Lightning Rods

Lightning Rods
Helen DeWitt
New Directions, Oct. 2011

I tried describing Lightning Rods to my brother like this: “The book is about Joe, a salesman who sells glory holes and makes them a standard fixture in the bathroom stalls of corporate offices across America.”

He grimaced. “This was written by a woman, right?” Maybe so, brother, but Helen DeWitt’s savage follow-up to her debut novel, The Last Samurai, was clearly written for you.Continue Reading

Innovators in Lit #15: Richard Nash

Richard Nash is an independent publishing entrepreneur—VP of Community and Content of Small Demons, founder of Cursor, and Publisher of Red Lemonade. For most of the past decade, he ran the iconic indie Soft Skull Press for which he was awarded the Association of American Publishers’ Miriam Bass Award for Creativity in Independent Publishing in 2005. Books he edited and published landed on bestseller lists from the Boston Globe to the Singapore Straits-Times; on Best of the Year lists from The Guardian to the Toronto Globe & Mail to the Los Angeles Times; the last book he edited there, Lydia Millet’s Love in Infant Monkeys, was selected as a 2010 Pulitzer Prize finalist. Last year the Utne Reader named him one of Fifty Visionaries Changing Your World and picked him as the #1 Twitter User Changing the Shape of Publishing.Continue Reading

The Follow Up: Jennine Capó Crucet

I’m going to be talking to a few authors whose first books I admired and see what they’re working on in terms of a second book. One of the things that interests me here is how writers move from a shorter form to a longer one. Talking about the process while in the process is something I don’t see a lot, and I’m sure some writers would hesitate to do it. I have, however, found some brave souls willing to discuss their work, past and present.

I met Jennine Capó Crucet at the Chicago AWP conference in 2009. I am not a good flyer, and so I was pretty groggy and out of it as we shared a cab from the airport to the hotel. I remember thinking, “What the hell is this woman talking about?” It all came very fast, especially to someone on Dramamine. I knew two things about her: she had won the Iowa Short Fiction Prize, and I had read something of hers somewhere. Later, when my head had cleared, I remembered she’d published a story in Ploughshares that I had loved, a lightning bolt of a piece entitled “Resurrection,” in the Ron Carlson-edited 100th issue.Continue Reading

Your Literary Holiday Gift Guide

The holidays are upon us and we’re thinking about gifts for our more literary friends and family. Can you tell we’ve already moved on from Thanksgiving to Black Friday? Here are a few inspiring gift ideas from Ploughshares:

1. Buy a book from a local bookstore.

Sweet and simple. A visit to a local bookshop can be a welcome break from holiday shopping and there’s a book out there for everyone on your list.


2.  Scrivener

Do you have a budding writer in your life? Know someone who needs help organizing their thoughts? Have a friend who’s writing a thesis? Scrivener is a word-processing program designed for and by writers. It’s a new way to approach the creative process.

3. Vintage Typewriter Jewelry

For the lady or gentleman in your life that has everything. These earrings, necklaces, bracelets, and cuff links are all handmade from recycled typewriter keys.

4. TankBooks

Familiar works repackaged and resized into portable cigarette boxes. TankBooks says it all for us: “for people on the move, lovers of literature, and connoisseurs of design.”

5. Volunteer for 826 Boston  (or other literary organizations)


826 Boston is a nonprofit writing and tutoring center that works with 6-18 year olds. They believe that “strong writing skills are fundamental to future success.” If this is something you believe in too, get involved! Giving your time is one of the most valuable things you can share this season. The next volunteer training session is on December 13, 2011. Learn more.

6. Kindle/iPad Carrying Case

If you know someone receiving a Kindle or iPad this year, give a handmade carrying case to keep it safe and ensure happy reading. We like these.

7. Exotic Candy Bar Library

There aren’t many people out there that don’t like chocolate. You can give them their own private collection of Vosges Chocolate, which is artisan and sustainably produced. Creative flavors in library form – sure to be a bestseller!

8. A gift subscription to Ploughshares! (plus one for yourself)

Last, but not least, why not give something that will keep giving all year long? Your recipient will have reading material to pore over with each new issue and will think of you as they cozy up and read. (If you subscribe at the link above before Dec. 1, you’ll receive a 1-year gift subscription plus a 1-year subscription for yourself for just $25. Use code HLDY11)



Scott Nadelson
Hawthorne Books, September 2011
288 pages

This post was written by Karen Sikola.

There are days when everything seems unnervingly connected—when every song your iPod shuffles up seems determined to make sense of your current tribulations, when the top story on the evening news mirrors the short story you were reading on the commute home, and when construction detours dredge up old memories. The stories in Scott Nadelson’s latest fiction collection, Aftermath, are like this, too, revelations that seem glaringly obvious when you see them on the page, though you struggled to come to them on your own.Continue Reading

Innovators in Literature: Instant Replay, Part 1

Since my days as a Ploughshares guest blogger are numbered (sniff!), I wanted to devote a little time to recapping some highlights from past Innovators in Literature interviews. We’ve got Adam Robinson on YA, Alice Sebold on difficult characters, Zach Dodson on what featherproof books really wants, Matt Bell on literature that matters—and more! So, without further ado, here are some of my favorite moments from Interviews 1-7.Continue Reading

The Follow Up: Don Waters

I’m going to be talking to a few authors whose first books I admired and see what they’re working on in terms of a second book. One of the things that interests me here is how writers move from a shorter form to a longer one. Talking about the process while in the process is something I don’t see a lot, and I’m sure some writers would hesitate to do it. I have, however, found some brave souls willing to discuss their work, past and present.

Like Josh Weil, I met Don Waters while at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. Those folks sure know what they’re doing when they read an application.Continue Reading

An Interview with Zacharis Award Winner Christine Sneed

We are happy to announce that Christine Sneed has won the twenty-first John C. Zacharis First Book Award for her short story collection, Portraits of a Few of the People I’ve Made Cry (University of Massachusetts Press, 2010). The $1,500 award, named after Emerson College’s former president, honors the best debut book by a Ploughshares writer. Sneed’s story, “The Prettiest Girls,” appeared in the Winter 2010-11 issue, and she also wrote some guest posts for our blog. We talked over the phone about literary influences, marriage, fame, and her new book, a novel-in-stories about an aging actor called Little Known Facts that will be appearing from Bloomsbury in Spring 2013.

Ploughshares: I think we can start with your early life. Can you tell us a little about where you grew up?

Christine Sneed: Well, I’m a Midwesterner. I guess you could say a Midwesterner from birth. I lived in Green Bay, Wisconsin until I was eleven, and then my parents and I moved to Libertyville, Illinois, where they still live. That’s a suburb of Chicago, about 45 minutes to an hour north of the city. And I was an only child. Probably not by design, that’s just how it worked out. My mother is a veterinarian, and she got her veterinary degree during the four years I was in high school. So she was in Madison during the week, and then would come home on the weekends to Libertyville. I had a lot of independence growing up, and I really liked that. I didn’t have any siblings telling on me if I did something I shouldn’t have done.Continue Reading

Family Dysfunction: Some Tense Literature for Thanksgiving (Plus a Playlist)

With the holiday season comes the promise of family: good, bad, and otherwise. Think creepy Uncle Albert who always seems to be brushing up against you, or your sister Sally who has a way of pushing every button to transport you right back to middle school, or dad pickled before the turkey can even brine. (Okay, maybe that’s just me.) In honor of the holidays, here’s a dysfunctional family reading list and playlist to celebrate those good people who you just can’t get away from.

Fall On Your Knees, Ann-Marie MacDonald (1996): one of the darkest family sagas that I have ever read, spanning four generations of the Piper family through the first half of the 20th century. A story of sin, guilt, and redemption. Life Among the Savages, Shirley Jackson (1952): we know Shirley is dark but she is hilarious in this semi-autobiographical tale of domestic chaos and life with her four children. Continue Reading