On Getting Your Writing Anthologized

Imagine this, but the 2012 version, coming soon (October) with MY writing inside!

The moment you find out, you get this warm, fuzzy, ridiculously happy feeling. And then you look at previous editions of the anthology on Amazon to see their popularity/sales ranking. Then you look at those same past editions on Goodreads to see how many people actually read them and liked them. And then you go and rewrite your author bio everywhere it exists on the internet or in your files, never copying and pasting it but rather rewriting it over and over again so you can revel in the excitement and joy of this accomplishment and do a little happy dance every time you start typing out the new sentence “. . . and with work anthologized by Press 53.”

I actually got the call informing me I had been awarded Honorable Mention, and would thus be included in the anthology, a few weeks ago. But they asked that I keep it hushed until they had made the official announcement.

FINALLY! I can celebrate with all of you!

I’m a Finalist! Vote for Your Favorite Memoir!

I am so excited to announce that Biographile, a website dedicated to real people, real stories, and great reading, has selected my piece, “What to Expect While Grieving for Your Father,” as a finalist in their Short Memoir Contest on Overcoming Loss!

There are four other amazing stories, so please take the time to read them all and vote for your favorite (all you have to do is “like” it on Facebook . . . but choose carefully! You only get one vote!) before the May 15th deadline. I would be flattered if you particularly enjoyed reading mine!

Philadelphia Literary Journal Pride

As I’ve been combing through Duotrope, New Pages, and Poets & Writer’s in search of new markets to submit my writing to over the past few weeks I’ve slowly come to the realization that Philadelphia has a promising up-and-coming literary scene! Not that Philadelphia shouldn’t naturally be super literary and cultural–it is one of the most historic and largest cities on the East Coast–but Philadelphia, at least from my viewpoint, has been in a bit of a hibernation-mode in recent years. Honestly, people keep leaving the Philadelphia area in favor of New York and Boston and DC because the city has been going stale. Cool restaurants have been closing, there isn’t much of a shopping-draw, the only good stuff that does exist is rather expensive–concerts and the like–and it’s generally unsafe in most areas so nobody wants their cars to get vandalized or walk around the streets exploring after dark. So the fact that literary journals are budding out of this environment like a bed of tulip bulbs is rather exciting!

Though Philadelphia Stories and Apiary magazine are the only two that show clear favoritism towards Philadelphia/Pennsylvania writers and themes in their editorial mission statements, the fact that a whole bunch of exciting, new, innovative, and ultimately successful literary journals are springing up out of Philadelphia gives me hope that lots more good things are to come!

On the old side, Painted Bride Quarterly is one of the country’s longest running literary magazines, circa 1973, and is in-part staffed by Drexel University students. On the new side, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, a non-profit flash-prose journal associated with Rosemont College, only launched last year. Same with TINGE magazine, staffed by graduate students in Temple University’s MFA program in Creative Writing, and Nailpolish Stories, the brainchild of Philadelphia writer Nicole Monaghan.

Dear Philadelphia: I’m proud of you. Good show.

Do you have some local literary journals you’re extra fond of just because they call your town home?

(Image, No Copyright,

Writing is Like Digging for Diamonds

I was once told that writing is like excavating diamonds. Raw diamonds are naturally stuck in big chunks of worthless rock that is in turn buried deep in the mud. Stories, similar to diamonds, have an essentially perfect, natural form and the writer’s job is to chip away all the rock and crud until the pure diamond is exposed.

I’ve been toying with this idea for a long time and I like it, in theory. It makes the purpose of editing rather clear: all the superfluous descriptions, dialogue, and scenes that add no real value to your writing is the worthless crud you need to scrape off the diamond. Story therefore already exists, lurking beneath the surface, perfectly formed. It’s just waiting for the right person with the right excavation tools and skill set. This doesn’t mean that everyone can succeed if they start digging. Even if the diamond already exists, the writer could leave too much “in the rough,” or could possibly dig up only a portion of the story, thereby reducing its ultimate value. A one-caret diamond might be great, but not compared to the ten-caret diamond you might have just broke it off of.

I’m not sure if this is true for fiction writing, because when I write fiction the story is always evolving and I don’t think I ever end up writing–or excavating, as the metaphor would say–the original gem that I expected to dig up out of my imagination. But I do believe this metaphor is true when it comes to creative non-fiction, or memoir.

Like most writers, I normally go through drafts and drafts and more drafts when I’m writing a fiction story. But when I’m writing a piece of memoir, I have to stew on the moment, the specific memory or event that I want to write about. Because to me, it really only happened one way. There is only one way to tell it. And I have to wait for the correct sentences to float to the surface of my imagination:

  • Using a metal detector, I search over wide areas looking for the hidden treasure. I dig up a lot of worthless dirty pennies along the way.
  • Once I’ve located a diamond, it’s time for the careful process of chipping away the crud still clinging to it.

When I wrote my most recent memoir piece, “What to Expect While Grieving for Your Father,” I only wrote it once. In fact, it was already completely written in my head before I wrote it down.

I used to drive 2.5 hours from university back home for occasional weekend visits and holidays. I like to drive late at night when it’s dark and nobody else is on the road to cause traffic congestion or stress. Free of distractions, the title popped into my head first. Then the first line, “Usually, the first question people ask is how long it’s going to take before you ‘get over it.'” Then the whole first paragraph and then the entire story gurgled up out of my subconscious, bursting with the desire to be written down in its pure unadulterated form before I dropped it back in the mud. For the rest of the ride, I repeated those sentences over and over to myself so I wouldn’t forget them. When I snuck into my mom’s house at 1 AM, I wrote the whole story down, as fast as I could, before falling asleep.

Honestly, I don’t think I altered more than a few words here and there, to avoid repetition, when I edited that story the next morning. To me, then, memoir is already written. It’s just a matter of mining out the perfect gem.

What do you think? Do you agree with the diamond-digging metaphor?

(Image, Creative Commons, The National Archives)

Published in The Susquehanna Review: “What to Expect While Grieving for Your Father”

Lots of good news! As some of you know, I had a story accepted by the national undergraduate literary journal, The Susquehanna Review, back in June.* This past weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the launch party for the 2011-2012 issue which means that:

  1. My short non-fiction piece, “What to Expect While Grieving for Your Father” (which won the 2011 Bloomsburg University English Department Award for Creative Non-Fiction and 2nd place in The Baltimore Review’s Creative Non-Fiction Contest) is finally published!
  2. I got my hands on a copy of the journal (so excited to read it from start to finish!)
  3. As the launch party was a celebration of the dual launch of both the print journal and the online journal, you can read it for yourself now too!

All contributing writers who attended were granted the opportunity to read their writing to a big room of people. While being video taped.

Have I ever mentioned that I recently developed a slight fear of public speaking? It stems from a really horrific public speaking class I was required to take in college. Before taking it, I liked public speaking the same way I’ve always enjoyed reading books aloud to my younger sister and to unsuspecting passerbyers I can convince to sit still long enough to listen. Not that I was an impressive orator by any means, with long passages memorized, or the ability to speak with a passionate eloquence which could thrill an attentive audience. If I didn’t have the confidence that I was good at it, I at least had the confidence that I could do it and that I had the right to stand in front of people and be heard. So therefore, I had no natural build-up of nerves when I prepared for my first graded speech presentation. That was, I wasn’t nervous until the professor dedicated an entire class period to a never-ending, incredibly detailed list of reasons why one should be afraid of public speaking and the knee-quivering, gut-wrenching, heart-pounding effects that everyone should have. “If you don’t have these feelings,” he told us, “it’s unnatural.”

Therefore, when I stood at the podium (read: music stand) with my printed story in hand, I was more annoyed than nervous when my voice started to quiver and break, when my heart started to race so fast that I was gulping to keep it in my chest, and when my legs started to shake underneath me like an earthquake (not ideal when one is wearing five-inch-high heeled boots). Thankfully, my voice evened out after a page and, since my story is rather emotional, perhaps listeners chalked it up to that. Two really nice students came up to me afterwards to shake my hand, compliment the story, and admit that they had been reduced to tears in their seats. I was still so flustered that my manners failed me and I didn’t do more than mumble an awkward apology for causing them to cry–and I certainly didn’t manage to ask their names–but if you’re reading this, thank you again! [waves through computer screen]

In other good news, I’ve been featured on the Bloomsburg University College of Liberal Arts blog. It talks more about the NYU Summer Publishing Institute, if you’re interested in that. You can read the post here.

*Personal Submission Response Time: 3 months, 6 days.

Dear Writers: Read This For Your Own Good

Making editorial assistants cry is the equivalent to killing kittens: (1) it’s soulless; (2) selfish; and if these adjectives don’t scare you off, at the very least it’s (3) frowned upon. So read about how to avoid this cardinal sin over at the INTERN’s blog. (Here’s a hint: be a smart submitter and savvy negotiator before you get giddy and legally-foolish over the opportunity of being a published author.)

Also, if you’re having a hard time figuring out which writing contests are legitimate, or if you’re consistently losing money in a never-ending pattern of failed contest submissions, consider asking these six questions before entering another writing contest.

In more light-hearted news, for your significant other’s own good–or a potential significant other approaching upon the horizon–have them read the “10 Reasons Not to Sleep with an Essayist.” It’s only right to give them fair warning.

“To the New Owners of My Childhood Home,” an Excerpt from Weave Magazine

Not the most recent or attractive photo of my house, but the only one currently on hand. You get a glimpse of the colors, though!

I live in a pink and green house in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Our living room is orange. Our kitchen ceiling is pink plaid. Every surface in my mother’s bedroom is purple: the rug, the bedding, the walls; she even painted her antique wood furniture lavender. It wasn’t the first house I lived in, but it’s the one I grew up in. In three years, my sister will graduate from high school and my mom will retire. In three years, my mom will put our rainbow of a house on the market and move down to North Carolina.

Even though I’m moving out of my childhood home later this month and across the border to New Jersey, I’m a little nostalgic at the idea of my mom giving up our house for good. I was half hoping she would abandon the idea, so that in a decade or so I can still come home to the same familiar place for Thanksgiving, and can forever look at the wall marked with my sister and mines growing spurts. But last year she bought a house–the retirement house–in North Carolina and she’s renting it out until she’s ready to move. It’s official.

Now accepting that we’ll really be selling our house, I realized that no matter how much we pack and how carefully we clean, we’re inevitably going to leave a lot behind. You can’t help it. For example, when we first moved in, I remember finding forgotten toy soldiers everywhere: buried in mud puddles, in the sandbox, and even shoved into the crannies between bricks in the fireplace. They were a reminder of the boys who used to live there. I decided to write a friendly, theoretical letter to the future homeowners, to prepare them for unusual things my family will leave scattered about the property.

Isn't this cover amazing?

Weave magazine liked the story enough to publish it and, if you’re not already a subscriber, you can order Issue 7 and read the whole story. I gave Weave first publication rights and I don’t want to be disrespectful and publish the whole story online, but in celebration of its publication and the magazine’s arrival in my mailbox today (so excited to read the rest of the contents!) I thought I’d give you all a little taste.

 

To the New Owners of My Childhood Home

I assure you, it’s in your best interests not to dig in the following places:

  1. The cranny of lawn nestled next to the raised strawberry beds;
  2. Underneath the bleeding hearts in the back yard; and
  3. Among the roots next to the brick walkway.

You will find dead bodies.