A Technical Manual for Playwrights

January 4, 2011

I built the set for Gaslight’s production of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” in the basement of St. Boniface School – if you wanna talk work, let’s talk converting a church basement into a blackbox theatre
It’s a rare privilege to build a set and then perform on it – Wendy Popeck (L) and I in Gaslight’s production of “Dancing at Lughnasa” – set in the Irish home of a poor family of sisters (design by Dave Reynolds)

Certainly, my approach to the craft of shaping a play is informed by my cavalcade of experiences as an actor, and yes, crewman.  I’ve constructed entire sets (see my pictures from “The Tempest” and Brian Friel’s “Dancing at Lughnasa” – both of which were Gaslight presentations); mastered sound (swing by the January residency Maslow Reading series, and you may spy me adjusting the levels for our authors, running sound-checks, and adjusting screens, speakers, and seats); instructed in and designed stage-fights (“Hamlet”, “MacBeth”); hand-crafted a stage mask or two (“The Tempest” again!); wired stage lights for Paper Kite Studio/Art Gallery (soon to be a comfy, creative bookstore, replete with couch and bookstore cat); and I’ve even pulled the curtain at the close of countless shows.

The benefits of this as a playwright?  Aside from the sense of accomplishment and Zen-like meditation that come with these labors, I’ve gained an excellent working knowledge of the rules and limitations of the technical schools of theatre.  To understand these rules well enough is to understand how to bend them, and in some cases even be bold enough to shatter them.  At the very least, it is possible to re-imagine the technical challenges of staging a play as functions, or avenues, through which I can explore themes, through-lines, and so on.  Just as every word of every line must go through careful choices in editing, so too is my approach to writing the stage directions (including character movements, light shifts, sounds and voice-overs, and elemental stage props) – to be sure, EVERYTHING in the script is written, kept, or thrown away by the will of the good playwright.  The execution of these things may change in the act of collaboration with designers, talent, and technicians – collaboration is the true art – but the meaning (and how it changes) behind each one of these choices should never be neglected.

Yes, acting helps my writing — here’s an ancient looking shot that seems to reach out from the fog of the past. Pictured “swearing by his sword” in a King’s College production of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” are (L-R): David Weidler, Hinton (hey, that’s me!), Al Vota, Carlo Ciotoli

In Quiet Cowboy, for example, sound is vital to the themes of the legendary western and the shifts in time, and tone, of the scenes.  There are sounds of the television (which I’ve often referred to as the 7th character of the play): the hum of an old set warming up, static, the crack of gunshots, trains, crickets, the wind, the waves, Indian hooting, drums, crackling logs and fire, announcer voice-overs, the trot of hooves, galloping, more gunshots, voices that reach into the room with long fingers from another universe – a universe of mythology. 

Sean McKeown, the actor portraying “Wally” in the QC premiere, doubles as our sound designer.  With his recording equipment, some Gaslight posters from past shows, and the right amount of chairs, Sean has converted the 3rdfloor of his home into an office and impromptu recording studio.  Sitting in the office with a digital board and headphones, Sean monitors as actors read voice-over lines from a music stand in the adjoining hallway.  It is cold.  But the chill in the air is motivating.  It’s a bit like camping; we gather ‘round the warm glow of the computer to hear the playback, much like hunching ourselves in a circle by the fire to listen to stories of the night and celebrate spirits of the past.  Here are some photos I took of the fun:

“McKeown is here to take your calls – West of the Rockies, you’re on the air”

We even did some rehearsing at the Mellow Theatre before the holiday season shutdown.  This was key, as it gave us a sudden reminder of the scope of the space.  As the theatre saying goes, the Mellow is a “big hole” to fill, so giving the cast a chance to get a feel for the stage, the acoustics, and the house at large was a necessity.  On a separate day, director David Reynolds (see my previous post about his skills) and I ran up to Scranton to check out the light and sound equipment at our disposal.  Enjoy these pics:

Some of the cast get a feel for the Mellow stage. Pictured (L to R) are: Anne Rodella, David “Skippy” Isgan, Sean McKeown, and (in the shadows of the wings) Robert Klubeck
ADJUST! David Reynolds demonstrating his directoral prowess at the Mellow Theatre


The Write Life Returns!

March 30, 2011

Welcome back to The Write Life, the official blog of the Wilkes University Creative Writing Program.  As you can see, we have changed things up a bit.  Each week, we will be posting articles written by professionals from every nook and cranny of the writing industry.  These articles, essays, and personal experiences are meant to enhance your writing life, and to provide you with the tools to sustain an independent career.

My name is Amye Archer, and I will be your host and guide as we traverse this literary landscape.

I am an MFA student at Wilkes, and will be graduating this June.  I am a mother of four-year-old twin girls, and I also teach part time at some local universities.  As a writing mom, I will also be sharing some of my experiences with you as I try to balance writing and family.

The Write Life is a collaborative effort, written by writers for writers.  With this in mind, we’d love your feedback.  Please feel free to submit ideas for future posts or any ideas or suggestions to  amyeba@gmail.com In the upcoming weeks, The Write Life will feature craft articles, Q&A’s with agents, advice from editors, and personal accounts of people writing  in every genre.   Some areas of the site are still under construction, so bear with us!  We look forward to providing you with valuable resources to help create your Write Life!


We Want to Do His Work Justice

April 20, 2011

This week’s post is from author and Wilkes Faculty Member, Kaylie Jones.  Kaylie, daughter of American writer James Jones, has recently embarked on a journey to release her father’s manuscript From Here to Eternity, uncensored.  The way the great writer intended it to be.  In this personal reflection, Kaylie talks about her father’s vision for the book, and his incredible insight into the human condition.

Jamie, James Jones, and Kaylie

This is the table in the house our parents rented in Skiathos, Greece, where our dad told us the story of THE ILIAD for the first time.  He explained, to our great surprise, that Achilles was gay and Patrocles was his lover, and that was why Achilles got so angry when Patrocles was killed. I wrote about this in my memoir, LIES MY MOTHER NEVER TOLD ME. My brother and I thought he was making it up.

Our father was 24 years old in 1943, when he decided he wasn’t going to fight anymore. He was disgusted and enraged by the army’s red-tape bureaucracyby the fact that when the wounded soldiers came home from the war, they were treated badly and without respect. He went AWOL several times, until they threw him in the stockade. When asked by an army psychiatrist why he was acting this way, he said he’d killed an emaciated Japanese soldier in hand-to-hand combat on Guadalcanal and he never intended to kill anyone ever again. If that made him crazy, then so be it. The army finally discharged him as unfit for duty in 1944, and gave him a pension. When FROM HERE TO ETERNITY was published in 1951, the army took his pension away, because they decided that anyone who could write a book couldn’t be all that crazy.

We have the letters he wrote to his editor at Scribner, Burroughs Mitchell, fighting and arguing to keep every f-word and c-word; every reference to homosexual sex; every scene of masturbation, in FROM HERE TO ETERNITY – and more often than not, he was overruled. What he cared about was depicting the reality of life in the pre-war army. The US Postal Service would not ship the book if it contained “prurient” language or scenes. His response to his editor was: “The things we change in this book for propriety’s sake will in five years, or ten years, come in someone else’s book anyway, that may not be as good as this one, and then we will kick ourselves for not having done it, and we will not have been first with this … and we will wonder why we thought we couldn’t do it. Writing has to keep evolving into deeper honesty, like everything else, and you cannot stand on past precedent or theory, and still evolve … You know there is nothing salacious in this book as well as I do. therefore, whatever changes you want made along that line will be made for propriety, and propriety is a very inconstant thing.”

My brother and I have wanted to publish an uncensored, unexpurgated version of the original manuscript for a long time, and Open Road Media‘s enthusiasm and energy for the project matched ours. Over the last few days this new edition has gotten a good deal of attention in the press — in The New York Times; on BBC News; and Perez Hilton‘s site.

My father believed that there has been and will be homosexual sex in the armed forces since armies have existed, which means, pretty much since men figured out how to band together and club each other on the head. He didn’t think it was a big deal and wanted people to be open and honest about it. He also believed that who a person likes to sleep with is hardly the point when you are lying in a foxhole with the enemy advancing upon you; what matters is if the person will stay cool and focused under fire. He didn’t see much progress in this area in his life time.

There are also sections of a novel of his that never was published, a first attempt, that we are going to release to the world. It is called TO THE END OF THE WAR. His scenes of the home front in 1943 are unlike anything else I’ve ever read. The soldiers, recovering from their wounds in a Memphis army hospital, are steeling themselves to be shipped back out overseas. They all know they’re being sent to England to prepare for the invasion of Normandy. They also know they don’t stand a chance of surviving this time. Some of their wounds are very serious, but the army doesn’t give them a break. And they are changed, psychically broken in some fundamental way. They can’t sleep at night, and would rather be back in the jungle with their old outfits, but their old outfits don’t exist anymore. They’ve kept track of everyone, and everyone is KIA, MIA, or transferred. The civilian population likes its heroes, just as long the heroes don’t act out, or talk too much, or need too much attention. So the soldiers learn to put on fronts, to wear the mask the world wants them to wear. My dad understood so much about human nature at such an early age, I can hardly believe it. There is only one writer I can think of who got this and took it a step further – Tim O’Brien, in THE THINGS THEY CARRIED. In his book, it’s the narrator who puts on the fronts, who lies, who tricks us, the readers, all in order to show us that there is no way in hell we, as civilians, will ever understand war.

Beyond National Poetry Month

April 11, 2011

by: Brian Fanelli

In celebration of National Poetry Month, we bring you a thoughtful reflection by Brian Fanelli, poet and Wilkes University Creative Writing Alumni.

It’s that time of year again. The temperatures are climbing. The snow is melting. Birds are chirping. And it’s April—National Poetry Month. This year, National Poetry Month has the support of one of the biggest celebrities in the world—Oprah. The current issue of her magazine, O, is guest-edited by Maria Shriver and features a lengthy section on poetry. The fact that a magazine as mainstream as O has caught on to National Poetry Month has sparked more public discourse regarding the relevance of National Poetry Month and whether or not the month does more harm than good for poetry. But what few people seem to be asking is how to get poetry into communities and schools beyond the month of April.

Started by the Academy of American Poets in 1996, National Poetry Month aims to “widen the attention of individuals and the media—to the art of poetry, to living poets, to our complex poetic heritage, and to poetry books and journals of wide aesthetic, range, and concern,” according to the organization’s website, www.poets.org.

O’s special poetry issue caught the attention of New York Times writer David Orr, who in his article, “Oprah’s Adventures in Poetry,” pointed out some of the positive and negatives of a magazine as mainstream as O trying to make poetry cool and accessible to the general public, using quotes about poetry from celebrities such as Bono, James Franco, Mike Tyson, and Ashton Kutcher to do so.

First, Orr cracks that only a “snob or idiot” would complain if Oprah’s magic wand is waved his or her way. He also confesses that he tried to get his latest book about poetry, Beautiful and Pointless: A Guide to Modern Poetry, covered in the special poetry issue.  Second, he does point out that the magazine runs an intelligent book section under the direction of former Publishers Weekly editor Sara Nelson, who employs some excellent critics, including Francine Prose. Furthermore, the special poetry issue does have its strengths, including a profile on W.S. Merwin, thus exposing him to a readership that may have never heard of him otherwise, despite the fact he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1971 and 2009.

However, Orr also points out some of the absurdities of the magazine’s attempt to seriously cover poetry. He criticizes some of the questions the magazine asks poets, including “where do poems come from,” and the answers that make it sound like poetry is “God’s own electric Kool-Aid acid test.” In addition, the magazine’s spotlight on poetry mostly includes poets already well-known, including Mary Oliver, Billy Collins, and Maya Angelou.

Orr also admits, and this can also be said for the attempt of National Poetry Month to make poetry mainstream, that “the chasm between the audience for poetry and the audience for O is vast, and not even the mighty Oprah can build a bridge from empty air.” Some attempts to make poetry cool can seem silly, including a section that features “eight rising poets” posing for spring fashion shoots.

Orr’s commentary about bringing poetry to the mainstream during one month out of the year isn’t totally new. Charles Bernstein, one of the pioneers of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E POETRY, railed against National Poetry Month in his essay “Against Natural Poetry Month and Such.” He wrote, “Promoting poetry as if it were an ‘easy listening station’ just reinforces the idea that poetry is culturally irrelevant and has done a disservice not only to poetry deemed too controversial or difficult to promote, but also to the poetry it puts forward in this way. ‘Accessibility’ has become a kind of moral imperative based on the condescending notion that readers are intellectually challenged, and mustn’t be presented with anything but safe poetry.”

It’s obvious how Bernstein would feel about O magazine getting poets to pose for photo spreads in $500 outfits.

Still, though, despite some of his criticisms, Orr does credit Oprah for at least trying to bring poetry to a wider readership. He again praises the profile of Merwin and the book list the magazine provides for anyone first getting into poetry. But what Orr, O, and even Bernstein fail to address is how to bring poetry to a larger audience beyond the month of April.

Some suggestions about bringing poetry to a wider readership were made by Dana Gioia in his essay “Can Poetry Matter?,” and a lot of the suggestions still work well today, including his idea that mixing poetry with other creative mediums, such as music or art, is one way to bring in new readers. His suggestion for poets to share a poem or two by another writer at a public reading is also a good idea and a way to expose audience members to other poets.

In today’s social media age, it’s easier to bring poetry to others. Why not post a line or two from a poet as a Facebook status or a Twitter update? Poets and poetry readers can also use those networking sites to promote readings and books by other poets. All it takes is a quick click of the mouse.

In addition, anyone talented at poetry should consider spreading his or her knowledge and love of the craft by getting out into the community, doing readings, residencies, and workshops. Community art spaces often welcome such events. It doesn’t take a magazine as big as O to bring poetry to a wider readership, nor should it only happen one month out of the year.

Brian Fanelli is the author of the chapbook Front Man, a series of narrative poems about a fictitious front man of a punk rock band. His poetry has recently been published by Young American Poets,Indigo Rising Magazine, Boston Literary Magazine,WritingRaw.com, Chiron Review, and Word Riot. He finished his M.F.A. in creative writing from Wilkes University in 2010, and he currently teaches writing and literature at Keystone College. Visit him at www.brianfanelli.com.


Screenwriters, Beggars, and Whores By Bill Prystauk

May 25, 2011

When I first heard about a one-page screenplay contest at Moviepoet, I gave pause. This site had offered this free contest in the past and my first one-page idea about a murder was ill received. The feedback, however, proved valuable and it was clear I hadn’t executed a story with a solid beginning, middle and end. And with the broad margins, type and spacing associated with screenwriting format, getting a story on one-page had proven difficult.

Though I never read the script, I’ve seen the short film “Shot of a Lifetime”  – a story told in a mere five seconds and it worked. This one-pager then, this one minute of film, was a challenge I wanted to meet head-on – Hell, I had another fifty-five seconds to play with. But coming up with a story that wasn’t the equivalent of a bad joke was far from difficult. I wanted to do something dramatic and poignant.  I’m not exactly sure where the idea came from, but I imagined a “manly” man cross-dressing for a contest, winning said contest, then going home in drag to confront his wife. I pounded out the story of “Catalyst” in short order, revised and tweaked and submitted.

When the results came out a month later, I was disappointed. My script hadn’t even earned an honorable mention. Most comments involved questions that could only be answered if the script was a feature. Many people (it’s open judging for any writer logging into the site once registering for free) could not determine where the “catalyst for change” even appeared in the script. Needless to say, it was evident I had written something obscure and I hadn’t delivered my tale completely.

Rejection Hurts, But Can Lead to Better Writing

Theme had apparently been unclear and my beginning, middle and end didn’t work. As a writer, I had failed. Regardless, I had other scripts to write and would simply learn from the exercise to tell a better story.

But that was a lie. I knew in my heart the story was solid and that in one-minute I had delivered a complete tale to the audience. The story made sense, the catalyst for change was clear and the theme was solid. Then, I received some more feedback from a couple of people who had voted on the scripts for the contest. They thought the script was “brilliant.” One, a close friend, Chris Messineo, who didn’t know I had penned the screenplay because it was blind viewing, thought it was the greatest short I had ever written. Damn. He encouraged me to send it elsewhere and try to get it produced. (When Chris is thrilled about something, he means it.)

Remarkably, I discovered a one-page script contest from WILDsound in Toronto. I entered and soon learned I was a Finalist. Actors in Toronto then performed the script on-stage and the clip was placed on the WILDsound site. The bad news: Judging would be determined by internet voting. For the first time, the fate of my work would not be handled by a group of professional writers, producers, directors or even agents. I was suddenly in the midst of a popularity contest.

Of course I wantedto win. After all, the winner would have his/her short produced. This meant the writer would receive that all-important screen credit – something every screenwriter lives for. So I did something I loathed and despised: I contacted everyone I knew via WebCT, Facebook and regular email to get them to vote – as well as their families and friends, and so on.

Even America’s Sweetheart Spent Time on the Streets

I told Ken Vose, a screenwriter in the Wilkes University MFA Program, that I felt like a beggar and a whore, to which Ken replied, “You’re a screenwriter. You’ll be a beggar and a whore forever. Get used to it.” I continued to beg right up to the very end – but ultimately fell short by a handful of votes. “Catalyst” came in second place. 

Chris Messineo, the man behind Off-Stage Filmsand the New Jersey Film School, made me feel a little better. Apparently, the winner of the previous WILDsound contest had his film shot and it was awful. Not the story per se, but its filming. I found the short films of previous winners and noticed that the lighting was bad, many camera angles were weak and the overall feel was one of sterility. Still, I was out of a much desired credit and now had another script that would just collect dust in a drawer. The announcement of “Catalyst” as a produced piece of creative work would not appear in my CV, making that tenure tract position at Kutztown University all the more harder to attain.

I was ticked.

Then, something unbelievable happened.  Out of the blue a high school friend, Debbie Valenta, contacted me from Los Angeles. She had produced several films and worked with Roger Corman for a couple of years. Debbie had recently formed a yet unnamed production company with two other women and was looking for a short script they could film. She knew I wrote screenplays, and even read “Catalyst” when I was “begging and whoring” for votes on Facebook. I submitted four short scripts – and they chose “Catalyst.” Collectively, they loved the story. Whew. The tale did indeed work and my original gut feeling was validated. The only dilemma, and it was a small one, was that they wanted the short to be five to ten minutes long.  Knowing Debbie’s level of expertise and penchant for detail, I am not concerned about the film’s quality. However, I realize that not winning the WILDsound contest may have been the best thing possible for me. This is made clear by the fact this new production company will use “Catalyst” as their calling card to attract investors and talent. In the world of screenwriting, that’s a big deal.  Regardless, even though the script hasn’t been shot yet, it has the best chance of seeing the light of day. And if it does, I will get that credit and maybe more opportunities will come my way if the short is well received. Time will tell.

Once again, the advice to all writers is not to quit. And even if your script is shopped around, this does not mean you can’t resubmit years later. Ken Vose recently sold a horror script that is older than me, as he told me.  As long as we’re honest about the quality of our writing, there is a chance that work will find a home somewhere, and this goes for all screenwriters, playwrights, poets, fiction and non-fiction writers.  Sure, we may feel like we’re a “beggar and a whore” on occasion, but as long as we’re respectful and devoid of cockiness, we’re simply just asking to be heard. We’re pitching. We’re selling. Just like we do in an interview for a job. And if we don’t sell ourselves we’ll never achieve anything with our writing.

Who is Bill Prystauk?

In 2011, Bill’s dramatic horror, “Ravencraft” is currently a Top-Three Finalist in the 2011 AWS Screenplay Contest. His dramatic ghost story, “Risen” was the First Place Winner in the 2010 Horror Screenplay Contest and is currently being shopped around Hollywood. Furthermore, Bill’s character driven, crime/action/horror script “Red Agenda” was the First Place Winner in the 2008 International Horror and Sci-Fi Film Festival and was a Top-Five Finalist at Screamfest. In 2006, he was the Second Place Winner of the Screenwriters Showcase Screenplay Contest for his erotic crime thriller, “Bloodletting,” which is now a novel under consideration by award winning, Akashic Books.

Bill has also won numerous awards for other screenplays as well as poetry. He completed the Creative Writing Program at Wilkes University in June 2011 to earn his MFA with concentrations in screenwriting and fiction. Bill currently teaches English at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania, and is exploring the use of homes in horror movies in his book, “Home is Where the Horror is.”

An Interview with Patricia Harman

May 19, 2011


Patricia Harman is a mother.  She is a wife.  She is a midwife.  Now, she belongs to an elite group of writers who have written multiple memoirs.   After the success of her first memoir, The Blue Cotton Gown, a story of the babies she helped bring into the world, Harman felt a need to tell her own storyArms Wide Open, her newly released second memoir, is just that.

Arms Wide Open is Harman’s second memoir

It is the story of how a young, hippie woman living on a self-sustainable commune, came to be an influential member of the medical community.  I reviewed Harman’s book for Hippocampus Magazine last month, and she was nice enough to grant me an interview shortly thereafter.  Here is our Q&A: 

How different was the process of writing this book, compared to writing The Blue Cotton Gown?
My first memoir, The Blue Cotton Gown, didn’t start off as a memoir.  I just wanted to tell the stories of the amazing patients I met in the exam room of the OB/GYN practice I share with my husband.  Gradually, I realized I needed to tell more and I began to weave my narrative in with the patient’s.  I decided to writeArms Wide Open because readers asked me about references to living in a rural commune in the Blue Cotton GownAha! Thinks I.  That could be another book!  While The Blue Cotton Gown was written during the days that lived it, Arms Wide Open went back decades into my past.  I had the advantage of having some twenty or so journals hidden in a box in the closet, that I’d kept, but not opened, all these years.   

The first part of the book deals with your self-sustainable life in Minnesota, and the cabin in which you, Stacy, and Mica lived alone.   There were times I would almost cry for you, it sounded and felt so difficult.  Would you do it again?  What did it teach you?

I currently live in on three acres of land with a vegetable garden, woods, fruit trees, a view of the lake, and all the modern conveniences, but I do sometimes wish we lived more rurally.  Though subsisting without electricity, central heat, running water or a bathroom wasn’t fun at times, there was a simplicity and closeness to nature that I miss.   I think what I learned from those times is “Moderation in all things.”  We thought we could save the world being witnesses for a very pure life on the land, but we were so extreme it didn’t make sense to anyone.

Despite most of the book’s narrative happening at the tail end of the civil unrest of the 60’s and early 70’s, you manage to keep politics out of your story, for the most part.  Was this difficult for you?  Was that a choice you made consciously?  
In the first draft I was more political and I consciously took some of that out; not because I wanted to hide my true beliefs, but because I felt it would date the book.  When you finish a manuscript, you don’t know when it will be published.  I thought, for example, if I wrote about the presidential election of 2008, the book would seem past tense by 2011.   I did mention “the wars in the middle east” and how I felt about them, but that was a safe bet! Ten years from now, they will probably still be fighting.  I also made it clear we believe that war isn’t the solution to the division of the world’s precious resources.  I tried not to get on a soapbox and be preachy about the environment or to sound like I was giving a lecture.

In Arms Wide Open, you talk a lot about natural childbirth.  Do you still embrace that concept so strongly?  Why do you think there has been a return to those ideals as of late?

Harman during her “hippie” days

I embrace the idea of natural childbirth more strongly than ever.  I don’t think everyone has to have their baby at home, but as much as possible, I would want for women and their partners to experience birth as it was meant to be, a simple, transcendent experience.  Technology and medical malpractice lawyers have taken something precious away from us.  Birth should be a feminist issue again and I think that is starting, partly because the C/Section rate in the United States is so out of control.  33%.  That’s right.  1 out of 3 women now have their baby born by major abdominal surgery.  Not the way things should be…..Don’t get me started!

Since you are a politically minded person, I’d love to ask your opinion on healthcare.  Are we heading down the right road?  Is universal healthcare attainable?  And should it be?

The health care system in the US is in very bad shape.  This year the Health Insurance Industry has made record profits as patients postpone surgeries because they can’t afford their big deductibles.  Then there are the 46 million Americans with no health insurance at all. This, in the richest nation in the world.

We have a summer cottage in Canada and we get to know the locals up there and have learned so much about their national healthcare system.  We are definitely supporters of some kind of universal health insurance in the US.  It’s the strength of the insurance industry and the pharmaceutical companies that make reform difficult.  Their propaganda have the American public so terrified of change, that even if it would benefit them, people vote against it.

Little by little, I believe things will get better.  In the recent health care reform bill, just having young adults able to stay on their parent’s insurance plans until they are 26 is a help and there are other benefits to children.  They can’t be denied coverage due to pre-existing conditions anymore.  The Children’s Health Insurance Program (Chip) was extended and all health insurance plans must now provide immunizations and other preventive care for kids.

Finally, you belong to a small group of writers who have written two or more memoirs, will you do it again?  Is there more you’d like to share with your fans? 

Currently, I decided to stop milking my own life for stories before readers get sick of me.  I’m working on a novel, set in the Great Depression in West Virginia.  The heroine is an inexperienced midwife, a former suffragette and union radical, on the run, hiding out in the mountains.  I imagine I will write about myself again, someday.  I still have all those journals in the box and have had adventures that astound even me.

**Arms Wide Open is available now on Amazon, or through your local independent bookseller.  For more on Patricia Harman, please visit her website.

Ten Ideas for Keepin’ it Real

Preparing for writing success demands common sense and self care

May 12, 2011

by Gale Martin

You’ve just completed your novel, your memoir, or your chapbook. You’ve gotten strong feedback from your beta-reader(s) or an outside evaluator through the Wilkes University Creative Writing program where you’ve received unprecedented access to the almighty gatekeepers—agents and editors. Maybe you attended a conference and pitched your book to an agent who requested a complete manuscript. Nothing can stop you now. Surely, you’ll have a publishing contract in hand within months, right?

Maybe. Maybe not. According to Putting Your Passion into Print, more than 150,000 books are conventionally published every year. That’s an incredibly large number of publishing opportunities compared to the number of screenplays actually made into feature length films every year. There’s plenty of room for good books—yours included.

Statistics such as ‘less than five percent of popular booksellers total sales are bestsellers’ provide reason enough to be optimistic that you may one day join the ranks of published authors. That is, if you don’t expect too much success too soon. That’s the fastest route to burnout. Expecting to be the next overnight writing sensation might be the single greatest handicap to the writing career you so desperately seek. Prepare instead for a long slog. Commit yourself and your faculties to writerly habits and a lifestyle that can sustain you and your writing career.

Keep writing.  After I wrote my first novel in 2005, I was so proud of the fact that I’d completed a work of fiction, I used to carry it around with me wherever I went. After a few months, a pair of tired arms, and only one nibble from an agent, I realized that completing a novel was only the beginning of my writerly journey. I began writing flash fiction, short stories, and humorous essays while I began plotting my next novel. One of the writers I follow on Twitter who is also a literary agent never sold his first book—the one he was certain would sell. But sold plenty after that. So, keep writing. It’s never good to pin your hopes to one manuscript.

Not to mention that editors and agents want writers who are good for more than one book. One of the Wilkes’ faculty members Lenore Hart sold her latest book The Raven’s Bride before it was written. Her publisher was banking on Lenore’s reputation for producing another publishable novel.

Keep submitting other work elsewhere.  As long as you continue writing, you’ll not only be honing your craft, have work to submit to publications and contests. For most of us, rejections far outweigh acceptances. You have to submit a critical level of work before the odds start turning in your favor. Once they do, every acceptance is validation to stay the course and builds confidence which you’ll need for more rejections and the inevitable slog.

Set reasonable goals.  In recent craft classes at Wilkes, writer Lori A. May shared a framework for goal setting for a rich, focused writing career. Her model encourages writers to think in bigger chunks beyond the next story, the next month, the next acceptance. Set goals that will stretch you. But don’t doom yourself to failure either by comparing yourself to someone who’s achieved instant publishing success or setting irrational goals, such as, “Will have literary representation in one month.” Perhaps you won’t. I just interviewed a writer on my blog Scrivengale who has published four books but doesn’t have an agent. Make your goal instead, “Will query five agents every month.”

Volunteer to judge a contest. Reading others writers’ work with whom you’re not competing head to head, within your cohort or in the Wilkes program in general, can be eye-opening. It’s a productive way to learn from others’ mistakes and successes while being a good literary citizen.

Look for outlets to read your work. If none exist, create one. One of thegreat privileges published authors enjoy is the chance to read their work in public venues. In the Wilkes program, students are given several opportunities to do that. Once you’re out of the program, it’s one of the things you miss most.

At least I did because I love reading my work. Not seeing anything available in her hometown, one of the students in my cohort Ally Bishop went out and created an outlet for writers in Central Pennsylvania to read their work—published and unpublished—readings in which I’ve taken part. I know other Wilkes students are following Ally’s example, approaching galleries, book shops, and coffee shops about offering literary readings.

Get a writing group together. Writing is an insular life. If you don’t have an editor to give you pause to think about your narrative arc, to redirect your work, you would probably benefit from participating in a writing group. I said a writing group, not a shredding group. I’ve been in a shredding group—an utter waste of time and potentially devastating. If you can find a handful of other writers committed to careful reading and constructive criticism, it helps fill the gap left between working with a faculty mentor or a professional editor and writing in solitude.

Explore other avenues of sharing your work, like Scribd. I just learned about www.scribd.com, a social publishing site, where tens of millions of people share original writings and documents. One young woman who wrote a memoir but couldn’t obtain any interest from a conventional publisher, shared her memoir in segments on Scribd, obtaining three thousand readers per post. Few bloggers can attract that volume of readership. It may be worth your time investigating.

Write something for sheer enjoyment. I’m not sure where I heard about this online writing community at The Write Idea, an international group of poets and prose writers, but for three years now I have participated in a nine-round fiction contest with some of the most generous, talented writers I’ve ever met. It is sheer fun to receive the prompts, chat them up on the site, and see how everyone fares following each round of judging. This contest is something I do just for the love of writing and as such, the sustenance it offers me is invaluable.

Create something for sheer enjoyment. I read Jane Friedman’s blog There Are No Rules  regularly, which is how I learned about Scribd. In one of her columns, Jane also mentioned a site called About.me, which allows writers and other creatives the chance to create a free splash page, in lieu of a full-blown website. It was a great exercise trying to encapsulate my writing experience and persona into a splash page and lots of fun doing so.

Strive for a more balanced life. Shortly after I finished the Wilkes program, I needed a month to thaw out, having combined my studies with demanding full-time jobs. Then I looked around my very untidy house, threw myself into some cleaning projects, and planned an anniversary celebration. I also recommitted myself to regular church attendance and singing in the choir, which meant rehearsing one night a week away from my *sigh* laptop, which I was certain was attached to my fingers. I don’t know if I’ll ever have the level of life balance I enjoyed before I began writing creatively, but the writing schedule a master’s or MFA program demands wasn’t going to sustain my marriage or a life well-lived. I simply had to make some changes.

To outsiders, it may appear that I’ve ratcheted down my expectations for my publishing career, but that’s not an accurate assessment of my approach to my post-Wilkes writing. I’m merely steeling myself for a long slog but fully intending to appreciate any smaller success along the way.

Gale Martin has been writing creatively since 2005. Recent accolades include first-place in short fiction from the 2009 Writers-Editors International and Scratch writing competitions. She also received her first Pushcart Prize nomination in 2009 for a short story published in Greensilk Journal. Her work has appeared online and in print in various publications such as The Christian Science Monitor, Sirens Magazine, Duck & Herring Company’s Pocket Field Guide, and The Giggle Water Review and in several anthologies. She hosts a writing blog called “Scrivengale.” 

She hosts an opera blog, “Operatoonity,” and is the accredited Metropolitan Opera reviewer for Bachtrack, an online site featuring classical performance. She lives in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, which serves as a rich source of inspiration for her writing.

An Agent’s Take on Query Letters

May 2, 2011

So you’ve written your book.  You’ve crossed every T, dotted every i, (you don’t own a computer, I’m assuming?), and you’ve arced every character.    Now what?  The manuscript over which you have carefully toiled for the last year or two is ready to find a home.  First stop?  The dreaded query letter.  Whether you are heading to the small presses, or looking for an agent, almost every outlet for your book will require a query letter.  For some, this comes easy.  For others, it can be a task as arduous as writing the book itself.

I recently spoke with Sarah LaPolla, an agent with Curtis Brown in New York City.  Sarah is a generous agent who shares her insights with the writing community through her blog, Big Glass Cases.  On her blog she also publishes excerpts of manuscripts from new authors, allowing them some much-needed exposure.

Sarah is more than an agent, she is also a writer.  She received her MFA in Creative Writing from The New School.  This gives her a unique bond with her clients, making her an approachable champion of the craft.  In our interview I asked Sarah about her thoughts on the do’s and don’ts of querying, and what projects she’s interested in right now.

Q:  What are two or three simple things you look for in a successful query?

Sarah:  To me, a query is written successfully if it a) says what the book is about in a few short, descriptive sentences and b) follows my guidelines, which means via email and pasting the first five pages into the body of the email.

Q:  How many queries do you receive in any given week, and do you read each one personally?

I receive anywhere from 150 to 200 queries a week via email. I do read each one personally and respond to each one. I hate the “form rejection,” but it’s a necessary evil and I always feel that someone would rather have acknowledgment, even if it’s a rejection, than be left in the dark.

Q:  Does humor have a place in a query letter? (Please don’t say no, please don’t say no…)

Of course! There’s a difference between being funny and being kitschy, but being funny can be a huge asset for your query. You want to show personality, especially if the project itself is funny. One thing that writers sometimes do is write the query in the voice of their main character, which I think they think is funny or clever, but it’s always just awkward to read. So, use your humor well! Don’t force it, but don’t be afraid to be yourself either.

Q:  Do agents like to see that pieces of the manuscript were published elsewhere?

I don’t think it’s necessary to say that in a query letter, unless the publication is a major one.

Q:  What’s the number one mistake you see in query letters?

Not including a title. If you don’t have a title, make one up just for query purposes. I think a lot of writers have the mentality that a publisher will change it anyway, so they just don’t include one. Sometimes the publisher will change a title, but not every time. Plus, not only do I want to call it something, but I like to see the author’s own creativity.

 Q:  How much does the market (in terms of what’s hot in stores right now) play into what you are willing to represent?

The market is certainly a factor. For example, I say all the time (online) that I am tired of vampires and part of that is a personal preference, but another part of that is that the market is just over them for now. I emphasize “for now” because all trends come and go. If I have enough of an interest in a project, even if it’s not “hot” right now, that wouldn’t stop me from taking it on. A good story is a good story. There’s always room for that.

Q:  What brought you into the world of agenting?

Sarah: My desire to work in publishing brought me to New York, and from there I trolled craigslist and mediabistro for internships until I found one at a small literary agency. It wasn’t where I thought I’d be, but it was definitely what I knew I wanted to continue. A friend I used to intern with told me about a job opening in the foreign rights department at Curtis Brown, so I applied and a little over two years later, they let me start developing my own list.  

Q:  In terms of new clients, what are your interests right now?

I really, really want to see a scary horror novel (preferably with ghosts, but it can be more traditional too!) for YA and a Tana French-like mystery for either YA or adult. A well-written science fiction for YA would be great too – like a new Ender’s Game

Q:  Finally, what is one book that changed your life?

Wow. Actually, I want to think this is a hard question, but it’s really not for me. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. I read it when I was 14 or 15, which was the year it came out. It was about a 15 year old who felt alienated, which is pretty much every 15 year old. But I absolutely fell in love with the main character and his friends. I wanted to be in their group, even though they were so messed up.  

  I’ve tried to read it every year since then, so I’ve read it many, many times. Every time I find something else to connect with, even if it’s not the teen angst anymore. It’s just a brilliant book. It made me fall in love with YA, and it actually introduced me to YA. I doubt my love of books would be as great without it, so who knows if I’d even work in this field if it was never published.

If you’d like to query Sarah, please visit the Curtis Brown website for the proper guidelines.   I also encourage you to visit her blog, where you will not only read some insider tips, but will find new and exciting voices, as well.  I want to thank Sarah for stopping by The Write Life and answering my questions.


Did You Know You Can SEO With an MFA? OMG!

My Creative Adventure in SEO

June 1, 2011

By Lauren Carey

Just before I finished my MA at Wilkes, I got a job at Solid Cactus as an SEO manager. My job actually lets me flex my creative muscles in ways I never thought possible. To me, this kind of work is just as exciting and validating as working on a great collection of poetry or a novel. If you like to write, you can have fun writing about virtually anything. And, luckily for me, I get to do a whole lot of writing each time I go to work.

My favorite part of the job has to be the blog posts. I manage about a dozen client blogs—and no two are the same. In the time I’ve been there, I’ve blogged for a wedding retailer, a gift shop, a candy store, a sex fetish shop, a seller of quality custom-made hair systems, and so many others. It’s always a challenge to come up with something interesting, relevant, and SEO-friendly.

SEO, for those who don’t know, is Search Engine Optimization. Basically, we make it so that your website looks good to search engines. (Granted, there’s so much more than that, but you get the idea.)

My supervisor, Alicia Magda, probably put it best: “SEO copy is both an art and a science. It’s the art of creating great copy, and the science of applying tried and true SEO techniques to that copy. Keywords should be worked into the copy naturally to grab the attention of search engine spiders, but innocuous enough to not detract from the reader experience.” So, essentially, if you write SEO copy you’re writing for both man and machine.

(When the robots finally take over the world, SEO copywriters are going to be the only ones that survive.)

This is perfect for me. My creative writing journey started sometime in elementary school when I learned about haikus. I spent all my free time creating little poetic nuggets that fit into that 5-7-5 structure. I tried my hand at limericks, sonnets, and other poetry forms. I love taking creative thoughts and sticking them into little boxes. And SEO is all about boxes.

Who Am I Today?

Writing blogs for different companies is a blast. Every day I get to slip into a different persona. If I’m writing for the candy store, then I have to pretend that I actually work at the candy store—I live and breathe candy. I’ve heard writers say that sometimes their characters speak to them and take on a mind of their own. In my SEO job, I get to become my characters.

Many of my characters talk about the things that they’re going to do with their children over the holidays, how they’re going to decorate their new kitchen, or embarrassing things that happened to them before they found the right wig adhesive.

The Game of Keywords

Alicia also noted: “Creativity is crucial in SEO. Search engine spiders are becoming more advanced by the day and can tell the difference between copy that’s written for real people, and copy that’s meant to spam search engines. Successful SEO copy should engage and inform readers, whether you’re writing about candy or welding supplies.” (Or fire resistant apparel. Or performance auto parts…)

SEO managers spend time using various keyword research tools to determine the keyword phrases that will work the best for a particular website. Once that’s done, we have to incorporate those keyword phrases into the SEO copy. That’s probably the most creatively challenging part of the whole job. (And I LOVE it.) Search engine spiders aren’t dumb. They can sense keyword stuffing from a mile away. But you have to stuff those keywords in there, anyway. It’s an intricate balancing act, and it really tests your writing chops.

For instance, if I had the keyword phrase “glass vases,” I’d have to use that several times throughout a page of SEO copy. But I’d have to do it in such a way that you won’t really notice. Nobody’s going to enjoy reading an article that says, “Our glass vases are so much better than our competitors’ glass vases. These glass vases are the ideal solution for your glass vases needs. When you want the best glass vases for your home, you know where to look. Glass vases are the best way to dress up your home.” Ugh… Humans hate that, and search engine spiders hate that. They key is to work the keyword phrase into the copy in a sneaky and creative way. When I write SEO copy, I read over it afterwards. If I don’t notice the keyword phrase, then I’ve done my job.

My name isn’t attached to the pieces I write for my clients. But that’s fine. I’m not in this to get my name out there as a writer. I’m in this because I like to write. If a few people read my articles and blog posts and get something out of it, then that’s more than enough for me.

Lauren Carey served as the copy editor for Wilkes University’s undergraduate literary magazine, The Manuscript for four years. In her time in the Wilkes MA/MFA Creative Writing Program, she’s learned that creative writing comes in all shapes and sizes, and it’s okay to step out of the box. She will complete her MFA in creative writing in June 2011, and she currently teaches English composition at Luzerne County Community College. Lauren is an SEO Manager at Solid Cactus, a Web.com company, in Shavertown, PA.


Q&A with student Kait Burrier

July 27, 2011

It may be the middle of summer, but for the devoted writing students of Wilkes University’s MA and MFA programs this week marks the start of a very busy term. Kait Burrier is one of the newest editions to the Wilkes community and she was pleased to share her initial experiences with the program and discuss what she looks forward to in her first full term. Welcome Kait!

Why Wilkes?

I’m from the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area, but I applied to programs all over America and abroad. I knew I wanted a terminal degree from a multi-dimensional creative writing program and that I wanted to practice poetry, drama, and possibly translation. Once accepted to Wilkes, I scheduled a meeting with the director and told her my goals within the program. Dr. Culver gave examples of alumni who graduated with project ideas similar to mine, and the faculty members who mentored them. The pool of faculty is impressive, and the low-residency aspect provides the benefit of a cross-national community within the program. This nationwide network of support is an excellent resource; Dr. Culver ensured me that no matter the project, there is no exhaustion of the intellectual resources within the expansive Wilkes community. That commitment and community is why I chose Wilkes.

First impressions?

I had no idea what to expect from a low-residency program; what I discovered was a supportive, vibrant community of writers who are all in different stages of the writer’s life. Between the faculty, my peers, and the program’s resources, I was more impressed each day of the residency.

Did anything surprise you during the first residency?

I was initially surprised by the diversity of the group—I’m one of a small few in the cohort who finished undergrad in the past year, so the other 15+ students are at completely different stages in life. There’s definitely a plurality to writers that allows for multitasking, whether we’re juggling the craft with a career, a family, etc. My cohort has a rich resource in diversity of voice and experience; we have a lot to offer one another.

So, now that you’re about to head into your first-year Foundations courses, what do you hope to accomplish through the Wilkes writing program? In which genres will you work and what might you work on?

As I mentioned earlier, I’m working on poetry and playwriting. Poetry and drama complement one another. I plan to apply lessons from one class to the genre of the other, hopefully finding a happy hybrid. I’m interested in translation, both in the linguistic sense and in the traditional sense of changing a piece’s form in order to communicate an idea through a new lens or to a different audience. I’ll be experimenting with cross-genre “translation.”

You attended the Pittsburgh Poets Playshop last summer. What was your experience? How has the workshop contributed to your writing?

The Pittsburgh Poets Playshop influenced my philosophy on writing, mostly in its contribution to how I generate material. The moderators, Crystal Tzara and Renee Alberts, drew from the spontaneous methods of Surrealist and Dadaist poetry. There’s an emphasis in playshop; we’d play with words, teasing and prodding at the word choice and phrasing, until a line would suddenly bite back at us as poetry. Language was broken down and reconsidered in found-word and cut-up poetry. Narrative was left to chance in games like the Exquisite Corpse. There was no room for ego or insecurity in the impromptu, exploratory Playshop, and we’d share our work in person and online. A sense of community developed in the same way as it has in my Wilkes cohort, though on a smaller scale, through our writing exercises in person and online.

You’ve also held some artistically interesting jobs. What was your favorite aspect of working with the Carnegie Museum of Natural History?

Working at the CMNH was fantastic. I was an assistant in the education department, so I held a few regular positions: monitoring the interactive Discovery Room, assisting docents and teachers during lively Overnight Adventures, and researching for and developing other departmental projects.

I especially enjoyed providing literary dramaturgy and playwriting for the Science Onstage program, which provides on-site educational theatre to students in Pittsburgh and the surrounding area. I had the privilege of working in a creatively stimulating environment where the change of an exhibit meant a new project. The Carnegie Institute—which houses two museums, a library, and a music hall—is bursting with creative energy.

What are your plans for the rest of the summer? Do you have any plays or writing projects in the works?

I’m staying local this summer and focusing on workshops, poetry readings and performances in the Scranton area. I have a seated reading scheduled for a ten-minute play in late August. Also, I recently performed with a dance theatre company, Ellen Doyle Dance Experience. That has me revisiting past movement pieces in the context of current scripts, and vice verse, reconsidering the elements of the dialogue and action in each composition.

What are you reading right now? Do you have a recent read you’d like to recommend?

I’m enjoying my subscription to Poets & Writers magazine via Kindle. I value their contests section, which typically leads me to most of the journals where I submit poetry.

Let’s see; I typically enjoy nonfiction. Food always creeps into my poetry—it’s so inspiring and offers luscious metaphor—so I’ve been poring over some cookbooks I recently inherited, for inspiration. My theater read du jour is Ghostlight: An Introductory Handbook for Dramaturgy by Dr. Michael M. Chemers. I recently finished Kaylie Jones’s striking memoir, Lies My Mother Never Told Me, which I picked up during the past residency. Jones’s incisive voice guides the reader through the piercing content with wit and grace.

Think about the sessions from the June residency. Any lasting impressions you’d like to leave us with today?

I’ve been reminded to constantly challenge myself, because even if it seems I cannot reach my goal on my own, I now have the Wilkes community to encourage and support my efforts.


Thanks to Kait Burrier for taking the time to chat with us!

A Night at the Movies

July 20, 2011

It’s the middle of July. It’s hot. You’ve dipped in the pool. You’ve sat in the shade. You’re one iced tea past your taste bud tolerance and it’s time to get back to writing. But, it’s so darn hot. Perhaps you’re feeling defeated and deflated, that it’s just too hot to do anything, even write. Your motivation needs some cooling fuel, some air conditioning for the creative mind. Maybe, just maybe… it’s time to watch a few movies about writers/writing so you can get back to your own creative cave.

Here, in random order, are 25 funny and/or moving and/or depressing and/or light-hearted flicks about this creative vice we share. Cool off with a cold one, put the feet up, and enjoy a summer night (or afternoon or morning) with some potentially inspiring (or self-affirming) movies.

Wonder Boys


Barton Fink 

Sunset Boulevard 



Naked Lunch



Finding Forrester

The Squid and the Whale

Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle


The Hours

Miss Potter

Becoming Jane




Shakespeare in Love

Almost Famous

Deconstructing Harry

Harriet the Spy

In Love and War

Secret Window


Q&A with Virginia Grove, 2011 Norris Church Mailer Award winner

July 13, 2011

Each year, a Wilkes creative writing graduate student demonstrating artistic promise is awarded the Norris Church Mailer Award. For 2011, that student is Virginia Grove. Here’s what Virginia had to say in a recent Q&A:

Congratulations, Virginia! You must be pleased about the win. When and how did you receive the news?

I can’t say I do anything the traditional way, and receiving the news wasn’t an exception. Having opted to take an extra semester to work on my analytical paper, I didn’t attend the June residency. I arrived home banquet-night Friday to hear a message on my machine asking if I was coming to the banquet. By that time, the banquet had already started. Later that same evening a few cryptic messages started appearing on my Facebook page, letting me know it might be a good idea to reach out to the program director and that “I really, really, should have been at this particular residency.” The messages, coupled with the phone message, caused me to worry I had done something wrong so Monday morning I rattled off a note of apology to our program director, Bonnie Culver. Later that evening, my mentor left me a message and after a short-lived round of phone tag, she let me know I had been awarded the 2011 Norris Church Mailer Scholarship. Unfortunately, we both missed the banquet and so we both missed the presentation of the award. I am truly, truly humbled to have been nominated and awarded the scholarship. Norris was and remains a true friend to the program and a mentor to all writers. She ultimately gave herself permission to follow her passion and to be passionate about that passion– what a wonderful model for writers to follow.

Tell us about your time in the Wilkes creative writing program. What was your capstone project and at what stage in the process is it now?

I am doing additional revisions to my capstone now and plan to take advantage of having another professional reading on the manuscript by the end of the program. I love the revision process more than the writing, even. BREAK tells the story of my search for identity in the pieces of life from the moment I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease. Through a collage of writing—grocery lists, poetry, dreams, and medical records, to name a few— I examine my past, my present, and my future as I navigate diagnosis and chemotherapy treatment and their effects on a self already broken. I come to see life as a frame into which pieces are placed creating the self-portrait each person adds to the collection of humanity.

Who did you work with and what did you learn most from your mentor?

I am so lucky to still be working with Christine Gelineau. When I initially began to pitch my capstone idea to the faculty in search of a mentor, it wasChristine who seemed most excited and most involved in the idea… perhaps even more than I was. In tweaking the idea, she encouraged me to shoot for the bigger plans and she has continued to do so.

Christine has taught me many, many things–some purely academic, some truly life-giving. With saintly patience, she has guided me through the process by being simultaneously involved and distant. The distance is what allowed me to begin to trust in my own abilities… in my own style. She has brought me back from the bridge of self-criticism more than once. Without her guidance, I know the capstone wouldn’t have made it even this far because what she has taught me most is that people do believe in my abilities whether, as a chronic self-doubter, I can believe in those abilities or not, myself.

Think to way back when you first showed up on campus for your very first residency. Looking back on those initial days and thinking about your entire grad student experience, what advice might you offer to incoming students? Any tips for succeeding in the program?

This question could be a capstone in and of itself! Seriously though, there are so many tips and pieces of advice to share but I think, when boiled down, they all revolve around two ideas. (1) Be a part of the community– this means take advantage of the talent, experience, and drive of the faculty, your cohort, the program community, and be active in your own community as a writer. (2) Understand that sometimes moving forward is about standing still and be flexible with that understanding– when you end up frozen from so-called writer’s block or self doubt or if life decides it is going to get in the way of your pursuit of a degree, believe you will start again because you never stopped. When you are passionate about something, as I am about writing, sometimes the biggest steps forward come when it looks like you aren’t producing… when it’s all in your head and heart.

What are you working on now? 

Other than the analytical paper and further revisions to my capstone, I am always writing poetry. As a matter of fact, I had a chance to work with a great group of high school students late last month at Misericordia University’s Literature Camp where a fresh set of writers refueled my creative tank… especially the one filled with poems. Otherwise, I am tossing around a ton of ideas. I’m always brainstorming. I am a chronic over-thinker. I have a children’s book rumbling around in my brain and really want to take a stab at writing a play.

There are opportunities on the horizon–some closer than that even–and I am both excited and terrified by the prospects. I am scheduled to teach my first class at Misericordia University this Fall semester, so I am actively working now preparing a syllabus and reading.


Congratulations and thanks to Virginia Grove for taking the time to chat with us!

Photo Credits:
Norris Church Mailer — Photo by Christina Pabst, NYTimes
Christine Gelineau and Virginia Grove – Thanks to Ginny’s Facebook

Interview with author John Donohue

July 7, 2011

During our most recent residency, one of the dominant tips shared by authors, producers, and editors was that physical activity is not only great for the body but also for the mind of writers. Whether it’s to clear our minds and set the tone for the day by taking a creative walk or unwinding with yoga after a long day of editing and revising, physical activity can not only keep our blood but also our creative juices flowing.

One writer who takes the body and mind challenge to heart is John Donohue, author of the award-winning Connor Burke martial art thrillers Sensei, Deshi, and Tengu. An anthropologist who researches and trains in the martial arts, Donohue is associate editor for the Journal of Asian Martial Arts and member of the advisory board for the National Association of Professional Martial Artists. A black belt in karate and kendo, and a faculty member of the Albertus Magnus MFA program, Donohue resides near New Haven, Connecticut.

Donohue has just released his latest novel, Kage: The Shadow. Here’s a brief synopsis of the latest Connor Burke adventure:

In the withered and unforgiving landscape of the American southwest, Connor Burke must pierce the cloud of mystery surrounding the death of notorious ‘mystic’ and best-selling author Elliot Westmann. Hired by the deceased’s estranged daughter, Burke discovers that Westmann’s unfinished manuscripts may contain cryptic details that local border smugglers might kill to keep secret. As Burke digs deeper, facts get convoluted and events get downright dangerous. He soon realizes that he is in way over his head. His only hope is to take matters into his own hands, using his fighting skills and the aid and guidance of his warrior teacher Yamashita.

Here in this Q&A, John chats about his love of martial arts and the balance it provides for him in his writing life:

John, your involvement in martial arts has fed your creative life in many ways. Not only is your Connor Burke series centered on martial arts, but you’ve also credited the sport for developing discipline and persistence. How else has martial arts contributed to your writing life?

Much of the training in the martial arts stresses practice, repetition and the virtues of deferred gratification. The techniques involved are built on the rudiments of human movement, but refined and combined in a way that ultimately (hopefully) leads to a type of elegance.

It strikes me that writing is very much the same type of endeavor—one built on the mastery of rudimentary skills that are then combined to create (once again, hopefully) something of beauty.

Another important lesson learned from the martial arts is that you’re not always going to get it right. You’re going to make mistakes or fail. In sparring, you’re going to get beaten. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t keep at it. I often come across writers I teach who are almost paralyzed with fear—fear that they won’t get it right, fear of criticism. It’s good that they care so much about writing, but if that care keeps you from writing, you need to let that fear go. It’s like crossing swords with an opponent in kendo—if you worry about getting hit (because you will get hit, it’s the way it works) it just makes things worse. So when talking with students about writing, I laughingly use myself as an example and say that while I take my craft seriously I also abide by the motto that “hey, it ain’t Shakespeare.” It’s very liberating.

Do you have a set regime or daily routine? Do you work out and then write or vice versa? What do you find most helpful to motivate you through the day?

Like most writers, I have a day job. Which means I write when I can.  Quite often, I spend the middle part of the weekend writing. When I’m on a real roll, I’ll steal away in the evening to do a bit as well.

I do try to get a daily workout in—even if it’s just a long walk in the woods. I find that I can focus a bit on my writing when I’m walking or running or on the elliptical machine. While the body is chugging along, my mind is free to focus on the latest knotty problem or great idea in the writing project I’m working on.

As for motivation, I’m a big believer in “chunking it”: I break things down into manageable chunks—goals to achieve–and try to do that. Otherwise the prospect of writing a book seems daunting. I also keep an Excel spreadsheet tally of chapters, words, and pages completed. Every time I finish a chapter I enter it in and the spreadsheet shows me my progress. Silly, but I like it.

Some writers find it hard to break away from the computer. What advice might you offer for those of us who are a little more, um, ‘sedentary’ in our writing lives?

It’s easy to get lost in the writing process—after all we create little worlds with our words and enjoy exploring these worlds. But we still have to live in the real world. And being more active means that you can enjoy this world a little bit more (and perhaps a little bit longer).  Plus, I find that I’m more focused when I’m fit. The time I take away from the keyboard doesn’t detract from my writing. It actually helps me work through things. Then I can come back to the desk and get going again.

And you don’t need to sign up for the Ironman contest. A nice walk is a good way to start. How hard is that? If you’re really obsessive about writing, bring a friend or significant other along—you can bore them to tears as you talk about your project.

Does nutrition also play a role in your writing life? Or, when no one is looking, do you snack on fast food? Come on. You must have some ‘bad’ habits, right?

I am abundantly supplied with bad habits, nutritional and otherwise. But interestingly enough, I don’t usually eat or drink much of anything when writing. I occasionally brew up some coffee, but it almost always sits there and gets cold. Because when I’m writing, I’m writing.

Speaking of discipline, how do you balance your writing and teaching? You’re very prolific, yet you devote much of your time to student writers. Does the one activity feed the other? How so?

For me, teaching is a real treat. I spend much of my time at administrative duties at my college, so being able to walk into the classroom in the MFA program is like a holiday. I enjoy talking with student writers, of exploring issues and problems with them. I find that, as often as not, they’re teaching me things. In addition, when I have to prepare for a class, I need to think through my ideas about writing and set them down. It often helps me to formalize ideas that have been swirling around in my head but I haven’t had time to formally express them.

Your latest book in the Connor Burke series, Kage: The Shadow, follows Burke as he discovers mysteries buried in the unfinished manuscripts ofbest-selling author Elliot Westmann. Do you yourself have many unfinished projects? Were they deliberately abandoned or are any of these projects ones you may return to at some point?

Like every writer, I have “the bottom drawer.” It’s the place where finished (yet unwanted) manuscripts go to die. Or to age. I have had the experience of tossing something into a drawer only to pull it out a few years later and find that a publisher is interested.

Currently I have two novels in the drawer—Wave Man, about a mob leg-breaker who develops a conscience and is trying to get out of his life, and The Qi Eaters, which is a paranormal thriller with Asian mystic overtones.

I’m working now on the next book in the Burke series, but also have at least three other novel ideas in various stages of development.

Finally, you’ve found a nice balance between teaching, writing, and staying physically active. Do you have any tips to offer emerging writers?

You’ve got to keep at it. Think less. Do more. Stop worrying—most of us aren’t going to get rich and it probably isn’t going to be Shakespeare—but it’s important. And hard. So it’s worth doing. The Japanese martial artists have a saying: “hakka yoi”—keep at it.

So that’s my advice—hakka yoi.


Thanks, John!

Visit author John Donohue’s website here.

Read a preview and purchase Kage on amazon here.


Great Opportunity: New essay/memoir contest

August 31, 2011

Did last week’s Q&A with memoirist/essayist Melissa Hart inspire you? Then get your best work in shape and submit to The Writer essay & memoir contest, new for 2011!

The Writer, in collaboration with Gotham Writers’ Workshop, invites writers to enter The Writer 2011 Essay/Memoir Contest with guest judge Lee Gutkind. Only original, unpublished works of 1,000 to 1,200 words will be accepted. Prizes include cash, publication in The Writer, and more!

Editors at The Writer will read and judge each of the entries and select 20 semifinalists. Lee Gutkind, the finalist judge, will select and rank three winners from among the semifinalists. Lee is founder and editor of Creative Nonfiction and author of more than 20 books, including Almost Human: Making Robots Think, featured on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. His new book, You Can’t Make Stuff Up, the Creative Nonfiction Writer’s Bible, will be published in July 2012 by DeCapo. He is editor of Keep It Real: Everything You Need to Know About Researching and Writing Creative Nonfiction.

Entry fees are $10 US and the deadline is 1:59PM (EDT) November 30, 2011.

Visit this link for more info and to submit your work. Go Wilkies!

Q&A with author Melissa Hart

August 24, 2011

Have you ever known a multi-tasker? I mean, a real multi-tasker who seems to juggle it all and do so with grace and, yes, success? When it comes to writing, Melissa Hart colors in and outside of the lines in such a well-rounded fashion that’s so inspiring, she has to be one of my favorite interviews of all time. She’s busy, but she’s incredibly endearing as you see…

Hart is the author of the memoir,Gringa: A Contradictory Girlhood (Seal, 2009.) She’s a contributing editor atThe Writer Magazine, and her essays have appeared in The Washington Post, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Advocate, Fourth Genre, The Los Angeles Times, Adbusters, High Country News, Orion, Hemispheres, Woman’s Day, and various other publications. She teaches for the School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Oregon, for U.C. Berkeley’s online extension program, and for Laurel Springs School.  As well, she works as an independent writing coach and editor. Visit her website at www.melissahart.com.

Welcome, Melissa, and thanks for joining us. Gringa received –and continues to receive — such positive feedback. What do you plan as a follow-up? Are you working on another memoir? 

This summer, I’m finishing the final draft of a memoir about learning to train permanently-injured owls for educational presentations at a raptor rehabilitation center while navigating the baffling process of adopting a child.  The book focuses on people who dedicate their lives to helping injured and orphaned kids and birds of prey.  It’s taken me three years to write, and I’m really excited about its completion and its possibilities to bring awareness to these two demographics which actually have a lot in common!

As you work on personal essays, how do you know when you come across something that might be ‘memoir-worthy’? How do you know when something has enough meat to carry a book-length theme or motif? 

With Gringa, I knew I wanted to investigate the under-reported phenomenon of children being separated in the 1960s and 70s from newly-out lesbian mothers.  From my perspective as one of those children, I wanted to explore the effects of homophobia on families.  I also wanted to examine my coming of age in multicultural Los Angeles and what it meant to grow up in such a culturally-rich environment, believing I myself had no discernable culture.

I’ve written numerous short essays about my experiences with adopting my daughter and with owl-training, but I’m fascinated by how the two paralleled each other over two years, and—as I’d taken extensive notes during our adoption process—I realized I had enough material for a book-length work that expands much of my published material on both subjects.

I urge participants in my writing workshops to identify a specific era and/or event from their life that has energy and conflict and revelation, and to focus their essay or book-length project on this.  For instance, I’ve got a client right now working on a long essay about going to Japan right out of college to assist his grandfather one summer with some political activism, protesting a proposed naval base.  He’s written about 8,000 words on the subject, but he could easily expand it with flashbacks and history and personal anecdotes to become a book-length memoir.

How do you balance your time between writing and teaching? Do you ever envy those who have a ‘regular’ schedule? 

I spend about half my time writing, and the other half teaching.  I’m just not one of those writers who can spend all day every day at the computer—I love to interact with emerging writers and talk shop and help them to get their own work published.  I’ve lately started a coaching business for writers, which I adore.  I’ve worked with an etiquette specialist, a woman who did search and rescue with her dog, an 85-year old world traveler, and an Americorp teacher—it’s such a fun, fulfilling job.

I had a regular schedule as a special education teacher about 13 years ago, and it darn near killed me.  I love the freedom to wake up at six AM and work for an hour before my daughter wakes up, and I don’t mind working like a fiend while she’s at morning preschool because I get to spend time with her in the afternoon. Often, I’ll teach at night and/or meet coaching clients on weekends.  This flexible schedule works better for me than would a 9 to 5 job.  I like every day to be a little different, with time built in to go for a spontaneous hike or write something unplanned, just in case inspiration strikes.  With social commentary, in particular–especially if it’s for newspaper or radio–writers have to jump on a news topic as soon as it hits the wire.  I’m grateful for the time I have to monitor the news with an eye for timely topics that I can then explore in a more immediate way than I approach my books and literary essays.

What’s your favorite part about being a contributing editor to The Writer

I love my editors.  I’ve been working with them for about 8 years, and they’re such kind, positive people.  They give me wonderful assignments for my “Literary Spotlight” column, introducing me to so many innovative literary journals.  My main editor, Sarah Lange, also knows exactly what types of books I like, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed writing reviews on–for example–Priscilla Long’s The Writer’s Portable Notebook and Eric Maisel’sBrainstorm: Harnessing the Power of Productive Obsessions.

You have so many diverse publications to your credit. Did you create and follow a plan for the magazines and newspapers you write for or did these publications grow organically as you discovered your areas of interest? 

These publications most definitely grew organically out of whatever interested me at the moment.  Matching my writing to suitable publications requires research into the magazines and newspapers out there, which can be so exciting.  For instance, I hadn’t heard of High Country News (one of my favorite publications) until I wrote “The Owl and I” and began to look for potential markets.  I tell my students to give themselves a couple of hours every now and then to peruse the stacks at the library, and in bookstores, and to research publications online.  Duotrope Digest offers hundreds of titles, of course, and I also like to Google a key word such as “owl” along with the word “magazine” to see what comes up!

I write on a wide variety of subjects—among them travel, nature, adoption, LGBT issues, and Down syndrome—and I love how there’s a publication out there to fit even the most specific essay and/or article. By the way, I’d like to emphasize for your readers how open the editors of newspaper commentary sections are to topics and writers from all over the country—for instance, as an Oregon writer, I’ve had commentary published in The Los Angeles Times,The Chicago Tribune, and The Washington Post.  Editors are always looking for fresh perspectives and voices on topics which affect readers in all parts of the country.

You often find unique ways to bridge similarities between animals–owls, cats, raptors–and humans. Have you always been an animal lover? How has your relationship to animals fed your creativity? 

This is a terrific question, and one I’ve never been asked!  I’ve had cats since I was three years old—the first, a mammoth beast named “Butch” whom I loved almost as much as my little sister.  I’m happiest outside, watching animals in nature, or playing with my cats.  Ten years ago, I sold my first travel article to Cat Fancy, after visiting a feline sanctuary in Rome, and I’ve been writing off and on about cats (and sometimes my two dogs) every since.  It’s interesting to note that my husband and I met at the dog park . . . three years before the romantic comedy Dog Park hit the screen.

Volunteering at the raptor rehabilitation center inspired numerous essays.  I’d never been around birds of prey, and getting to feed them and care for them–and later, glove train them—was such a privilege, every single day.  I thoroughly enjoy getting to revisit those years in the memoir I’m working on now.

One of the things I tell workshop students on the first day is “identify your passions.”  Then, you can brainstorm whom you might profile in a magazine related to these passions, and what related essays you might write, and what books you might review.  For instance, I’ve got a student fascinated by VW busses, and he’s written articles, essays, profiles, and blog posts on the subject for a couple of years.  As soon as freelance writers get in touch with what they love, they can take a cross-genre approach which keeps their work exciting and relevant.

With fall just around the corner, how do plan to take advantage of the remaining weeks of summer? Anything left on your summer reading list you’re excited to share with us? 

Oh, my summer reading list.  Between parenting, working on a book, teaching a community-based class and working with coaching clients, it’s a miracle if I get to open The New Yorker.  But I’m on a huge Mary Karr kick right now, reading her work backwards from Lit to The Liar’s Club.  I just reviewed Sarah Rabkin’s superb book of essays, What I Learned at Bug Camp, for High Country News, and I’m looking forward to reading John Daniel’s newest book.  I’m kind of hoping children’s author Kevin Henkes will come out with a new picture book, too.  I’m in love with his mice.

Speaking of books, what’s the one book that you turn to repeatedly for an extra boost of writer’s self esteem? What’s the book that kicks you in the pants when you need it most? 

J.D. Salinger’s books—the three that aren’t Catcher in the Rye—ground me and remind me of who I am and what I want to accomplish as a writer.  Aside from his story, “Seymour: An Introduction,” there’s little in them about writing, per se, but they’re informed by marvelous characters, compelling dialogue, subtle plotlines, and a great deal of Eastern philosophy which I try hard to practice in my daily life.  Jack Kornfield and Jon Kabat-Zinn are my contemporary go-to authors, and all I have to do when I’m feeling unbalanced and confused about my work is to read a few pages.

By the way, Kornfield says in one of his audio lectures, “What is it time to do with that which you have been given?”  I urge freelancers to write this question on a sticky note and attach it to the computer.  As someone who’s mainly self-employed and juggling several jobs in a day, I repeat it to myself almost every morning.  It helps.


Visit www.melissahart.com for news and upcoming events.

Q&A with author Loreen Niewenhuis

August 17, 2011

Author Loreen Niewenhuis has had the incredible fortune of seeing two of her books released in 2011, A 1-000 Mile Walk on the Beach and Atlanta. She’s working hard on a new manuscript as well. A Michigan resident, Loreen has found great success in creating an opportunity for herself that blends her genre interests and love of place writing. This interview took place recently and I am pleased to share the highlights today.

Thanks for joining us, Loreen, and congratulations. With two books released in 2011, you’ve been busy! How do you manage your time?

I’m quite lucky to be able to focus on my writing full-time at this point. Not that I’m making a living at it, but I’ve been a stay-at-home mom for a few years and have been able to devote increasingly more time to my writing as my sons have gotten older.

The first book we’ve seen from you this year is A 1,000-MILE WALK ON THE BEACH, released in March by Crickhollow Books. What is your connection to Lake Michigan and what inspired you to make this figurative and literal journey?

I’ve always been drawn to Lake Michigan. It’s the place I go to center myself. I reached a point in my life where I wanted to take on a big challenge, something that would test me, that I could throw myself into. I decided to take on the lake, to walk all the way around it. In a way, I internalized the lake by completely encircling it.

You’re obviously familiar with the Great Lakes, but I’m sure you learned a great deal about your environment as you made the journey. What surprised you most about Lake Michigan?

Walking the varied geology was a revelation to me. I knew that the Great Lakes were formed by glaciers, but to actually walk the entire shoreline of Lake Michigan gave me a unique perspective. I saw the hand of the glaciers in the perched dunes in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. I recognized the work of wind and waves to loft the massive sand dunes I climbed. Hiking the dense limestone deposits in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and the eroding clay cliffs in Wisconsin completed the geological picture of the lake for me.

It was satisfying to connect the lake into a unified view instead of the pinpoint glimpses that I got by visiting the lakeshore at various access points over the years.

How does your writing across genres work in your favor? Or does it? Is it challenging to pen both fiction and nonfiction?

I am, at heart, a fiction writer. It has been a challenge to write nonfiction, especially when it comes to revealing myself on the page. I think that moving between the genres has expanded the way I think about my writing. There is a bigger range of projects I can undertake in the future. The research aspect of A 1,000-MILE WALK ON THE BEACH was fun and I hope to do another project like it in the future.

I understand you’re now working on a new novel, TUMOR BOARD. Can you give us a hint of the premise? 

Since this is the first full-length novel for me, I wanted to create a structure that was transitional between short stories and the novel form. So, the novel has a central spine that is told in present tense. This spine is the Tumor Board meeting that takes place in major hospitals. It is where specialists gather together for one hour each week to discuss difficult cancer cases. In this room there are surgeons, radiologists, nurses, doctors-in-training, researchers, pathologists, etc.

Branching off of this meeting are chapters for each character: one in their past, and one in their future. In the first half of the novel, you get all the glimpses into each of their past, in the second half, into their future. By the end of the novel, the reader will know a significant arc in the life of each character.

It takes place in Detroit in Grace Hospital which used to exist, but was torn down in the ’70s.

Loreen, where can readers learn more about you and your work?

The blog about my walk around Lake Michigan (where I continue to post information about the Great Lakes) is at http://laketrek.blogspot.com/.  My author website is http://lniewenhuis.com/.  I also have a fan page on Facebook where I post updates about readings and signings.

Thanks, Loreen!

Q&A with author Amye Archer

August 10, 2011

You know her. You love her. And she is indeed one of our own. A very recent grad of the WilkesMFA program, Amye Archer has just launched her chapbook, A Shotgun Life, to rave reviews. Amye took a few minutes from her busy schedule to chat about this well-deserved publication. Without further ado…

Amye, congratulations on the publication of A Shotgun Life. Can you tell us a little about the themes and ‘story’ of this collection? 

This collection deals with my struggle to find my place among the mothers of the world.  As you may have guessed from the title, my pregnancy was a bit of a surprise.  I went from getting divorced and thinking I could not have children, to being the mother of twin girls and having a new husband, all within two years.  In this collection I wanted to capture the difficulties of instant and unexpected motherhood.  Those maternal instincts are not always as automatic as you think.  I once left my kids with the Eater Bunny at the mall.  I forgot I had them.  Thankfully, he was a decent Easter Bunny and he returned them.

What was the journey like for you, to document so many personal experiences and then step back from the personal to put on your objective editor’s hat? Who did you turn to for support in this process?

I have never been shy about splashing myself across the page.  I don’t know if my self-humiliation gene is clicked off, or what happened, but I’m easily able to read self-depricating, or very personal things about my life without flinching.  However, that doesn’t always translate into being a strong writer.  The Wilkes poetry faculty helped me overcome that hurdle.  Christine Gelineau helped me recognize my writing style:  Like a sculptor, I overwrite, and then chip away what is not the poem.

Tell us about working with Big Table Publishing, the publisher of your chapbook. What was the process like, from acquisition to publication?

A few years ago, Robin Stratton, the woman who runs Big Table and Boston Literary Magazine, accepted a few poems from this collection for publication in her magazine.  At that time, I sent her the manuscript.  She liked it, but felt it lacked a narrative arc.  And THAT… is where Tony Morris comes in.   Tony, a poet in the Wilkes University Creative Writing Program, gave me great advice as to finding that arc.  He told me to print all the poems out, and scatter them around my living room floor.  Something will emerge, he assured me.  (ala A Beautiful Mind style…)  Once I found that arc, I revised, and resent to Robin.  This time she loved the manuscript.

Now that you’ve finished up your MFA with Wilkes, what is your writing life like? What fills your day and what do you find most challenging without the ever-present community surrounding you? Or, is it like you’ve never left?  

I graduated?  Oh crap.  Well, it will take more than a degree to get rid of me.  (a restraining order maybe?)  I still hang around the office trying to absorb the energy of the new students coming into the program.  I’m very lucky because I live close enough to do that.  I think the Wilkes community is what you make of it.  Either you take it with you or you don’t.  I’ve taken it with me.  My cohort and I are tight, and I have made lifelong friends.  I also started a reading series, Prose in Pubs, which ensures I will forever be surrounded by enormous talent, at least every other month on a Sunday night.

How did the Wilkes program help you become the writer you are today? What do you think was most influential in your development as a writer?

I aways say, if you learn nothing else in this program, you learn how to live like a writer.  I was always a writer, but fancied my talents as just a hobby, something I did for fun.  Wilkes connects you with like-minded individuals who transform your writing from pastime to passion.

What are your plans now? Is there a memoir to keep our eyes out for?

Well, I’m working with an agent on revising my memoir.  One of two things is going to happen with my memoir:  You are either going to see it for sale someday, or it will perish in a fiery blaze in my fire pit.  It can go either way right now.

Finally, where can readers find you online and in person?

I have created a blog where anyone, stalkers included, can find out anything they need to know about me:  www.amyearcher.com.  You can find Prose in Pubs on Facebook.  In the upcoming weeks we have some big names reading for us starting with Jason Carney, a national performance poet, and fellow student in the Wilkes Program.


Be sure to visit Amye’s page dedicated to A Shotgun Life here.

Guest Blogger: graduate Patricia Florio

August 3, 2011

Patricia Florio is a recent grad of the Wilkes MA and MFA creative nonfiction writing programs. She lives in Ocean Grove NJ and is a travel writer for StripedPot.com. For her nonfiction thesis, Patricia worked with drafting mentor Rashidah Ismaili Abubakr and revision mentor Phil Brady. She has provided this guest post today to talk about her experience with the Wilkes program and share her path to publication! Patricia has seen two of her short stories, “All in the Game” and “In The Secret Service,” accepted for anthology publication and very soon her thesis memoir, My Two Mothers, will be released with Phyllis Scott Publishing.

Without further ado, welcome Patricia Florio…



My time at Wilkes seems forever ago and sometimes it seems like I’m still there in the thick of writing, observing, listening and being a part of the moment-by-moment creativity that only a program like the Wilkes low-residency MA/MFA can offer.

I had never gone away to college. Actually, I had never gone anywhere without my husband and four children, since it seems like I was a child when I had my first, a set of twin boys, and then two more children over the years. Wilkes’ program offered me that part of life that I felt I missed out on in my college education. I had gone to school, it seems, most of my life: first, conquering the skill of becoming a court reporter in a crash-course program at the College of Staten Island in 1983 through 1985.

While working in the federal court in Brooklyn, my desire heightened to push further from an associate’s degree at Brookdale Community College to a bachelor’s of arts program. It took seven years to complete that program at Rutgers University on a part-time basis. When I found out about the Wilkes programs, it was a no-brainer. I was already in for a pound of education. Why not go the whole nine yards?

That first Friday night at Wilkes, I knew I had come to the right place. There were other scared people like myself scurrying around the hallways. There were others who were betting their talent cut it far away in this university in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. I knew that night I could stop saying, “I’m a court reporter” and finally say I’m a writer.

J Michael Lennon and Nancy McKinley are so perfect for the 501 cohorts: the gentle lead. They are so perfect in their element of the new and brave writers who first walk in the door. I could have shared anything with them like going into a confessional. I was able to write my most inner-kept secrets, my passion for writing, all of the thoughts that I have had circling around in my head for years and years, dying to come out and to have its own voice.

This Wilkes program is a special program. Those of us participating in the programs at Wilkes know it, even though sometimes it can’t be defined as to what it is that has captivated us. Experiential things are hard to put a title on, or words to, almost like a religious retreat. It’s what’s going on inside a person that makes them push harder during the twelve hour days of the first cohort, taking every moment into your pores, absorbing it all, going back to the hotel exhausted and coming back for more the next day.

I’ve been lucky, although I just don’t want to put it on luck: being at the right place at the right time, having a good story to tell, being able to tell that story with the uniqueness of my words and with the passion of coming from a Sicilian family, whom I wanted to share with the world, a publisher asked to publish my memoir/thesis.  Signing a contract and understanding what I’m entitled to by selling my story, all of that came from the classes at Wilkes.

My outside reader, Lucy Carson, played a very special role. She said, “This is not for a New York market.” So I took my story to California. It seems silly because my story is about growing up in Brooklyn, New York.  But I listened to the words of her advice. So sometime this year My Two Mothers, my thesis/memoir, now broken down into a collection of short stories will be available from Phyllis Scott Publishing (San Diego CA).

There’s always work that’s going to have to be done when you’re a writer. I will have to market my book, have book parties, set up readings and book signings, make myself known to the public and the most important thing for me is to keep writing.  I’m in the midst of writing my first novel, called Hats off to Larry.  It’s a fun story and intriguing at the same time. It’s interesting what your creative mind can come up with. All I can say is that I am the beneficiary of the Wilkes University Creative Writing Program. And that’s really something!


Advisory Board Member Thom Ward: New Book

September 28, 2011

Thom Ward, Advisory Board member of the Wilkes Creative Writing MA/MFA programs, has a new poetry book available from Accents Publishing.Etcetera’s Mistress, with original cover art by acclaimed artist DeLoss McGraw, follows Ward’s previous publications Small Boat with Oars of Different Size, The Matter of the Casket and Various Orbits.

What Other Poets Say About Etcetera’s Mistress

“Reading Thom Ward is to enter a brilliant and restless imagination – sometimes poignant, sometimes crazy-with-a-purpose, but always with a deep lucidity in the logic of its illogic. His poems remind me how much we need language and how much the language needs us.”

– Thomas Lux

“On Thom Ward’s diagram of the day, no line, border, or boundary exists between dark and light sides. They overlay one another with rich and haunting texture. His navigational map, his poetic GPS, locates a landscape full of brilliantly wry and tender intelligences.”

– Naomi Shihab Nye

“Waxing or waning, the moon’s aloft in Thom Ward’s stunning new prose poems, jingling sonnets, and philosophical forays, with Ward dangling from the same moon like a lovely Shakespearean fool. Here he swings nightly, panting and sweating in his night sweats and sweatpants, and caroling across the chasms of loneliness, kicking around the stars. Who better than Ward to help us love?”

– Alan Michael Parker

From Etcetera’s Mistress –

‘Actually, However’

He fell, and fell hard, like his heart was a mob informant and she

the East River. Actually, he was a mob informant, the only

way to advance his stalled career on the squad. She, however,

was not the East River but the black leather, blue-eyed mistress

of Butch the Barracuda. Few salt water fish in the East River;

however, there were plenty of decomposing informants, even he

knew that, knew her mouth was moist as a June strawberry,

cartons shipped from the docks along with the guns and the crack.

Actually, he had never kissed her, though he knew how succulent

she would taste, especially at night, along the shore of the East River;

however, at the card table in the back of the warehouse, he called

Butch by his Christian name, instantly blowing his cover, the cold

bullet finding his brain, and he now finding himself sinking in the

East River, which he always knew had never, actually, been her.


Details and Ordering

Format: Softcover, 6″ x 9″

ISBN: 978-1-936628-03-2

Price: $10.00

Order directly from Accents Publishing

Buy or Review it on Amazon.com


About the Author

Thom Ward is sole proprietor of Thom Ward’s Poetry Editing and Proofreading Services (thombward@gmail.com). Ward’s poetry collections include Small Boat with Oars of Different Size (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2000) and Various Orbits (Carnegie Mellon, 2004). Ward’s poetry chapbook, Tumblekid, winner of the 1998 Devil’s Millhopper poetry contest, was published by the University of South Carolina-Aiken in 2000. His collection of prose poems, The Matter of the Casket, was published by CustomWords in 2007. Ward teaches creative writing workshops at high schools and colleges around the country, tutors individual poetry students, and edits poetry manuscripts. He is a faculty and advisory board member at Wilkes University’s Graduate Creative Writing program in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Thom Ward lives in western New York with his girlfriend Jennifer and their cat Phantom.

Prose in Pubs to aid flood relief efforts

September 22, 2011

This weekend’s Prose in Pubs literary event will be extra special. I talked toAmye Archer, co-mastermind of the reading series, to see how the event will assist those impacted by the recent hurricane/flooding damage in Northeast PA. Read on. Attend. Support.

Amye, how about you start off by telling us what Prose in Pubs is?

Prose in Pubs is a local reading series held at Jack’s Draft House in Scranton. It is a collaborative effort between Jim Warner and myself. Prose in Pubs is presented as informal, and we certainly encourage that perception. However, the readers are carefully handpicked, and we really spend a lot of time trying to bring together the right talent for each show.

I understand you and Jim Warner are hoping to help the United Way of Wyoming Valley. How and why?

After the flooding from Hurricane Irene and the subsequent rains damaged so many homes in our area, displacing hundreds of residents in NEPA, Jim and I talked about raising money in some way through our already scheduled, upcoming show. I have a new book out, which I will be selling at the show, and Jim is the author of two books. We decided to donate 50% of our book sales to the flood relief effort. Also, we will be accepting monetary donations. All monies will go to the United Way of Wyoming Valley, and they have committed to keeping 100% of all donations in our area. It’s a great chance to help out your neighbors.

You’re local to the area. How did the flooding and crazy weather affect you?

My husband and I were very lucky to have escaped with only a few inches of water in our basement. But I watched as my friends and colleagues’ houses along the Susquehanna and Lackawanna Rivers were submerged and in many cases destroyed. It was devastating for so many.

How else can folks help?

Certain organizations in the area are accepting donations of cleaning supplies and other necessities. If you are skilled in any way, carpenter, electrician, etc, you can donate some of your time to help these folks. To find out the best way to help, you can visit the local television station’s site,www.pahomepage.com, for more information.

For those planning on attending the event, where and when is it and what can be expected this week?  

Prose in Pubs is Sunday, September 25th at Jack’s Draft House, which is located at 802 Prescott Avenue in Scranton. This special edition will be hosted by Jim Warner, and will include myself, Bryne Lewis, and Kait Burrier as readers. Our feature is Jason Carney. The show kicks off at 7pm.

AWP Opportunities for Students & Faculty

September 14, 2011

The M.A./M.F.A. Wilkes programs are once again sponsors for AWP’s (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) national conference to be held in Chicago, IL February 29-March 3, 2012! That means Wilkes will have 45 FREE registrations for students and faculty wishing to attend the conference.

As in years past, Wilkes will have a booth shared withEtruscan Press in the Book Fair.  We need a handful of student volunteers to work the booth during the conference; those students attending will receive transportation, a shared room, and registration. Please call Dr. Culver to volunteer no later than October 1!

The 2012 AWP Conference & Bookfair takes place February 29-March 3, 2012 in Chicago. This year’s conference Keynote Speaker is Margaret Atwood. See a full list of accepted 2012 readings and panels here.

Psst. Keep your eyes out for the return of the highly acclaimed All Collegiate Slam, hosted by Misterjim and the Wilkes writing programs!

Q&A with Donna Talarico, editor of Hippocampus Magazine

September 7, 2011

I’m pleased to share this Q&A with Donna Talarico, the founder and publisher of Hippocampus Magazine. Donna earned her MFA in creative writing from Wilkes and now fills her days with writing and connecting with the literary community at large. Visit her website and blog at http://www.donnatalarico.com.

Hippocampus Magazine is nearly a year old. Has everything happened as you planned or has the journal taken on its own life? 

This reminds me. I need to plan a killer birthday party. We just launched our fifth issue and so far, so good. Way back in a previous life, when I worked in radio, I read an article about Kenny Chesney. This was in the late ‘90s. He had his first big radio hit while I was at Froggy 101, but the dude had been on the scene for years, and had about three albums to his credit before he became the tan, baseball-capped, beach bum of a stud we all love. I left radio in 2001 and Kenny has since become way bigger. But back to my point. The article talked about Kenny’s perseverance and this was his quote (probably an old saying, but this was the first I’d heard it): “Take off like a rocket, fizzle like a rocket.” I never forgot that. I announced in January, but didn’t launch until May. It could also be that I work in marketing and I know how much planning a product or event needs to be successful.  Although I was enthusiastic and totally excited, I was and am very deliberate about why I do what I do, and when and how I do it. I have a lot of plans, but with time they will be rolled in. So, the short answer to this question is: yes. We’re right on track. It hasn’t grown a life of its own—instead, it’s added new life to mine.

Your vision for Hippocampus included creating an inviting sphere where readers and writers would mix and comingle, where craft articles were not just about how-to but how-to-dig-deeper, and where a “a mix of timely and timelessness” would keep people coming back. What sort of response are you receiving from the literary community-at-large? What’s the gossip about Hippocampus? 

I am so pleased with the response Hippocampus has received since our first issue—and even before that, when we made our first call for submissions in January. When I put out the call for new staff writers and editors, I received several covers letters that just warmed my heart. It means the world to find out how excited people are about a home exclusively for creative nonfiction and how much people believe in the mission of Hippocampus, so much so that they want to volunteer their time and talent to help it grow and thrive. I also find such joy seeing the connections being made through the comments sections on the stories, as well as on Twitter and Facebook. Our most recent issue features a story, “Word,” by the fabulous Lori Myers, which celebrates the impact of words. This beautiful piece shares how one of her magazine stories—about rug hookers in a poor, Mexican town—impacted a community. The publicity from that article generated more work for these crafters. This, in turn, moved Lori; she realized how much power her words had. Now, her story about words moving her gets to move others: the comments section is filling up with praise, and writers sharing their own stories of moving experiences. There have been other examples, but this one is a great example of the kinds of conversations I hope Hippocampus can create in the literary—and greater—community. As far as gossip-gossip, I’m still waiting on the paparazzi to show up. I make sure I have makeup on at all times and, when I am participating in debauchery, I –well, actually, I usually tweet while I’m doing that. I can’t hide.

You’ve added some great helping hands to the masthead, many of whom are Wilkes students, alums, and faculty. Is it hard to fight them off? 

I’m a lover, not a fighter, Lori! I am thrilled that people from the Wilkes program have been so interested in lending their amazing writing eyes to serve as readers and editors. Hippocampus was born (sort of) during my publishing class during the first MFA residency in 2009. I bought the domain name right after that, but sat on it for years. I was driving to the residency last January—now as an alum—and thought, “Gosh, I have been so busy with my new job that I have no answer to give people when they ask what I am doing now.” Then, during that lonely two hour drive from Lancaster County to good ‘ol NEPA, I made mental notes—no, I did not grab an envelope from above the visor and write on it while I drove on 81; that’s dangerous!—about the Hippocampus Magazine concept. I had been thinking about it for so long, and ideas don’t do anyone any good sitting in my head. When I arrived to campus—well, the bar—the first person I saw was Taylor Polites from a few cohorts ahead of me. He asked what I was up to, so I did it—I finally told someone about Hippocampus. He loved the idea. Then, I ran into my mentor, Becky Bradway; she also loved the idea and we sat and talked for a few hours about it—and other life stuff, of course. Maybe it was the winter brews and the camaraderie, but I felt major warm and fuzzies that night. The Wilkes community has been supportive in so many ways, from the encouragement when I first said something aloud to people reading and serving as editor.

What’s interesting, too, is that while there is a very strong Wilkes presence, there is no underlying favoritism since all submissions are read blindly by a reading panel. Why did you opt to go this route and how has it served your purpose? 

Fairness has always been important to me. I’ve always rooted for the underdog. Maybe it’s because I never got picked for the kickball team, but I just do. I wanted Hippocampus to be taken seriously and I felt that, especially being new to the game, being completely transparent about our process was the right step to take. I didn’t want to prevent people whom with I may be loosely associated from submitting, but I also feared the favoritism you mention. A blind process eliminates that. Stories are judged on their own merit. However, I built into our process that we can also solicit work from published writers. Also, our craft articles, reviews and interviews are assigned. I am often quite surprised by what the reading panel collectively likes and doesn’t like—a piece that was very well-received turned out to be from a high school student. Had no idea until she sent her bio after acceptance. That’s an underdog story. I have to say that I am also very impressed by the caliber of writers submitting to Hippocampus—and the places they’ve been published. I am thrilled we are attracting established writers and equally thrilled to be a new home for people looking to get their first piece published.

There’s still time for writers to enter the Remember in November Contest for Creative Nonfiction, with a deadline of Sept 15. How will this writing contest support the National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month? How can readers and writers contribute and do some good?  

We’re donating $2 from every $10 entry fee to the Greater PA Chapter of Alzheimer’s Association. We have their blessing as well—they’ve helpedpromote the contest. Submission guidelines are on our website. Winning entries will be published in November, which is also National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. Some craft articles and reviews pertaining to memory will round out the winning entries.

Speaking of helping out, are you still actively seeking volunteer editors and writers? What opportunities are available and what do you seek in an applicant?  

I’m always looking to diversify our reading panel. Like most literary magazines, the biggest audience is other writers. I do hope to attract a readership full of more “normal” people. I am looking for people who enjoy reading and wouldn’t mind reviewing and commenting on submissions when they have some spare time.

So, with that one year anniversary just around the corner, what can we look forward to in the terrible twos? What does Hippocampus have up its sleeve for year two?  

Oh! Terrible twos. We promise to limit the tantrums and make it through potty-training without too many accidents. But seriously, I hope year two brings an increase in high quality submissions and see a continued growth in readership and interaction on our website and social media channels. With the addition of a reviews and interviews editor, our outreach to the literary community will no doubt grow. We have other things up our sleeves too. Can’t give it all away!


Thanks, Donna! Visit www.hippocampusmagazine.com for submission guidelines, contest information, and—of course—some great reads!

Photo note: all images obtained from Hippocampus.


Tupelo Press Dorset Prize & Poetry Tips

October 26, 2011

The 2011 Dorset Prize is open for submissions! The Dorset Prize includes a cash award of $3,000 in addition to publication by Tupelo Press, a book launch, and national distribution with energetic publicity and promotion. The final judge is Tom Sleigh and submissions should be received by December 31, 2011. Full details are available here:http://www.tupelopress.org/dorset.php

If you’re considering entering your manuscript, you may want to visit the blog of Tupelo’s Publisher and Editor-in-Chief, Jeffrey Levine. In a recent post, “On Making the Poetry Manuscript,” Levine provides advice on making a book out of your individual poems, from the perspective of one who reads three-to-four thousand manuscripts a year.

In another post, Levine discusses the idea of order within the poetry manuscript. The following comes from “On the Idea of Order: A Western Key”:

Poets write to me, despairingly, “but there are so many equally good orders for a poetry manuscript!” And I suggest, of course there are. But, well before you settle on the order that suits, the key to creating a memorable book is to take the matter of creating order as an opportunity to look so much more closely at your poems.

From http://jeffreyelevine.com/2011/10/19/on-the-idea-of-order-a-western-key/

Whether you plan on submitting to the 2011 Dorset Prize or are knee-deep in the manuscript revision phase, Levine’s blog is a great resource offering tips to consider for improving your manuscript.

SenArt Films Partners with Wilkes

October 19, 2011

New York-based SenArt Films has found a new home in the Wilkes UniversityCreative Writing building. The independent production company was founded by producer Robert May, who is also an advisory board member for the low-residency creative writing program.

In 2004, SenArt Films received an Academy Award for Best Feature Documentary for The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara. In 2003,The Station Agent won the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts award for Best Original Screenplay.

SenArt Films is providing student internships inclusive of research and production assistance. Students in the master’s in screenwriting have immediate access to producers and SenArt’s staff, providing an enhanced academic—and practical—experience.

“Having worked with Wilkes for several years now, I’ve been impressed with the creative writing program, and we’re excited to give qualified students the chance to get actively, creatively involved with our ongoing film projects. It’s hard work, but for students with the right attitude, we offer the opportunity to experience what the film business is all about,” said producer and founder Robert May. 

“We are delighted to host SenArt Films on campus and offer our students the opportunity to work with a top shelf independent film company,” offered program director, Bonnie Culver.  “This partnership underscores the Wilkes mission of real life learning.”

Other acclaimed SenArt Film projects include The War Tapes, winner of Best Documentary at the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival and Best International Documentary at BritDoc 2006, and the feature film Bonneville, starring Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates and Joan Allen.

International Win for Colum McCann

October 12, 2011

Wilkes creative writing program advisory board member Colum McCann has received international recognition for his novel, Let The Great World Spin (Random House). The International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award is the largest and most international prize of its kind. McCann’s was selected from a shortlist of ten nominees and brings home a literary prize worth 100,000 euro (approx $139,000 USD). More than 160 titles were nominated by 166 libraries worldwide.

Let The Great World Spin opens with a true-to-life historical event, when Philippe Petit walks a tightrope nestled between the twin towers of the World Trade Center in 1974. It is the life happening beneath the tightrope that McCann explores, using the shared experience to branch out into an homage to the city and its people within it. 

In The New York Times Sunday Book Review, Jonathan Mahler credits Let The Great World Spin as “one of the most electric, profound novels” he has read in years.USA Today praised McCann’s novel, calling it “Stunning… [an] elegiac glimpse of hope…It’s a novel rooted firmly in time and place. It vividly captures New York at its worst and best. But it transcends all that. In the end, it’s a novel about families – the ones we’re born into and the ones we make for ourselves.”

McCann is a contributor to The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine,The Atlantic Monthly, and The Paris Review. His short film Everything in This Country Must, directed by Gary McKendry, was nominated for an Oscar in 2005. McCann’s other works include the bestsellers Zoli, This Side of Brightness, and Dancer.

Knowledge is Power

October 5, 2011

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and what better way to connect, relate, and educate than through some heartwarming real-life tales of survival and commitment. Below is a mere sampling of some collections and memoirs from writers you know and love who have shared their stories. Direct links have been provided to the books available on Barnes & Noble and Amazon, but you may also find your selections at your favorite Indie Bound shop.

Promise Me: How a Sister’s Love Launched the Global Movement to End Breast Cancer

by Nancy G. Brinker with Joni Rodgers 

From Kirkus Reviews: “A powerful memoir…  Raised in Illinois by hardworking, charity-minded parents, the Goodman sisters, Suzy and Nancy, remained extremely close until Suzy died of breast cancer in 1980. Before she died, Suzy made her sister Nancy promise that she help change the national dialogue about breast cancer, at that time a disease still commonly referred to as “women’s cancer.” In 1982, Brinker began Susan G. Komen for the Cure, which has raised more than a billion dollars for breast-cancer research and spawned a worldwide pink-ribbon phenomenon. Here the author tells the story of how and why this foundation came about….”

Buy on B&N or Buy on Amazon


Uplift: Secrets from the Sisterhood of Breast Cancer Survivors

by Barbara Delinsky  

From Barnes & Noble:  “Courageous, inspirational, and relentlessly optimistic, Uplift is a wellspring of information about getting through breast cancer and going on with your life, straight from women who have not only survived the disease but have thrived. Barbara Delinsky, the hugely popular author of novels such asCoast Road and The Vineyard, conceived of this project as a way of showing women that there is life after breast cancer, and it can be as full of activity, laughter, and intimacy as you choose it to be. In addition to collecting and organizing the submissions of women throughout the nation, Delinsky also reveals her own personal experience with breast cancer. Filled with humor and warmth — and scores of tips for making it through diagnosis, chemo, hair loss, sickness, tattooing, recovery, and more — this book is a must for any woman determined to join the “sisterhood of breast cancer survivors” (with emphasis on the word survivors), and the friends and family who love them.”

Buy on B&N or Buy on Amazon


Cancer is a Bitch: Or, I’d Rather Be Having a Midlife Crisis

by Gail Konop Baker 

From Barnes & Noble: “Approaching midlife, Gail Konop Baker hadn’t really imagined that she would be confronted by anything more irksome than menopause, aches and pains, and, eventually, the quiet of an empty nest. Instead, this runner, mother of three, and physician wife got hit by breast cancer. Despite that blow, Gail’s spirit (and ambitions) remained buoyant. As she wrote on her blog, “I want to be brave. I want to be big. I want to be gracious and cool. I want to be the Audrey Hepburn of cancer.” And in this endearing, ebullient memoir, she succeeds.”

Buy on B&N or Buy on Amazon


Stand by Her: A Breast Cancer Guide for Men

by John W. Anderson 

From Foreword magazine: “Such candor as one finds here, along with page after page of sound practical advice and empathic counsel for every stage of this fearsome disease, make Anderson’s book an undisputable choice for a place on the shortlist of guides for caregivers.”

Buy on B&N or Buy on Amazon


The Victoria’s Secret Catalog Never Stops Coming: And Other Lessons I Learned from Breast Cancer

by Jennie Nash 

From Library Journal: “She doesn’t miss a beat or minimize a moment in describing her biopsy, mastectomy, reconstruction, and complications from the reconstruction. Women who fear the “unknown” of breast cancer will find solace here: cancer might be as awful as they suspect, but they will get through it, too. This wonderful book is highly recommended.”

Buy on B&N or Buy on Amazon


Find your selections at your local shop through Indie Bound.


Websites for Writers

November 30, 2011

You probably already have more than a hundred websites and blogs linked in your bookmarks folder. There’s always room for more, particularly when you come across a great resource to offer inspiration, prompts, and insider industry know-how. From time to time, The Write Life will be happy to direct you to a handful of sites you may find worthy of bookmarking:

Writer Unboxed began in 2006 as a forum for book and writing discussions, but has since grown to be a go-to source for emerging writers. Monthly contributors include legendary literary agent Donald Maass, social media expert and former publisher of Writer’s Digest Jane Friedman, and marketing guru/novelist MJ Rose. In a recent post, Jane Friedman weighs in on the importance of copyediting and how writers can approach the skill with the know-how to earn and keep an audience coming back for more.

The Renegade Writer has an endless supply of short, energetic articles geared to help you get your butt in the chair and be productive. Focused on freelance writing, this resource can cheer you up after a rejection, steer you toward new markets, and show you ways to improve your query skills. Recent posts range in topic from “3 Excuses that are keeping you from a successful freelance writing career” to “How to gain control over your freelancing life.”

Duotrope.com should already be in your modern day file-o-fax. This resource lets you search and discover poetry and fiction markets, review guidelines, and gain insight into response times. You can also log and track your own submissions, use the handy submission tracker for improved organization, and find compatible markets based on what publications have accepted your work before. Duotrope lists more than 3600 markets you may search by pay scale, publication frequency, and genres.

More resources will be shared in the coming weeks and months. Feel free to let us know what websites and blogs are essential to your writer’s toolbox.

The Writer: contest deadline approaches

November 23, 2011

A lot can happen in a week: Thanksgiving with the family; resurfaced issues between in-laws; how a turkey can once again bring together so much love (or resentment, anger, and other genetically passed down neurosis). Use those awkward family moments to your advantage and submit your best work to The Writer essay & memoir contest, new for 2011! The deadline is Nov 30….

The Writer, in collaboration with Gotham Writers’ Workshop, invites writers to enter The Writer 2011 Essay/Memoir Contest with guest judge Lee Gutkind. Only original, unpublished works of 1,000 to 1,200 words will be accepted. Prizes include cash, publication in The Writer, and more.

Editors at The Writer will read and judge each of the entries and select 20 semifinalists. Lee Gutkind, the finalist judge, will select and rank three winners from among the semifinalists. Lee is founder and editor of Creative Nonfiction and author of more than 20 books, including Almost Human: Making Robots Think, featured on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. His new book, You Can’t Make Stuff Up, the Creative Nonfiction Writer’s Bible, will be published in July 2012 by DeCapo. He is editor of Keep It Real: Everything You Need to Know About Researching and Writing Creative Nonfiction.

Entry fees are $10 US.

The deadline is 1:59PM (EDT) November 30, 2011.

Visit this link for more info and to submit your work. Go Wilkies!

Poetry MFA Grads: Feature Reading

November 16, 2011


This Friday, November 18, 2011, two Wilkes Poetry MFA grads will be featured readers at the Doylestown Bookshop in downtown Doylestown, PA.

Dawn Leas (MFA, 2009) developed her thesis about the places she lived as a child. The result was a thesis, I Know When to Keep Quiet, about moving around the country, landing in Pennsylvania, and the struggle to fit in and find a place to call home. A portion of the thesis was recently released as a chapbook titled I Know When to Keep Quiet by Finishing Line Press.

Visit Dawn’s website here. Order Dawn’s book here.


Brian Fanelli (MFA, 2010) has published poetry in a variety of national journals and websites, includingYoung American Poets, Word Riot, Pennsylvania Literary Journal, Boston Literary Magazine, San Pedro River Review, Yes Poetry, WritingRaw.com, Chiron Review, My Favorite Bullet, and several others. His work has also appeared in the anthology Ripasso, which also features the work of former Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky. Brian’s latest book of poems, Front Man, was published by Big Table Publishing Company.

Visit Brian’s website here. Order Brian’s book here.

The Doylestown Bookshop is a locally owned and operated bookstore dedicated to preserving the heritage and traditions of independent bookstore ideals. Dawn and Brian will be reading from their most recent works.

Event Details:

Friday, November 18, 2011
7:00 p.m.
Doylestown Bookshop
16 South Main Street
Doylestown, PA

Wilkes student places in Hippocampus contest

November 10, 2011

Not long ago, this blog featured a Q&A with Donna Talarico, editor ofHippocampus Magazine. Within the interview, Donna mentioned The Remember in November Contest for Creative Nonfiction hosted byHippocampus and it seems winners have been selected – and there are some bragging rights for Wilkes to celebrate!

Vicki Mayk, Wilkes MFA, won third place for her piece, “Verismo.” Read her winning essay here.


“My grandfather brought his love of opera with him from his native Sicily. He played records of the legendary tenor Enrico Caruso for hours, sometimes to the annoyance of his three daughters and one son, who preferred something more contemporary.”

— from “Verismo” by Vicki Mayk


Vicki has been a journalist, magazine editor and public relations person for 35 years. Her articles have appeared in The New York Times, Ms Magazine, daily newspapers, university magazines and trade publications. She is studying for an MFA in the graduate creative writing program at Wilkes University and is working on a memoir.

Congrats, Vicki!

Free AWP Registration for Students/Faculty

November 2, 2011

The creative writing M.A./M.F.A. Wilkes programs are once again sponsors for AWP’s (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) national conference to be held in Chicago, IL February 29-March 3, 2012! If you are a Wilkes creative writing student or faculty member there are still a few conferences passes available to you. Hotel and travel is on your own, but the pass will allow you to attend all of the conference panels and readings, as well as the conference bookfair.

Students and faculty must reach Assistant Director Jim Warner via LIVE by Monday, November 11 to claim a pass.

The 2012 AWP Conference & Bookfair takes place February 29-March 3, 2012 in Chicago. This year’s conference Keynote Speaker is Margaret Atwood. See a full list of accepted 2012 readings and panels here.

As in years past, Wilkes will have a booth shared with Etruscan Press in the Book Fair. Also, keep your eyes out for the return of the highly acclaimed All Collegiate Slam, hosted by Misterjim and the Wilkes writing programs!


Opportunity: Emerging Writer Lecturer

December 14, 2011

This opportunity comes to us via highedjobs.com. It may be the perfect spot for a Wilkes graduate!

Institution: Gettysburg College
Location: Gettysburg, PA
Category: Faculty – Liberal Arts – English and Literature

Posted: 11/29/2011
Application Due: 01/27/2012
Type: Full Time (one-year appointment)

Department of English – Emerging Writer LecturerOne-year appointment, beginning August 2012, for a creative writer who plans a career that involves college-level teaching, to teach three courses per semester, including Introduction to Creative Writing and an advanced course in the writer’s genre, as well as to assist with departmental writing activities. Mentorship for teaching and assistance in professional development provided. M.F.A. or Ph.D. with creative dissertation, required. Teaching experience and literary magazine publications are essential. Competitive salary.

To apply, send letter of application, curriculum vitae, names of three references, and 10-page writing sample to: Emerging Writer Lectureship, Department of English, Campus Box 397, Gettysburg College, 300 N. Washington St., Gettysburg, PA 17325, postmarked by January 27, 2012. Electronic applications will not be accepted. Do not send entire monographs, books, etc.

Gettysburg College is a highly selective liberal arts college located within 90 minutes of the Washington/Baltimore metropolitan area. Established in 1832, the College has a rich history and is situated on a 220-acre campus with an enrollment of over 2,600 students. Gettysburg College celebrates diversity and welcomes applications from members of any group that has been historically underrepresented in the American academy. The College assures equal employment opportunity and prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, gender, religion, sexual orientation, age, and disability.


Application Information:
Postal Address:
Emerging Writer Lectureship
Department of English
Gettysburg College
300 North Washington Street
Campus Box 397
Gettysburg, PA 17325
Phone: (717) 337-6750
Fax: (717) 337-8551
TDD: (717) 337-6833

Opportunity: Work for Sibling Rivalry Press

December 7, 2011

Curious what it’s like to be on the inside? Have an interest in polishing your professional skills with hands-on experience? This opportunity might just be for you. Sibling Rivalry Press has an opening for Associate Editor of Marketing, as detailed on their website. Here’s what they have to say:

Want to join the SRP team? We’re looking for an Associate Editor of Marketing. 

Responsibilities: Keep SRP titles in the public conversation by securing reviews, blog features, press features, interviews, and readings for all authors and titles. Establish and maintain relationships with bloggers, reviewers, librarians, and bookstores owners. Promote SRP titles and Assaracus subscriptions to colleges and universities.  Grow relationships with community and nonprofit organizations whose missions sync with our own.

Estimate of Time Required: Approximately three to four hours per week, including a ten-minute weekly phone call with the publisher.

What YOU Get: 1) The thrill of being personally involved in the expansion of a small press that – we hope – is making a difference worldwide. 2) A cool title to add to your résumé. 3)  Most small presses offer unpaid internships or solicit volunteers. However, we think it’s more fun to get paid for your work. We can offer $100.00 per quarter in exchange for your time, effort, and dedication. 4) A foot in the door of an expanding company. 5) Free SRP books (Hey – you have to know what you’re marketing). 6) The ability to steer the SRP ship into more competitive waters. 7) SRP business cards with your name on them. (Hey, that’s pretty neat, right?)

How YOU Get It: Write a letter outlining why you want the gig, what you’d do with it, why you’re the right choice, and why you want to be a part of Sibling Rivalry Press.  Email said letter to siblingrivalrypress@gmail.com.  Knowledge of our target markets, reviewers, bookstores, etc. is a plus, but all this can be learned if you’re willing to jump in headfirst.  The only requirement is that you believe in Sibling Rivalry Press and want to be a part of the family. Basically MARKET yourself to us.

When YOU Get It:  We’ll accept applications through December 15, 2011.  We’ll make our decision shortly thereafter. The position begins on or about January 1, 2012.

Diversity (of thought, race, gender, sexuality, experience, literary taste, hair color, height, favorite movie) welcome.


Sibling Rivalry Press is a small publishing house based just outside of Little Rock, Arkansas. For more info on the position and SRP, visit http://siblingrivalrypress.com/2011/11/22/join-the-srp-team-associate-editor-of-marketing/