Writer Nightmares

Georges Méliès - First Wizard of Cinema vol.1 - Star Films 001-386 (1896-1901) 018You give a reading and only one person shows up. It is your ex.

You spend five years working on a novel about Marie Antoinette’s wigmaker. The day you finish your final revisions, Margaret Atwood publishes a novel about Marie Antoinette’s wigmaker.

Remember that guy whose poem you destroyed in your sophomore writing seminar? The one who went home and cried and decided he could never be a writer? Yeah, I didn’t think so. But he totally remembers you! And guess what: He’s a reviewer now!

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I’m not a rule-breaker. I like order and organization (lord help you if you try to cut in front of me in the burrito line). And generally I don’t go looking for trouble. Except when it comes to writing YA.

I was in my second year of my MFA program at Emerson College when I signed up for a “Writing the First Novel” class. I’d spent my first year focusing on literary short stories and was excited to try a longer project that veered more into the territory of YA. The week before class started, I tossed around ideas—maybe I could focus on that humorous character I’d been toying with since college; maybe a Pride and Prejudice adaptation set in a high school debate club; maybe I could expand that short story that needed a little more room and a little more voice.

Cut to the first class, reading a syllabus that included the dictate: no genre fiction, including fantasy, sci-fi, romance or young adult fiction. Continue reading

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Indy Spotlight: Paris Press

Muriel Rukeyser

Muriel Rukeyser

During the war, we felt the silence in the policy of the governments of English-speaking countries. That policy was to win the war first, and work out the meanings afterward. The result was, of course, that the meanings were lost. You cannot put these things off. One of the invitations of poetry is to come to the emotional meanings at every moment.

—Muriel Rukeyser, The Life of Poetry

imagesParis Press began almost twenty years ago with the simple mission of resurrecting Muriel Rukeyser’s The Life of Poetry, a collection of essays originally published in 1949 that explore how resistance to poetry is connected to the modern world’s fear of individual thought and emotion, which then lends itself to a world that seems ever more fractured and confusing.

Over the years, Paris Press continued to publish works by Rukeyser as well as other women writers who had “been overlooked by commercial and independent publishers,” and these books immediately began earning attention from national publications including thelifeofpoetry New Yorker and New York Times Book Review, along with features on programs like NPR’s Fresh Air.

Paris Press publishes all genres by women writers from all over the map, but every text—whether poetry, play, or prose—deeply explores and illuminates those “emotional meanings” Rukeyser describes as essential to confronting and defying a world that remains as chaotic and volatile as it was in 1949.

bosniaelegiesToday, Paris Press is on the brink of several new developments: a more comprehensive website and blog launching this summer; a new award for a short story collection that will include publication by Paris Press; and an increased focus on educational outreach. Jan Freeman, poet and Executive Director of Paris Press, shares what’s in store for readers, authors, and educators.

Q: Due to backlog, Paris Press is not currently accepting new manuscripts. When will the press once again be opening the floodgates?

houdiniA: That’s about to change. We are just finishing updating our website for the press, and the new and improved site will be launched by the end of July. With the launch, we’ll be expanding our programming. We’ll include a blog, we’ll start publishing individual works by writers—both contemporary as well as writers from earlier time periods—and we’ll be accepting submissions of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction for our online site. We also will soon begin accepting book-length submissions online, so we’re joining the twenty-first century. The Internet opens things up in an exciting way that Paris Press is now embracing. Continue reading

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Writing Lessons: Ivan Ang

In our Writing Lessons series, writers and writing students will discuss lessons learned, epiphanies about craft, and the challenges of studying writing. This week, we hear from Ivan Ang, a candidate in the MFA program at the University of New Hampshire. You can follow Ivan on Twitter @Agonized_Writer—Andrew Ladd, Blog Editor

PB212730I was going to title this essay, “How to be the Only Asian in the MFA Program and Not Drop Out,” when I was reminded of British comedian Matt Lucas, playing a gay character named Daffyd Thomas in a series of sketches called “The Only Gay in the Village.” In the series, Daffyd was convinced that, being only gay man in his tiny Welsh village of Llandewi Breffi, he would be “naturally” hated by everyone else. In reality, everyone in the village was very gay-friendly. Daffyd’s refusal to believe that he was being accepted for who he was formed the basis of the comedic conceit.

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The Ploughshares Round-Down: How To Screw Up A Book Proposal

When I first start working on a proposal or a manuscript with a writer, I tell them I have two stages of advice: breaking things and fixing things. At first, I’m going to keep asking hard questions and recommending big changes, until I think the writer has said what that writer wanted to say. Once we’ve gotten all the big pieces in place, I start making recommendations that are simple to deal with, like choosing a new word or deciding to cut something or not.

mhhdjy9That first stage is often eye-opening for writers, as they may never have had someone—even if they are a working journalist—tear up their work and show them a different way to put the pieces back together. An agent, after all, may be the first person they’ve worked with who had more faith in them as a writer than in any particular piece of writing. If you find the right agent, he or she might teach you more about your own writing than any writing teacher, peer, or editor ever will. That potential relationship means it makes me happy to see someone find an agent—even when it’s not me!

That’s why my favorite piece of writing from the past two weeks was another Ploughshares post, “A Checklist of Book Proposal Essentials to Go Through Before You Start Schmoozing Agents.” Written by one of my fellow bloggers, Steph Auteri, the blog post offers solid guidelines on how to get an agent, which she successfully did using the same steps she recommends.

I can’t recommend her piece strongly enough, but I also thought I could enhance it by offering a similar list of things NOT to do in a proposal.

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Huizache: The Biggest Little Secret in Texas

huizache3D_1As far as literary journal subscriptions go, I only maintain three. I’m one of those writers, and for my sins I mostly miss the great early pieces of writers I come to love years later. This is especially true of new Latina/o writers, who I think most people miss for various reasons, not least of which is the serious lack of hard-hitting journals that focus on new Latina/o work.

That’s not to say there are none though. Huizache, which is probably one of my favorite journals right now, has quietly carved out a space for Latina/o letters both old and new. Over the past three years, they’ve published work by Sandra Cisneros, Domingo Martinez, Héctor Tobar, and Lorna Dee Cervantes, almost without a blip on the literary radar.

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Episodia 2.7: Gilmore Girls & The From-Aways

HauserCJ Hauser’s evocative debut novel The From-Aways will take you deep inside small-town New England, a budding friendship, and troubled family ties. It’s a whip-smart and heartfelt book. It also shares some common ground with the fan-favorite television series Gilmore Girls, and below CJ and I discuss the show, as well as her novel, the nuances of small town life, and the myth of belonging.

Q. Both The From-Aways and Gilmore Girls explore the breadth of female relationships. How did you decide to place Leah and Quinn’s new friendship at the heart of the novel?

A. The true story? I started writing the book with just Leah. Then, in a sulky fit, I threw it out because it wasn’t good enough. I started the book over, with Quinn. In a sulky fit I threw that out because it wasn’t good enough either. Then I poured myself a whiskey even though it was four in the afternoon and I sulked some more. When my best friend and roommate came home from work she retrieved both chapters from the trashcan and read them. Do you realize, she said, that you should write about both of these women? I think they would be friends.

And she was right. I realized that neither of the women could tell this whole story on her own. Each needed to push the other into making different, difficult decisions. They made each other better because they were these two different halves of a pair, and I like to think that made the book better, too. Continue reading

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For Today I Am a Boy

17165961For Today I Am a Boy
Kim Fu
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, January 2014
256 pages

Buy: book | ebook

Kim Fu opens her touching debut novel with a birth on the concrete floor of a butcher shop. This story is one that’s been passed down through the Huang family, though it may not be entirely true; “the butcher tells differently” than Mrs. Huang. And it’s appropriate that this contested anecdote opens Fu’s novel, because while the book is largely about gender and self-acceptance, Fu is also interested in how our story is told and how we rewrite our origins.

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Here’s to the Ladies Who Lunch

If you live in a smaller city and you have even a speck of success as a writer, chances are at some point you’ll be tapped for what I call “The Ladies Who Lunch Literati.” Sometimes they might be fans of your work; in my case they are often people who my mother puts in touch with me (I don’t have to pimp myself out since my mom is happy to do it for me). Since joining the Ploughshares blog, I’ve talked to book clubs, given readings, and even taught a slapdash course in memoir writing. In most of these instances, the participants have been primarily ladies, often retired.

Though I initially worried that some blogging, a newspaper column, and a smattering of publications didn’t really qualify me for these types of events, I’ve come to enjoy them. So for the rest of you who are still in small ponds, I encourage you to hang with the Ladies Who Lunch Literati, being mindful of a few simple guidelines.

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Sports in Utopia: On The Grasshopper by Bernard Suits

Visions of Utopia?

Visions of Utopia?

Under Review: The Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia by Bernard Suits (University of Toronto Press, 1978, 178 pages)

Just as an enthusiastic reader can make their way through a lifetime of books without ever once consulting a single text on literary theory, most sports enthusiasts will cheer their way through a lifetime of games and races without ever knowing that there is such a genre of study called Philosophy of Sport. Of course, you don’t need even a passing acquaintance with Philosophy of Sport in order to feel the intoxicating adrenaline of watching or playing in a great game. But when Philosophy of Sport is useful—and it is useful in the same way that literary theory is useful—is when you want a very thorough answer to the question: “What, exactly, is going on here?”

What is the nature of the collaborative relationship between opponents (read: between writer and reader), and how does that make games (narratives) possible? Why are we so universally compelled to participate in sports (literary works), as non-essential as they are to human survival?

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