Monday, December 30, 2013

Surviving the mosh pit

So I tried my luck and talent at the recent Twitter #PitchMas fest, which is kind of like standing on the trading floor of the literary stock exchange and screaming what your book is about while a couple hundred other writers do exactly the same thing. If your pitch gets a "favorite" star from an agent, you get to send your query and pages to the agent who favorited you.

I kinda felt dirty. And I got sniped at by the Pitch Police for doing exactly nothing wrong. Still, I kept offering my manuscript up on a 140-character platter throughout the day. And then I thought, I have an MFA. I went through three cancer surgeries this year, and you know what? I don't have to put up with this kind of crap.

But yeah... sour grapes and all. I wasn't anybody's favorite.

Still, twitter pitching is a good exercise because it forces you to condense your novel into one very tiny sentence, and doing this helps you gain some interesting perspective on your story. When you're starting out, it's hard to get your query letter down to a one-page letter. It's even tougher to get your manuscript described within a paragraph. Try a sentence. Now try 140 characters. Can you do it? You should be able to. (Oh, and did you save room for the hashtag?) Having that focus on the most important elements of your novel will force you to ask yourself if you're maintaining that focus throughout your manuscript.

Get help from someone who's done it already. (Thank you, awesome Melissa Gorzelanczyk. I wish I'd listened to everything you'd said.) Having an unbiased pair of eyes on your pitch will force the important questions: Who is your character? What is most important about his/her journey or the plot? Why should we care? And yes, you can say it in 15 words or so.

It's also a good thing to get to connect with other writers and see what sorts of things people are doing these days, as well as what's attracting interest. Trends come and go and come back again, and as long as you have a good story it doesn't matter if it's got zombies or talking dogs or whatever. But it's good to see how writers are choosing to think outside the usual literary genre boxes.

And these pitch fests offer another venue for writers to connect with agents. Lots of people were getting requests for queries and manuscript partials, and that's exciting. (Really.)

Want to give it a shot? There's another Pitch fest coming up Jan. 8. Search #PitMad on Twitter to find out more. Dive into the pit, if you dare.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Mayan calendar ends

Welcome to the Holiday Blog Tour ... Did you have a chance to read yesterday's short story "Sacrifices" by Natasha Oliver? You should. Her story beautifully captures the intricacies of family, motherhood and identity.

Tomorrow, please visit the blog of Lupe Mendez, a truly stunning poet.

A year ago, nearly to the day, I was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer. It's been a year of impossible decisions and recovery and reflection. Poetry is not my first language. But capturing the heady, raw emotions of what I went through seemed to call for the limitlessness that, paradoxically, only a compact form can provide. Here is my entry.

The Mayan calendar ends

We stare at the images of my breast
faceless to each other

“Here,” the doctor says, “And here.”

He traces invisible circles
claiming territory
on the spiderwebbed surface of the moon

This is where we will take
core samples
and mine for my future

The shadow of a snake appears
on the temple where sacrifices are made

Somewhere a hunter stumbles upon
a lone rabbit’s foot left
clamped in metal jaws

Monday, December 16, 2013

Down the rabbit hole

How do you define yourself -- ethnically, culturally?

As my friend & fellow writer Natasha Oliver says in her post on the Holiday Blog Tour: We might believe we're different, but we're more alike than we realize.

As a Christmas gift I bought my parents each a 23andMe kit, the same test that's featured on the PBS program Finding Your Roots hosted by Professor Henry Louis Gates. It's also the same test that the FDA is trying to shut down because of the health information component. But we were mainly interested in our recent and ancient ancestry.

Oh, we thought we knew ourselves.

The boundaries of how I had defined myself culturally are an illusion. That we are different is an illusion. My world got bigger and smaller at the same time. How amazing that our skin, our blood contains this crazy treasure map of history.

I feel the endless stories that brought me to my own. I am spinning in the vastness of possibility.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Holiday blog tour starts tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow

It's that time of year again: The Holiday Blog Tour, organized by the fantabulous Icess Fernandez. It's a chance to visit the blogs of various and varied writers and get to know their work. Here's the line-up:

Dec. 16, Teresa Carbajal Ravet,
Dec. 17 Nathasha Alvarez,
Dec. 18, Natasha Oliver, Peace and Center
Dec. 19, Nikki Kallio, Purple Houses
Dec. 20, Lupe Mendez, The Poet Mendez
Dec. 21, Anabel Lucio Morales, My Meandering Thoughts
Dec. 22, Icess Fernandez Rojas,
Dec. 23, Regina Tingle,

I'm up Thursday... gonna try something different ... wait for it... a poem! (gasp). It's outside of my comfort zone, but then, so was this past year. Way out of my zone. So, please stop back in on Thursday and have a look...

Friday, September 6, 2013

Letting go & letting a four-year-old do her thing

Love this story about artist Mica Angela Hendricks collaborating with her daughter on some pretty fantastic illustrations. Hendricks started with faces of old movie actors & actresses, and upon seeing her mother's beautiful new sketchbook, insisted that she get to draw in it, too. So Hendricks' daughter drew dinosaur and bug bodies to go with the heads. The result is whimsical and astounding. Hendricks is selling prints & cards here.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Ghosts in the walls

My flash fiction story "When Flowers Bloom at Night" grew out of a collaborative challenge with another artist, my uncle Curt Schroeder, an abstract painter from Milwaukee, who along with my young cousin developed a list of 32 titles and challenged me to write short stories for each of them. I'm not quite at 32, but I've written a few including "Flowers," which was honorably mentioned at the Lakefly Literary Conference in Oshkosh. So I reversed the challenge. I came up with a list of titles for my uncle, challenging him to paint art to match the titles (any interpretation). The titles included "Food Fight," (cats scrapping over a bowl of food, top) "Gutter Ball," (a man has a one-man party to scoop out his gutters) "Ghosts in the Walls," (a swath of paint on drywall) and "Bus Stop Circa 1953" (bottom). My uncle flipped the challenge yet again -- I'm supposed to write a short story to go with one of the paintings. I'm leaning toward the moodiness of "Bus Stop." We'll see what kind of trip we go on...

Sunday, September 1, 2013


Earlier this summer I was honorably mentioned for my flash fiction story, "When Flowers Bloom at Night" as a part of the Lakefly Literary Conference contest. Scroll down to the bottom to read this short shorty.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Collision & collaboration

So my friend Ellen the poet and I have decided to have another collision. Today I sent her what I imagine to be a challenging pre-apocalyptic genre chapter with the plan that she will respond with a poem, and I'll continue the story with another chapter, and so on. One of the positives about the proliferation of self-publishing options is that we won't have to worry about publishers not knowing what to do with this strange hybrid, should we carry it to completion. Takes a lot of pressure off, allowing us just to let it become its lovely mutant self.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

What we can and cannot do

Inevitably when I talk about Goddard College, I talk about one of my favorite workshops ever.
Port Townsend campus director Erin Fristad offered a session based on the film The Five Obstructions. In the documentary, filmmaker Lars Von Trier (Melancholia, Dogville, Dancer in the Dark) challenged his creative mentor Jorgen Leth to remake his 1967 avant garde short film The Perfect Human (video) five different ways. The catch was Von Trier chose the difficult parameters: the film had to be remade as a cartoon, for example. Another was Leth had to relinquish control over his creation: Von Trier remade one version himself and Leth had to put his name on it and do the voiceover for the film. For artists, relinquishing control is huge. Monstrous, scary.

Sometime scary is good.

For Fristad's workshop, we were to bring along a section of our work that was giving us trouble. I wasn't sure how much of a role my protagonist's mother should play throughout my post-apocalyptic novel -- I had killed off the mother but it felt like she should still be present somehow. We each discussed what we had brought and then Erin made her decisions.

I was to be paired with my friend Ellen, a poet, who was working on a long poem concerning the unnatural evolution of the world food supply and its impact on human rights. We were to trade our work. Ellen was to write a poem based on the section of novel I had brought with me. I was to write a short science fiction story about Ellen's section of poetry. We had twenty minutes to finish.

Ellen and I have a great respect for each other and our work, but were essentially coming from completely different directions on the literary road -- a poet and a genre fiction writer? We kind of smiled nervously and thought, well. Hmm.

Ellen wrote a poem in the voice of my protagonist's dead mother. I wrote a story from the perspective of a genetically engineered grain of rice.

What happened was a marvelous collision of art and inspiration.

She helped me to see what role my character's mother could play even though she was gone physically. Ellen said my story helped her to let her poem, Rice, evolve naturally. The exercise worked beautifully for us.

Art is perspective and the exercise helped us to see our work through the eyes of the other. Exploration is key to developing our own creativity -- we can be inspired and shaped by works in other genres. Ellen's poem and subsequent work, The Botanical Garden, undoubtedly freed me to try non-traditional forms in my own writing.

The Five Obstructions trailer says: We want to see what he can and he cannot do.

What can you do? What can't you do? Are you sure?

Monday, April 29, 2013

Moody Monday

Some moody Metric on a misty Monday.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Meteor strike

So, I had cancer. One of those things that shoots out of the sky, destroys your idea of what your life is and leaves you wondering what the hell just happened. Add to it a surprise reveal that I carry one of the Big Bad Genes, the patented ones. (Does this mean my DNA is infringing on a copyright?)

I'm still absorbing what this all means for me. How it will affect my writing. The important thing is the cancer is gone.

Getting cancer is definitely not a "gift," and I shudder when I hear that or some variation of it. Cancer is a menace, a killer, a red flag that something is going wrong in our world. Forget the gene -- the gene was always there; now it's getting triggered by something. But to the point --  I will say that this experience offered up some other surprise reveals: Stronger connections. A sharpening of focus. A brightening of senses and emotion. Would I change it if I could? Of course I would. I would choose to not get cancer, I would choose to not go through this hell. But I did go through it, and I'll take what I can from it.

One day, maybe I'll even make some kind of sense out of it.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The new phone book is here!

Another bright idea. Last summer during the Iowa Summer Writing Festival I went to see author Carmela Ciuraru at the Prairie Lights Bookstore. She wrote this great history of pseudonyms: Nom de Plume  Each chapter is a mini-biography of dead authors who used pseudonyms (the one on Patricia Highsmith is reason alone to read this book). Belgian author Georges Simenon, who had an affinity for lots of different pseudonyms (as well as multitudes of sexual partners) kept telephone directories from around the globe to help him name characters. Wow! Great idea! In fact I'd forgotten that I used our tiny rural Wisconsin book to find a character name in DAMAGE. So I've been asking my friends who live and travel afar to send me phone books. They're a disappearing commodity, however, and some countries are no longer printing them. But my awesome friend Regina sent me this one from New Zealand.

Sunday, January 13, 2013


My short-short fiction piece Shadow is now available in the winter issue of Minerva Rising. One of the extra-cool things about this lit journal is it donates ten percent of its proceeds to Women for Women International, and organization that helps women rebuild their lives in areas torn by conflict. I had the chance to meet Women for Women founder Zainab Salbi when I was an editorial writer in Maine -- she has an amazing story. Here's her book, Between Two Worlds: Escape From Tyranny: Growing up in the Shadow of Saddam.