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Dancing About Architecture

19 May

My sixth set of writing prompts for the Ploughshares blog dives into the vast territory of creative writing involving music, with wisdom from E.M. Forester, Milan Kundera, and Maya Sonenberg, and a short list of reading suggestions from Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues” to a forthcoming novel on the inventor of the theremin.

Abstract Sculpture as Shrine

17 Apr

My student Jenelle Birnbaum’s lovely story “The Bodhisattva of the Sea,” inspired by Katinka Bock’s abstract sculptures, is up on the Henry Art Gallery’s blog. The exhibit runs until May 4, and I think I need to squeeze in another visit before then, as there was a “Profane Fireplace” that surely had a fairy tale in it.

The Magic of Objects

3 Apr

My fourth set of writing prompts for the Ploughshares blog takes inspiration from objects, with wisdom from Italo Calvino, Elizabeth Kostova, Cynthia Ozick, Charles Baxter, Kate Bernheimer, RT Smith, and more.

In other news, an excerpt from my student Amber Murray’s intriguing essay “Thoughts on Abstract Thought and the Practice of Moving Things Around Until They Sit Just Right,” from this winter’s Visual Inspiration class, is up on the Henry Art Gallery’s blog! Exciting!

The Best AWP Ever

7 Mar

photo (9)Forgive my hyperbole, but I really enjoyed AWP this year. Maybe it was because this was the fourth I attended, so it was less overwhelming. Maybe it was because it was in Seattle, so I got to see so many friends and sleep in my own bed. Maybe it was because I had a chance to read alongside some really lovely writers. Maybe it was because I got to bring M to the book fair on Saturday and he made many tired exhibitors laugh. I *did* have violent heart palpitations the weekend before the conference as I stressed out over the three readings I had, but somehow these subsided by Tuesday, and by Thursday it was one big love fest. Here are some highlights.

Notes on the Practical

On Thursday I attended Kristen Young‘s panel Like Sand to a Beach: Bringing Your Book to Market. Jarrett Middleton of Dark Coast Press gave a really informative overview of the publishing process, especially when it comes to distribution. I had no idea how scary a pre-sales conference is (when a publisher pitches the merits of a title to all the big guns of a distributor and they try to poke holes in your marketing plan). I also didn’t know that a book has about 90 days or one quarter in a bookstore before it gets returned to the warehouse. Karen Maeda Allman of Elliott Bay Book Company gave the bookseller’s perspective. My favorite advice of hers about author events is to “invite everyone you know, encourage them to bring friends, and invite your ‘Kevin Bacon’ friend–the one who knows everyone.” All of her presentation slides are available on this beautiful Tumblr. Author Jonathan Evison emphasized building communities and taking the time to invite friends individually to your events rather than through mass emails. He also said, “Even if only six people come to your B & N event in south Austin, take the events coordinator to the Cheesecake Factory afterwards and get her drunk. She’ll keep selling your books.” Finally, Rachel Fershleiser of Tumblr gave an overview her experiences as a book publicist and of what she calls the “bookternet” — smart people being silly on the internet with sites like Last Night’s Reading.

A Controversial Panel

Friday morning I attended the panel Magic and Intellect. It was packed to the gills; magic must be popular! Something extraordinary occurred at this panel that so far one blogger I know of has recounted and it is worthwhile to read her account. I hope more people will write on it. I haven’t had the mind space to do so; I’m still processing. But I did come away from it feeling affirmed, that imaginative writing is necessary. Rikki Ducornet said, “The human mind & imagination cannot sustain itself in a constant state of emergency,” and Kate Bernheimer said, “Solutions in fairy tales often require radical acts. If you’re in an incestuous, abusive relationship, you might need to cut off your finger to use as a key to get out of a room.” And Rikki Ducornet offered this advice: “For a difficult book to be readable, ‘find a language that levitates somehow, that is scintillating'” (last quotation via Mackenzie Hulton on Twitter).

One Really Cool Thing from the Book Fair: Envisioning the Future of the Book

I cannot begin to describe the many, many books I acquired last week. So I will simply share one very cool thing, Columbia College Chicago’s Center for Book & Paper Expanded Artists’ Books. They displayed a hybrid artist book with heat-sensitive ink and an embedded iPad; if you pressed your hand on the page, different words erased and different words appeared on the iPad. What alchemy.

Readings Galore

I had the pleasure of reading fairy tales with Maya Sonenberg, Rikki Ducornet, and Valerie Arvidson. I was pleasantly surprised to see a fairly large room fill with people eager to hear stories. Somehow each of us included food in our stories–I hurriedly jotted the phrase “saffron buns and candied salmon” as Valerie read–and that made me immensely happy.

At Canoe Social Club, I read with Andrew Ladd, Michael Nye, and Wesley Rothman. I’d finished Andrew’s book What Ends Tuesday night and it had me sobbing by the end. In addition to making me think about the issues that got me crying, it got me thinking about the books that also made me cry like that–Sophie’s Choice, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn– so maybe I’ll write a separate post on that topic. I picked up Michael’s story collection Strategies Against Extinction; of course I will read the story “Sparring Vladimir Putin” first because obviously. I can’t wait. Wesley is working on a collection that may be called Sub-Woofer–keep your ears peeled!

Chris Abani and Chang-rae Lee did a wonderful reading and conversation. I already read The Secret History of Las Vegas (it’s powerful!), but hearing Chris read the opening and another section concerned with fairy tales gave me shivers.

I got to read with 13 others affiliated with the Univesity of Washington MFA and  the Cambridge Writers Workshop. We filled up Victrola’s back room and then most of us retired to Coastal Kitchen for drinks, snacks, and exquisite corpse. Coincidentally, I sat beside someone I’d only known through twitter and had no idea would be there. The future is now!

In the lovely subterranean Alibi Room, I got to see the UNC-Wilmington alumni reading, which featured several friends and which introduced me to the wonderful work of Rochelle Hurt and Kate Sweeney. You should check out their respective books, The Rusted City and American Afterlife. 

Finally, read Paul Constant’s take on the conference here, which includes high praise for my Furnace co-conspirator Corinne Manning and her Alice Blue chapbook “A Slow and Steady Eruption.” Hooray!

That’s What She Said?

3 Mar

Over on the Ploughshares blog, my second writing prompt revels in the wonders of eavesdropping and overheard conversations. Whether you recently overheard some choice nuggets of wisdom or gossip or are  looking to sharpen your ability to write dialogue, click on over to join the fun.

“More Like Home Than Home” in Fairy Tale Review

13 Feb

The Emerald Issue

My story “More Like Home Than Home” is in the Emerald Issue of Fairy Tale Review. It is their 10th anniversary issue and Wizard of Oz-themed, coinciding with the 75th anniversary of Oz. I’m really excited to be a part of this issue. Over the years, FTR sent me two of the nicest, most encouraging rejections ever, and I know each issue is put together with a lot of love and care. I literally cried with joy when I saw the acceptance email, which is also probably the nicest acceptance email I’ve ever gotten. Every time I felt cold or down this winter, I just whispered to myself “Fairy Tale Review” and all was better. Many thanks to Kate Bernheimer and Timothy Schaffert and the editorial staff of MFA students at University of Arizona. You can order a copy here or pick one up at AWP at booth K26 in the North Hall.

Pioneer Girl by Bich Minh Nguyen

5 Feb

My latest book-review-in-bullet-points is up on the Ploughshares blog today. Here’s how it begins:

Genre: literary mystery
With reference to: Little House on the Prairie

And: immigrant lit & ethnic lit
And: restlessness vs. belonging
Also: Manifest Destiny & Utopia

continue reading

This will be my last book review for the next little while as I gear up for a *new* series of blog posts on writing prompts using art, architecture, and a whole slew of other sources of inspiration. The first post goes live on Sunday and posts will appear every 2 or 3 weeks. Stay tuned!

Intro to the Fiction Workshop

3 Feb

In the spring, I’m teaching a new class at Richard Hugo House, Intro to the Fiction Workshop. Exciting! This 10-week class will lay out a solid foundation for students interested in workshopping their stories but who have never taken a workshop or who want to brush up on giving constructive criticism. Workshops can be intimidating at any level; this one will be both welcoming and rigorous.  And fun! The class runs Thursday nights, 7:10-9:10 from 3/20-5-22. Registration opens 2/11 for Hugo House Members, and 2/18 for the general public. Scholarship applications are due 2/18.

What I’m Doing During #AWP14

26 Jan

This year, I get to go to AWP in my hometown for the second time. The first time was also my first time at AWP ever, in NYC. That was where I decided to apply for MFA programs because, as the nice woman I met there said, “You’re helping no one by hating your job.” Since that fateful, overwhelming experience, I went to the conference in D.C., bunking up with my MFA classmates in a fancy hotel room, and then to the one in Chicago, staying with my lovely mother-in-law and kvelling over the downtown Jewish deli she took M and I to, Manny’s.

Last spring, I went to a panel on proposing AWP panels at Richard Hugo House right after folks came back from the Boston AWP (which I skipped because a woman and her wallet needs a break). I proposed a panel that did not get accepted, but I also was fortunate enough to be on a panel that *did* (thank you, Maya Sonenberg!). So I am on my very first AWP panel. And to top it all off, I put together an off-site event to celebrate the release of my friend Andrew Ladd‘s debut novel, What Ends.

WITHOUT FURTHER ADO: WHAT I’M DOING DURING AWP

Artwork by Rikki Ducornet http://rikkiducornet.com/work/

Artwork by Rikki Ducornet
http://rikkiducornet.com/work/

Official panel description on AWP site

Facebook Invite (why not?)

AWP FB invite4Facebook Invite

Of course, there’s so much more I’m doing, but these events are what I’m directly involved in. If you’re curious about what other Hugo House instructors are up to, I compiled a list of panels for Hugo House’s blog.

And here’s a few panels I’m most definitely excited to attend:

Like Sand to the Beach: Bringing Your Book to Market

Magic and the Intellect

 A Reading and Conversation with Chris Abani and Chang-rae Le

Are you going to AWP this year? What are you most excited to see and do?

Stay tuned for my highly idiosyncratic gustatory guide to Seattle, for all your cheap food and drink needs.

“Sugar” in Gastronomica

15 Jan

GFC1304loI’m honored to have my short-short story “Sugar” included in the winter 2013 issue of Gastronomica, the “brainiest” of food magazines, also called “the New Yorker of food magazines”. The fairy tale-ish story is set in Pike Place Market and begins thus:

“He couldn’t stomach currants in his salad. She couldn’t stomach his not stomaching her currants.”

You can subscribe to the magazine here; if you have access to JSTOR, you can read individual articles here; you can also read my two-page story right over here:

“Sugar” in Gastronomica: Journal of Food and Culture, Vol. 13, No. 4, Winter 2013, Published by University of California Press.

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