The Evolution of the Style Guide: An Interview with Pyscholinguist Steven Pinker

By Steven Pinker (Rebecca Goldstein) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Steven Pinker is a cognitive scientist and psychologist whose work focuses on language–how it works and how it breaks down. Drawing upon his nearly forty years of research, as well as his experiences on the Usage Panel of the American Heritage Dictionary, Pinker has developed a new guide to writing good prose called The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century. The Ploughshares Blog recently met up with Steven Pinker in Chicago to talk about art of writing a style guide, his work in the psychology of language, and how the two combined to create The Sense of Style. Continue reading

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The Book That Changed My Country

Gran_calavera_eléctrica2I mostly sit at the window when I’m working at Café la Habana. I have a spot. It’s the same spot where I sat when my buddy, Santiago, first brought me for coffee when I arrived in Mexico City. But I’m attached to the spot for other reasons too. It’s also the spot where Roberto Bolaño used to write, and the same spot where Fidel Castro and Che were said to have planned their invasion of Cuba. Mostly I’m nosy though—I love to people watch—and that’s why I sit by the window. A few weeks ago, a waiter came up to me and placidly said, “Caballero, I suggest you move away from the glass.” Continue reading

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Ploughshares Solos Omnibus Volume 2 is Now Available!

3D Cover Omnibus 2 WhiteWe are thrilled to announce the release of the Ploughshares Solos Omnibus Volume 2, the second print compilation of our Ploughshsares Solos series!

After individually publishing each of our Ploughshares Solos in an affordable digital format, we are pleased to offer a beautifully-designed print anthology featuring nine Solos. This Omnibus, edited by Ladette Randolph, is a collection of works by Paul Byall, Christopher Castellani, Brendan Jones, Aurelie Sheehan, L.C. Fiore, Lisa Heiserman Perkins, Kathleen Hill, Patricia Grace King, and Alexandra Johnson.

The Ploughshares Solos Omnibus Volume 2 can be purchased at www.pshares.org for $19.95. This omnibus edition is also included in subscriptions to Ploughshares, the literary journal. Upgrade your subscription today to be sure you don’t miss this Omnibus! Continue reading

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How to Read Derek Jeter: On The Devil’s Snake Curve by Josh Ostergaard

Can you find the symbols for American political power in this picture?

Can you find the symbols for American political power in this picture?

The Devil’s Snake Curve: A Fan’s Notes From Left Field
Josh Ostergaard
Coffee House Press, 2014
253 pages
$15.95

Buy: book | ebook

Of course every history is subjective, but Josh Ostergaard starts his from an intriguing place by broadcasting his subjectivity. Devil’s Snake Curve is Ostergaard’s American history of the twentieth- and twenty-firstcenturies, as interpreted through baseball. The book is a collage of page-length anecdotes, equally likely to be culled from Ostergaard’s own underwhelming Little League youth or a century-old newspaper clipping, that cluster into themes like “Animals” or “Nationalism.” Continue reading

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Drunken Acknowledgments, 2 A.M.

Fred Allen as a ClownA book is a labor of love, and this novel would not have been possible without the help of several people, and several bottles of wine—the last of which I’m enjoying right now.

Infinite thanks to my editor, X, who talked me out of six bad titles, seven ill-advised plot twists, a really stupid dream sequence, and every shade of self-indulgence. You are the one thing standing between me and the abyss. I raise my glass to you. Wait. I refill my glass, and now I raise it to you.

Thanks also to my agent, Z, for not dropping me after I called her crying at four A.M. because the pages of my book were the wrong texture.

Continue reading

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The Ploughshares Round Down: Short Stories as a Path to Literary Success

Throes of Creation by Leonid PasternakI’m going to let you in on a little secret about the submissions in my slush pile. When one comes in, the first thing I do–before I have even read the first sentence of the letter–is skim it for the name of a publication I recognize. If I don’t see one, I go back and start reading the pitch, looking for a reason to reject it.

The main thing I’m looking for in new clients is an existing following clamoring for a book from this writer. If the writer has a great idea, however, and understands what it means to be a professional writer, I might still be interested. That’s why I’m looking for the names of publications I like in the author’s bio. If you had twenty-five submissions to read, which one would you start with? I’ll be you’d start with the guy who’s written for Ploughshares and then move on to the staff writer from the Boston Globe, too. Continue reading

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Escalating Conflict

Adriaen Brouwer (circa 1605/1606–1638) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Adriaen Brouwer (circa 1605/1606–1638) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In fiction, only trouble is interesting. For the conflict averse, instilling a story with juicy conflict may take some practice. Someone who has read many drafts of many of my short stories once dubbed me “Anca Did She Forget the Conflict Szilagyi”–a moniker that has become helpful as I work on second and third drafts of stories. As is often the case in learning something, I was aware, theoretically, that I had this problem. But how to proceed? Continue reading

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Writers with Responsibilities: Ode to the Late Bloomers

julia-child-0908-05Julia Child didn’t start cooking until she was close to forty and I didn’t either. For me it wasn’t the Le Cordon Blue School, but a need to finally be heard. I found my voice after my fourth child was born. I stopped telling tales at the bus stop and started to write them down. And now here I am embracing the fifty mark and still wondering, Will I make it as a writer? But I have made it. I am a writer. I live in the world differently, listening and looking for stories. Writing saved me from the drudgery of the suburbs and the sometimes overwhelming loss of self that motherhood can bring. Continue reading

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Say Anything: A Case for Dialogue

Recently I was reading the prose section of an online literary magazine’s fall issue when I could not overcome a nagging sense that something was lacking. The stories themselves were well-written; the style was cohesive with the magazine’s tone; the narratives were engaging. Yet it somehow felt incomplete. As I scrolled through the stories again, it finally hit me–dialogue. None of the stories contained a stitch of dialogue. Certainly there were references to it and summaries of conversations. Actual dialogue, however, was nowhere to be seen. Continue reading

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Literary Boroughs #56: Tucson, Arizona

The Literary Boroughs series will explore little-known and well-known literary communities across the country and world and show that while literary culture can exist online without regard to geographic location, it also continues to thrive locally. Posts are by no means exhaustive. The series originally ran on our blog from May 2012 until April 2013. Please enjoy the 56th post on Tucson, Arizona, by Adrienne Celt. —Ellen Duffer, Ploughshares Managing Editor Tucson, Arizona Only sixty miles north of the US/Mexico border, Tucson is a city of cultural intersection. This is a place where you can just as easily end up living in a luxury condo or an adobe courtyard building from the 1800s; where you can get a hand-mixed cocktail to follow your Sonorant hotdog (i.e. a hotdog wrapped in mesquite-smoked bacon, grilled, and topped with onions, tomatoes, mayonnaise, jalapeños, and roasted chiles); and where you can ride a horse, attend a world-class literary festival, and visit a Spanish Catholic mission–all in the same day. Despite its size (around 525,000 people), Tucson has an undiscovered, frontier feeling, with a passel of young people starting businesses, artists filling up coffee shops and decorating streetlamps, and a popular downtown parade dedicated to the Mexican Day of the Dead. Boasting warm winters, a low cost of living, and a hypnotically strange landscape, Tucson has a lot to offer creative minds. Continue reading

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