Let Ploughshares Stock Your Summer Reading With Our Solos – For Free!

Pleased450Along with the arrival of bright days of sunshine, relaxation, and hopefully a vacation or two, comes the important question at the advent of summer: What will you be reading? We at Ploughshares want to give you some excellent pieces to spend your time with – and we want to give them to you for free.

This summer you can enjoy a Ploughshares Solo free on your Kindle (or Kindle app) for the first five days of the month, starting with Gina Ochsner’s sharply written story “Pleased to Be Otherwise,” available June 1-5. Meet Timi, an Uzbekistani finding his way through a world of untameable camels, dreaming of Evil Knievelesque stunt glory on his sputtering motorbike, finding solace with his friends as they go “Internetting” to find the newest videos of the Mexican soap opera they’re addicted to, all the while pursuing (and perhaps falling short) of a God that may be Muslim or Baptist. A brilliant, comic look at an almost unknown country and its fascinating contradictions. Here’s an excerpt:

Morning clarifies like a migraine: bright and noisy. Continue Reading

The Comfort of the Cover Song


We all do “do, re, mi,” but you have got to find the other notes yourself.
—Louis Armstrong

A teacher hands out tools—pencils or paintbrushes or musical instruments—and immediately begins instructing students in the art of imitation. Children copy letters and paint by numbers and squeak out Beethoven’s Ninth  on cheap plastic recorders, and through these acts of reproduction the growth of the artist begins.Unknown

Every artist essentially begins as a cover artist. We learn the rules of the color wheel, the narrative arc, how to count in 4/4 time—and then we take what we’ve learned and create, convincing ourselves that despite all the artists who’ve come before we’re making something fresh.

The first song I remember hearing on the radio—I must have been three or four—was “Please Mister Postman.” The song remains a favorite, reminding me of the good ole days of grilled cheese sandwiches and hanging with mom at home listening to AM radio, yet I’m not sure which version of the song I first heard. Was it the Marvelettes? The Supremes? The Beatles? I only know it couldn’t be The Carpenters because their version didn’t come out ‘til I was seven, by which point I’d been listening to the radio for ages.Continue Reading

Pop Survey: Do You Write in Your Books?

It’s a digital age, but we’re still mad for paper! Even as readers embrace the connectivity and convenience offered by iPads and Kindles, there are still many good reasons to celebrate a book’s physicality. In PloughsharesBook Arts series, we’ll be looking at some of the artists, curators, and craftspeople who work to keep things fresh and relevant.

Jane Buyers, Notes on Macbeth: Enter Lady Macbeth, 2004. Lithograph, etching, chine colle. 81.5 x 102 cm. Photo credit: Laura Arsie. (Via Numero Cinq, used with permission.)

Marginal notes re-purposed to create fine art: “A black rose is planted over the scrawled notes of some long ago student struggling with the text of Macbeth….The student’s handwriting is so uncertain and you feel the tremendous desire to understand. I like the anxiety and striving to grasp the meaning of the printed word.” Jane Buyers, Notes on Macbeth: Enter Lady Macbeth, 2004. Lithograph, etching, chine colle. 81.5 x 102 cm. Photo credit: Laura Arsie. (Via Numéro Cinq, used with permission. Visit NC’s site for the full interview.)

Okay, Ploughsharers, it’s time to share some of your opinions! Today we’re taking a little squiggly, ink-stained side road in our journey through book arts with a special question just for you:

Do you write in your books?

Or do you prefer to keep them pristine?

(Tell us in the comments section below!)

Readers are a passionate bunch. I did a little informal pre-survey of some of my friends and found the responses ranged from horrified gasps of “No, never!” to enthusiastic, fist-pounding  “Hells, yeahs!”

Along the way, I gathered some colorful (and sometimes methodically color-coded) stories I’d like to share with you.

A Confession

But first a confession. I’m a careful abstainer, a longtime, diehard member of the Keep It Pristine club.

A conservative approach: My copy of Don Delillo's Mao II from the mid-1990s with its tiny scrap of Post-It still sticking strong.

A conservative approach: My copy of Don DeLillo’s Mao II from the mid-1990s, its tiny shred of Post-it still sticking fast to a passage I loved.

Writing instruments never touch my reading materials. I’ll mark pages and passages with a Post-it, jotting down my thoughts, with their corresponding page numbers, in a notebook. There’s always a crisp roll of Brodart book jacket covers at the ready in my desk drawer.  I take care to use bookmarks and never dog-ear. My books are scrupulously clean.

Doesn’t sound like much of a confession, does it?

Well, here’s the thing: I’ve always somehow wished I was the kind of person who wrote in books, who was so full of spontaneous creativity, literary passion and spark that I just had to scrawl all over them. Once, as a teenager, I even tried to deliberately cultivate the habit, but my heart just wasn’t in it and the whole thing felt contrived. As I self-consciously circled and underlined and annotated, all I could think was You’re ruining that book.Continue Reading

Writers and Their Pets: Alan Heathcock

The ‘Writers and Their Pets’ series began with my own desire to celebrate my dog Sally, and over the coming months I will also invite other writers to share with the rest of us the details of their lives with beloved pets.

We also ask contributors to the series to tell us about their favorite pets from literature. Here’s what Alan told us: “I’m a tough guy from a tough place and I write tough stories. But a little pig breaks me down. In Charlotte’s Web, Wilbur has found out he’s destined for the farmer’s chopping block and his new spider friend Charlotte says she’ll think of way to save him—and Wilbur, unable to sleep, says, ‘Charlotte, I don’t want to die.’ It’s just too real, too painful—I cry every time I read it. Wilbur is filled with so much innocence and beauty and humility and I don’t want him to die. I want to hold him in my arms and tell him the truth that he’s a very special pig and everything will be okay.”

We hope you enjoy Alan’s essay.

—Ladette Randolph, Editor-in-Chief


My dog Mazzy Maebelle Heathcock is a nine-month old black lab mix—a mix of what, we’re not sure, though part black-lab part bunny is my guess. She’s a pound puppy, and we feel very fortune to have her in our family. Mazzy is pure love. She is warm and cuddly and my wife and three kids love her as much as I do.

If you need to hug something, Mazzy is there for you. If you need a warm wet tongue on your face, Mazzy will always accommodate. If you need someone to attack an intruder or intimidate your neighbors, Mazzy is not the dog for you. She loves everyone. She even loves our eighteen year old cat, Kitty Sue, who, at her age doesn’t love much of anything anymore. But ol’ Mazzy does her best to snuggle up with Kitty and make friends. Mazzy is a good dog, and though she chewed up a pair of my Cole Haan shoes she’s been a pretty great pup.

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Beach Writing

Agatha Christie at Waikiki, 1922, courtesy of the British Surfing Museum, http://www.museumofbritishsurfing.org.uk

Agatha Christie at Waikiki, 1922, courtesy of the British Surfing Museum, http://www.museumofbritishsurfing.org.uk

I was elbow-deep in my first novel when my second novel arrived. Since Novel 2 concerns premature babies, its timing seemed appropriate. For a week, I pacified Novel 2 with light research and a thousand words of writing. There, I told it. Wait. I headed back to the hard, long slog of nowhere-near-done Novel 1.

Then Novel 3 arrived. This was becoming a problem.

You may see this as abundance. To you, calling three novels clamoring for attention a “problem” is like whining about paper cuts from $100 bills. You might also see this as a typical phase of Novel 1’s development—the “What Now?” Phase, in which the first fifty pages of a project shoot out in a month, then…well, you wait around. Maybe you clean your house.

But I see the arrival of Novels 2 and 3 as a plea from my imagination: Take me on vacation! It’s not that my mind doesn’t want to write fiction; it does, and I’m making space. What my mind wants is Beach Writing: writing that changes the scenery, literarily and emotionally, from the labor of Novel 1. Writing with bright, inviting landscapes. Writing that ventures into new forms and genres. Writing with carnival rides and flowering vines and witty repartee and people drinking margaritas, and heck, why not? with people having sex.

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The Power of Suggestion: My First Time with D.H.Lawrence

Having grown up within various loops of the Bible belt, sex was not often a topic of conversation during my childhood—unless it was in the state-mandated sex ed class in fifth-grade (traumatic!), or the late-night whispers of slumber parties (distraction while someone’s bra was getting frozen). Had the idea of sensuality ever been mentioned, it probably would have been even more taboo.

College, however, turned things upside down, bringing in new ideas and people. Among them was a boy who sent me a Galway Kinnell poem and asked if I thought sensuality was impossible.

I never had an answer for him.

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This month Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby came out in all it’s extravagant glory.

One thing I especially love about the film is its soundtrack. Setting the story to a backdrop of current music (Jay-Z, Lana Del Rey, Jack White) is true to Fitzgerald’s own inclusion of pop culture in his work.  That’s why this week’s playlists—that’s right, two—for Fitzgerald’s novel, Tender is the Night, cover both the author’s own musical choices and a more modern soundtrack of my own making.

But first a little more about Gatsby, arguably Fitzgerald’s most popular novel.

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Fantasy Blog Draft – Round 6 – Final Wildcard Picks!

Fantasy Blog Header - resizedMarch Madness has come and gone, as have the NFL draft, the NBA draft lottery, most of the NBA and NHL playoffs, and the start of the MLB season—but the Fantasy Blog Draft competition is only just getting started. Literature never sleeps!

This week the managers will fill the final spot on their rosters and then start up training camp to prep for the competition. In two weeks, we will preview the matchups and once again ask for you to pick the winners, and two weeks after that the competition will begin in earnest.

But before that, let’s see what decisions the managers made this week. Remember: for the last wildcard picks they must choose the blogger and the blogger’s position, so there’s lots of room for creativity.Continue Reading

Roundup: Writers and Their Mentors

In our Roundups segment, we’re looking back at all the great posts since the blog started in 2009. We explore posts from our archives as well as other top literary magazines and websites, centered on a certain theme to help you jump-start your week. This week we bring you posts about writers and their mentors.

From Ploughshares:

The Books We Teach #3: Interview with Susan Daitch

The Books We Teach series will feature primary, secondary, and post-secondary educators and their thoughts about literature in the face of an evolving classroom. Posts will highlight literary innovations in teaching, contemporary literature’s place in pedagogy, and the books that writers teach. In the spirit of educational dynamism, we encourage readers to contribute their thoughts in the comments section.

Picture 4Susan Daitch is the author of one story collection and three novels—most recently, the much lauded Paper Conspiracies (City Lights, 2011). Her work has appeared in Tin House, Guernica, Conjunctions, Ploughshares, The Brooklyn Rail, and McSweeney’s, among others, and has been anthologized in The Norton Anthology of Postmodern American Fiction. Recently it was also featured in The Review of Contemporary Fiction. Susan has taught writing at Columbia University, Barnard College, and The Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She now teaches at Hunter College.

Here, Susan chats with me about advice she has for young writers, the differences between teaching undergraduate and graduate students, and a few works that she turns to as a teacher, time and time again.

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