Here I blog about writing, editing, reading, books, submissions, freelancing, getting published (and rejected), journalism, revisions, life after the MFA, teaching writing, and living the writer's life. Welcome. BUT -- if you are a writer: Write first, read blogs second.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Keeping it Simple: Memoir Finds a Publisher.

Of all the ways I considered announcing this, simple wins out. Here goes.

My memoir, tentatively titled Every Loss Story is a Love Story: The Father Daughter Reunion, will be published by University of Nevada Press in Spring 2018.

If you don't know, the road here was anything but simple, and under the calm simplicity of that sentence, I'm actually screaming with joy, dancing in gratitude, and exploding with a mixture of relief, incredulity, affirmation, and humble pride. 

(Because everyone was out and busy when I got the final news at six on Monday, I had a simple solo dinner. But there was wine (and a nice card) a few hours later when some of the menfolk got back. Yes, hubby owes me a celebratory night out!)

I have a zillion people to acknowledge and thank. For now a blanket thank-you will have to do, to everyone who has and continues to help, by cheering me on, listening to my ideas, reading my pages, offering feedback, sharing publishing advice, telling me plainly when I'm wrong, and of course, by commiserating and celebrating.

Though I've published hundreds of articles, essays, and short memoir pieces over the last couple of decades, and though I've contributed essays to several anthologies, and even though I've ghostwritten chapters and manuscripts--this already feels quite different: my name alone, on the spine.

It feels like my book found its perfect (and, in retrospect, logical) home at University of Nevada Press (more on why in a future post). I'm looking forward to working with the enthusiastic professionals there, who have made me feel like a warmly welcomed and respected artist, from the day I first chatted with the press director at a writers conference this past winter.

I hope you will follow along in my journey from here to next year's published book. I'll try to share useful information that in turn may help other writers. 

In a few days, I begin revisions the publisher wants in a few weeks time. Today and tomorrow, I'm working on completing my author questionnaire and organizing notes with my ideas for PR and marketing. (I did after all, spend 12 years in public relations!)

Here goes.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Guest Blogger Marjorie Simmins on Memoir, Starry Night Memories, and What She Learned from a Workshop Student

How I love the way the internet connects me to like-minded, interesting people across miles, borders, cultures. I was introduced to Marjorie Simmins, a Canadian memoir writer and fellow horsewoman, by Rona Maynard, a writer/editor (Canada by-way-of-New-Hampshire), with whom I've exchanged Facebook posts for years. Rona knew I would like Marjorie's memoir, Year of the Horse (Pottersfield Press 2016). Marjorie also writes essays for magazines, newspapers and anthologies in Canada and the United States, and divides her time between Nova Scotia and British Columbia. In Coastal Lives (Pottersfield 2014), she wrote about loving two coasts and one man, husband Silver Donald Cameron, a noted Canadian author. Marjorie is currently working on a third non-fiction book, which includes tips, essays, and interviews on memoir—an outgrowth perhaps of her many workshops.

Please welcome Marjorie Simmins.

“You forgot something,” says sharp-eyed Sara, a fine essayist and freelance journalist. She points to the flip-chart, on which I've written the day's itinerary. “That last one—'Starry Night Memories'—what's that?”

Sara is right, and she is wrong. I didn't actually forget, but we did run out of time, and in truth, I am relieved, as I haven’t presented that particular writing exercise to a memoir writing workshop before, and I'm not quite sure how it might go over. But I am busted now.

“Right,” I say, “'Starry Night Memories'...” I hesitate again, when I look up to see eight pairs of alert eyes focused on me, expecting some degree of teacherly articulation. You're supposed to be the memoir writing expert, I chide myself. So speak up.

“You know when you are in bed at night, you're getting sleepy, and your thoughts are moving around from subject to subject, and sometimes, from memory to memory?”  Two or three people nod.

Encouraged, I press on. “Sometimes you deliberately take out a cherished memory to visit, and enjoy. It's like an old friend you haven't seen for a while. You're happy when you think about it, and it helps you fall into a happier, more relaxed sleeping state.”

No nods this time, but several heads on a tilt; they're all still listening.

I struggle to underscore the main point. “So those memories—those 'starry night memories,' the ones we keep in our memory vaults—sometimes they're so much a part of us, they need to be written about.” I take a deep breath, wind up for the killer point: “You need to take those memories out from an inner place of safe storage, to a public place of recorded story. One memory could even be the starting point for an entire memoir.”

The group is silent, not a single head nodding now. But I trust this brainy bunch. They just need a moment.

“Ohhhh,” breathes Sara. “You mean our deepest memories – the ones that make us, ourselves.”

“The ones that are as much us, as our fingerprints or our voices,” adds another participant.

“The memory-stars inside us,” chimes a third.

“Yes,” I say. “Those.”
Then I feel that usual slither of fear down my spine – which is probably why I didn't want to do this exercise, hoped no one would notice its omission from our full day of learning and sharing.
More to myself than to the group, I hear myself say: “Of course once you write about those memories, you kinda lose them as your special friends in your own might skies.” I should hold back the next thoughts, too, but somehow I can’t. “Sometimes it feels like there are only a finite number of the most intense, writable memories. So you might … run out.”
A weighted moment of consideration by all, then Sara cries out: “No! That's not it. As soon as you set one memory free, another is able to rise up and take its place. It's like water coming up in our footprints on the beach. All those footprints, all that water and sand:  that can't be counted individually, any more than memories can. And think of this,” her voice is triumphant now, “why shouldn't the memory that comes up be even more special than the one you let go of? It certainly could be as special.”

I will not gasp. I will not cry. I will not sag with relief.
“Yes,” I say, with apparent calm, my interior landscape as a memory-hoarder forever changed. “I can see that, Sara.”

What I see, in fact, is what I've known for ages, as an essayist and a memoirist: the memories do change within after you've offered them up publicly, becoming less vivid in some ways, more substantial in others. Most startling of all, they go on to have their own separate lives apart from you, in the memories of those who read about them.

But I have guarded my deepest, most personal memories partly because they are so connected to people I love, many of whom have passed on, either from simple old age, or complicated early deaths; replaying the memories seems like the only way I can spend time with them. Hence the instinct to hoard. Mine, all mine.

Which goes against every writerly instinct to share stories, I know. Somehow I’ve worked around that, my lifelong need to write and share stories winning out over my fears of losing particular, beloved memories.

What startles me more than anything from Sara's outburst is the idea of memories-in-waiting. Archaeological layers of memories, waiting to be troweled up into the sun. Bonus! I have never before thought of memories as infinite. I am exhilarated and delighted … and a wee bit intimidated. I am used to corralling, then gradually sharing what I thought was a finite selection of memories.
I stand silently in front of eight pairs of intelligent, kind eyes, and I think: I could claim that whole vast universe of memory that exists within us all, and I could experience more beauty, feel more sustenance from my waking, day-skies, too. Balance, I think, it’s all about balancing then and now.
Aloud I say: Close your eyes for a moment. Forget that it's daytime. Settle into a pretend night sky. Stars upon stars. When you go to your memories, what are the bright constellations you always go to?

Eight pens find paper. When I give workshops, next to the epiphanies that often come with the sharing of ideas, these silent, working times are my favourites..I love to see writers write. We've talked in and around memoir for most of a day, sharing what fascinates and frustrates us about this saucy, renegade genre. Now it's time for quiet, and the recording of thoughts, perhaps of epiphanies, certainly memories – starry night and otherwise.

Note: You can connect with Marjorie via her website, on Facebook, at Twitter, and

*Marjorie's next memoir workshop, The Minefields of Memoir, is scheduled for June 17, 2017, at the Thinkers Lodge National Historic Site, in Pugwash, Nova Scotia. Information is posted at her site.


Friday, May 12, 2017

Friday Fridge Clean-Out: Links for Writers -- May 12, 2017 Edition

>I'm just beginning to explore this new-to-me nonfiction site, from across the pond -- The Real Story: Developing Creative Nonfiction and the Essay in the UK.

> Pamela Paul, editor of the New York Times (Sunday) Book Review, talks about the future of criticism and what your books say about you, on the Slate I Have to Ask podcast with Isaac Chotiner.

> Over on Jungle Red, Eight crime fiction writers talk about handling and learning from rejection, developing tenacity, and other bits from the writer's life.

> When I was preparing panel proposals for the 2018 AWP conference (multiple fingers crossed), they had to be under 500 characters, including spaces. When my word processor wouldn't fully cooperate, I found this oh-so-easy Letter Count. It even knows the character counts for all the top social media channels.

> If you do any freelance writing, and need additional places to find markets, check out the listings at All Freelancing Writing.

> For your reading pleasure: there's a lot of Mother's Day related fare floating around this week. One of my favorites so far is this beautiful piece, "My Mother's Eyes," from my former MFA student Susan Davis Abello.

> Finally, after some quiet time on the blog, over the next few weeks I'll be featuring new guest posts (Marjorie Simmins and Sonya Huber are up first), and let you in on what's been happening in my own writing life lately. Meanwhile, thanks for stopping by for the Friday links!

Have a great weekend!

Friday, April 21, 2017

Friday Fridge Clean-Out: Links for Writers -- April 21, 2017 Edition

I'm seeing a big uptick in readers here lately, so welcome! For those who don't know: it's called Friday Fridge Clean-Out because years ago, when I began sharing links, it mirrored the way I fed my family on a Friday night--clearing the fridge of all the tidbits we'd accumulated during the week. (Nowadays, I just call for pizza!). Enjoy.

> My friend Laraine Herring shows us how to write about illness/medical events without a smidge of self-pity. Please read her "Robot Kisses." 

> When I once fell, breaking three front teeth and cutting up my face, someone told there must be a reason. My (slightly annoyed) conclusion: I'm clumsy. Maybe that's why I loved "Being Leery of Everything Happening for a Reason and Other Takes by Ariel Levy," at The Riveter.

> I concur with the headline of this excellent article by , at the Science of Us: "Writing a Memoir Is a Strange Psychological Trip Through Your Past."

> Not sure what to do next with your (writing or any) career? Try Delia Lloyd's approach and ask your future 90-year-old self.

> At semester's end, Aubrey Hirsch gives her college creative writing students a comprehensive handout, "A Beginner's Guide to Publishing" which she's made available at her website.

> I recently discovered Denton Loving's blog, which periodically posts submission calls.

> Sounds like good news from the Boston Globe, for those with books in the pipeline, looking to book promotional stops in the Northeast: "Indie bookstores in smaller towns hatch plan to lure authors for readings".

> In her post, "When You Engage in Some Good Old Literary Citizenship Because, Really, You Just Want New Writer Friends with Whom To Bitch About Publishing," Steph Auteri says a few nice things about me and The Writers Circle, but what makes it terrific is how it confirms the benefits and strengths of having a literary community in person as well as online.

> Finally, in this week's student brag box: Carol Accetta, a writing coaching client, achieved her first publication, a lovely short work of creative nonfiction, "The Geese," at Gravel Magazine.  Former student Vincent Fitzgerald, who is also a therapist, published "I'm a Client And a Clinician" at Psychology Today, and a work of narrative nonfiction in the British literary journal Into the Void. Congrats!

Have a great weekend!

Friday, April 7, 2017

Friday Fridge Clean-Out: Links for Writers -- April 7, 2017 Edition

> Can binge watching have a writing purpose? Reedsy editor (and novelist) Andrew Lowe thinks so, at least about a certain eight shows.

> Somewhat related: I learned about Belletrist, the young actor Emma Roberts's online book clue when she was on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Only mildly interested, I perked up when I arrived at her website to see she'd interviewed Joan Didion about her latest book, South and West: From a Notebook.

> Good listening: an episode of the #CNF podcast features Jennifer Niesslein, founder/editor of the online essay site, Full Grown People.

> Traveling? Or trying to organize a book promotion tour? Check out "The Best Bookstore in Every State," via Real Simple and Yelp.

> Find yourself torn between devoting time to writing, and making sure you are tending to business aspects of a writing life? At Catapult, Melissa Febos asks, 
"Do you want to be known for your writing or your swift email responses?"

>Speaking of Melissa Febos, I heard her read from her new memoir, Abandon Me, this week at Halfway There, a newish quarterly reading series in Montclair, NJ (my literary backyard), and was impressed by how, in the middle of what she explained was a weeks-long, cross-country book tour, she made the material sound new and fresh, even  (it seemed at least ) to herself. If I ever do readings from any book of mine, I'm going to find a video of her reading, and study it.

> Looking to get involved in behind-the-scenes work at an online literary journal? Hippocampus Magazine is in need of volunteers for several different posts.

> Every week, novelist Elizabeth S. Craig compiles a long juicy list of links to writing advice and writing-related articles and posts that appeared that week on the web.

> That collective groan you heard last weekend was thousands of essay, memoir, and other nonfiction writers upset over the demise of the Lives column which will, after 19 years, no longer appear in the New York Times Sunday Magazine. (And the scratching was all of us crossing it off our publication bucket list. Sigh.)

> Three cheers for these high school student journalists who understand the value and power of fact-checking.

> Finally, from the department of that-sounds-completely-crazy-but-it's-still-(alleged)plaigarism, comes this story about how cultish hip-hop musicians apparently stole a poet's work.

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Write. Read. Repeat. Susan Sontag said it first. I just follow Directions.

By now, you probably know that I simply do not understand writers who aren't also constantly reading. Because how--other than through reading--do we even begin to want to be writers? And what's paramount to learning more about writing than reading?

I'm over at Story Dam today, participating in their April A to Z blogging challenge. I was asked to name a favorite bit of writing advice, and then say something about it.

It's posted today under "D is for Directions" and is a brief commentary on the Susan Sontag command: “Directions: Write, Read, Rewrite. Repeat Steps 2 and 3 as needed."

"I’ve heard this advice interpreted several ways. Some folks think it means that you should write and then read what you have just written, then rewrite it. And of course, that’s true. But I take this advice in the broader sense..."

Read the rest here.

Image: Story Dam

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Recognizing When Life (not writing) Could be the Start of a Beautiful....Essay

The actual dress, made to twirl.
If I weren't already a natural born advance planner (or an annoyingly, meticulously, obsessively detail-oriented nag, as my kids and husband might say, eyes rolling), my former career in public relations would have transformed me anyway.

Like many magazines, I often run a few months ahead of schedule. So since I'll be presenting a one-day event on writing short nonfiction prose in May, and a submissions class over the summer, I'm gathering examples for both. Some are my own work because that way I can answer student/writer questions, and by sharing my writing / revision / submission / rejection / acceptance process, I believe I can be helpful to others.

This past Monday, my 250-word work of flash nonfiction, "A Dress for the Wedding," appeared on the River Teeth website, in their Beautiful Things column. I think I'm correct in saying this is a somewhat coveted spot for many creative nonfiction writers, and I'm extremely proud about this particular publication.

Here's how that happened.

In many ways I went about this as I did when working to break into Brevity Magazine with this piece. (I went on to describe that writing/submission process here.).

One of the keys was not trying to slice a small chunk out of an already written long piece. Flash, I've come to understand, needs its own place to, perhaps ironically, expand and breathe, to open up space between sentences, even as it carves away.

The other thing I learned is that, for me anyway, short pieces are more often suggested by something I experience or remember independent of the act of writing. In other words, life is probably the more generous well for these short flashes, not editing.

The dress piece began with notes scratched in the tiny notebook I keep in my purse—while in the ladies' room at the wedding. Having gotten drenched in a downpour walking back from the church to the car, I ducked in the restroom as soon as we got to the reception venue to try to salvage my hairstyle.

It was while looking in the mirror, and twisting to get a glance at the back, when a few things happened. I realized (1) The blowout is a total loss, and (2) This dress was exactly the right choice. Then (3) A cascade of images: turning around in the dressing room at the store…showing my husband the dress choices in our bedroom…all my rules about dressing as a fat middle-aged woman…then: (4) Wait – there's an essay in this…somewhere.

I jotted a few notes. When Frank and I danced an hour later, and I found myself twirling, I had the rest of the piece. So it was back to the ladies' room, a few more notes, and then—I forgot about it.

Forgot on purpose. I wanted it to marinate. Then I returned to it, wrote a draft, read a bunch of past B.T. essays, and revised.

This was my second submission to River Teeth's Beautiful Things; the first, from 2015, was rejected. When I went back to read it again, I realized it didn't stand up so well on its own, and it wound up being absorbed into my memoir manuscript, where it probably originally belonged.

Figuring out how to write for very limited word counts, what to write for which short-form venues we aspire to be published in, and where to send off what we write, are arts that are always evolving. I'm still learning. And though the "rejected" column in my submission tracking spreadsheet is routinely, robustly full, occasionally I do get it right.

And then of course, I annoyingly, meticulously, obsessively record all the details. For any future reference.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Guest Blogger Judy Mollen Walters on Creating Fictional Worlds From What We Know

I shared a meal at the AWP conference last month with four other writers. We're all part of the same Facebook group of women writers, and when discussing where we each live, they assumed I already knew their mutual friend Judy Mollen Walters, who lives less than an hour from me in New Jersey. Well, I didn't then, but I do now. Judy is a novelist and also writes occasional essays, with work in The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, SheKnows, Spring St. Scary Mommy, Kveller, and other places. Looks like I met Judy just in time to learn about her fifth novel, A Million Ordinary Days, published this month—and invite her to write this guest post.

Please welcome Judy Mollen Walters.

You know what writers I admire the most? Historical fiction writers, who are able to catapult themselves—and their readers—into a completely different time, whether it be back to the ancient days of the Romans, the time of twentieth century World War I or WWII heroes and survivors, or when the Declaration of Independence was signed. Even those who write about the 1960s and 70s, when flower power and bell bottom jeans were in full fashion, impress me.

Historical novelists can go back and visit a completely different space and time, and literally plunk their readers right there beside them. They need to conduct hours and hours, and days and days, and months and months of research—online and in person research, talking to historians, librarians, and experts, taking countless notes, and reading countless books about their subjects. And that’s all before they start writing. And, as they go along, drafting, revising, rewriting.

I hate research. I always have. I can remember when I was in middle school, trying to learn the techniques of research, annoyed and bored out of my mind. As soon as I got to the library, I didn’t scurry to the encyclopedias to look up my topic. I went to the fiction section to find a new novel to read. Research was painstakingly agonizing for me, looking up articles, trying to find good, interesting information, and then just as painful to try to flesh it all out into a solid paper. I just didn’t care. I only wanted to go back into worlds I knew along with authors like Judy Blume, worlds I was familiar with. I loved realistic fiction about girls my own age, then.

Now as a writer, I have the same tastes. I am the opposite of the go-into-other-worlds, spend-a-lot-of-time-researching historical fiction writer. I’m in the solid write-what-you-know camp. For me, that’s contemporary women’s fiction. I write about families and mothers and wives. Many of my characters have some sort of affliction or illness or struggle that I’ve either gone through personally or can identify with because I know someone who has experienced it. 

Subjects I’ve explored in my novels include a Jewish family struggling with adoption (I am Jewish and know many adopted people); autism (My best friend’s son is an adult autistic man.); infertility (I went through it myself twice!); a best friendship that ends with a shock and a secret (With one of the women discovering a shocking truth about her ex-best friend, which happened to me, too.)

Yet the characters in my novels are not me, nor are they my children, husband, or family. (My sister kept trying to find herself in my books, so finally I created a character who was a middle school math teacher, like she is, so she would stop bugging me about it.)

My latest novel, A Million Ordinary Days, is about a mother like me, at the prime of her life with two daughters, battling a chronic illness. While I have Crohn’s Disease, my character has multiple sclerosis (MS). I have several friends with MS, and I reached out to them in order to make sure I was telling an accurate story. Okay, so maybe I do some casual research after all!

These friends were so supportive—and excited about—a novel about MS. They wanted a character like them to rule a novel. So they were happy to read my drafts, offering suggestions to make my character more “real.”  They also suggested blogs by writers living with MS that helped me get an accurate picture of living with the disease.

But to create my protagonists, I do not have to pursue pure research. I simply watch the lives of those around me, listen, and am able to reproduce what I observe well enough to, I think, build a credible story. My fictional worlds have everything in common with the current-day world my readers and I all live in.

If I was trying to replicate historical times, I would be miserable. There’s so much to get right: language and dress, food and lifestyle, politics and environmental conditions.  Even if I wanted to write a coming of age novel set in the 1970s and 80s when I was growing up myself, I still think I would have a hard time. I don’t remember all the fads, music, movies and TV from then!

Of course, with the Internet, research isn’t nearly as difficult now as it was back when I was in school. But that doesn’t make it any more appealing to me. I still love to write about the lives I see unfolding around me now. Mothers. Wives. Friendships. An illness or condition that's familiar. That’s how I’m most successful.

My hat's off to all the historical fiction writers out there. And the science fiction writers. And the biographers. Writers who really dare to take us into worlds so different than we could ever imagine. I admire them. But for me, I’m still sticking to the old adage: write what you know.
Note from Lisa: You can connect with Judy at her website,  Facebook, or Twitter. Find a review of her newest novel at Books is Wonderful, and order the book here.