VP, Strategy Jason Pomerantz OPERATIONS VP, Business Operations Courtney Whitaker Senior Circulation Associate Nora Frew Operations Coordinator Kathleen Sullivan Human Resources Generalist Katherine Walsh Supervisor, Client Services Jessica Krogman Client Services Darren Cormier, Tou Zong Her, Andrea Palli Accounting Director Amanda Joyce Accounts Payable Associate Tina McDermott Accounts Receivable Associate Wayne Tuggle AUDIENCE DEVELOPMENT VP, Audience Development Heidi Strong Digital Product Manager Rebecca Artz Technical Product Manager Michael Ma Senior Digital Designer Mike Decker SALES & MARKETING VP, Digital Media Solutions Bob Dortch Media Solutions Director Scott Luksh Media Solutions Manager Alexandra Piccirilli Phone: 617-279-0213 Email: email@example.com Client Services firstname.lastname@example.org Marketing Director Andrew Yeum Marketing Associate Michael Marzeotti Newsstand Distribution National Publisher Services SUBSCRIPTIONS 1 Year (12 Issues) US $32.95, Canada $42.95, Foreign $44.95 CONTACT US The Writer Madavor Media, LLC 25 Braintree Hill Office Park, Suite 404 Braintree, MA 02184 Please include your name, mailing and email addresses, and telephone number with any correspondence. The Writer is not responsible for returning unsolicited manuscripts. CUSTOMER SERVICE/SUBSCRIPTIONS US: 877-252-8139 CAN/INT: 903-636-1120 EDITORIAL EMAIL email@example.com TO SELL THE WRITER MAGAZINE IN YOUR STORE: Contact David Goodman, National Publisher Services Phone: 732-548-8083 Fax: 732-548-9855 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org The Writer (ISSN 0043-9517) is published monthly by Madavor Media, LLC, 25 Braintree Hill Office Park, Suite 404 Braintree, MA 02184. Periodicals postage paid at Boston, MA and at additional mailing offices. Postmaster: Please send changes of address to The Writer, P.O. Box 4300, Big Sandy, TX 75755-4300. Subscribers allow 4-6 weeks for change of address to become effective. Subscriptions ordered are non-cancelable and nonrefundable unless otherwise promoted. Return postage must accompany all manuscripts, drawings and photographs submitted if they are to be returned, and no responsibility can be assumed for unsolicited materials. All rights in letters sent to The Writer will be treated as unconditionally assigned for publication and copyright purposes and as subject to unrestricted right to edit and to comment editorially. Requests for permission to reprint should be sent to the Permissions and Reprints Department. The title The Writer is registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Contents copyright © 2018 by Madavor Media, LLC. All rights reserved. Nothing can be reprinted in whole or in part without permission from the publisher. Printed in the U.S.A. is no greater agony than bearing an ¾“There untold story inside you.”—Maya Angelou Once more, to Pen in Hand One writer owes her career to a small-town conference. Seventeen years later, it was time to repay that debt. BY LIBBY CUDMORE Olga Tropinina/Shutterstock T he Travelodge at Little Falls looked exactly as I’d remembered it. Same tired carpet, same deep-fried buffet lunch, same slightly-musty smell, as though the ghosts of cigarettes smoked and coffee brewed during sales conferences from the 1970s still lingered in the ceiling tiles. The only thing that had changed about the Pen in Hand Young Writers Conference, it seemed, was me. Soon, the ballroom at the Travelodge would be filled with student writers, carrying battered composition books and leather-bound journals, anxious to work with published writers to polish their craft. Seventeen years ago, I entered that ballroom for the first time, armed with a spiral-bound Five Star and spiderweb lace gloves, an overly chatty goth girl thrilled to finally be recognized as a writer. Seventeen years later, I was entering as a mentor, having just published my debut novel, The Big Rewind, to critical acclaim, including a starred review from Kirkus and praise from USA Today. I had become the writer I’d always dreamed of being, and it was time to give back to the place that set me on my journey. The Pen in Hand conference was the brainchild of Diane Wager, an English teacher at Dolgeville Central School who envisioned 24 hours where students from small schools across upstate New York could celebrate and workshop their writing with published authors. For many of us, it was the first chance to admit we were writers, to confess to scribbling stories instead of math problems, that we preferred the solitude of study hall to the wild rumpus of gym class. Many of my peers didn’t even have a creative writing elective they could take; their writing was relegated to a few class assignments or their allotted free time on the family computer. And we’d all been chosen for our talent, selected and invited by Ms. Wager to participate. The moment I got the news that I had been chosen was one of the highlights of my high school years, an honor I would never forget. But standing at the entrance at that ballroom again, I felt that same giddy hesitation I recognized from my teenage years. Would they like me? Was I as good as I believed myself to be? What if they could detect that I was another dorky adult trying too hard to be cool, like a youth pastor or a camp counselor not quite comfortable in her own skin? Seventeen years may have meant a published novel and the absence of those great spiderweb gloves, but the anxiety was still there, the temptation to hide in my room, to call my husband to come get me as I’d once wanted to call my mom. Returning to my hotel room, I made a cup of bitter black coffee. I’d taken my first sip of this same acidic brew in one of these same anonymous hotel rooms years ago, trying to stay awake to talk all night with new friends Jason and Stacy and Laura and Raphael. I thought about the coffee dates with my favorite college professor where we drank French roast and talked about Raymond Chandler, my morning cup of Café Bustelo in my Steely Dan mug as I sat down to write The Big Rewind. How none of that would have been possible if not for this conference. I had come back to this place because within these walls, I had learned that what I did was important, that it was valuable, that it was a viable career writermag.com • The Writer | 5 option when every other teacher told me to be reasonable and focus my studies on practical work. Now it was my turn to instill that same confidence into the next generation, to praise and encourage them, to make them feel like the literary rock stars I knew they could each grow up to be. Back in the ballroom, the kids had arrived and were starting to gather. Some were greeting old friends with hugs and loud voices, others were clutching their journals to their chest or sketching quietly in the corner. I even saw one girl with black lace gloves. (Some things never change.) But what really struck me was their enthusiasm, their desire simply to write, unfettered by submission guidelines and form rejection letters. They wrote solely because they loved to write. Some of them would make careers of it, others would let it fall by the wayside as other hobbies took its place, but for now, they were here for the craft – not the glory, not a grade. Just to create. It was a lesson, I’m ashamed to admit, that I had forgotten in my drive for awards and recognition and publication. Seated at a long table in the back of the ballroom, I could have lectured them about character and plot, chided them about motivation and dialogue, sneered at Twilight and fanfiction. But the truth was, I didn’t remember one writing exercise from my time there. What I remembered was how being among other writers made me feel. They would have college writing classes and workshops and assignments to tighten up those descriptions and flesh out those characters. My task was to celebrate them as writers no matter what they wrote, to encourage them to keep writing when their lives would be filled with people who told them to give up. I wanted to show them that books aren’t written by magic, that it’s hard and beautiful and fulfilling work, but that they were just as capable as anyone of turning those notebook pages into typeset print. I let them leaf through the handmade journals I wrote The Big Rewind in. I talked about the process of publishing, from my first short story in Hardboiled to prize-winning works in The Stoneslide Corrective, on writing for a newspaper and music magazines and anthologies. I gave them magazines and asked them to find a picture that spoke to them, to cut out and glue that picture into their notebooks and write a story around it. Some were silly, others were epic, and one was told from a dog’s point of view. And when it came time to read, we tossed my good-luck dinosaur, Valerie, around the table to squeeze when they got nervous, just as I did at my own readings. Every kid in my workshop held Valerie. Every kid in my workshop read their work, smiles stretching across their faces. I knew that look. It was the look that radiated Someone finally hears me. Someone finally believes in me. I’d been there, my feet on this same carpet, and it was that same glorious feeling that kept me going when it felt like I would never succeed, when three different novels came back with rejection letters. More than the comb-bound anthologies, more than the photos on my disposable camera or the photocopied writing assignments in the red folder that identified me in the fiction writing group, that confidence was the real Pen in Hand souvenir. Ms. Wager was the first person to acknowledge me as a writer, not just the girl in the corner with the notebook. I’ve been to plenty of other writing conferences, but none of them as meant as much to me as that first Pen in Hand. At the end of our session, I asked all of my students to sign their stories in my copy of the anthology. “Practice your signature now,” I told them. “Because you’ll need it to sign your own books someday.” I’ve been there. I would know. —Libby Cudmore is the author of The Big Rewind (William Morrow, 2016) and has written for Barrelhouse, Paste, PANK, and the anthologies Hanzai Japan, Welcome Home, and Mixed Up. She is the managing editor of the Hometown Oneonta and Freeman’s Journal newspapers in Cooperstown, New York, and hosts the weekly #RecordSaturday live-tweet at @LibbyCudmore. 6 | The Writer • February 2018 often we write down a sentence too early, then ¾ “Very another too late; what we have to do is write it down at the proper time, otherwise it’s lost.” —Thomas Bernhard WRITERS ON WRITING Jeannie Vanasco Jeannie Vanasco’s debut memoir, The Glass Eye, was published by Tin House Books in 2017 to critical acclaim. It’s a poignant, haunting story about her complex family relationships and struggles with mental illness. It was named a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Pick, an Entertainment Weekly Best Book, and a Publishers Weekly Big Indie Book; it also won praise from a number of other publications, including New York Magazine and Newsweek. Vanasco’s writing has appeared in the New York Times, The Believer, NewYorker.com and elsewhere. She currently teaches at Towson University in Baltimore. WHAT’S THE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU’VE LEARNED ABOUT WRITING? I’m trying to think of a way to say this that doesn’t sound banal or obvious, but a writing routine helps. It’s essential for when I feel stuck or uninspired. After I find a good routine – which, for me, usually involves absolute quiet, at least two hours of uninterrupted time, and a pot of black coffee – the writing starts going well, and then I can forget about the routine. I can write wherever I am. I can be watching a basketball game at a bar, or I can be between student office hour appointments. But when I’m trying to finish something – that’s when I need the routine again. The middle, unstructured period is the best. AND HOW HAS THAT HELPED YOU AS A WRITER? For a good two months or so after finishing The Glass Eye, I sank into a mopey I’ll-never-write-another-book-again mode, which made me horrible to be around. So, I set a schedule for myself: between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m., I’d write aimlessly, no project in mind. But unlike in the past, the rule was: only one mug of black coffee. The refill was the thing I had to look forward to when I was done. The first week, I wrote garbage and knew it was garbage. And then one morning I woke up and wrote a 1,600-word essay, start to finish. That morning felt magical. But the essay didn’t emerge mysteriously or suddenly from my unconscious mind. It took a solid week of writing badly. And that’s an important lesson – about as important, I think, as having a routine; let yourself write badly. —Gabriel Packard is the author of The Painted Ocean: A Novel, published by Corsair, an imprint of Little, Brown. BOOKISH Theresa Keil What Editors Do: The Art, Craft, and Business of Book Editing Edited by Peter Ginna We know how important book editors are; we know our manuscript will eventually need one if we intend to see it traditionally published. Editors are usually listed right behind an author’s spouse, parents, or god on acknowledgement pages – and sometimes even before. But what do they really do? That’s the question this anthology attempts to answer, featuring essays written by 27 different publishing professionals. The book tackles both the editing process as a whole (“from proposal to book”) and in-depth analyses of editing niches: literary fiction, genre fiction, academic nonfiction, freelancing, line editing, and more. I Should Be Writing: A Writer’s Workshop By Mur Lafferty This colorful handbook from the host of the popular award-winning “I Should Be Writing” podcast promises to contain “a writer’s workshop in a book.” Bite-size, easy-to-read chapters coach new writers through everything from imposter syndrome to writer’s block. “I am here to tell you not to quit,” Lafferty says. “Don’t lose years off your writing life for no better reason than ‘I’m not good enough.’” When Lafferty’s writing and life lessons conclude, it’s time to write; the book finishes with 50-plus pages of writing exercises to get readers’ creativity flowing. writermag.com • The Writer | 7 Getting pitched, getting hitched A nyone who’s read the romantic classics of the past few centuries is well-versed in literary marriage proposals. There’s Mr. Darcy’s courtly declaration of love and admiration for Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice; Rhett Butler’s coarse but witty proposition to newly widowed Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind; Benedick and Beatrice’s begrudging confession of mutual adoration in Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing. When Portland, Oregon, writer Jason Brick considered how to craft a memorable marriage proposal to his girlfriend, literary agent Rachel Letofsky, he knew he was up against some historically steep competition. So he pitched her the first page of a manuscript. Flash back to the year before, when Brick and Letofsky met at Write on the River, a conference in Wenatchee, Washington. Brick fell immediately in love, and the two began a long-distance relationship. Eventually, they began to talk about marriage. She didn’t want a big wedding but longed for a memorable proposal. That’s when Brick came up with his plan. “Willamette Writers was going to do a one-page live manuscript critique event at the Lombard Pub in Northwest Portland,” he explains. “Rachel and author Linda Needham would be up on stage, listening to the emcee read each page aloud to the audience, and then they would offer their notes on the writing and the plot.” 8 | The Writer • February 2018 Jason Brick and Rachel Letofsky at their wedding in Portland, Oregon. After talking with Letofsky’s two best friends to ensure that such a public proposal would be welcome, Brick wrote it into a one-page story. He invited a few of his literary family members as witnesses and made sure emcee Julie Fast read his anonymous submission last. There’s a YouTube video that shows Letofsky and Needham up on stage in the dimly lit bar, taking notes as the emcee reads into a microphone. Letofsky smiled slightly as she listened to the first paragraph of Brick’s piece. “I thought I recognized his sense of humor in the opening lines,” she says. “I thought he snuck in a piece to be critiqued.” And so he did. His carefully crafted page followed a conversation between two friends, one of whom lamented about how YouTube videos intimidate him, especially when he watched marriage proposals taking place in hot air balloons or as part of flash dance mobs. “I have the piece of paper on which Rachel wrote a critique of my first few paragraphs,” Brick says. “She wrote down, ‘Ooh, who’s the girl?’” His piece continued with the protagonist complaining, “How does a guy like me compete with stuff like that?” He has the friend offer this advice: “You get her in a room a lot like where you met her a year ago. You get her doing the thing where you first noticed her kindness and her beauty and her intelligence. What is it you always say about her brains: How she shines without casting shadows?” At this point, Letofsky recognized the latter phrase, blushed deeply, then began to laugh. Brick got down on one knee in front of the stage and offered her a ring made of dinosaur bones and meteorite with a fire opal at the center. Letofsky stepped off the stage and jumped into his arms. “Yes, of course I will!” she cried. One writer called out, “Well written!” Another cried, “Turn the page!” And the couple embraced to applause and shouts of joy from an audience grateful to be included in the story. Brick and Letofsky married in the Shakespeare Garden at Portland’s International Rose Test Garden, surrounded by roses named after nikiteev_konstantin/Shutterstock This proposal swept an agent off her feet. best ideas will eat at you for days, maybe even ¾ “The weeks, until something, some incident, some impulse, triggers you to finally express them.” —Criss Jami —Contributing editor Melissa Hart is the author of Wild Within: How Rescuing Owls Inspired a Family (Lyons, 2015) and Avenging the Owl (Sky Pony, 2016). Web: melissahart.com. WRITING PROMPT hvostik/Shutterstock characters in the Bard’s plays. “How lucky I feel to build a life with someone in the same industry,” Brick says, “someone who also works from home, so that we can build a literary career together.” Want to craft a memorable marriage proposal yourself? Brick says to listen carefully to your partner, pay attention, and take notes. “It’s just like any writing project,” he explains. “The 30 seconds it takes you to write down a sentence isn’t when the work happens. It takes years of experience, work, training, critique, and education to be able to write that line you typed. The whole proposal took a couple of minutes, but I spent hours getting my ducks in a row, asking her friends for advice, listening to her about what she wanted, etc.” For her part, Letofsky concludes with this advice for those about to propose to a beloved: “Be original,” she says. Watch the marriage proposal at “A Writer’s Proposal” on Jason Brick’s YouTube channel. What kind of proposal would your main character like? Something quiet in nature, with no one else around? A big, public jumbotron affair? In a cave, a lab, or on a walk on Planet Zeptair? Or would your character reject a proposal altogether? Write how you think the scene would play out, from initial idea to final answer. The Oldest Low-Residency MFA IN FLORIDA Fiction | Nonﬁction | Poetry Past and Present Guest Writers and Editors Include: Richard Bausch, Michael Connelly, Lydia Davis, Arthur Flowers, Nick Flynn, Roxane Gay, Hal Hartley, Amy Hill Hearth, Eli Horowitz, Leslie Jamison, Denis Johnson, Miranda July, Ben Lerner, Jamaal May, Susan Minot, Rick Moody, Francine Prose, George Saunders, Heather Sellers, Patricia Smith, Wesley Stace, Deborah Treisman, Lidia Yuknavitch Teaching Faculty Include: Jessica Anthony, Sandra Beasley, John Capouya, Brock Clarke, Erica Dawson (director), Mikhail Iossel, Stefan Kiesbye, Kevin Moffett, Donald Morrill, Josip Novakovich, Jason Ockert, Alan Michael Parker, Jeff Parker, Corinna Vallianatos, Jennifer Vanderbes Learn more at www.ut.edu/mfacw or by calling (813) 258-7409. writermag.com • The Writer | 9 WRITING ESSENTIALS BY K.L. ROMO The art of visualization Y ou know those wonderful stories with a complicated protagonist who goes through a profound internal struggle? Where you can see her in your mind’s eye and experience exactly what she’s feeling? You temporarily forget you’re just reading – that you’re not actually the character herself. Every writer wants their characters to feel so real you can not only reach out and touch them but actually walk around in their skin. But how do you make it happen? Here are two methods that will help you zap readers right into the heads of your characters. I like to practice what I call “writing blindfolded” (well, I actually just close my eyes). Before you bruise a rib from raucous laughter, just give it a try. Let’s write about someone going through an embarrassing experience; think of a time when you suffered an embarrassment. Now, close your eyes. 10 | The Writer • February 2018 Transport yourself to a time when something outrageously humiliating happened to you. Imagine yourself in that very moment. What do you hear? See? Smell? And most importantly, what do you feel? What is your body language? Are your shoulders slumped in surrender? Is your head hanging low, looking down at your feet? Are your cheeks hot to the touch and turning a bright apple-red? Are you trying to make yourself invisible? Are there people around you who saw what happened? Are they laughing or defending you? Are there any smells surrounding you? (Does the scent of freshly baked school cafeteria yeast rolls still make you want to run and hide?) OK. Now I’ll close my eyes. I am again twentysomething, hustling into work, my nose running from the cold wind. I speed-walk through the parking lot and count my steps – one, two, three... I wear Teguh Jati Prasetyo/Shutterstock How to make your characters and settings come alive. “I find that visualization comes best from immersion,” says Jodi Picoult. my calf-length woolen dress coat over my office attire, stockings and high heels included. Seventy, seventy-one, seventy-two…At last, I come to the periphery of the parking lot, enclosed by a foot-high metal cord. Two things happen that make me want to melt into the concrete. First, I notice my half-slip with the loose elastic waistband has just fallen and puddled around my ankles. Oh crap! I scan the parking lot – did anyone see my pitiful wardrobe malfunction? Once sure I’m alone with my embarrassment, I grab my slip and hike it back up to where it belongs. Next, as cars whiz by on the street beside me, I lob my leg over the enclosure cord and unfortunately catch the heel of my pump in my coat’s hem, then tumble to the ground. The humiliation rises up my neck and blossoms across my cheeks. The only thing I know to do is pop back up as if nothing has happened. Denial is a magical thing! I brush off tiny pieces of gravel clinging to my coat, then run across the street. Eighty, eighty-one, eighty-two. Now think about a scene you’re writing for your current work-in-progress. Close your eyes and zoom in on your character. Imagine yourself in her skin, down to every last detail, and put these elements down on the page. If you have the time and means, another wonderful method to intimately visualize your characters, their environment, and how they would react in any given circumstance is to totally immerse yourself in their world. Like learning a new language, having to live it makes you absorb it from the inside out. Jodi Picoult, New York Times bestselling author of 22 novels, is a master at taking readers into the intimate lives of her characters. She uses a very physical method to capture their thoughts, feelings, and how they react to the circumstances she creates for them. “I find that visualization comes best from immersion. I do extensive research to learn what my character does, where she comes from, who she associates with, what her history may have been. Walking through those experiences personally, and meeting with those who actually live the life I am planning to have my character live, allows me to pick and choose moments and images, and weave them together into a fictional character’s life,” she says. As an example, for her 2012 novel Lone Wolf, Picoult visited Shaun Ellis, author of the memoir The Man Who Lives with Wolves, to learn about his work at The Wolf Centre and Foundation. He even taught her how to howl and get a response from wolf packs in return. Now that’s immersion! Whatever method you use, just remember that to have fully fleshedout characters in your fiction, you’ve got to include all the details: their appearance, environment, sensory perceptions, and inner thoughts and beliefs. So whether you close your eyes or physically immerse yourself in their place in the world, make sure you capture those intimate particulars that make all of us real. K.L. Romo writes about life on the fringe: Teetering dangerously on the edge is more interesting than standing safely in the middle. She is passionate about women’s issues, loves noisy clocks and fuzzy blankets, but HATES the word normal. Her historical novel, Life Before, is about two women separated by a century who discover they’ve shared a soul. Web: KLRomo.com or @klromo. “Revision is the spiritual practice of transformation— of seeing text, and therefore the world, with new eyes. Done well, revision returns us to our original love.” Award-winning author and teacher Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew guides writers through the writing and revision process. Andrew asks writers to flex their spiritual muscles, helping them to transform their writing as they in turn transform into more curious and reflective human beings. SKINNER HOUSE BOOKS writermag.com • The Writer | 11 WRITE STUFF BY JENNIFER L. BLANCK Making connections Online critique groups offer support, guidance, and friendships. C ritique groups can help you improve your writing by offering feedback, perspective, and ideas. They also can provide emotional support, motivation, and accountability, as other writers understand the joys and struggles involved in writing. Many prefer meeting in person, but what if you have a crazy schedule, niche writing focus, or rural address? Online critique groups can be the perfect solution. Getting plugged in 12 | The Writer • February 2018 connect. Even if you live in an area with a robust writing scene in your genre and language, your schedule or lifestyle may present challenges. Online groups are important options for people with busy travel schedules, commitments that keep them at home, limited transportation options, or health issues that limit mobility. For some, the online environment allows freedom when writing. “I think if we were meeting in person, on some level I’d be more reserved in my writing,” says Nicole Saltz, a Toronto, Canada-based writer and House of Stories script consultant. “Maybe that’s my own neurosis, but having the screen between us all feels like a modicum of protection.” Can you hear me now? While some writers may feel more free, others, particularly those working on creative nonfiction, such as memoir or personal essay, can feel vulnerable about what they share. Trust concerns, including plagiarism, are typical when joining a critique group. Chicago-based writer, speaker, and educator Lea Grover is writing her memoir and has wondered: “Will people like it? And what does that say about me?” In one of her earlier online groups, a male member suggested she add more comedy to a rape scene. She realized some people were reading the scene wrong. Since then, her memoir group has grown and split into two. One is comedic, and one is serious. Zubada/Shutterstock Online critique groups allow you to connect with people you couldn’t or wouldn’t otherwise. Writer, producer, and comedian Joanna Castle Miller was living in Washington, D.C., and belonged to an in-person writing group for all genres. However, she wanted more screenwriting feedback, and there was no strong local film and television presence. She joined an online screenwriting critique group to give her the focused community she needed, as well as new viewpoints. Miller says, “It’s a good way to get perspectives that differ from your immediate circle or culture.” Online groups are particularly helpful when living in a country where you don’t speak or write in the native language. Karla Valenti, a writer in Frankfurt, Germany, has no local access to English-speaking writing groups. “I knew that if I intended to take my work to the next level, this was going to be a critical part of the process,” she says. In addition to expanding your writing network, online groups offer flexibility in how, when, and where you TRAVEL Trust issues can be factors for inperson groups, too, but it can be more difficult online if you haven’t developed a personal connection or can’t read visual cues. It’s important to be mindful of these barriers online, such as making sure you set the right tone in your feedback. Miller says, “In person, you can keep things light and friendly with just a smile, but online you have to be careful that constructive criticism really does feel that way.” Any kind of critique group can suffer from issues concerning quality of feedback, accountability, and commitment levels, whether for specific individuals or the group as a whole. But these issues can be exacerbated with online groups. “When things are online, it’s easier to bail,” says Saltz. For groups using platforms with open posting options, you can miss meaningful conversations if you’re not constantly checking in. And like anything requiring technology, connectivity and other technical issues can arise. Finding your tribe Many find that the pros far outweigh the cons. If you’re considering an online critique group, make sure you’re ready for the writing and time commitments. Grover says, “Don’t show up and be that unprofessional guy who doesn’t have your work done or the critique done. Treat it like a job.” You can connect with potential group members through writing associations, conferences, classes, and forums, or even friends. Don’t worry if it takes you a few tries to find the right group. It’s most important to find people at your writing level who share your commitment and you can trust. If you’re joining an already-established group, start with a trial period, where you and the members can get a sense if you’re a fit before committing. If you’re starting a group, make sure there’s a clear leader or delineated group roles, along with well-defined processes, goals, and expectations. Small groups tend to work best. Pick a format and technology that work best for you and your group. For example, conference or video calls offer opportunities to ask follow-up questions and brainstorm. Some critique groups work with just one platform, such as a private Facebook group or Scribophile. Other groups use a combination of file sharing and call or video applications, such as email and Facebook, Google Docs and Hangouts, and Dropbox and WebEx. Consider ways to form connections with your writing partners outside of the critical exchanges. This can build trust and even develop friendships. Valenti says, “I have Skyped with a number of them, and we do email on non-writing related matters, so I feel as if I’ve developed a broader relationship with my critique partners that extends beyond critiquing.” If a group doesn’t work for you, consider a one-on-one arrangement. Miller’s group lasted for six months. She now lives in Los Angeles and connects with individuals for online critiques. She likes the flexibility and control it offers. She recommends including guiding questions when submitting writing for online critique. She says, “It takes a good deal of time to type out my thoughts, so if I can know in advance what concerns you, you’ve saved me time and made the most of the experience for yourself, too.” Online critique groups can improve your writing, expand your network, and keep you connected wherever you are. Writing may be a solitary activity, but you don’t have to do it alone. Jennifer L. Blanck is a freelance writer who belongs to an international online critique group. Her writing has appeared most recently in Christian Science Monitor, Entropy, Toastmaster, USA Rice Daily, and Wine Business Monthly. TRANSFORMSUS A new destination can take your writing in new directions. © Erik Unger Immersive Writing Workshops in Santa Fe, New Mexico and Havana, Cuba writerslab.santafeworkshops.com --ext writermag.com • The Writer | 13 Trapped in the middle of your manuscript? Here’s how to move forward. BY SUSAN BREEN Illustration by Jaron Cote 14 | The Writer • February 2018 YOU STARTED YOUR MANUSCRIPT WITH SUCH ENTHUSIASM. You wrote 20 pages in ONE NIGHT. Your brain was popping with ideas. Scenes flowed. You were sure you’d be done with the whole thing in a month. And then, one quiet morning, you sat down at your keyboard and nothing happened. Your fingers felt heavy. You started reading over the last few paragraphs. Awful! You clicked back a few chapters. Dear God. What were you thinking? You don’t know how to go forward, you can’t bear to go back. You’re stuck. It’s a terrible feeling, and it’s one that almost all authors confront. As a longtime teacher for Gotham Writers Workshop in New York City, I see this phenomenon a lot, and it can be devastating. Some writers just quit and take up needlepoint. Others spend years revising one chapter, trying to get it just right. Everyone who’s been in that rut, myself included, feels frustration and self-doubt. But the good news is that being stuck is not a permanent situation. There are a number of techniques for propelling yourself out of that sinkhole. Here are 12 of them. writermag.com • The Writer | 15 1 Go back to the beginning. Often a story stalls because you just haven’t given your protagonist enough to do. Making an adjustment at the beginning can vault you forward in the middle. For example, imagine you’ve decided to write a romance. Your protagonist is a young woman named Molly who lives in New York City. She goes on some dates, she falls in love, and she gets married. You could probably write some fun scenes here, but you might find yourself running out of steam by about page 140. It’s all a bit meandering. What if we charge things up a bit? What if we start the story by writing that Molly wants to get married? She’s the same Molly, but now she has a specific goal. Now she has to do something. We could also give her a timetable. Let’s say Molly wants to get married by the time she’s 30. And her birthday is next month. Immediately I’m feeling more anxious. What will happen if she doesn’t get married by her birthday? How is she going to find a man so quickly? What is she going to do? Do you see how one small quest invigorates the whole story? Now, instead of a string of anecdotes, we have a quest. What does your protagonist want? Maybe the Iron Throne? Maybe world peace? Maybe to fit into a size 6 dress? 2 Look at your protagonist’s backstory. Your characters’ histories offer rich veins of material. The more you know about your character, the more you have to write. For example, why does Molly want to get married when she’s 30? Because her sister got married at 30, and she’s always felt less loved than her sister? Because she promised an old friend she’d marry him on her 30th birthday if she didn’t have anyone else, and now he’s waiting for her, but she doesn’t really want to marry him? Because her mother has reserved a reception hall for Molly’s 30th birthday? Because she doesn’t think she’ll live to be 31? Recently I was reading Tracee de Hahn’s mystery novel Swiss Vendetta, which is about a woman trying to solve a murder during an epic Swiss snowstorm. Tracee’s protagonist is a young and inexperienced detective, and she’s struggling to project authority. But, about a third of the way through, she discovers something unsettling about her husband. It doesn’t necessarily relate to the case, and yet it bothers her, and offers a whole new and exciting vein of material to explore. What sorts of secrets is your protagonist concealing? What is she afraid of? What does she feel guilty about? 16 | The Writer • February 2018 3 Throw obstacles in your character’s path. Ask yourself: What is the absolute worst thing that could happen to my character right now? And then have it happen. This is something Stephen King does so well (though, quite honestly, I don’t think he ever gets stuck). In King’s novel, Mr. Mercedes, the protagonist strikes up a friendship with a young neighbor. The neighbor has a cute sister who wants to go to a concert. Suffice it to say, that girl gets into terrible danger, and King draws it out so that by the time the whole thing is over, you’ve just about chewed off your fingernails. But you don’t need to be writing horror to do this. Let’s go back to our romantic Molly. What’s the worst thing that could happen to her? Maybe she meets a man right before her 30th birthday, but it winds up being her best friend’s new boyfriend. Or he’s about to be shipped overseas. Or (because I’m a mystery writer) he’s a killer. Or he has red hair and she’s always sworn not to marry a man with red hair. Or his mother’s in jail. I could go on forever. Just keep in mind that the more you raise the stakes, the more things you throw at your protagonist, the more quickly the story will move forward. Not only are obstacles interesting, but they also make characters change and grow. They inspire us. They inspire the writer. You’ll be amazed at the things you can come up with when you put your character in a corner. 4 Introduce someone new. This is a great way to spice things up. If you are stuck on page 140, which is often where people get stuck, and you are feeling just a bit bored with your characters, why not have someone new appear? In my first mystery, Maggie Dove, I have a romantic interest appear around the halfway point. (Of course, a good thing about being a mystery writer is you can always kill someone off when things slow down. But my mystery takes place in a small town, and I can only kill off so many people.) Going back to Molly, what if she gets a new neighbor? Or what if her mother calls and says she’s coming for a visit? Or what if she finds a stray dog, and when she goes to return it, she finds out the owner is a really nice man. Or a really nice woman, and she realizes she’s not looking for a man at all? In real life, people have a way of popping up unexpectedly. You get an email from someone you haven’t heard from in years. Make use of this unexpectedness in your fiction. Maybe you’ll surprise yourself. 5 Unsettle your character. We all, characters included, have a particular way of seeing ourselves in the world. We believe we are good mothers, for example. Or good people. We think we’re smart. Savvy. Loved. But what happens if something challenges that belief. In Liane Moriarty’s novel Big Little Lies, one of the major characters considers herself a good mother. Her husband deserted her when her daughter was little. She formed a special bond with that daughter and has always believed that she would be her daughter’s favorite parent. She deserves it. But then, her ex-husband and his young new wife move back into the town where Madeline lives, and, to her horror, her daughter actually prefers the young wife. Suddenly Madeline is not the person she thought she was. Instead of being the good mother, she finds herself becoming the angry, bitter mother. Some of the most touching parts of that book deal with Madeline’s efforts to figure out who she is. So maybe Molly’s always thought she could get married whenever she wants, and now she’s having to confront the fact that at 30 years old, in New York, she’s on the older end of the dating spectrum. (I hesitate to call anyone who’s 30 old, but New York City is tough.) What does your character believe about herself? 6 Jump ahead. Recently I was working with a student who was very enthusiastic about a scene that she expected would take place around page 240. The problem was that she was on page 140, and she wasn’t sure how she was going to fill those 100 pages in between. So I said, just write the scene you’re excited about. See what happens. She wrote the out-of-order scene, and buried within it was an idea for something that had to have happened earlier. Suddenly it became clear to her how she was going to fill those 100 pages. Try shaking things up. If you have two characters who’ve been separated, write their big reunion scene. Write the climax. There are a lot of writers out there who do just that. They like to have the ending mapped out. So much of being successful as a writer has to do with finding what works for you. If you’re a person who writes backward, go for it! writermag.com • The Writer | 17 8 7 Consider the weather. Weather has a huge effect on our lives. Heat waves make us testy. There’s a reason the murder rate goes up in the summer. Good weather makes us joyful, unless it makes us anxious that we’re not feeling joyful. Hurricanes unleash dangerous forces into the ordinary routine of our lives. What would your character do if she found out a hurricane was headed in her path? Would she evacuate or stay? Would she save her pets or leave them? Is she prepared or not? These huge forces of nature force our characters to reach inside themselves and find out what they’re made of. Last summer, as Hurricane Irma headed toward Florida, a man I know from New York decided to get on a plane and go to Miami. He had some business properties there, but mainly he just wanted to see what the storm was like. I was dumbfounded. Up until that moment he’d seemed like a perfectly ordinary and pleasant person to me, but it turned out he had this intense risk-taking side, which I never would have known about except for this storm. What unexpected side might your characters reveal in the face of bad weather? An added bonus to the weather is that it can come out of nowhere. If your character is stuck with nothing to do, give him a major snowstorm. 9 Don’t forget holidays. Valentine’s Day is coming. Or Christmas or Thanksgiving. These are occasions that bring expectations. We want to feel loved on Valentine’s Day. We want to be with family on Thanksgiving. Or we don’t want to be with family. One of the things that makes holidays so resonant is that they force us to reconcile the reality of our lives with expectations. They also bring us together with people we might only see once a year. Weddings and funerals can also set off drama. They force people together. Secrets may emerge. Feelings are running high. That cousin of yours who seemed like such a loser is now the CEO of a big company. Or perhaps a man comes up to you at your mother’s funeral and tells you that he always loved her, and that they’d been in touch for years. Or maybe on Valentine’s Day, an unexpected present shows up on your doorstep. Who sent it? If you’re feeling stuck, look at the calendar. What holidays are coming up, and how might your characters react? Give yourself a deadline. Probably the number one reason students sign up for my novel-writing workshop, or any workshop, is to impose a deadline on their writing. When you know that 14 people are waiting to receive your manuscript on March 14, it focuses your mind tremendously. You have to get it done. It doesn’t need to be perfect; you simply need to get out the pages. Maybe it’s that quest for perfection that slows a lot of people up. That obsessive tinkering, that hope that you will get it exactly right. There’s something freeing about knowing that you can’t revise your work 3,000 times. YOU MUST HIT SEND! So take a workshop. Or join a writers’ group. Or submit to contests. There are a lot of them out there, many of them mentioned in this magazine. NaNoWriMo, which takes place in November, is a great way to just force yourself to put words on a page. You have a month to write 50,000 words. I do it every year and am surprised at how that deadline forces new ideas out of me. 18 | The Writer • February 2018 10 Look inward. Many of us write about topics that are painful: loss, heartbreak, mental illness, family breakdowns. Often we’re drawing on our own experiences as we write, which can mean reliving painful associations. We can get stuck not because we have nothing to say, but because we have too much to say, and don’t want to say it. This happened to me when I was writing my first novel, The Fiction Class. It’s the story of a woman who heals her relationship with her dying mother by teaching her to write. I knew, from the moment I wrote the first page, that the mother in the story had to die. It was built into the story. And yet, as I got closer and closer to that scene, which was toward the end of the book, I just could not bring myself to write it. Every time I started, I froze. My own mother had died not long earlier, and I was devastated, and writing that scene brought me intense pain. It was like losing her over and over again. The fact was, I didn’t want to write that scene. But I was under contract and I had to do it. So one night, I poured myself a glass of scotch, locked myself in my office, and raced through the scene. And I’ve never read it again. The book came out and often people have told me they like the ending, and I’m sure it’s very nice, but I’ll never look at it. I got it on the page, and that was enough. So think about what might be stopping you. The one comfort I can offer is that when you write something difficult, it does offer a form of healing. It can provide a way forward for the book and for your life. It can also help other people going through the same thing. 11 Step away from the desk. Sometimes, trying to force words is the worst thing you can do. You stare at your computer screen, determined to get it all done, but the words come out sullen, and you know you’ve written something awful. At times like this, the best thing to do is walk away. Not forever! Just for half an hour. Do a crossword puzzle. Watch House Hunters. Take a nap. Go for a walk. Let your mind relax. I’m always surprised at the ideas that pop into my head when I’m doing something else. Quite often, I’ve had whole plots pop into my head when I’ve been walking my dogs. You can trust your mind to do some of the work without you bossing it around. 12 When all else fails, try to remember why you started to write this in the first place. What drew you to the story? Did you want to write about growing up on Long Island, or what it’s like to serve in the war? But maybe you got side-tracked. You began writing about the teacher who was always mean to you, and the story has evolved into an empty revenge story. Try and tap back into that original energy. What is it that you want to say? Try to recapture the feelings that made you want to write in the first place. You can do this! Now, please excuse me while I go off to write a story about Molly. Susan Breen teaches novel writing for Gotham Writers Workshop. Her Maggie Dove mystery series is published by Alibi/Random House. She can be reached at susanjbreen.com. writermag.com • The Writer | 19 CONVENTIO APPREHEN BY ELIANA OSBORN Zdenek Sasek/Shutterstock Residency, workshop, or conference: Which is right for you? C ommitting your time and resources to attend a conference or workshop is a big step in your writing career. The options available for writers keep proliferating – which is awesome. But even if you narrow it down to a certain genre or region, choosing where to go is a difficult process. So we talked to the real experts – working writers who’ve had fellowships, been residents, netted invitations to conferences, or helped organize workshops – for their insights. Many writers didn’t want to use their names when speaking frankly about their experiences at well-known conferences, but all together a dozen were involved in writing this story. ON SION What kind of program do you want? If you have work ready to share, a workshop is what you should be looking for. Kelly Madigan, author of Getting Sober: A Practical Guide to Making it Through the First 30 Days (McGrawHill) and The Edge of Known Things (SFASU Press), loves the structure of a workshop. Getting into “student mode” and critiquing work from other participants gets her writing juices flowing. Some conferences include a workshop portion, usually as an add-on day before or after the main event. This may be a one-on-one critique with a presenter, offered for an additional fee, or a small group session. Residencies generally are where you go to create new work, while a conference can translate to a lot of different things. Julie Iromuanya, assistant English professor at the University of Arizona, says you can have a traditional academic-type conference with panels, moderators, and Q&A sessions, or simply “a way to describe a place where workshops, craft talks, panel discussions, readings, networking, and meetings take place.” It is crucial to know yourself as a writer before deciding what experience you are looking for. One writer shares, “I’ve been to workshops that have derailed things for me because I wasn’t ready to hear [what was said].” If you are too early into a project, brutal critiques from workshop participants won’t be productive. A craft-building conference might be more appropriate. Lydia Conklin, past fiction fellow at Emory University, says that conferences can also be valuable at an entirely different stage – when looking for an agent or publisher. Only you can gauge what your work is ready for. Another writer says, “Conferences are often rather expensive, but some have financial assistance available. Small ones are my favorite because you get a chance to really know and learn from the other participants – especially when people come from all over. An intense three- or four-day conference on a topic of relevance to you can be really energizing.” Getting a feel for things Just because a conference boasts a fullpage ad with a great font and glowing quotes, does that mean it has excellent programing? Is a second-year, shoestring-budget workshop worth trying writermag.com • The Writer | 21 out? Welcome to the world of trying to read between the lines. Any writer who has answered a job posting only to discover the amazing opportunities available are for a fee/for exposure/for pennies per hundred words is right to be wary of choosing a workshop or conference based on promotional materials. But what else is there to go by? The Alliance of Artists Communities is a national association for arts organizations with an extensive website collating more information than you can imagine. While the emphasis is on residencies, you can learn a lot about different locations, such as college campus programs where a variety of workshops or conferences are held. Edward Porter teaches creative writing at Stanford University; his fiction has appeared in Glimmer Train, The Hudson Review, The Gettysburg Review, Colorado Review, Best New American Voices, and elsewhere. He says it is completely acceptable to reach out to past program participants, “so long as you’re polite, respectful, professional, and not asking for a long reply.” No one interviewed for this story thought it bad form to ask past participants about their experiences. However, you should take their comments with a grain of salt. What one person loved about a social, busy week of aggressive workshopping might be a nightmare to someone else. So take into consideration the personality and temperament of the writers you reach out to. Programs also have websites, of course, which are a first stop in the research process. Iromuanya suggests looking at mission statements or “about us” philosophies, rather than just the quotes from past participants. These can give you an idea if your basic needs line up with what a program is aiming for. Several writers suggest using social 22 | The Writer • February 2018 media as a way to get a sense of the overall vibe of a conference or workshop, rather than just individual opinions. Donna Talarico, founder and publisher of Hippocampus Magazine, recommends checking out a conference hashtag “to get a real-time look at what actual attendees are saying.” That can be a goldmine when you are choosing between a few different options: You can go back through old tweets to see which conference had people more engaged. What to ask Once you know the kind of program you’re looking for, what is it you need to find out? Basic logistics are one thing you might take for granted – until you’re stuck in the middle of Nebraska trying to get a ride to somewhere without a cell phone signal. Jennifer Baker, contributing editor to Electric Literature and 2017 NYSCA/ NYFA & Queens Council on the Arts grant recipient, says you have to ask questions about anything that might be a big deal to you, especially if you have dietary or mobility needs. Pat Friedli, assistant director at Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts, says that more than half of its applications come from recommendations of past residents. They are active in reviewing the information on the web about their program, both on their own site and others, but not everyone is so diligent. “In order to get a true sense of the place, writers need to get that information from a former participant,” says Friedli. How much of your time will be structured, and what options are available for “on-your-own” time? These are questions one writer was afraid to ask before her first major conference, and it led to significant stress. Now, later in her career, she’s sure to be upfront and make sure she understands the schedule for all events. Attending a conference or workshop not only helps hone our craft but also brings us into community with others. Applying One challenge for early-career writers is applying to writing programs with little work or little confidence. Conklin acknowledges “it can be difficult to describe your own work,” so she suggests having someone else read through your sample and try to describe it for you. Madigan has been involved on the other side of things, as part of an admissions board. “The selection process is time-consuming for the staff,” she says, “so treat an acceptance as an honor, and do your best to follow through with attending.” “Attending a big-name conference or residency is a marker of success,” Porter confirms. “But if you attend a lesser-known conference and still learn craft and meet people who become part of your writing network, it’s only to your good.” That’s advice that many of us learn after a few rejections. Small conferences with a personalized or regional focus can be phenomenal for the wallet. There are also great niches for subgenres of all types that may be less-well-known by large audiences but still well-respected by those in your field. Setting goals If you prepare for your writing program in advance, you’ll get more out of the experience: What do you want to get out of this event? Is this a workshop where you’ll polish a first chapter? A conference where you’ll meet five agents? Or two weeks where you’ll wander about drinking coffee and sitting in on random classes, leaving you wondering where the time went when you return home? Iromuanya emphasizes, above all else, that “it’s absolutely necessary for authors to have a strong sense of what they want to get out of the experience.” Talarico, too, says this question has to be paramount: “What will you take home?” Baker considers meeting people one of the goals of a conference and includes that on her list of items to get done. She has a full-time non-writing job, so the time she takes for residencies and conferences is a big deal that needs to be utilized fully. Most writers can relate and want to make optimal use of every moment. “Make time to not make art as well as make art,” Baker says, and others agreed, because each experience you have is part of the journey. So taking a walk while thinking about your project might not look like writing, but it is necessary for sorting through the plot. Porter suggests that “just going to the conference and taking in as much as you can is the goal.” If you can open yourself up as a learner, engaging and growing each day, then your time is truly well spent. Not all unicorns and roses There are also big-name conferences and workshops – names we’ve all heard of and dreamed about attending. Few writers wanted to talk about politics in scholarships or acceptances in writing programs, even when offered anonymity. Porter graciously gives some honest feedback. “We never escape the junior high school cafeteria. Conferences involve complex, formal, almost feudal hierarchies, and the dynamics vary. At most places, the strata go something like contributor/work-study/scholar/fellow/faculty,” he says. “During my summers at Bread Loaf and Sewanee as a scholar, I thought everyone’s accomplishments in getting there at whichever stage were honored and respected. Conferences are highly competitive at every level, and people know it. However, friends of mine have gone to conferences and encountered friction.” Iromuanya did not want to name specific programs but was willing to share her own experience. “While I have served as a paying participant and scholar or fellow for different programs, I really think how I felt in each space came down to how I was treated by the other participants and faculty. I’ve been in hierarchical structures where fellows and faculty were kind, attentive, and encouraging, and it really gave me the boost I needed. And I’ve also been to places that were structured very democratically, but other residents were unkind, competitive, pushy, or demanding.” Just do it Every career involves professional development. For writers, we’re often isolated from others. Attending a conference or workshop not only helps hone our craft but also brings us into community with others. Whether during a weekend or two full weeks, this is time dedicated solely to being a writer. Porter says there are three vital activities involved in both conferences and residencies, though each may look very different from the outside: “Learning, writing, and meeting other artists.” A workshop has these same components, with the writing taking place beforehand. Finding a writing program to suit your needs at a given time may take some legwork, but the rewards will follow long after you return home. They’ll come in the form of new or strengthened relationships, renewed productivity, ideas generated, and passages strengthened. Whether workshop or conference, resident or fellow, paying guest or scholarship recipient: If you use your time wisely and open yourself up to learning, your work can only improve. Eliana Osborn is a busy freelance writer focusing on education and family issues for national publications. She is hoping meditation really is going to solve everything. writermag.com • The Writer | 23 CARDINAL RULES of WRITERS’ CONFERENCES Three must-follow guidelines to ensure a successful writing conference. By Yi Shun Lai A year and a half ago, some friends and I up and decided to start a writers’ conference. Well, that’s the story we tell at bars, anyway. In April, we’ll embark on the third iteration of our writers’ weekend, called the Red House Writers’ Retreat. By all markers, it’s been a wonderful, wild, stressful ride, and we’re happy that it’s also been a successful one. Each retreat to date has filled to capacity, and every attendee has walked away happy. But writers are really just nerds with pens and word processors, even before John Green made being a nerd cool again, and this particular group of nerds wasn’t going to do anything without a good set of guidelines. These rules, or tenets, as we’ve been referring to them, have made everything from faculty choices to location scouting and where to find our 24 | The Writer • February 2018 audience way easier, and they’ve opened up possibilities for us – not something we ever expected rules to accomplish. After all, rules are for restricting things, aren’t they? Turns out, rules can turn a good concept, one of those fizzy pie-in-thesky things that generate a lot of excitement and ideas and joy, into something that’s actually workable in the real world. (Hint: That’s not the world in which some “suited woman who works for Harper Collins discovers you and your work in a diner,” to paraphrase a writer acquaintance of mine. We’re talking about the world in which writers actually work at doing things like building literary conferences and thereby increasing their clout in this crazy profession.) Before I tell you which three rules we follow all the time, I should say that our group, Red House Writers, did not start from scratch. We had a built-in audience, left over from our MFA program, which unexpectedly closed down one year. And we made the deliberate choice to start small, so we could grow responsibly. Finally, we knew what kind of writers’ retreat we wanted to run, since we all loved the model our MFA residencies pioneered. So we were well ahead of the game. And maybe that’s the pre-rule rule. But we wouldn’t be where we are now without the following three tenets: 1. Pay people Our writers’ retreat hires faculty. We don’t ask people to come teach for free, because we wouldn’t expect to teach for free. (Obviously there are exceptions to this rule: College classes that are reading my novel or the literary magazine I edit for, or libraries that are having me in as a repeat guest, or friends who are writers and who support you – the list could go on, but use your judgment.) We want to make it very clear that we value people’s time and their expertise, so we pay each faculty instructor who comes to our event, and foot their room and board. We also don’t look for barter opportunities when it comes to things like lodging or meals. Finally, this rule also applies to those of us who organize the conference. When we conceived of the retreat, it was always with the intention that we would someday be paid. Things like free attendance at the retreat only go so far: Everyone knows that folks who put on any event won’t ever get as much out of the event as attendees, since we typically have an eye out on the back end of the proceedings. Paying the organizers ensures that we stay fresh and motivated, that resentment never occurs, and that we can guarantee the sustainability of the event for years to come. 2. Seek uniqueness Oh, I know. This sounds so obvious. Who doesn’t want their event to stand out, especially if it will eventually be opened to the general public? What it really means is this: What can you rely on to make sure your event feels true to the values you hold dear? For us, it’s this: Spread literary community. From there, everything falls into place: When we look for venues, we look for nonprofit centers, or state or national park venues that help us to feel like we’re contributing to the community. From there, we also source local: That is, we hire only local faculty, so that we can highlight them and introduce a new set of writers to their work as they’re teaching. This portion of our retreat planning, what we see as our “unique factor,” provides us with so much to work on and draw from. It’s probably my favorite “rule.” I’ve seen this “uniqueness” focus work well for other conferences and retreats, too. Barrelhouse Literary Magazine runs something it calls “Writer Camp,” which was hatched at another writers’ conference, the annual 14,000-person shindig we know as AWP. (If you haven’t heard of it, don’t worry. All you need to know is that it is a hotbed of small- and medium- and university-press publishing, and that it’s a great bird’s-eye view of what’s happening in this world.) Writer Camp’s three-day event schedule lists waking up, writing, and “optional” activities like hiking or meeting with editors. “I think for us, one of our biggest things is to keep it very unstructured,” said Becky Barnard, a co-founder of the retreat and production manager for the magazine. “There are tons of retreats that have coordinated programming, and that’s fantastic, but there are few writers that can write full-time. We wanted to give people the chance to just write.” At Writer Camp, even the dates of the thing can be unstructured – the ink hadn’t dried on the first Writer Camp when the organizers decided to hold another one, just six weeks later. that everyone has to get something out of the weekend. So we build backstops into place: We ask everyone to get to know each other’s works-in-progress or anything else the attendees want to share, and we also use a setup I stole from a women-in-business conference: You can write whatever problem or roadblock you’re experiencing on a big red house. (Get it?) You stick your house up on the wall, and people use sticky notes to write down potential solutions. At the end of the retreat, people take home their houses with all those solutions on them. And when we hire and talk to faculty, we give them good information about the attendees, so our instructors know which genres are represented and at which stage the audience is in the publishing process. Faculty walk in feeling like they’re better prepared, and we’ve then had the chance to talk to Rules can turn a good concept, one of those ﬁzzy pie-in-the-sky things that generate a lot of excitement and ideas and joy, into something that’s actually workable in the real world. 3. Provide value I think I’d argue that, for most conference planners, this is a pretty obvious goal. But it’s one thing to see something as a goal, and quite another to see it as a cardinal rule. Ami Hendrickson, who runs the #Write2TheEnd writing program and conference out of Michigan, says, “Everything we do has to have takeaway value, so that [the attendees] leave wiser or richer or more accomplished.” During #Write2TheEnd’s normal programming, Hendrickson and her partner, Kim Jorgenson Gane, even refund a portion of attendees’ registration fees if they complete the manuscript they’re working on. Red House Writers doesn’t have this setup, but we operate under the edict the faculty once or twice, so we’re more confident in our offerings. Plus, by then, we’ve made new writerly friends of the faculty members, and that’s always a plus. (See “literary community,” above.) Running a writers’ retreat isn’t always buckets of fun. Lots of times, it’s stressful. But, as in writing any narrative work, once you know what you want your retreat or conference to be about – once you know what the parameters are – you’ll be that much better off to move forward. Yi Shun Lai is a novelist and editor. Not a SelfHelp Book: The Misadventures of Marty Wu is available at booksellers everywhere. Find Yi Shun at tahomaliteraryreview.com, thegooddirt. org, and on Twitter @gooddirt. writermag.com • The Writer | 25 o story will make it off the page if story, character, setting – and a host of other elements – are not deftly handled. But there’s one important aspect of fiction writing that isn’t talked about as much as character or plot, but is just as essential to the story: the language itself. Language drives the work. Language makes everything happen. Language that falls flat makes characters fall flat. No matter the style, when the language really works, it charms us. It hooks us. Some writers find that figurative language in particular – language that works on a different level than a purely literal one – grabs the reader in ways unadorned writing never could. It functions, in part, to meet that old saw: Show, don’t tell. Yet how does figurative language come to writers? Does it come naturally, or is it something we must work at? And what specifically does it contribute to a story? N Using figurative language in your fiction What are some examples of figurative language? How is it used? How does it work in context with a scene or the whole story or novel? Susan Tepper, poet as well as fiction writer, used figurative language as a structuring device for her novel dear Petrov. “Even the title is figurative,” she says, “since this is not a book of letters.” The novel is set in 19th-century Russia during wartime. Nearly every sentence – actually, they tend to be sentence fragments – is figurative, says Tepper. In one chapter, “White to Blue,” her unnamed female protagonist meditates: From the parlor looking inward to the hall, when the winter sun is nearly over, the blue hall paper turns the ceiling white to blue. As if a sea had passed on through these walls. Pressed in such a way as I’m unable to, unaccountably... Notice the imagery of white turning to blue and then the analogy of the sea. “I set this story in a cold, remote land, during a tumultuous time period. It lent itself quite naturally to the figurative style,” Tepper says. For Stephanie Dickinson, author of The Emily Fables and Flashlight Girls Run, the use of figurative language is a natural tendency in Homo sapiens. “We are a meaning-making animal,” she says. As a writer, she finds herself drawn to making “comparisons between disparate entities and substances, between what is beautiful and what might be considered ugly.” Notice, for instance, this passage from “The Hermit,” part of her flash fiction collection The Emily Fables: Beside the hut, rabbit skins hung drying. Why was the hermit’s mouth lost inside his beard forest, lips grey like a pitchfork handle? Standing, he was a blackjack oak, yet kneeling and frozen he was tall still. A beard is not literally a forest, but it becomes a forest in this passage. Two disparate entities – lips and a pitchfork handle – are likened to each other in a simile. The hermit is not literally a blackjack oak, yet the passage metaphorically continues to place him in the context of nonhuman nature. The figurative language is compelling itself, but it also serves a function, says Dickinson. “Here I use both simile and metaphor writermag.com • The Writer | 27 to suggest the hermit’s physical body merging with the woods surrounding him,” she says. He is not separate from nature; he is nature. For Rosalind Palermo Stevenson, author of several works of fiction, figurative language is important not only in description but also in developing thematic ideas. This is the case in her recently published novel, The Absent, set in the second half of the 19th century. Note this passage from the point of view of her narrator: There was a wolf with us on the floor… Sprawled on its side like a dog sleeping, but it was a wolf that had been skinned and stuffed. I began petting it in the dream, though Lucie Beale refused to pet it, and as I was petting it, it came back to life and leapt up and ran away. The visual experience of this passage is important to Stevenson, but also what the imagery suggests. The language works on at least two levels: The wolf in this dream stands, she says, for “the wilds,” for wilderness, for “the power and naturalness of the earth, [which are] important elements in this novel.” But since the wolf is “skinned and stuffed,” the imagery also suggests “the destruction of the wilds.” When the wolf leaps up and runs away, this action suggests “regeneration and a kind of redemption – an important thematic undercurrent,” says Stevenson, in a novel that deals, in part, with the violence of Westward expansion. 28 | The Writer • February 2018 Sometimes one word can take on several meanings. Donna Baier Stein’s novel The Silver Baron’s Wife is written from the point of view of an 83-year-old woman facing death. Note the word “snarl” in the following passage: “There, by the bed, with its snarl of gray blankets.” Baier Stein chose the word “snarl” for two key reasons: “The woman who sleeps there sleeps restlessly, and the dreams and thoughts birthed there are tangled and uncomfortable.” But there’s also a third reason: “I also chose that word because the rest of the paragraph talks about intangible things, like the spirit of the character’s dead mother hanging nearby. I thought the sound of the word was a good, abrupt reminder that even if Lizzie may be seeing a spirit, she is still rooted in a physical environment.” Not all writers use figurative language. It’s certainly possible to use nouns and verbs and to be strictly literal while still allowing the reader to “see” or “hear” from accumulated prose detail and voice intonation in dialogue. This is generally the case for Barry Kitterman, author of Baker’s Boy. Yet he admits that a given character may seem to call for a bit of figurative language. “The amount of figurative language depends on the relative eccentricity of the narrator,” he says. Consider the thoughts of this failing minister in “Wedding Day,” from Kitterman’s collection From the San Joaquin: He had nothing new to say from the pulpit. It was difficult enough on a Sunday morning. By Sunday evening, the words he hoped to use felt as heavy as the air in the church, burdened with the scent of floor wax and old hymnals. Some days he thought about his future with sadness and uncertainty. Other days, like a middle-aged pitcher sent to the showers, he felt the sweet anticipation of release. Notice the economy of language in the two similes: The first likens the “words he hoped to use” to the heaviness of the air in the church, “burdened with the scent of floor wax and old hymnals.” Captured here in succinct olfactory imagery is a sense of how terribly sluggish this minister feels, how uninspired. The second simile gives us a tactile image, the fresh shower water washing him clean of the futile past, giving him a “sweet anticipation of release” because the struggle’s over, finally, and he can move on. Where figurative language comes from Where do those good metaphors, similes, those clever analogies come from? Is it a native ability you’re just born with? Or do you just reason it out? Do you do a little planning here and there? “I would say that my figurative language comes from that same place that all my writing comes from: that place of deeper consciousness,” says Stevenson. “When composing, I don’t write from a contrived idea of what I want to say. I don’t approach my work from the standpoint of ‘I’ll use this here or do that there to achieve some desired effect.’” What she does do is attune herself to her emotional, intuitive side: “An internal voice and rhythm are what tend to move the flow of words onto the page for me.” “My use of the figurative style comes as naturally as breathing,” says Tepper. “I never control a story. First, I see a picture or a scene in my mind, and the resulting language and style come out of that. Any other style, for this particular book, would have failed the characters and what they are trying to convey. The writer has to listen to what the characters want.” “When I was writing in Lizzie Tabor’s voice,” says Baier Stein, “the figurative language flowed naturally onto the page. I intentionally put myself in the mind of a woman who was either a very eccentric old woman or an American female mystic. I knew that this character would see things in ways others might not. Her perception, and thus her language, would be more fluid and surprising.” But perhaps it’s not the characters that you listen to or are drawn to, but some sort of existential need, or perhaps an artistic one. “I write to order chaos, to survive,” says Dickinson. “I write to recreate calamity and beauty; I write to communicate my time on the planet to readers.” For Dickinson, figurative language is an “essential tool kit.” Much of her orientation toward thinking figuratively comes out of her roots in rural America. “I was raised on an Iowa farm, and the lushness of the fields and sloughs, the flourishing insect and bird life that enveloped me heightened Tips from the Pros Susan Tepper “Nothing in the artistic realm should ever be forced. If the writer is struggling, something is off.” Stephanie Dickinson “Just because there are Instagram photographs of every conceivable thing, don’t assume description isn’t necessary or welcome. Everyone knows what a table at the coffee bar looks like, but not your particular table, not the unique people around you, not you/your narrator.” Rosalind Palermo Stevenson “Don’t depend on overly familiar phrases, often bordering on or being actual clichés. I believe that the most important thing for a writer is to be authentic and to write from a place of their own interior vision, and to develop and discover the language and writing style that best serves this vision.” Barry Kitterman “If it’s language that is natural to your protagonist or your narrator, then it will work. If it’s the flowery exuberance of the writer himself or herself, then it won’t.” Donna Baier Stein “Look for concrete, specific, visual imagery that is unexpected. Pair two things that aren’t commonly paired.” Steve Sherrill “Reach for the extreme, the excess, the outrageous. Using bad metaphors will never kill you, but you might learn how not to get bitten by them again.” writermag.com • The Writer | 29 “Too many similes and too much metaphor-making can cancel out their power or surprise.” my observation skills. I listened and I looked. I daydreamed. I read everything I could, and I loved the quicksilver words themselves – the metaphors and similes.” Dickinson soon began honing her craft. “When I began writing, I found the connections came somewhat naturally, and I practiced them, sometimes losing myself in similes.” Yet there’s a risk with that, she says. One mustn’t overdo it. “I have to discipline myself, as I am almost too drawn to figurative language,” she says. “Too many similes and too much metaphor-making can cancel out their power or surprise.” If the appeal of figurative language for Dickinson comes out of her native appreciation of concrete, sensory detail, the same is true for Steve Sherrill, author of Joy, Pa and Ersatz Anatomy. “I have been drawn to, compelled by, sensory details for as long as I can remember,” he says. “Sounds, sights, smells, etc., capture my imagination. Sometimes for a brief fleeting instant, but other times these details lock into a story or poem, underway or brand new.” Similes and metaphors have to come naturally out of these sensory details, says Sherrill. He doesn’t work at “forcing” them. Nor does Kitterman: “I would never strain to fill a story with figurative language. That strikes me as a way of showing off, of authorial intrusion. If I work at anything along these lines, it’s to keep the fancy language from getting the best of a story.” But isn’t it likely that a stunning simile or metaphor, a just-right analogy, won’t always appear in early drafts – even when you give your imagination full rein? “I often wish startlingly beautiful metaphors and similes would always flow naturally, but sometimes I have to work at it,” Baier Stein says. Yet she saves this conscious effort for the revision stage, when she tends to “massage or play with the language more.” If the 30 | The Writer • February 2018 language doesn’t “magically appear on its own” in the first draft, she doesn’t worry about it. There’s always time in later drafts. This can be the case for Stevenson, too. “Once all of that ‘material’ is on the page, then the critical phase of the process for me begins,” she says. “So it is in this phase that I have to ‘work at it’ to make certain that all the language, both figurative and literal, is organically true to the work as a whole.” Benefits of using figurative language First, it should be noted that the use of figurative language, like any tool in fiction writing, has to be appropriate – it must serve a useful function. In some stories, it may not. It can depend on the narrator or the nature of the protagonist. “I’ve been writing a series of stories with children narrators,” says Kitterman, “and they tend to see the world in a straightforward, if naïve, way.” Consider this example from “The King of Okietown,” which will appear in The Green Hills Literary Lantern this summer: He rode the bus home that afternoon, and he learned the bus driver’s name, Mr. Harry. In the days that followed, Davey saw Mr. Harry take care of other tasks, sweeping and mowing and raking the schoolyard leaves in his brown shirt and brown pants. That was being a custodian. It’s a simple, ordinary style, yet concrete, creating images in our minds. It reflects the consciousness of the young point-of-view protagonist. “The language paints a picture,” says Kitterman, “but not through the use of the poet’s metaphors and similes.” For this particular character, the simple, straight-forward language is authentic. But when it’s appropriate, figurative language can have a decidedly positive impact on the reader. “For me as a reader, figurative language excites me almost as much or more as the story being told,” Baier Stein says. “Since words are the tools of writers, anything a writer does to manipulate those words brilliantly simply adds to the pleasure of the reader.” The language becomes something to dwell on and savor: “Well-done figurative language makes the reading experience, for me, multi-dimensional. I’m not just following the plot to see what happens next but also relishing the visceral experience of being in the hands of a masterful writer. The language itself brings enjoyment moment to moment.” Figurative language can be truly poetic. “The link between figurative writing and poetry is pretty intense,” says Tepper. “Figurative writing is also generally musical. It ebbs and flows, rises and falls, crashes, offers periods of silence.” These periods of silence are significant, says Tepper, since they are openings into the text: “I believe it’s the silence, a bit of the dark unknown, that snags the reader, invites the reader to step in. To become a character or even part of the narrative landscape. After the flood of language, the silence worms its way into the reader’s unconscious.” Knowing when to create those moments of silence takes insight, she says: “When a writer can pull that off, knowing exactly where to drop silence into a piece, where the reader can become introspective, well, that’s the ultimate: granting permission to join in the story. Where the really personal stuff lives and dreams. Because what the author offers, and how the reader absorbs, is the crux of storytelling. The greats, Tolstoy, for instance, knew how to make this happen instinctually.” As we’ve already seen, figurative language is also used for its capacity to point to something larger than the literal, or specific. “I love the larger context for using figurative language, which frames it as a way of enabling one’s writing to go beyond the meaning of the words themselves, and by doing so to deepen or enhance both the language and meaning of the work, as well as the reader’s insight and appreciation of what is being said,” says Stevenson. “Whether it is personification, hyperbole, or understatement, whether an allusion or a simile, figurative language is the life raft that carries the writer’s voice, the whole work itself,” says Dickinson. In her story “Jesusita,” from Flashlight Girls Run, “A girl-child of three is let out of a car next to a closed gas station and abandoned,” Dickinson explains. “Alone, she waits for the car’s return. The reader is not enlightened as to the girl’s identity or where she comes from. ‘The night surrounds her like hunger’ is a simile I chose to use in this particular context, as its placement colors the text around it. The elaboration suggests a child’s confusion of the senses and is immediately followed by, ‘She licks the bottom of her shoe, where leftover motor oil clings.’” Through the simile combined with the incongruous action that follows, Dickinson steers her reader “toward the story’s thematic significance or unifying element, its message.” Modern readers no longer seek a story’s moral, she points out, but they do “look for the subject that dominates the writing.” Similes and metaphors can function, then, to “illuminate and enrich what is of consequence in a text and are often central to the overarching framework.” A few final words Language is what makes writing – it makes story. It’s the words themselves that mysteriously create character, plot, setting; in short, everything. To create interesting writing, you don’t have to use figurative language. But it does have its appeal. It can suggest larger ideas beyond the literal. It can create beauty, poetic beauty. It can help put your reader into the world you imagine in your head, the world of the five senses, creating the very pleasure of sensation. Jack Smith is the author of four novels, two books of nonfiction, and numerous articles and interviews. writermag.com • The Writer | 31 Drafting those many drafts The 10 revision phases your novel needs to endure before publication. Illustrations by jesadaphorn/Shutterstock BY JESSICA STILLING 32 | The Writer • February 2018 I It takes a lot to write a novel. Even those who haven’t tried would say, “well, duh!” to this. But it’s not so much the mind space or the sheer time it takes to write a novel that is as daunting as how many times any writer must go back to the drawing board for yet another draft. To really ready a novel for publication, a writer must spend time with his or her book. Like any budding relationship, you, the writer, must court your novel, take it out to dinner, meet its parents, and see it through its most trying and desperate times. As a writer, you have to stay up all night with your novel crying and talking and sometimes even clawing your hair out before that perfect moment of inspiration can truly help you cross the finish line. For many published authors I know, myself included, a completed novel takes them about 10, that’s right, 10 drafts, and at least a year of real editing. Will you be spending every single second editing your novel? No, of course not. Just as drafts need some real time on the surgery table, they also need rest in the recovery room. You don’t nurture a relationship by smothering a person, spending every waking second with them until you can’t stand the sight of each other, and you can’t nurture a novel by breathing down its literary neck. However, a novel should undergo many drafts – and different kinds of drafts – before declaring it ready for an agent or editor to see. Everyone has their own way to write a novel, and not all craft advice (or even craft “rules”) should all be followed by everyone, but when it comes to the many drafts of a novel, there are specific things a writer should focus on during each revision to help create a smooth transition from the initial idea to final product. These are the 10 (or, really, 11) drafts that any completed novel will have to go through, one way or another. writermag.com • The Writer | 33 ] Draft 0: Could this be a book? Get to know your novel before you even put pen to paper. After you have the spark of an idea, sure, you might sit down and write, but you should also get to know your plot and your characters; you might even research information connected to your novel before writing. It’s best to do some brainstorming before really diving into the writing process. Try creating an outline of your novel and do some character sketches or some research on the time and/or place your novel will be set in – really get to know all of these aspects. Maybe even read novels that are similar to the novel you’ve planned before you start; that way, you’ll have a base to work with. That being said: Many writers get caught up in the research phase and neglect to start their novel. Don’t fall into that trap. ] Draft 1: Am I really writing a book? Ah, the first draft – also known as the Honeymoon Phase. It’s kind of like when new parents first take their baby home, before the 3 a.m. feedings and the crying at all hours takes its toll. Everything is nice and breezy, you love your novel, it’s your own magnificent creation. Then the work starts. The first draft is tough because this is where most of the writing takes place; in fact, the first draft is where so many drop out. In the first draft, you start with nothing – sometimes not even a title – and end up with a 200- or 300-page (maybe even more) draft. Here is where we get it all down. During this draft, it can help to make outlines not only of the novel as a whole but also of each chapter as you go. A friend of mine once asked, “How 34 | The Writer • February 2018 do you write, like, an entire novel? Isn’t that daunting?” And it can be daunting, especially when you’ve just started. My answer to her was: “One chapter at a time.” The idea of a whole novel may seem impossible at first, but if you think of it as only one chapter (“I only have to write this one chapter” or maybe even “I only have to write this one scene”), then the idea of writing a whole novel might seem less daunting. Try outlining each chapter as you go, and then write each chapter one at a time until you have a rhythm going. During the first draft, just write. Don’t hold back. Let your characters grow and change and see where they’re going as the story progresses. Another word of advice for the first draft: Write every day. That’s important. If you write just three pages every day, which is a common goal among writers, you’ll have about 270 pages in three months. That’s a good start on a novel. If you start skipping days, that page count diminishes quickly. ] Draft 2: Did I really just write a book? ] Draft 3: How much spackle am I going to need? This is a reread draft. A big part of the drafting process is reading. Read through your book. Make notes as you go. Do you need to fill in something? Add something? Change a scene? Make notes but do not stop to fill in unless something really gnaws at you. Other than the big, glaring errors, wait until the next draft to fix it up. Here you want to just focus on reading the manuscript in its entirety to see how it all fits together as a whole. This is where you take the spackle and start to fill in the holes. Go over your notes. Rewrite scenes that feel clunky, check those transitions, and add and delete scenes as needed. In this draft you want to really smooth over your work to make sure the characters make sense and the story flows. Now ask yourself, does it feel like a book? Are my characters fleshed out? Does the William Faulkner didn’t say “kill your darlings” for nothing. Look at everything that does not add to your story and cut. plot make some modicum of sense? Is the theme present and clear? If yes: Good, keep going. If no: That’s OK, keep going. ] Then cut some more. Draft 4: How well do I know these people? I like to call this the character-building draft. A lot of rewriting happens in this draft. During this draft, you look deeply at your characters. Yes, you knew your characters before, but now – after going over this book three whole times – you REALLY know them. You’ve read their story; they’ve lived inside your life (just as you’ve lived inside theirs) for months, possibly years, by now. Is she really that shy? Could she come out of her shell more? Is he really a nice guy? Would it work better for the story if he were a little bit meaner, maybe even bordering on abusive? Yes, we start knowing our characters when our novels are just twinkles in our eyes, but I cannot tell you how many times I start to realize new things about my characters as I write draft two, draft three, and draft four. Once I realized around draft three that my protagonist had been sexually abused. It was not the focus of the novel, but I could see how this development was coming out in the way she acted around certain men and her reactions to violence and sex. During this draft, I started to explore that aspect, writing scenes where she talks about past sexual abuse and fleshing out the scenes where her past might affect her. Another time I realized after many drafts that my protagonist’s father wasn’t just a strange man: He was also abusive. It took me four drafts to realize that, but once I did, the entire story made more sense. Then I had to get in there and make that new character trait real in my novel, which required changing scenes, adding and subtracting scenes and foreshadowing, and rewriting descriptions – but at the end of the day, I had a better novel for it. Real flesh-and-blood people are complicated, and while the real fleshand-blood people we know (even intimately) are always more complicated than we will ever realize, in fiction it is our job to realize just how complicated our characters are and then convey that on the page. Just as it takes a long time to get to know a person so intimately that you might discover some long-held secret about their past, it takes a few drafts to know every intimate detail about our characters. finish should be the shortest version of itself possible. Sometimes the shortest version of something is three pages and sometimes it’s 1,000, but this is where you take everything, every detail, every scene, sometimes even every character, and put them on trial. Does this scene really need to be here? Did you write a very similar scene a few chapters back? Yes? Well, which one is better? Then the other has to go. Does this character add to the story or are they just a placeholder? Consider tweaking the character or letting them go. In addition to repetition, look at your long paragraphs: Are they a little too expository? Maybe even long-winded? Really look at those words, those phrases, even those beautiful descriptions, and decide whether they truly help or hurt your reader’s experience. William Faulkner didn’t say “kill your darlings” for nothing. Look at everything that does not add to your story and cut. Then cut some more. Warning: This draft is painful. ] ] Draft 5: I have to cut how much? You’re halfway done, almost there – now CUT. Cut, cut, cut. I tell all my writing students that each piece they Draft 6: Does this sound right? Sometimes I call this “the poetry draft” because what you’re looking at here is the use of language and how it flows in the novel. This is where you painstakingly mine every sentence. Is each sentence perfect, not just as a sentence but also as a sentence in your unique novel? How are your writermag.com • The Writer | 35 word choices? Did you overuse adverbs? (A friend of mine searches for all words ending in -ly and cuts about two-thirds of them). Is there a clear narrative voice? Really craft your writing here, your words and the flow, just as a poet might. Reread each sentence a few times to make sure it all works. This draft takes time, but it’s worth it. ] Draft 7: Can you look at something for me? Around draft seven is a good time to get your book in the hands of readers. You might have workshopped while you were writing your first draft, and it might have helped you a great deal to look at certain smaller parts with other writers, but now it’s time to have two, three, maybe four people, people whom you trust to be critical of your work, read your novel. How do you find these people? You might consider joining a writing workshop through a community organization, university, or 36 | The Writer • February 2018 It’s important to understand how to look at the comments of others and to always accept feedback graciously. a for-profit company. You might set up a meet-up to workshop a novel or go to the many sites that help authors find beta readers. Be mindful of friends and family who might not be familiar with critiquing a novel; they might not know what to look for or they might not want to hurt your feelings. Thus, their feedback won’t be as critical and will be less helpful. You don’t want a pat on the back during this draft; you want cold, hard criticism. Remember, there might be a quid pro quo attached to this, and you should plan on reading and commenting fairly on the work of those who workshop you. This stage, on your end, might involve reading someone else’s novel and not your own while your novel is in the hands of readers, but you can learn a lot about your own work by examining the approach another writer takes. ] Draft 8: How am I going to use all this? It’s important to understand how to look at the comments of others and to always accept feedback – any feedback, positive or negative – graciously. That being said, this novel is YOURS and it will have YOUR name on it. So you also need to be critical of the comments as well: Did a sex scene personally offend one person? That’s probably not a big deal. Did three or four people not understand the point of said sex scene? That’s something you might want to look at. Be sure not to get too attached to some of your darlings if a great many of your beta readers question them. But also know that the parts of your book that made your blood race, that made you feel as if you were about to stop breathing as you were writing, are probably going to have similar effects on the reader, even if people in your workshop had trouble with them. That might mean you have to WEST VIRGINIA WRITERS’ WORKSHOP Inspiring. Illuminating. Inexpensive. tweak those parts, rewrite some scenes, or make sure you get the right ideas across if you see that readers are having trouble with them, but not every negative comment a beta reader makes means you should delete something or change it completely. Sometimes it’s just a matter of tweaking or clarifying. ] A four-day conference in the Appalachian highlands offering workshops in poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. Plus craft talks, readings, a panel on publishing, and a fabulous, finalnight participant showcase! Draft 9: How did I miss that? Now that you’ve changed what needs to be changed, it’s time to check your grammar. This draft might be more daunting for some whose strengths lay outside commas and semicolons. You don’t want to do this draft too early in the writing process, as there’s no point in painstakingly going over work that’s only going to be scrapped or changed so much that you are going to have to go over it again (and again) later. Honestly, grammar is not my strong suit, and so while there are things I can check and change, I prefer to ask a professional. My grandmother-in-law is a pro at grammar, so I usually go to her. Chances are you might have to call in favors. You may want to hire a professional if grammar is just not your thing. That might cost a bit of money, but when it comes to getting your book out there, it’s worth it. ] Let us help you with your wild and wonderful writing! Draft 10: Could I be finished? Really? Here is where you read for any glaring errors. A forgotten word or something not caught in the grammar edit. You read to see that it all makes sense, but mostly what you’re really reading for is to say, “It’s good, it’s really good.” This is where you ask the question, “Does it read like a book?” And answer wholeheartedly, “YES!” If the answer is not “YES!” do not fret; go back, keep edit- Faculty: ing. Repeat draft three, draft four; consider what still needs work and revise until it’s finished. Once you answer, “YES! It’s really a book,” your novel is ready to go out into the world, whether it’s to an agent, a small press, or maybe you’re embarking on the self-publishing journey. And by the way, once an agent, editor, or small press gets their hands on your novel, there’s going to be a whole new round of drafts to go through. Take comfort in the fact that everyone simply wants your book to be the best it can be. What’s important to remember is that creating a novel takes time beyond just its writing. Just like you didn’t know how awesome and complicated and weird your best friend or lover was until you spent a meaningful amount of time with them, your novel will grow, change, and show you things about itself the more time you spend with it. So be prepared to spend – and enjoy – that time writing drafts. Jessica Stilling is a published novelist and short story writer. She lives and teaches in New York City. Mark Brazaitis, Marc Harshman, Leslie Pietrzyk, and more! Visit our website: english.wvu.edu/wvww Email: email@example.com Morgantown, home to West Virginia University, provides the ideal setting for a supportive, dynamic workshop. WVU Department of English PO BOX 6296 Morgantown, WV 26506 304-293-9707 WVU MFA in Creative Writing Fiction, Poetry, and Creative Nonfiction writermag.com • The Writer | 37 LITERARY SPOTLIGHT INSIDE LITERARY MAGAZINES BY MELISSA HART Black Fox Literary Magazine This seven-year-old publication courts writing of all genres. D uring her M.F.A. in Creative Writing residencies at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, New Jersey, writer and professor Racquel Henry became obsessed with seeing a fox. “Our campus has wild animals, and everyone kept talking about these fox sightings,” she explains. “The red fox is most common, but the black fox is rare. When my colleagues and I began our literary magazine, we wanted it to be a different sort of publication – a mix of literary and genre writing side-by-side, which is relatively rare. We decided to title it Black Fox.” Henry, along with Pamela Harris and Marquita Hockaday, met at Farleigh Dickinson. They got together in the sprawling Vanderbilt Mansion on campus and hammered out the details of their now-seven-year old literary magazine, ultimately deciding it would blend literary fiction with personal essays, book reviews, author interviews, poetry, and genre fiction, including mysteries, children’s stories, and thrillers. “A lot of the magazines started at the same time don’t exist anymore,” Henry explains. “Our goal is to be a magazine that does stick around and give writers, regardless of genre, a platform.” Tone, editorial content Black Fox editors publish a wide range of genre writing, and they’re open to experimental pieces. “I’ve published some really fantastic second-person stories,” Henry says. “I’m a huge fan when they’re done well. They work best when they’re in the short form, 38 | The Writer • February 2018 and we get to feel like a participant rather than feeling like the author is talking at the reader.” One of these is Liza Carrasquillo’s short story “Cold,” (Issue #15, Winter 2017), which begins: “When you reach the clearing at the top of the ridge, it is nearly midday. The sun beats down overhead on your heavy coat and exposed neck, causing your skin to shine. You run a sweaty hand over your short, dark hair and glance behind you as you hear the clumsy footsteps of the out-of-state college kids who’ve probably never hiked a day in their lives.” Carrasquillo was still earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree when Black Fox published her story. Editors look for compelling stories told by emerging writers, as well as those who have several books published. They’re particularly excited to receive stories by writers of marginalized demographics and from writers internationally. Contributors Editors were eager to publish Jack Coey’s thriller, “Side of the Road.” “We loved it because the author was able to pack so much suspense and chill in just a mere three and a half pages,” Henry explains. “Plus, it had to do with murder.” Coey’s story begins: “He pulled the car off the side of the road, and turned off the engine. He was breathing heavily and sweat was on his face. He felt elated. He rolled down his window to get some cool air. Pictures of what he’d done flashed through his mind.” Editors also admired “Bloody Sunday,” a flash fiction piece by Francis Fiordalisi. “This one was even shorter than ‘Side of the Road,’” Henry says, “but we loved the juxtaposition of the setting and the murderous act.” Both of these stories appeared in Issue #8, Summer 2013. “We mentioned in the editorial letter that it was unofficially our thriller issue,” she says. “The founding editors and myself enjoy all fiction, but we really love dark fiction.” Advice for potential contributors Henry urges potential contributors to Black Fox to read the submission guidelines online and follow them carefully so that the piece is properly formatted and sent through the online submission manager. She and the other editors particularly enjoy well-written genre fiction, including young adult, mystery, flash fiction, and thriller. They look for poetry, personal essays, and other forms of creative nonfiction. In addition, they publish articles on the Black Fox blog. “We are particularly interested in articles on the craft of writing, book reviews, book news, and publishing news,” they note on their website. “If it’s writing, book, or publishing related, then this is the place for it.” Melissa Hart is the author of Avenging the Owl (Sky Pony, 2016) and Wild Within: How Rescuing Owls Inspired a Family (Lyons, 2014). Web: melissahart.com. “Quality fiction of all styles and genres, poetry, and nonfiction.” BIANNUAL, PRINT AND ONLINE. Genres: Fiction, nonfiction, poetry. Reading period: Year-round; check website for details. Length: Prose to 5,000 words; 5 poems maximum. Submission format: Digital submission through website. Contact: Racquel Henry, firstname.lastname@example.org, blackfoxlitmag.com Writers Retreat Workshop * May 22-31, 2018 Nazareth Retreat Center, Boise, Idaho With: David Corbett The Mercy of the Night, The Art of Character, and the upcoming The Long-Lost Love Letters of Doc Holliday BOOT CAMP FOR WRITERS - 10-day/9-night retreat - limited to 25 students - 1-1 mtgs w/David & staff - Private room/bath/work area - Daily classes Visiting Agent: Michelle Johnson Inklings Literary Agency www.wakeupandwritewrw.com Rutgers–New Br unswick Writers’ Conference June 2-3, 2018 Featu r i ng A lic e Hof fman & Chr is Boh jal ian - S p e c i a l K i ck - O f f E ve n t w i t h St e p h e n S o n d h e i m o n J u n e 1 - ruwriterscon.rutgers.edu/nj writermag.com • The Writer | 39 CONFERENCE INSIDER BY MELISSA HART Killer Nashville This thrilling conference allows participants to learn about the industry, sharpen their crime-solving skills, and net a publishing deal all in one weekend. Y ears ago at Killer Nashville, a mock crime scene that featured a simulated dead body on the floor looked so convincing that non-conference participants staying in the same hotel dialed 911. “Now, we take over a hotel,” explains founder Clay Stafford, whose conference gathers together writers, agents, editors, fans of crime and thriller literature, and forensic experts. One of the latter is Dan Royse, former assistant director/special agent from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI), who hosts the annual mock crime scene. Participants try to solve the case by watching online interviews with potential suspects and filling out investigative forms. “The FBI and TBI get frustrated with television portrayals of crimes,” 40 | The Writer • February 2018 Stafford explains. “They like to talk with writers about proper police procedure and help them to get it right.” What you’ll learn Five different tracks at Killer Nashville include the craft and business of writing, plus marketing and forensics. Attendees can also register for breakout sessions, which include information on how to find an agent and publisher, how to create a social media platform and a marketing plan, and how to find a community of likeminded writers. “Classes aren’t just for beginning writers,” Stafford says. “[Best-selling crime] author Anne Perry goes to classes all the time. People learn new social media tools and new public relations methods. Maybe you have a U.S. demographic of readers, and you want Top: Best-selling author Chris Grabenstein with Killer Nashville Founder Clay Stafford Inset: The Killer Nashville crime scene Conference: Killer Nashville Dates: August 23-26, 2018 Cost: $150-$380 Location: Nashville, Tennessee Contact: Conference director Clay Stafford, (615) 599-4032, killernashville.com Featured presenters Guests of honor at the 2018 conference include New York Times best-selling author Ellery Adams and best-selling author and blogger J.A. Konrath, plus award-winning publisher Otto Penzler, who will be on hand for several public book signing events. On Thursday, participants can take a three-hour master class in novel plotting from international best-selling author Jeffery Deaver or participate in a shorter workshop titled “The Sinking Ship: Adding Suspense by Running out of Options or Time.” International best-selling novelist Perry will speak on writing historical fiction and how to create a writing career. Judicial biographer and law and political scholar Bruce Allen Murphy delivers a talk titled “Fourth Amendment Search and Seizure Law for Writers.” (Check out Killer Nashville’s website for a full list of presenters.) Advice for first-timers Organizers cap the attendance at 350 people to maintain an intimate, lowkey atmosphere. “Leave your ego at the door,” Stafford says. “Our main goal is to nurture the next generation of writers. Everyone is approachable, and the speakers who come to present give out their personal cell phone numbers.” He believes that you get what you put out at any conference, and it’s important to be proactive and mingle with agents and editors and other authors, even if it isn’t immediately obvious that your networking has paid off. To illustrate, he points to Alabamabased author Margaret Fenton, who – a decade ago – attended all of the agent and editor round tables at Killer Nashville and received no interest in her manuscript. She went to the bar, where author Don Bruns spotted her and asked her if she was all right. “She told him her tale of woe,” Stafford says. “Don went and got his editor, and she walked away with a publishing contract. This exemplifies that intimate feeling of Killer Nashville – you might be looking dejected in the bar, and people come up to you to ask if you’re OK, and then you’re getting published.” Contributing editor Melissa Hart is the author of the middle-grade novel Avenging the Owl (Sky Pony, 2016) and an editor/consultant at Creator & Collector Services. melissahart.com. “If it hadn’t been for this conference, I’d probably still be sitting on a rerun of The Dating Game somewhere.” Fannie Flagg, NYT bestselling author Santa Barbara Writers Conference June 17-22, 2018 Join us for 6 days beachside, at the Santa Barbara Hyatt • Workshops • Agents • Speakers • Panels • Improve your craft • Find your tribe • Make lifelong connections © Peanuts Worldwide LLC to expand internationally. The different tracks speak to where you are on your particular journey.” Emerging authors find endless support and unexpected success at this conference. Author Angela Crook attended one year, too intimidated by the “real” authors at the moonshine and wine tasting event to participate. Stafford saw her sitting alone and introduced her to some of the speakers. “On Sunday, she ran down the escalator, and I swear she picked me up and grabbed me around the waist,” he says. “Agents wanted to see her manuscript. She was so excited she had tears in her eyes.” He recounts another story about how author Jonathan Stone attended Killer Nashville with a manuscript that had been in a drawer for 12 years. Stone submitted the first 50 pages to the conference’s Claymore Award and ended up with an agent, a publishing contract, and a movie deal. “Those are the moments that are my favorite,” Stafford says. Our 46th Year! Register online: NOTE: The conference we profiled in our January 2018 issue, Wordcrafters Writers’ Conference in Eugene, Oregon, was recently placed on hiatus until 2019. Both the conference organizers and The Writer sincerely apologize for any inconvenience this has caused our readership. www.sbwriters.com email@example.com (805)568-1516 writermag.com • The Writer | 41 MARKETS COMPILED BY TONI FITZGERALD Workshoppy Writing conferences are packed with panel discussions, keynote speeches, and workshops to help hone your writing. Here are some tips for making the most out of conference craft sessions. 1. Do your research. Before you sign up for a conference, explore the faculty lineup and daily schedule to see what sessions will be beneficial to your work. Note the workshops you’d like to attend, and find out what the protocol is for registering. And do so by the cutoff date. 2. Be prepared. If you are asked to bring a piece to workshop, make sure you have it. Likewise, pack all of the items you’ll need – notepad, pens, your tablet, a voice recorder – to ensure you and your work will continue to benefit from the workshop once you’re back at home. 3. Keep an open mind. Whether commenting on someone else’s work or hearing feedback on your own, be open to new ideas and different ways of thinking. One person’s method (including your own) is not the law of the land, and you can learn a lot from simply interacting with other writers. Information in this section is provided to The Writer by the individual markets and events; for more information, contact those entities directly. Subscribers to The Writer have online access to information on publishers, publications, conferences, contests and agents. Go to writermag.com and click on Writing Resources. ALASKA Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference Homer, Alaska, June 8-12. Offers daily workshops, readings, and panel presentations in fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and the business of writing. Manuscript reviews and academic credit also available. Keynote speaker Anthony Doerr. Contact: Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference, Kenai Peninsula College – Kachemak Bay Campus, 533 E. Pioneer Ave., Homer, AK 99603. 907-235-7743. KachemakBayWritersConf@alaska.edu writersconference.homer.alaska.edu 42 | The Writer • February 2018 ARIZONA Desert Nights, Rising Stars Writers Conference Tempe, Arizona, February 22-24. Hosted by the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing at Arizona State University. Schedule includes craft classes, conversations, panels, and readings, as well as opportunities to network with writers. Faculty includes Kaveh Akbar, Natalie Diaz, and Tara Ison. Contact: Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing, P.O. Box 875002, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85287. 480-965-6018. firstname.lastname@example.org piper.asu.edu/conference CALIFORNIA Digital Author and Indie Publishing Conference Van Nuys, California, 2018 dates TBA. For authors who want to learn about the new publishing paradigms in an increasingly digital world. Industry experts, educators, agents, and publishers make up the list of speakers, who will explain new technologies and methodologies. Presentations on indie publishing, e-books, A-Books and P-Books, your author platform, and marketing ideas. Contact: West Coast Writers Conferences, PO Box 2267, Redondo Beach, CA 90278. 310-379-2650 email@example.com wcwriters.com/daisp/index.html SDSU Writers’ Conference San Diego, California, January 31-February 2, 2019 (conference on pause for 2018). Designed to help every writer at every writing level. Learn how to improve your writing skills, develop your marketing awareness, and meet with writing professionals. Includes keynote speakers, breakout sessions, panels, consultations, no-host mixer, and networking opportunities. Contact: SDSU College of Extended Studies, 5250 Campanile Dr., San Diego, CA 92182. 619-594-5821. firstname.lastname@example.org ces.sdsu.edu/writers San Francisco Writers Conference San Francisco, California, February 15-18. Top authors, agents, and editors meet to discuss fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and specialty writing such as children’s books and travel writing. Other topics include marketing, self-publishing, and internet possibilities and trends. Also offers “speed dating with agents.” Presenters include Dana Gioia, Robert Dugoni, Mitali Perkins, and Shanthi Sekaran. Contact: San Francisco Writers Conference, 1029 Jones St., San Francisco, CA 94109. 415-6730939. Registrations@SFWriters.org sfwriters.org Santa Barbara Writers Conference Santa Barbara, California, June 17-22. Writers in all genres from various countries gather in Santa Barbara to spend a week focused on story, voice, craft, marketing, and networking with fellow writers and publishing professionals. Has hosted legendary writers such as Ray Bradbury, William Styron, Eudora Welty, James Michener, and T.C. Boyle. Contact: Santa Barbara Writers Conference, 27 W. Ana- pamu St., Suite 305, Santa Barbara, CA 93101. 805-568-1516. email@example.com sbwriters.com COLORADO Aspen Summer Words Aspen, Colorado, June 17-22. One part literary festival, one part writing retreat, the Aspen Summer Words event is hosted by some of the nation’s most gifted and engaging writers. Brings writers and readers together for author readings and talks, interviews and Q&As, writing workshops, and literature appreciation classes. Consultations also available. Contact: Aspen Words, 110 E. Hallam St., Suite 116, Aspen, CO 81611. 970-925-3122. firstname.lastname@example.org aspenwords.org/event-details/aspensummer-words-3 Northern Colorado Writers Conference Fort Collins, Colorado, May 4-5. Categories of focus include children’s, fiction, general, journalism, marketing, mystery, nonfiction, poetry, romance, and science fiction. The conference brings in editors, agents, and presenters from all over the country and offers more than 30 workshop choices. Keynote speakers: Peter Heller and Jim Davidson. Contact: April Moore, Director, Northern Colorado Writers, 407 Cormorant Ct., Fort Collins, CO 80525. 970- 227-5746. email@example.com northerncoloradowritersconference.com Pikes Peak Writers Conference Colorado Springs, Colorado, April 27-29. The 26th annual conference held by the Pikes Peak Writers features informative workshops, motivational speeches, networking opportunities, read and critique sessions, and the chance to pitch your manuscript to industry editors and agents. Keynote speakers: Jim Butcher, Laurell Kaye Hamilton, Jonathan Maberry, and Mary Robinette Kowal. Contact: Pikes Peak Writers, P.O. Box 64273, Colorado Springs, CO 80962. 719-244-6220. firstname.lastname@example.org pikespeakwriters.com CONNECTICUT Wesleyan Writers Conference Middletown, Connecticut, June 13-17. Welcomes new and established writers. Includes seminars, workshops, readings, panel discussions, and manuscript consultations. Many genres addressed and scholarships available. Contact: Anne Greene, Director, Wesleyan Writers Conference, Wesleyan University, 294 High St., Room 207, Middletown, CT 06459. 860-685-3604. email@example.com wesleyan.edu/writing/conference Yale Writers’ Conference New Haven, Connecticut, two sessions (2018 dates TBA). Workshops, individual conferences, master classes (session one only), discussions, and presentations. Second session delves deeper into specific genres, including poetry, playwriting, historical fiction, and memoir. Contact: Yale Writers’ Conference, 55 Whitney Ave., 4th Fl., New Haven, CT 06510. 203-432-2430. firstname.lastname@example.org summer.yale.edu/ywc FLORIDA AWP Annual Conference & Bookfair Tampa, Florida, March 7-10. Writers, publishers, editors, and educators engage in conversation with fellow lovers of literature from across the region and the world. More than 550 events, a bookfair, lectures, readings, and workshops. Keynote: George Saunders. Contact: The Association of Writers and Writing Programs, 301-226-9716. email@example.com awpwriter.org Blue Flower Arts Fall Writers’ Conference New Smyrna Beach, Florida, 2018 dates TBA. Provides workshops, readings, and panels in a community setting. Includes meals and one-on-one time with the master writers and other participants. Workshops in fiction, poetry, and memoir led by top-selling writers in each genre. Limited to 13 writers for each of the three genres. Contact: BFA WWC c/o Atlantic Center for the Arts, 1414 Art Center Ave., New Smyrna Beach, FL 32168. 386-427-6975. firstname.lastname@example.org blueflowerarts.com/wwc SleuthFest 2018 Boca Raton, Florida, March 1-4. Offers panels on the craft and business of mystery writing as well as agent or editor appointments. Keynote speaker: Andrew Gross. Guest authors: Hallie Ephron, James R. Benn, and Kristy Montee (PJ Parrish). Contact: Sleuthfestinfo@gmail.com sleuthfest.com GEORGIA Blue Ridge Writers’ Conference Blue Ridge, Georgia, 2018 dates TBA. This conference seeks to educate and inspire writers with feedback from writers, editors, and agents. Includes workshops on a wide range of topics. Contact: Blue Ridge Mountains Arts Association, 420 W. Main St., Blue Ridge, GA 30513. 706-632-2144. email@example.com blueridgewritersconference.com Savannah Book Festival Savannah, Georgia, February 15-18. Free and open to the public with readings and presentations from authors around the country. Past authors included Alice Hoffman, Stephen King, and Sandra Brown. This year’s opening address speaker is Diana Gabaldon and keynote is Lisa Ko. Contact: Savannah Book Festival, 37 W. Fairmont Ave., #216, Savannah, GA 31406. 912598-4040. firstname.lastname@example.org savannahbookfestival.org IOWA Iowa Summer Writing Festival Iowa City, Iowa, 2018 dates TBA. Offers a wide selection of weekend and weeklong workshops throughout the summer. Choose from fiction, poetry, nonfiction, writing for children, play/screenwriting, fantasy/science fiction, and “genre-benders.” Contact: Iowa Summer Writing Festival, The University of Iowa, 250 Continuing Education Facility, Iowa City, IA 52242. 319-335-4160. email@example.com uiowa.edu/iswfestival writermag.com • The Writer | 43 MARKETS LOUISIANA Tennessee Williams New Orleans Literary Festival New Orleans, Louisiana, March 21-25. Created to honor the legacy of Tennessee Williams and support and nurture writers, actors, musicians, and other artists. Contact: Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival, 938 Lafayette St., Suite 514, New Orleans, LA 70113. 504-581-1144. firstname.lastname@example.org tennesseewilliams.net MASSACHUSETTS Juniper Institute for Young Writers Amherst, Massachusetts, July 22-29. A nine-day creative writing program for high school students finishing their sophomore, junior, or senior year hosted by the UMass MFA Program for Poets and Writers. Intensive workshops in fiction and poetry, craft sessions, and studio courses designed for young writers. Contact: Betsy Wheeler, Juniper Institute for Young Writers, c/o University Conference Services, 810 Campus Center, 1 Campus Center Way, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA 01003. 413-545-5503. email@example.com umass.edu/juniperyoungwriters The Muse & The Marketplace Boston, Massachusetts, April 6-8. See more than 140 writers, literary agents, editors, and other publishing professionals present on a variety of different subjects, from craft to revision to publishing. Attendees can also take part in the “Manuscript Mart,” which provides 20-minute individual sessions with a literary agent or editor to provide professional feedback about your work. Contact: Muse and the Marketplace, GrubStreet, 162 Boylston Street, 5th Floor, Boston, MA 02116. 617695-0075. firstname.lastname@example.org museandthemarketplace.com MICHIGAN Bear River Writers’ Conference Ann Arbor, Michigan, 2018 dates TBA. Workshops in poetry, fiction, and creative 44 | The Writer • February 2018 nonfiction, as well as readings, discussions, nature walks, and time for writing. Staffed by the University of Michigan English department. Contact: Bear River Writers’ Conference, Dept. of English Language and Literature, 3187 Angell Hall, University of Michigan, 435 South State St., Ann Arbor, MI 48109. 734-7632342. email@example.com lsa.umich.edu/bearriver Rally of Writers Lansing, Michigan, April 14. An annual one-day conference, featuring a keynoter and 16 breakout sessions led by published Michigan authors in several genres of writing, including fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, journalism, children’s books, and business matters. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org arallyofwriters.com NEVADA Las Vegas Writers Conference Las Vegas, Nevada, April 19-22. Consists of a small group of writers attending pitch sessions, plus talks with faculty, workshops, seminars, and expert panels, as well as plenty of opportunities to meet and network with other writers, editors, and agents. Contact: Henderson Writers Group, PO Box 92032, Henderson, NV 89009. 702-953-5675. email@example.com lasvegaswritersconference.com Left Coast Crime Reno, Nevada, March 22-25. An annual event sponsored by mystery fans where readers, writers, librarians, and other mystery and thriller enthusiasts gather to share their mutual interest in the genre. Guests of honor: William Kent Krueger and Naomi Hirahara. Contact: Left Coast Crime. Ingrid Willis, Chair. firstname.lastname@example.org leftcoastcrime.org/2018 NEW HAMPSHIRE Frost Place Conference on Poetry and Teaching Franconia, New Hampshire, June 23-26; Writing Intensive June 27-28. Brings together hard-working classroom teachers and highly skilled poets to share their experiences of how poetry is most effectively presented in the classroom. Graduate-level and continuing education credits are available through Plymouth State University. Contact: The Frost Place, P.O. Box 74, Franconia, NH 03580. 603-823-5510. email@example.com frostplace.org NEW JERSEY Rutgers Writers’ Conference Somerset, New Jersey, June 2-3. Rutgers University’s annual conference will host Alice Hoffman and Chris Bohjalian as its keynote speakers. Contact: 55 Commercial Ave., Suite 120, New Brunswick, NJ, 08901. 848-932-7565. firstname.lastname@example.org ruwriterscon.rutgers.edu/nj NEW YORK American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) Annual Conference New York, New York, May 18-19. The ASJA annual conference focuses on independent writing and will help you succeed in a freelancing career. Learn how to market yourself to editors and agents and network with fellow writers and publishing professionals. Features over 50 sessions. Full schedule on website. Contact: ASJA, 355 Lexington Ave., 15th Fl., New York, NY 10017. 212-997-0947. Email from website. asja.org Colgate Writers’ Conference Hamilton, New York, June 17-23. Readings, workshops, craft talks, and free time to write and explore the area. Hosted on the Colgate University campus. Highlights fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, and short story writing. Bring a work in progress. Contact: Matthew Leone, Director, Colgate Writers’ Conference, Office of Summer Programs, 13 Oak Dr., Hamilton, NY 13346. 315-228-7771. email@example.com cwc.colgate.edu Gotham Writers’ Workshop New York and online, various dates. One of the largest and most comprehensive private creative writing schools in New York City and online, Gotham offers classes in all genres in addition to seminars about selling work and private instruction. Contact: Gotham Writers’ Workshop, 555 8th Ave., Suite 1402, New York, NY 10018. 212-974-8377. firstname.lastname@example.org writingclasses.com New York State Summer Writers Institute Saratoga Springs, New York, July 2-27. Hosted by Skidmore College and the New York State Writers Institute at the University of Albany. Features creative writing workshops in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. The staff is a group of prestigious writers and authors, some of whom have won honors such as the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. Offers undergraduate and graduate credit. Enroll for two weeks or the entire session. Contact: Robert Boyers, Director, NYS Summer Writers Institute, Office of the Dean of Special Programs, Skidmore College, 815 N. Broadway, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866. 518-580-5593. email@example.com skidmore.edu/summerwriters The Writer’s Hotel Master Class in Fiction, Nonfiction & Poetry New York, New York, June 6-12. Three classic Manhattan writers’ hotels host panels, lectures, workshops, and agent speed dating. Editors read participant work beforehand. Writers can read their work at iconic literary venues. Contact: The Writer’s Hotel, P.O. Box 472, Brunswick, ME 04011. firstname.lastname@example.org writershotel.com SCBWI Winter Conference New York, New York, February 2-4. Top professionals in the children’s publishing world gather to share knowledge and expertise. Speakers include award-winning authors and illustrators, agents, editors, and art directors. Topics include market trends, what is hot, what is not, and what they really want to see next. All genres are represented, from picture books and middlegrade to young adult. One-on-one manuscript critique sessions and portfolio critiques and showcase are available. Contact: 4727 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 301, Los Angeles, CA 90010. 323-782-1010. email@example.com scbwi.org/annual-conferences NORTH CAROLINA Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference Ridgecrest, North Carolina, May 20-24. One of the largest Christian writing conferences in the country, the conference draws writers from across the nation and covers topics such as novel writing, nonfiction, screenplays, visual media, devotions, freelance, children’s, magazine articles, and web content. Contact: Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference. 800-588-7222. ridgecrestconferencecenter.org/event/blueridgemountainchristianwritersconference OHIO Kenyon Review Writers Workshop Gambier, Ohio, June 16-23, July 7-12, and July 7-14. Genre workshops are held for three hours every morning, while the afternoons are kept free for writing and reading. Evenings include public readings from instructors, visiting writers, and workshop participants. Choose from poetry, literary nonfiction, fiction, nature writing, and translation workshops. Contact: The Kenyon Review, Finn House, 102 W. Wiggin St., Kenyon College, Gambier, OH 43022. 740-427- 5196. firstname.lastname@example.org edu kenyonreview.org OREGON Sunriver Writers’ Summit Sunriver, Oregon, May 26-27. Offers three workshop tracks from which to choose. The beautiful Sunriver Resort Lodge makes for a relaxing, inspirational setting. Contact: Michael Steven Gregory, Executive Director. SCWC/Summit, 18160 Cottonwood Rd. #260, Sunriver, OR 97707. 619-303-8185. email@example.com writersconference.com/summit PENNSYLVANIA Highlights Foundation Workshops Honesdale, Pennsylvania, dates vary. Workshops geared toward authors interested in writing and illustrating for children. Intermediate and advanced levels led by children’s publishing professionals, including editors, writers, art directors, publishers, and agents. See website for list of workshops. Contact: Highlights Foundation, 814 Court St., Honesdale, PA 18431. 877-288-3410. firstname.lastname@example.org highlightsfoundation.org Pennwriters Annual Conference Lancaster, Pennsylvania, 2018 dates TBA. The conference offers more than 40 hours of workshops, panels, and genre breakout sessions. Contact: Pennwriters, Inc., PO Box 685, Dalton, PA 18414. info@Pennwriters.org pennwriters.org Philadelphia Writers’ Conference Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, June 8-10. In its 70th year, the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference is the oldest writing conference in the country with open registration. Optional master classes available in addition to workshops, peer critiques, and pitch sessions. Contact: Philadelphia Writers’ Conference, P.O. Box 7171, Elkins Park, PA 19027. email@example.com pwcwriters.org The Write Stuff Conference Allentown, Pennsylvania, March 22-24. The Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group sponsors interactive sessions with industry-leading authors, editors, and agents. Agent/editor pitch sessions and flash fiction writing contests. Contact: GLVWG, 156 Castleton Dr., Reading PA 19607. firstname.lastname@example.org greaterlehighvalleywritersgroup.wildapricot.org writermag.com • The Writer | 45 MARKETS TEXAS West Texas Writers’ Academy Canyon, Texas, June 4-8. This conference focuses on both traditional and self-publishing, and takes a non-traditional approach. Unique workshops include firearms training for crime writers to plotting a novel within a week. Contact: West Texas A&M University, WTAMU Box 60185, Canyon, TX, 79016. 806-651-2037. email@example.com wtamu.edu/academics/eod-writingacademy.aspx VIRGINIA Virginia Festival of the Book Charlottesville, Virginia, March 21-25. Festival of literary events honoring book culture and promoting reading and literacy. Mostly free and open to the public. Presenters include Khizr Khan, Michael W. Twitty, Attica Locke, and Jason Reynolds. Contact: Virginia Festival of the Book, Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 145 Ednam Dr., Charlottesville, VA 22903. 434-924-3296. firstname.lastname@example.org vabook.org WASHINGTON Northwest Christian Writers Renewal Bellevue, Washington, June 1-2. Rachel Hauck shares her knowledge and experience as a bestselling Christian romance writer. Contact: email@example.com nwchristianwriters.org/Renewal2018 Pacific Northwest Writers’ Conference Seattle, Washington, September 13-16. The conference’s mission is to develop writing talent through education, accessibility to the publishing industry, and participation in an interactive writer community. Choose from general attendance or more in-depth Master Classes. Attendees can also sign up for “Power Pitch” sessions, allowing writers to deliver 4-minute pitches to a variety of agents and editors. Contact: Writers’ Cottage, 317 NW Gilman Blvd., Ste. 8, Issaquah, WA 98027. 425-673-BOOK. firstname.lastname@example.org. pnwa.org 46 | The Writer • February 2018 WEST VIRGINIA West Virginia Writers’ Workshop Morgantown, West Virginia, July 19-22. Attend workshops in poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction, in addition to a variety of other activities for writers. Contact: WVU Department of English, P.O. Box 6296, Morgantown, WV, 26506. 304-293-3107. email@example.com. english.wvu.edu/centers-projects/ west-virginia-writers-workshop WISCONSIN Novel-In-Progress Bookcamp & Writing Retreat West Bend, Wisconsin, May 20-26. Sponsored by the Chicago Writers Association, the Novel-In-Progress Bookcamp is for writers working on a novel or creative nonfiction book. Includes instructional classes, one-onone consultations, group critique sessions, guest speakers, and special activities all focused on your work-inprogress. Hosted at a retreat center and spa in southeast Wisconsin. Contact: Director Dave Rank. Novel-In-Progress Bookcamp, Wisconsin Writers Association, 831 S. Seventh Ave., West Bend, WI 53095. 262-717-5154. firstname.lastname@example.org novelbookcamp.com Write-by-the-Lake Writer’s Workshop and Retreat Madison, Wisconsin, June 11-15. Choose fiction, freelancing, nonfiction, or poetry and spend a week creating, exploring, and polishing your work with other dedicated writers. Graduate credit is available for an additional fee. Contact: Director Christine DeSmet, UW-Madison Continuing Liberal Studies & the Arts, 21 N. Park St., 7th Fl., Madison, WI 53715. 608-262-3447. email@example.com continuingstudies.wisc.edu/conferences WYOMING Jackson Hole Writers Conference Jackson, Wyoming, June 28-30. Share your work with other writers through critiques, workshops, and open mic nights. Also utilize the opportunity to discuss your work one-on-one with experienced authors, editors, and agents. Featured authors include Tiffanie DeBartolo, Peter Heller, Tina Welling, and Mark Hummel. Contact: Jackson Hole Writers Conference, P.O. Box 1974, 265 S. Cache St., Jackson, WY 83001. 307413-3332. firstname.lastname@example.org jacksonholewritersconference.com Literature & Landscape of the Horse Laramie, Wyoming, May 26-31 (alumni week) and June 4-9. A unique adventure for anyone who yearns for nature, longs to reconnect with horses, and hungers for creative inspiration in an authentic western ranch setting. Combines riding, writing, and reflection with guest facilitator Sheri Griffith. Contact: Paige Lambert. 303-842-7360. email@example.com pagelambert.com/horse_literature.html INTERNATIONAL San Miguel Writers’ Conference San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, February 14-18. Held in historic San Miguel, a mecca for writers, artists, and musicians. Includes sessions and panels as well as optional agent pitches, consultations, and intensives. Also offers excursions. Fully bilingual. Contact: San Miguel Literary Sala, Box 526, 220 N. Zapata Hwy. #11, Laredo, TX 78043. Email from website. sanmiguelwritersconference.org Left Bank Writers Retreat Paris, France, June 10-15. A group of less than eight writers gather in Paris’ Left Bank for a week of workshops and tours. Genres include poetry, fiction, nonfiction, memoir, drama, and any other project that can benefit from the writing techniques of Left Bank Writers like Stein, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald. Contact: Left Bank Writers Retreat, P.O. Box 968, Jackson, WY 83001. 307-734-5335. firstname.lastname@example.org leftbankwritersworkshop.com Classifieds READERS should use caution when entering into any legal contract with a literary service offering agentingtype assistance; publishers who charge, rather than pay, an author for publication; publishers who require a purchase before publication and contests that charge high entrance fees. 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Reid Fiction & Essay Contest Tom Howard/Margaret Reid Poetry Contest North Street Book Prize (for self-published books) One of the "101 Best Websites for Writers" (Writer's Digest) EDITING/CRITIQUING A Cutting Edge Editing Respect for Your Voice 30 Years Experience SELF-PUBLISHING 3&"%:504&-'16#-*4) 8JUIPWFSZFBSTh FYQFSJFODFXFVOEFSTUBOEDSFBUJWFXSJUFSTBOE UIFJSQVCMJTIJOHHPBMT0VSFYQFSUTXJMMIFMQ OBWJHBUFUIFQSPDFTTBOEHFUZPVSCPPL QVCMJTIFE"GGPSEBCMF-FBSONPSF XXX4FMG1VCMJTIJOH3FMJFGDPN For more articles, contest alerts, writing prompts, & industry news, subscribe to our weekly newsletter! $3/double-spaced page firstname.lastname@example.org 9971 Cabanas Ave., Tujunga CA 91042 PROFESSIONAL EDITOR, Award-winning Author (Bantam, Berkley/Ace, others) offers extensive critiques, respectful in-depth editing. Fiction, nonfiction, juvenile/YA. Carol Gaskin 941-377-7640. Email: Carol@EditorialAlchemy.com or website: www.EditorialAlchemy.com EDITING WITH PANACHE. Editor-writer is an acclaimed novelist, biographer, critic, and creative essayist. Fiction and nonfiction. Responsive and meticulous. Competitive rates. Free 10 page sample edit with critique. Geoffrey Aggeler, Ph.D. (805) 966-9728 or e-mail HFPGGBHHFMFS!HNBJMDPN (Website: www.editingwithpanache.com) SERVICES eBookAdaptations :H¶OOFRQYHUW\RXU:RUG¿OHVWRDQ H%RRN%RWK02%,IRUPDWIRU.LQGOH DQGH3XEIRUDOORWKHU(UHDGHUV www.eBookAdaptations.com DON’T HAVE TIME to submit your creative writing? Submission leads and cover/query letter tips. Receive our FREE e-newsletter today! In Our UI Year! Writer’s Relief, Inc., 866-405-3003, www.WritersRelief.com Bit.ly/thewriternl writermag.com • The Writer | 47 HOW I WRITE BY ALLISON FUTTERMAN Kristen Iskandrian A character and establish the mysterious relationship she has with her mother. It became clear early on that the letters would be a big part of the book. s a short story writer, Kristen Iskandrian has been recognized with an O’Henry Prize. Now she’s created considerable buzz with her first novel, Motherest. From a glowing New York Times writeup to starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus, Iskandrian’s book is resonating with critics and readers alike. Written with tenderness, depth, and humor, Motherest is about life, early adulthood, and family. It also deals with motherhood on several levels, with profound storytelling that feels deeply honest. Using a combination of first-person narration from protagonist Agnes and epistolary form, the writing is nuanced, intelligent, and realistic. Somehow Iskandrian manages to be both subtle and impactful at the same time. Motherest – and especially Agnes – stays with you long after you have finished reading. Creating depth of character I wasn’t in a hurry, which helped. The letters functioned, I hope, to establish Agnes and her patterns and idiosyncrasies over time. Writing in first person, too, gave me immediate access to her thoughts and subconscious. Once I was able to channel her voice and what she sounded like, a lot of the other choices felt organic. Realistic dialogue Letters as a literary device Transitioning from short story to novel I really wanted to plunge into the all-consuming world of the novel. I wanted to try it because it really scared me. I’m comfortable with short stories; something about the story form just speaks to me. I didn’t know if I had what it took, the tenacity and lon48 | The Writer • February 2018 gevity needed for a novel. It was a challenge and took the better part of four years. There were times when I would put it aside and write a short story here or there. But it was a project I prom- I love letters as a form. Early on in the novel, I wanted to find a way to unlock my voice and write uninhibitedly. Letters have always had that effect on me. I have the tendency to be very careful when I write; I’m slow, and I edit on the sentence level. When you write a letter to someone, or even to yourself, there’s a freedom there: you’re not thinking so much about what you sound like. It was a way to get into Agnes’ I tried to be honest about what late teenagers and young adults sound like when they talk to each other. I really tried to put myself in the mindset of young, desirous, smart, silly 18-, 19-, or 20-year-olds so their conversation would have texture and feel authentic. At every turn, I thought: What would Agnes say or do? That went for the secondary characters as well. Establishing who a character is also means establishing how they sound, the words they choose. It’s hard to know what comes first. Allison Futterman is a freelance writer based in Charlotte, North Carolina. Hannah Slamen ised myself I would finish. With a novel, you have to think more about the arc of the characters, the arc of the narrative, sustaining tension. It was certainly an education. Subscribe or renew today! Get 12 issues of expert advice and tools for success delivered right to your door for only $28.95. One year for only $28.95 Visit writermag.com/subscriptions to start or renew your subscription to The Writer today! Q R L W D F ¦ L W D U * W WDQ At last! ,QV IRUDXWKRUV DQG)5((+HOSWRR (FUUJOHZPVSCPPLTQSJOUFEDBOCFDPOGVTJOHBOEGSVTUSBUJOH8FSFIFSFUPIFMQ 0VSFYDFQUJPOBM$VTUPNFS4FSWJDFUFBNXJMMBOTXFSBMMPGZPVSRVFTUJPOTBOEIFMQ ZPVUISPVHIFWFSZTUFQćFZMMFWFONBLFNPOFZTBWJOHTVHHFTUJPOTXIFSFBQQSPQSJBUF 8FSFUIFGBTUFTUCPPLQSJOUFSTJOUIFXPSME8FPČFSCPPLTUPSFRVBMJUZCJOEJOHMPXQSJDFTBOENBOZ VOJRVF PQUJPOT iFAST” BOE iEASY” BSF KVTU UXP SFBTPOT UP DBMM PS FNBJM VT UPEBZ We answer our phones, and return emails within minutes. (unbelievable, right?) 5HDVRQVWRXVH +RXU%RRNV 1 )DVWHVW%RRN3ULQWHUVLQWKH:RUOG t1FSGFDU#PVOECPPLTQSJOUFEJOEBZT tSame DayTFSWJDFBWBJMBCMF t)BSE$PWFSBOE$PJMCPPLTQSJOUFEJOEBZT 2 *UHDW&XVWRPHU6HUYLFH t&BTZPSEFSJOH t8FMMIFMQZPVBMMUISPVHIUIFQSPDFTT t8FBOTXFSPVSQIPOFTBOESFUVSOFNBJMTXJUIJONJOVUFT t3FBEPVSindependent reviewsUIFZSFJODSFEJCMF 0 off 5 $ e l tak WRUGH:U l ’ e W UÀUV t code \RXse discoun 18 U er 8 Wdrithtru 3/31/1 vali (see the link on our homepage, www.48HrBooks.com) 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 )UHH%RRNVJGZPVPSEFSPSNPSF H%RRN&RQYHUVLRQ#PUIF1VCBOE,JOEMFGPSNBUT ,6%1DQGEDUFRGHV 8FVTF385DGKHVLYHGPSCPPLTUPSFRVBMJUZCJOEJOH 'HVLJQHU&RYHUV$MPUI-FBUIFSBOENPSF 'XVW-DFNHWVQSJOUFEBOEMBNJOBUFE 'LDPRQG'&RYHUV)RLO6WDPSLQJ /D\RXWDQG'HVLJQBOENVDINPSF 800-231-0521 info@48HrBooks.com UI4U48t"LSPO0IJP extra You can't find this in print. When my mother caught me rummaging in her nightstand, she said, You must never look in there again. She said, Certain things are private. Do you know what private means? I did, but I told her I didn’t, which was maybe my version of what private meant. When something is private, she said, it belongs only to you. From then on, I understood my mother to be private, in how she kept herself to herself, and in how, in my mind, she belonged only to me. I really thought I was entitled to her, to the most intimate parts of her, which seemed to be in that drawer: photos, a Bible, stacks of letters held together with rubber bands, a diary. None of it helped me. Most of it probably wrecked me. But sometimes, that’s how you know something is working. The world may have been destroyed by a flood—but that doesn’t mean we don’t still need the rain. Dear Mom, The thing about college is the bodies. They are everywhere. I feel like we were all sent to one place to figure out how to be in one, what to do with the fact of them, and how close and how far to move them in relation to one another. I try to imagine what we might look like from space, clustered and worrying, how we would probably only be discernible in clumps, the solitary ones not registering on the infrared screen or whatever the technology is. I’ve been in some rooms that reek of desperation, that rapey cologne smell of boys sitting around marinating their impulses, their collective ideas about girls like some weird psychic orgy. Those are the rooms, the parties, you run away from. Or to, depending, I guess. I want to tell you about how many boys I’ve laid under (3) and how each of them felt the same. I want you to come here and wash my sheets and tell me the truth about my clothes, about the people I’ve met. I want you to see me working in the dining hall. I want you to come with me to my classes, comment on my professors, on what they’re making me read. None of this will happen, I know. It wouldn’t happen even if you were another mother. But being the mother you are, it’s not just impractical. It’s impossible. You are not available. You don’t want to be summoned. There is that picture Dad took on my first day—the last day I saw you—where I’m standing outside the student center, the place they told us would be “command central” or whatever, where we’d be spending all of our time outside of class, checking our mailboxes and praying for packages, or playing fucking PINBALL, or getting quarters for the laundry, or Hannah Slamen EXCERPT: MOTHEREST watching movies, or just generally loitering around with our backpacks, being coeds. I never go in there. My roommate, Surprise, whom you guys didn’t get to meet because you left too early—that’s actually her name, by the way, because she was supposed to be a boy but came out a girl—checks my mail for me. In the picture I am squinting and doing that ugly thing with my jaw. I seem to be saying, “1993, what else you got?” Dad took that picture and must have developed the roll because the next week I got it in the mail with a note that said “First day memento, Love Dad.” It’s funny how a picture of me reminds me only of you. I thought it was odd that he sent it to me, tried to imagine him putting it in an envelope and addressing it—looking up my address, carefully copying it down— and I couldn’t, at least not without feeling sad and sorry for him, the same way I’ve felt watching baggers at the supermarket handling eggs with great care. I guess it was that feeling that prompted me to call him to say thanks. Thanks, too, for the book of stamps he included with the photo. And it was when I asked to speak to you that I knew you were gone. Anyway, I’ve never had a pen pal, but this seems as good a time as any to try it out. I’m good at remembering details and I have a lot of time to record them. Though “pen pal” suggests a back-and-forth that’s impossible here. Lucky me, then. Now I have unlimited space to talk about my favorite subject besides you: me!!! Love ME (Agnes) ** It’s late afternoon and I’m on my way to English, wondering if I should skip it, trying to remember how many I’ve skipped. I see the boy from my philosophy class coming toward me. I have an unbridled desire for him that wearies me and takes up, it seems, a lot of my time. My face feels out of control. I concentrate on my shoes, the sixeye Doc Martens I bought with the money I’d saved babysitting the horrible Nolans, and remember my mother’s arched eyebrows when she saw them (“Those?”). I study the ground right before each shoe hits it. “Hey.” “Hey.” I keep walking. He slows down a little as if to chat, and I move faster. I want to turn around so badly that walking feels like pushing through the heaviest revolving door in the world, but I keep going. I don’t trust myself around him. When I get to the humanities building, I stop. This boy, this thing of beauty—I call him Tea Rose. I’m convinced we share a brain. During our first philosophy class, our professor asked us for some examples of philosophical ideas in everyday life. Fortune cookies, someone said. “To be or not to be,” another person offered (but couldn’t name the play it came from). Tea Rose raised his hand. “If a tree falls in the forest,” he said. I’d been thinking the exact same thing. How did he know? Now we have to write a paper on one of the following topics: the theory of forms, Cartesian dualism, the Zeitgeist, or Kant’s categorical imperative. What I want to write about instead is physicalized loneliness, my dead brother Simon, waiting as a form of punishment and/or prayer. Dear Mom, I want Tea Rose. OK? Just be prepared to hear a lot about him. Last night I wandered around campus in your long coat with a half-empty Coke, looking for him, looking for booze. I knew where a couple off-campus parties were, so I went to one. Surprise was there, excited. She just really likes college. Her eyes were a little drunk and she put her arm around my waist to “introduce me to people” but she was still mostly her tidy self. I broke away after a few minutes and found a bottle of whiskey in the kitchen. Most people were hovering around the keg. I poured whiskey into my halfempty Coke can and put the bottle back. What did Dad used to say? If you see the glass as half empty, just fill it? I was always puzzled by that whole scenario. Whether it’s half empty or half full, it’s still only half of whatever you might want it to be. Anyway, I thought for a second that Tea Rose was at the party but it was some other tall boy. The disappointment of this was enough to make me want to leave, so I headed back toward campus, keeping my head down. I always hear Simon when I’m alone at night. “What the fuck are you walking around by yourself for? Do you have the mace I gave you? How are you going to defend yourself, Agnes?” When did he first give me mace? Do you remember? I think it was the Christmas that I was eight. Ten years ago now. And he’s been gone for less than three—the three longest, shortest years. I have to write a philosophy paper. If you wrote me back, I’d just turn in your letter. Agnes ** I get a B+ on my paper. There are red checkmarks and plus signs in the margins, a couple “!”s. The note at the end says, A fascinating essay, though gravely lacking in source material and proper citations. I’m eager to see what you could do with more research. There’s fifteen minutes left of class and I’m upset that Tea Rose isn’t here today. His paper is sitting on the corner of the professor’s desk along with the other absentees’. I’m thinking about how I can get it for him, deliver it later, when a tall blond girl raises her hand and says she lives in his dorm. “I think he’s sick today,” she says, smiling sweetly. “I’ll bring it to him.” She looks like one of those women in commercials for feminine products. I picture her itchy and rash-ridden and try to calm down. I leave class to go to the bathroom and stare at my face for a while. I decide against going back to class and head to work early instead. That night, I’m in line at the coffee shop, getting one of those coffee milk things everyone here is obsessed with, along with one of the bright pink strawberry muffins I’m obsessed with, when I feel a change in the air, followed by the tinny clatter of music issuing from somewhere very close to me. “Hey. Nice dinner.” His voice is loud and deliberate, his headphones neon yellow, their cord rising out of the pocket of his olive-green barn jacket. I take him in entirely, his cheeks flushed with cold, his slightly rumpled hair, the torn canvas of his sneakers. To hide my panic and excitement, I try to concentrate on paying and probably look like I don’t know how to add up money. “Do you want a bag for this?” I shake my head and put the stuff in the pockets of my big coat. I stand there while Tea Rose pays for his small coffee. “Don’t you work at the dining hall?” “Yes.” “So can’t you get better food? Like, secret food?” He is still too loud. We move to the side. “It doesn’t really work like that. Usually we eat before whatever meal we’re working, so I’m not very hungry, and afterward I don’t always like eating what I’ve been around for three hours.” “Ah.” He puts his headphones around his neck. There is suddenly no sound between us. “Hey, do you know Nirvana?” He says it like we are at a party and he is our—mine and Nirvana’s— mutual friend. “Um, yeah. Doesn’t everyone?” He rolls his eyes. “I don’t mean like, ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit.’ I mean their early stuff.” How could he know I had an older brother once who knew everything there was to know about music? “You mean like ‘Bleach’?” Tea Rose lights up. “Yeah, yes. Totally. That’s exactly what I was just listening to. It’s fucking brilliant. Do you want to sit somewhere?” He looks around for a table. “I have to go, actually. I need to get some reading done. And call my dad. And do some laundry.” I don’t know why I’m doing this. What I want is to stay with him more than anything in the world. “Wow. One excuse and two alternates. Impressive.” I think if I kissed Tea Rose, I would definitely keep my eyes open. I’m convinced that if I loiter too long in his presence, I will reach out and start rubbing his face. It reminds me of the polished minerals I used to covet from the gift shop of the museum of natural history. Agate. Calcite. “I’ll see you in class.” He raises his cup a little, as if to toast. “Okay. That’s a big coat you’ve got there.” “Thanks,” I say, before realizing he isn’t necessarily complimenting me. “I mean, it’s my mother’s.” Now I’m practically mumbling. “I like to be prepared. You have no idea the stuff I can keep in here.” Tea Rose laughs, an easy sound. “Maybe we can get together and listen to Nirvana sometime. Or, you know, talk about coats.” I don’t tell him that I don’t really care about music anymore. But I would listen to whatever he wanted. Then I do feel extra grateful for my coat, which feels like it’s actually keeping my heart, now spinning as wildly as a piñata after the first hit, inside my body. Excerpted with permission from Motherest © 2017 by Kristen Iskandrian. Published by Twelve, an imprint of Hachette Book Group.