Monday, August 31, 2015

Now This is Cool: Non-Profit Dedicated to Studying the Brain Through Writing

Oliver Sacks died just a couple of days ago: August 30, 2015. I miss him already. His writing--elegant, precise, and compassionate--inspires me not just to be a better writer, but to be a better human. He believed in the power of story to heal and to better understand the human mind.

While doing some research on his life, I found this: The Oliver Sacks Foundation. Then I got all excited when I read this:


The Oliver Sacks Foundation is a nonprofit organization devoted to increasing understanding of the human brain and mind through the power of narrative nonfiction and case histories.
The foundation’s goals include making Dr. Sacks’s published and yet-unpublished writings available to the broadest possible audience, preserving and digitizing materials related to his life and work and making them available for scholarly use, working to reduce the stigma of mental and neurological illness, and supporting a humane approach to neurology and psychiatry. (emphasis mine)

Those of us who love to read already know the power of storytelling to make meaning from our lives and better understand our internal worlds. I've never bought into the dividing line between art and science, between what we think is quantifiable and what we think is not. Sacks clearly felt the same, using his tremendous writing talent to share the experiences of and humanize his patients and himself.

Narrative nonfiction, you guys! Let's get into it!

I remember you, Oliver Sacks, M.D. RIP.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

How to Write a Synopsis of Your Book

I came across these resources almost by accident today. I'm always surprised by how difficult it feels to write a synopsis; so much happens in a book that it isn't easy to sum it up in a few short pages. But, like the rest of my writing, if I feel I have a strategy in place, it becomes much simpler and less daunting.

Literary Agent Maria Vicente recently posted a few guidelines about writing a synopsis:

Friday, August 21, 2015

9 Current Calls for Nonfiction Submissions

Let's check out some opportunities for nonfiction writers!

I keep a running list of potential markets for my work by scouring a variety of sources, including Literary Hub, The Review Review, NewPages, Places for Writers, and a bunch of other sites. You can check them out to find more options, including poetry, fiction, and cross-genre.

I'm happy to share this with you, in the spirit of writers helping writers. As usual, submit your best work and read the guidelines carefully.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

How Do You Love Your Books?

How do you love your books?

Do you treat them gently, never dog-earing or writing in them, keeping them stacked neatly on shelves with titles facing out? Do you occasionally cull the ones you no longer need, which is easy because you've organized them so well, and donate some and sell others (which barely look used)?

Do you smoosh them into your bag, fold down a page because you keep losing bookmarks, scribble in the margins in what is probably your worst handwriting, shove them into a drawer with other books you aren't using but can't bear to give up? Do you mark your place by putting a pen between pages, creating a permanent place that the book now opens to every time?

I have fellow MFA students who are determined to write notes about the books they're assigned only in their notebooks. It helps them think better about determining a subject for their craft annotation. It leaves the book clean, unmarked, easily kept or sold or donated.

I think this is great. I can't do it.

I mark as I read. I circle, bracket, underline, draw arrows and stars, write in the margins, all of which can mean anything. When I go back, these marks simply tell me that I had a gut response to this phrase or section. This is my starting point for choosing a subject for the craft essay.

To be honest, I also find it fun--rebelliously so--to mark up a pristine book. It's mine now! Sort of cave-woman like, isn't it? Territory! Book mine! Go find own book! No share!

Just some thoughts I had after reading Nick Ripatrazone's article in LitHub, The Pleasures of Destroying a Good Book. Not just any book: a good book. The marks of love, like a worn-out stuffed bear. I don't know that I'd go so far as to break the spine, but I get it. Come to think of it, I've broken the spines of plenty of piano music books, so what's the difference?

Monday, August 17, 2015

Two Open Contests for Both Flash Fiction and Flash Nonfiction

Have a short piece lying around that you're not sure what to do with? Get it out, do some editing, and find a home for it. Many litmags and journals now publish flash work; some do it exclusively.

How to Write Short is Roy Peter Clark's well-reviewed book about how to master the craft of writing a short piece. The fact that there is an entire book about it tells us that short does not equal easy. For me it's tougher, but very rewarding.

(I like that pencil-in-the-bullseye image.)

Interested in a contest? Here are two open right now:

Friday, August 14, 2015

Memoir Craft: Grappling With Memory in Warm Springs (Part 3)

In Part 1, I wrote about Susan Richards Shreve's craft technique of writing about her memory within the creative narrative of her memoir, Warm Springs. She begins immediately with the word "traces" and its double meaning: the small responses still evident in muscles atrophied by polio, and the flashes of memory she mines from her time living at the polio hospital.

In Part 2, we looked at the beautiful scene describing Shreve's first memory, one that could not have happened, but she insists she remembers.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Read the New, Digital, Annotated Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Tag this latest edition of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland "literary coolness:"

From Medium:

An annotated edition — twelve Lewis Carroll scholars taking a chapter each. A joint project from The Public Domain Review and Medium, in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the classic tale.

Here's an example from Chapter 1...


"The rabbit-hole went straight on like a tunnel for some way, and then dipped suddenly down, so suddenly that Alice had not a moment to think about stopping herself before she found herself falling down a very deep well."

...with an annotation by Zoe Jaques:


"‘[N]ot a moment to think’: Carroll’s repeated references to Alice’s lack of reflection on her entry to Wonderland recalls both the impulsive nature of childhood and also the undirected and non-reflective manner of dreaming."

Read the text, complete with annotations, here on Medium. And definitely check out Arthur Rackhman's beautiful illustrations.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

This Week's Wanna Read: The Speechwriter. Read an Excerpt.

The Washington Post says it "will become a classic on political communication." The New York Times describes it as "a nice little examination of the anguish of writing" and "a marvelously entertaining book." The Speechwriter is "a welcome change of pace and scope" writes The Politics Reader.  I wanna read it, writes Amy.

I enjoy reading books about politics that take us inside the facade of press conferences, campaigning, and today's ever-present idea of "branding" and image-making. I l want insight into how human beings finding themselves in positions of power and/or influence make decisions that affect thousands or millions of people. How do those powerful people talk to each other? How do you make friends in that arena, or do you just make connections? What drives a person toward elected office or to work for an elected official? How do you live your own life when this happens? Can you? Is corruption or lying or obfuscating or covering-up just part of that life, no matter how intact your moral compass is when you begin?

I have a lot of questions. Also, I think The Speechwriter, while being a revealing take on the inner sanctum of a governor's office, will also be just plain fun to read. I'll find out.

Fortunately for us, Literary Hub has an excerpt from the book. Read it here.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Memoir Craft: Grappling With Memory in Warm Springs (Part 2)

In Part 1, I wrote about the first example of Susan Richard's Shreve's craft technique of making transparent her process of grappling with memory. In her memoir Warm Springs, she employs the metaphor of being examined by doctors to find "traces" of muscle movement in her legs, which have been decimated by polio. Each muscle requires her complete concentration, patience, and focus; recovering her memories, she says, requires the same effort, even if it is only to find "traces" of them.

The second example is a stunning, one-page chapter titled "Memory in Process" in which Shreve recalls her first memory. She is one and half years old and recovering from polio. Her mother walks in and approaches her crib:

Monday, August 10, 2015

Aging Doesn't Make Us Stupid


I occasionally spend time at a writing retreat called The Porches. After “quiet writing time” ends at 5:30, during which I stare out the window, drink coffee, sleep, and sometimes write something, I pour a glass of red wine (’cause that’s a hard day’s work) and play the old, out-of-tune piano in the parlor. Other writers sometimes sit and listen, which is fun for me and it breaks the ice.

Friday, August 7, 2015

This Week's Wanna Read: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

This book is so hot right now. People who haven't read it are talking about it, that's how hot, how relevant, how urgent, how beautifully written this book is. I'm here talking about it, like I did in that previous sentence, and I haven't read it. For now, I'm accepting that I will find the book to meet all of those adjectives, because the consensus is just that strong.

If Toni Morrison agrees to endorse your book and describes it as "required reading"--then refers to the writer as the successor to James Baldwin--it's going to gain a lot of attention.

I found some interesting, lesser-read reviews online, including one from the blog "The Christian Century." The writer is a Christian, and speaks against the comments of religious people who have derided the book because they find Coates' atheism an insurmountable obstacle to engaging with his message:

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Memoir Craft: Grappling with Memory in Warm Springs (Part 1)

Susan Richards Shreve is concerned with memory--its accuracy, reliability, power, and how various people can experience the same events and have entirely different memories of those events.

In Warm Springs, her memoir of spending two childhood years at a polio hospital, she is determined to tell the truth. The truth, as the reader discovers during the story, is established by Shreve in part by making transparent her process of grappling with memory.

On three occasions she takes time--within the story itself--to let us into her process. The first is immediate: the word "traces," which is in the subtitle and is the focus of the first brief chapter.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

A few more six-word memoirs I like from Smith Magazine:


chocolate chip cookie endowment coming soon

I came. I saw. I sat.

Searching for profound moments of pleasure.

These years writing about those ones.


                                          What the hell is going on?

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

New Short Story by F. Scott Fitzgerald Published in The Strand Magazine

The Strand has just published a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald titled "Temperature." Until recently, Fitzgerald's story about Emmet Monsen, a good-looking Hollywood actor whose health, career, and personal life are in decline, lay undiscovered in the Fitzgerald archives at Princeton University. Andrew Gulli, editor of The Strand who scours archives for lost short stories by famous authors, hit the jackpot. Gulli describes the story for The Seattle Times:

Monday, August 3, 2015

John Ashbery is Eighty-Effin'-Eight And He Wrote Another Book

Creepy picture? Or the creepiest picture?
The great, renowned, Pulitzer Prize-National Book Award-Robert Frost Medal-etc.etc.-winning America poet John Ashbery turned eighty-eight last week. Eighty-effin'-eight, guys. And he just wrote another book of poetry. Another effin' book. He's already published twenty-something books.
LitHub published a poem, "The Upright Piano," from his new book Breezeway. It's the best kind of Ashbery: full of imagery, asks a lot of questions, knows itself, invites you in, but still makes you think about what the hell is going on. Here's the first stanza:
Did we once go to bed together?
And how was it? I need your help on this one.
Good thing it happened, too—
Intelligence without understanding
is like constant frost, pounding at the temples
until its bargain is overseen. I kid you not.
I know Ashbery's style is controversial and hyper-analyzed and over-scholarized (?) etc. but I just like him. I think he's funny and wise. After losing Mark Strand last year, I'm just really glad this poet is still walking the planet.

Goat cheese and stuff, and oh, I’m in Prague!

View from our apartment balcony which is fairly awesome Should I clean it? Day One in Prague! I slept until 1 pm! You guys, ins...