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"I tend to like people who don't go on and on and on."

Me, too.  So I'm honored and thrilled to be guest-editing a special issue of the gorgeous journal Brevity, which specializes in very short creative nonfiction (750 words max) and is edited by the wonderful Dinty W. Moore

I get to do this with two fantastic creative nonfiction writers, Barrie Jean Borich and Suzanne Paola, aka Susanne Antonetta.  Both of my esteemed co-editors have much more editing experience than I do, so I'm still feeling like I kind of won the lottery on this one.

This special issue responds to the revelatory results of the 2010 VIDA count, which looked at gender in literary publishing.

With this issue of Brevity, we're offering you (if you're a woman) a chance to write back to the current situation.  Here's the call for submissions on Submishmash, and we're reading pieces now.

If you send something, shoot me an email and let me know.  I'll keep an eye out.



Writing Your Mystery Novel

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This Sunday, November 6th, I'll be giving the presentation, "Writing Your Mystery Novel," at Chapters Books in Seward, Nebraska from 1 to 3 p.m. 

We'll talk about the various subgenres of mystery (what's the difference between a mystery and a thriller? between hardboiled and noir? what's a cozy? and so on) to figure out where your own concept fits and/or which genre elements you're blending.  We'll discuss character, plot, and setting, and how caring passionately about some larger social or political issue can help keep you motivated when the writing gets tough.  (Can you bring your politics into your mystery novel?  Of course.)  We'll talk about outlining (yes, no, never?),  drafting, and revising, and I'll share my favorite how-to book. 

I'll also talk about finding an agent and what the publishing process is like with a traditional New York publisher.  (Since there are a lot of folks out there now explaining the how-tos of self-publishing, and since that's not my expertise, we won't be covering that.)  Finally, I'll recommend the mystery writers from whom I think aspiring writers can learn the most.  (Long-time readers of this blog can probably recite them by heart, since I will go on).

"Writing Your Mystery Novel" is a free presentation for writers and aspiring writers, and there's no pre-registration required, so if you know anyone in the Lincoln area who might be interested, please let them know.  Chapters Books is located at 548 Seward Avenue in Seward, Nebraska (a short drive from Lincoln) and the number there is (402) 643-2282.  Many thanks to owner Carla Ketner for the invitation!

What I really love doing is learning something outside my training (like how to write a memoir, back in 2002 when I started to prepare to write The Truth Book), and then mastering that thing, and then teaching other people how to do it.  This way, life never gets old; teaching is never just "dusting off the notes," as a colleague once described it.  The downside is that I feel insecure a lot as I move into new territory--I don't have the comfy foundation of years of expertise--but I never feel bored.  I'm always learning, always failing, always failing better. 

So to begin to do something similar in the area of mystery novels with Hell or High Water is a thrill for me.  I've always loved reading mysteries, which are popular for a number of reasons, not all of them having to do with blood and danger.  They appeal to us because they are--most explicitly, most directly--the genre of justice.  They are the genre of finding out.

In other news, knockout writer Carolyn Forché will give the talk "The Poetry of Witness" at 3:30 this Thursday in Bailey Library in Andrews Hall on the City Campus of UNL, and she'll read her work that evening at 7:30 in the Great Plains Museum on 12th and Q.  She's basically been shattering me since college, and I've only gotten to see her read once before, so I'm psyched.  Both events are free and open to the public, so please do come if you're interested.

Lastly, here's a personal shout-out to our son Grey, who has successfully settled in Portland and found great work, an eco-village home, and rehearsal space for his band.  I'm so, so happy for him.  This is what he dreamed, and he's making it real.  We're so very, very proud.



Is THE HELP Helping?

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That's the name of the panel that UNL faculty members have put together for next week: 

"Is The Help Helping?  A Roundtable Discussion on Race, Gender, and History as Fiction," with

Prof. Anna Williams Shavers, Cline Williams Professor of Citizenship Law, UNL Law College
Dr. Kwakiutl Dreher, Ethnic Studies & English, UNL
Dr. Jeannette Eileen Jones, Ethnic Studies & History, UNL
Dr. Patrick Jones, Ethnic Studies & History, UNL.
It will take place on Wednesday, September 14, 3:30-5:00 p.m. in the Bailey Library, on the second floor of Andrews Hall, City Campus, UNL.

I'm really excited.  I can't wait to see what they say.



This Monday, June 13th

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So I'm seeing Silver Sparrow everywhere:  in my local bookstore, on the cover of Indie Bound, in this month's Vogue (the one with the beautiful Penélope Cruz on the cover) . . . .  Wow!  Tayari's book is approaching total media saturation!  It's amazing and fantastic.  More power to her.

This Monday, three cool events are going on in Lincoln, so if you're local, read on. 

At 7 p.m. at Crescent Moon Coffee on P Street, I'm doing a reading with my friend and colleague, poet Grace Bauer, and one other writer.   (Crescent Moon, in case you didn't know, is one of the rare places in Lincoln where you can get coffee or wine.  Kind of nice.)  I'll be reading pieces from my forthcoming memoir collection, ISLAND OF BONES.

Alas, a really cool publishing panel, courtesy of the Nebraska Summer Writers Conference, is going on at the same time:

Panel discussion on contemporary publishing concerns
7:30-8:30 p.m.
UNL City Union, Auditorium

I wish I could go.  Many thanks to novelist and conference director Timothy Schaffert (whose own book is enjoying some media saturation of its own) for the heads-up.

And for those of you who've just had it with things literary, and prefer something more literally intoxicating, there's this:

Ferm. Base (Intro. to Fermentation)
6:30-8:00 p.m.
Indigo Bridge Books

Thanks to Alexis, who writes the blog The Bottle Chronicles, for the invite!



Loads of Good News & Opportunities

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I'm brimming with pride tonight.

Congratulations to the wonderful writer Jim Kennedy, whose piece "End of the Line" has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize by the editors of Creative Nonfiction, where it appeared.  ("One of my sons was snatched by the sea on a day when the water seemed calm. How things happen sometimes does not make sense.")  I had the pleasure of working with Jim in the Pine Manor MFA program.

Hats off to the lovely and amazing Laura Madeline Wiseman, whose chapbook Branding Girls is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press this spring.  Madeline is a Ph.D. student in creative writing here at UNL.

And huge congratulations to Austen Crowder, whose first book Bait and Switch offers a timely fable about transition.  I knew Austen when she was a student at Wabash College.  (Double-take?  She?  Yes.  Austen is "one of a handful of female Wabash alumna[e] in the world.")

When your students succeed, you succeed, so you can imagine how grand I'm feeling right about now. 

Motivated to get your own work out there?  Here are a couple of publishing opportunities you might not have heard of.

Be judged by Junot Díaz, win $300, and get published in AveryGo here.

If you're a woman and were born in Nebraska, live in Nebraska now, or have lived in Nebraska for not less than 5 years at some point in your life, The Backwaters Press would love to see your poetry.  They've shifted the deadline to June 30, 2011 (and revised the Nebraska-affiliation guidelines) for their forthcoming collection, The Untidy Season:  An Anthology of Nebraska Women Poets.

Under the heading Being the Change You Want to See in the World, here are two small opportunities to make a big difference.

Throughout the month of December, the staff at my all-time favorite independent bookstore, Indigo Bridge Books, will help you give books as holiday gifts to children at Friendship Home, a domestic violence shelter for women and children here in Lincoln.  Drop by, pick up a child's name, pick out a book, and the staff there will wrap it and deliver it in time for the holidays.  Let books make a real difference in a child's life.

Last but not least, lots of Tayari Jones fans read this blog, and if you'd like to help her terrific novel Leaving Atlanta hit the big screen, now's your chance--for as little as five bucks.  

Now I'm off to an evening lecture by Bradford Morrow, who's not only a dazzling writer and the editor of Conjunctions but also a really nice guy and wonderfully approachable for someone so decorated.     




Gone Voting

Despite the Lincoln Journal-Star's claim that Nebraska's races are not "hotly contested," I was at the polling booths this morning all hot and contestatory, and I hope you had a good time wherever you voted, too.

Update on my literary noir novel:  Good news!  THE DESIRE PROJECTS is in play at several major presses, with editors loving it and getting back-up in-house reads.  Discretion forbids me to say more, but I'd love to

Lovely Agent Mitchell explains that "these days you need extensive support in-house before you [the editor] can buy something," so that's the process that's going on now.  My fingers are so crossed they're cramping, people.

I'm just about packed for NonfictioNow, and I look forward to seeing some of the readers of this blog there in Iowa City soon. 

Creative nonfiction writers might welcome this heads-up from writer Faye Rapoport DesPres:

Prime Number Magazine . . . is "actively seeking" nonfiction for their next issue, which will be online in January. . . .  They've published some impressive writers and are attached to a small press.

Info is at

Writers of creative nonfiction, that pesky fourth genre, might also be interested in this cool blog, Essay Daily.  The post on Prairie Schooner's box-defying editorial preferences intrigued me, seeing as the liberally quoted managing editor James Engelhardt is a colleague and friend--and, from what I've read in the Schooner's pages, he's absolutely right. 

And speaking of Prairie Schooner, the search for a new editor goes on.  This is, of course, an impossible task, as the committee's trying to replace the irreplaceable (sob) Hilda Raz.

Cool things coming up on the blog here: 

You Don't Look Like Anyone I Know, a new memoir by Heather Sellers:  warm, funny, true, featured in the New York Times Book Review and O Magazine, and selling like proverbial hotcakes

Sisters, Strangers, and Starting Over, the second novel by Belinda Acosta, whose interview on this blog featured so largely when her first novel came out

"The Events of October": Murder-Suicide on a Small Campus, by Kalamazoo professor of literature and women's studies Gail Griffin, a thick description of a horrible crime and an all-too-common pattern of male-on-female dating violence, and how it affected a small liberal arts college in Michigan

No Word for Welcome:  The Mexican Village Faces the Global Economy, by Wendy Call (whom you might know as the co-editor of the awesome and necessary Telling True Stories), forthcoming from University of Nebraska Press this spring and endorsed by lights no lesser than Philip Lopate and Sandra Cisneros

an interview with Kim Coleman, founder of independent bookstore Indigo Bridge Books

--and of course, the continuing saga of my publishing angst, the forbearance of the HH, and the general spiffiness of Spyder von Zeppelin, feline extraordinaire.  Let me just get back from soaking up the ambience of Iowa City, and I'll start knocking the stuff out of this pipeline.

Offline 'til next week--


A Beautiful Little Room of My Own

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Gentle readers, the electricians left this morning.  My new office has walls, a door (with a lock), lights, and the Internet.  I'm so happy.  Photos soon. 

It awaits paint and a floor.  Oh, and furniture.  But it's standing, and I love it. 

Thanks so much to whoever nominated one of my blog posts as "Best Writing Advice" for Jane Friedman's blog at Writer's Digest.  The titles of all 20 blog posts look fascinating and useful; link to the list here.  What a nice surprise, to be in such good company.  Thank you!

If you live in Lincoln and need to buy some gifts (or spoil yourself), shop tomorrow, Saturday the 24th, at Ten Thousand Villages in the Haymarket.  Ten Thousand Villages is an amazing enterprise, period, but tomorrow, ten percent of their profits tomorrow go to Voices of Hope, a center that helps survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.  So get your shop on and do some good.  Thanks, Ariana, for the heads-up.

I'm very excited to have received, just yesterday, an acceptance from Indiana Review of my creative nonfiction piece "Hip Joints."  It's about sexual harassment and strip mining in West Virginia in the '80s, when I was a high school senior and my boss at the factory hadn't yet heard of women's rights.  (Pre-Anita Hill, sexual harassment wasn't a term very many people anywhere knew, and it sure hadn't trickled down to rural Appalachia back when I was sixteen.)  "Hip Joints" (which are what we manufactured at the factory, but you can see the possibilities) is an ecofeminist piece that also incorporates issues of ethnicity.  I'm happy that it's going to have an audience soon.

Here at UNL, there's one week left in the semester, and it's total crazy-time.  Students are writing their final papers, and graduate students are defending their theses and dissertations and taking oral exams--which means we professors should really have cloned ourselves by now to handle it all.   Somewhat counterintuitively, I've taken to revising a chapter of THE DESIRE PROJECTS every morning before the work-day starts.  (I had been revising one chapter a week, and calling it good.)  This makes me much happier.  I can go around blithely, knowing I've paid my dues to writing first. 

In other news, my Little Sister Amara turned 16 this week, my marriage to the HH turned 15, and Grey is counting down the days until his college graduation.  Spring is always such an exciting time.  And damn, it's good not to have to wear a coat everywhere!




Quickie Post

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If you get turkeyed out this weekend and start itching to explore opportunities, be aware of these super-soon deadlines:

The great and gorgeous journal Water~Stone Review is accepting general submissions in creative nonfiction through December 1, 2009 (a postmark deadline), and you can go here to find out more about guidelines.

The Iota International Poetry Competition ends on November 30.  They're accepting submissions online, and the prize money's nothing to sneeze at.  Go here.  

For a $45K, year-long fellowship at the American Folk Life Center at the Library of Congress for "original field research into the culture and traditions of American workers," go here.  The deadline's November 30th, though, so hurry!

Here's an opportunity for you young social-justice junkies.  If you are, or know of, a college sophomore or junior who would benefit from a 15-day summer institute in New York City designed to help progressive activists become public policy makers, go here.  Students of color, immigrants, LGBT students, and working-class/low-income students are especially encouraged to apply.  (Know a student who'd be great?  Make a difference and send her or him to the site.)  The deadline for this one's not 'til February 14, 2010.

Hope you have a chance to kick back and feel some love over the holidays!