Write Despite

The write-20-minutes-a-day-for-365-days-come-hell-or-high-water challenge

Q&A with Literary Mama Fiction Editor Colleen Kearney Rich

ColleenColleen Kearney Rich serves as fiction editor for the online journal Literary Mama, a monthly publication focused on motherhood. A seasoned writer as well, Colleen has been on both sides of the publishing desk, and has plenty of insights about how literary journals work, what they’re looking for, and how hard it can be to reject writers. She’s a founding editor of the literary magazine So To Speak: A Feminist Journal of Language and Art, and her writing has been published in the Washington Post, Phoebe, Virginia Tech magazine, LiveScience, Minerva Rising, Smokelong Quarterly, and the anthology Amazing Graces: Yet Another Collection of Fiction by Washington Area Women, among others. Please welcome Colleen to Write Despite!

When did you begin working as fiction editor at Literary Mama and what are your duties there?

I started working as a fiction editor in December. Prior to that I was a book reviews editor for almost three years. All the departments have multiple editors. My co-editor Suzanne Kamata lives in Japan, but we share a mailbox.

We both read the submissions that come in. If we like something, we send it to the other editor. Sometimes it is an immediate thumbs up. Other times we might have suggestions for the writer. When it is ready to move forward, we have to get approval from two senior editors. They sometimes also have suggestions. Then the stories go into the site. We also have an editorial assistant who proofreads everything before it goes live.

How much time does it take each week, and how hard is it to fit that into your schedule?

It varies. Three or four hours a week at the most. Sometimes I would rather just read a bunch at one time and get something done so those days are longer.

Why did you want to be a part of this journal?

When my kids were younger, I had submitted a few nonfiction pieces to the journal. At first I received some thoughtful rejections. Then I got an acceptance. I worked with the Shari MacDonald Strong, one of the founding editors. It was such an amazing experience, and Shari helped make my essay so much stronger. Then I saw an ad online about openings at Literary Mama. When I was in graduate school, I helped start the feminist journal So To Speak. I really enjoyed doing that kind of work and missed it. Literary Mama seemed like a good fit for me, and I was so happy when they offered me the book review editor job.

Obviously you look for writing centered on motherhood, but what else do you look for in a good piece of fiction?

I look for a writer trying to do something a little different in the storytelling or offer a new perspective. Voice is important too. Because we are an online journal, length is a factor. I think shorter pieces work better and seem to have more impact.

What immediately turns you off in a manuscript?

False notes.

Overall, how do you feel about the quality of submissions you receive?

I’m always impressed with the quality of writing out there, and the number of women trying to juggle families and creative pursuits.

Any big surprises/challenges since you started the job?

Yes, I’ve been surprised at how hard it is to send rejections. Some pieces are obviously not for us so that is easy. But the ones that are based on personal experience, that’s hard. I am always touched by what they’ve experienced—and sometimes it is tragic—and that they’ve chosen to, sometimes courageously, put words to that experience and share it. How do you judge that? How do you say no to that? That’s the biggest challenge for me.

What type of writing do you do yourself?

I am a magazine editor by day in real life. I edit the university magazine of George Mason University. In my off hours I write fiction. I enjoy writing flash because of the brevity of it, and I’ve dabbled a bit with screenwriting. I’ve also written two novels that I work on in fits and starts.

Do you feel your own writing informs what you select for the journal?

I’m sure it does it some way, but I am also a big reader. I think that has more of an effect on me. I love a good story and a clever approach to narrative.

What are you working on now?

I committed to finishing one of my novels this year. Finish to the point that I would be able to shop it around.

Summer Reading

summer-reading-006Summertime and the reading is good this year. We’ve selected our seasonal picks, and will surely be spotted toting them on vacation and to neighborhood parks. Here’s what we’ve chosen:

 From Karen:

My extremely well read sister has shamed me into reading Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past. Okay, there are a few holes in my education. This is one I’m going to fill.

Then I’m onto two new novels that I can’t want to get my hands on. They’re from two of my favorite contemporary authors.

caninstrout

 

From Cathy:

My book group never fails to steer me toward books I certainly wouldn’t choose for myself, and usually end up glad to have read. The one I’m reading now is no exception. Even though I’m not much of a nonfiction reader, Missing Man, about a spy who disappeared in Iran, grabbed me from the start. I’ll pass it along to the hubby too.

man

After that somber read, I’ll need a pick-me-up. And my all-time favorite, Anne Tyler, is just the ticket with her latest–a modern-day version of Taming of the Shrew, coming out on June 21:

vinegar girl

 

 

 

 

 

What are YOU reading on the deck, at the pool, by the ocean? We need more ideas. Please leave us a comment and share your summer reading picks! (By the way, no need to insert your name or email address when you comment. Just type and hit Post.)

 

 

 

Moms who write

Nobody multitasks like a mother. Cathy and I should know, because we’re both raising kids, holding down full-time jobs and writing fiction. That is until they cart us off, anyway.

In the meantime, Literary Mama is one of the magazines we love because it hits home. Take a few minutes and enjoy this  Q&A with the wonderful and wonderfully accomplished Rebecca Barry from the magazine’s May issue.

9781416593362

A little teaser:

“Also, one thing that really helped me was deciding not to define myself only as a writer. I’m not any one thing; I’m all these things. Sometimes I’m writing, sometimes I’m editing, sometimes I’m sculpting, sometimes I’m consulting, sometimes I’m hanging out with my kids, sometimes I’m taking care of my mom. Who knows what I am? The less attention I spend on defining myself, the more things tend to flow.”
Enjoy!
–Karen

Spring Writing Contests

Going through some recent contest announcements and thought we’d share. Here are some writing contests coming up (some very soon), so get those fingers flying, and best of luck!and the winner

Writing Contest: Flyway

flyway.submittable.com/submit

Entry fee: $12

Deadline extended until April 27

Sweet Corn: A spring contest for short fiction and poetry, celebrates work that surprises, shocks, moves, or affects the reader while exploring human and natural environments. Submit up to three poems or a single short story of 5,000 words or less. First-place winners receive $500, publication in Flyway, and a box of organic Iowa sweet corn. Runners-up receive $50 and publication.

Editor’s Reprint Award 

www.sequestrum.org/contests

Entry fee: $15

Deadline: April 30

Sequestrum is accepting submissions for its second annual Editor’s Reprint Award. Open to reprints of fiction and nonfiction in any original format (electronic or print). Length and subject are open. One $200 prize plus publication. Minimum one runner-up prize including publication and payment.

Not previously published? No Problem! They always accept general submissions: www.sequestrum.org/submissions.

Writer’s Digest Annual Writing Competition

http://www.writersdigest.com/writers-digest-competitions/annual-writing-competition

Entry fee: Varies

Deadline: May 6, 2016

Big money prizes for this one, up to $5,000. Categories are:

  • Inspirational Writing (Spiritual/Religious)
  • Memoirs/Personal Essay
  • Magazine Feature Article
  • Genre Short Story (Mystery, Romance, etc.)
  • Mainstream/Literary Short Story
  • Rhyming Poetry
  • Non-rhyming Poetry
  • Stage Play
  • Television/Movie Script
  • Children’s/Young Adult Fiction

New Anthology Competition: Finding Mr. Right

findingmrrightsite.wordpress.com

Entry Fee: $5

Deadline: May 15, 2016

Finding Mr. Right, an upcoming anthology, is seeking true story essay submissions from female writers worldwide. In addition to paperback publication, cash prizes of $200, $100 and $75 will be awarded to the top three authors that win our judges’ hearts in the categories of “Love At First Sight,” “Near Mrs.,” “Stupid Stuff I Did For Love,” “Were You There Along?” and “Table For One.”

Raymond Carver Short Story Contest
www.carvezine.com/raymond-carver-contest/#.U1ec2_mSwSa
Entry Fee: $17
Deadline May 15, 2016

Prizes: $1,500 first, $500 second, $250 third, and two $125 (Editor’s Choice). Winning stories will be read by three literary agencies. Honorable mentions and semi-finalists will be listed online for up to six months. No genre fiction (romance, horror, sci-fi); literary fiction only. Limit 6,000 words.

Creative Nonfiction Prize
www.creativenonfiction.org/submissions/joy
Entry fee:$20
Deadline: May 16, 2016

For an upcoming issue, Creative Nonfiction is seeking new essays about JOY. Creative Nonfiction editors will award $1,000 for Best Essay and $500 for runner-up. All essays will be considered for publication in a special “Joy” issue of the magazine to be published in winter 2017.

Blue Mountain Poetry Card Contest

www.sps.com/poetry/index.html

No Entry Fee

Deadline June 30, 2016

First prize $300. Second prize $150. Third prize $30. Poems can be rhyming or non-rhyming, although we find that non-rhyming poetry reads better. We suggest that you write about real emotions and feelings and that you have some special person or occasion in mind as you write.

Books good enough to eat

I was lucky enough to spend April 2 at the Bill Library in Ledyard, Connecticut, taking part in the annual Artists & Writers Showcase. It was an afternoon of good friends, good talk, and good food, thanks to the creative “Edible Books” display, which featured mementos from popular books depicted in–you guessed it–edible form.

A group of about 20 area artists and authors (thanks for the invite Andrea Burke) displayed creative work, networked, and mingled with readers and art lovers.

Okay, as the sign-up sheet attests, there were a lot more artists than writers, but that just made me stand out.

list.png

And, hey, I had a blast meeting readers.

all ready

Buy my book, please!

 

I found that my novel (several copies) already lives at this library, and has been checked out multiple times! Evidence?

local books

….fifth from the left

 

None of my fellow participants have read the novel, but I’m still nudging them.

 

Now back to the edible books. Children’s titles were the most popular edible targets. Check it out:

The Man in the Yellow Hat’s Yellow Hat (Curious George) was delicious. Kudos to the baker.

At day’s end local photographer Barry Watrous (yes, a professional, as you’ll see) photographed us all for the  library. I’m already looking forward to returning next year.

Write Well, Friends

–Karen

Ledyard festival1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Q & A with Author P.J. Devlin

pag–From Cathy

P. J. Devlin tells stories about relationships. Whether writing of a witch, a dwarf, an elderly woman, teenagers, or indentured servants, her characters exist in the Philadelphia of her birth and share her love of the Wissahickon Creek. She is currently working on her third book with Possibilities Publishing Company.

wissahickon coverWissahickon Souls is Devlin’s historical novel set in the early 19th century, which follows the life of a free black woman born to free black parents in Philadelphia. 

Becoming Jonika is her coming-of-age novel set during the cultural upheaval of the late 1960s.

Please welcome P.J. Devlin to Write Despite!

jonika cover

 

 

What is your writing process like?

The genesis of each of my stories, including my novels, comes from an image. Most of these images have bounced around my mind for years before they emerge and announce themselves as ready to write. For example, the short story titled “Original Sins” (which will appear in my short story collection to be published summer 2016), developed from a visit I made as a teenager to a house where statues of saints appeared in every nook and cranny. That image stayed with me for more than 40 years before becoming a story (unrelated to that household except for the statues).

Once I have a story idea, I need to visualize the last scene. I think of my writing process as being a journey and I want to know where I’m going before I start. I’ve come to realize my best work results from thinking through the entire story by way of structure—especially the three-act structure.

When I know the story ending, I go to my white board and note the story’s theme, characters, plot, and initiating incident. Then I make three columns and label them: Act I, Act II, Act III. In Act I and Act II columns, I list scenes and turning points. In Act III I list the final complication scene and the resolution. For a novel, I make a list of chapter titles as points of reference to help with the forward momentum of the story. Then I start to write. While my initial thoughts about story scenes change as the story progresses (the value of the white board is that it’s easy to erase), I find the time I spend before I get going to be my most valuable investment in the finished product.

Do you write every day?

A writer whose name I don’t remember was asked that question in an interview I happened to hear. He said his practice was to write 5 hours a day 5 days a week. That’s the model I try to follow, although many weeks I write every day, especially when I’m working on a deadline – self imposed or for publication. I work best in the morning, but those mornings when something interferes—a doctor’s appointment, a household repair, it doesn’t take much—I know I won’t be able to focus later on. Those days I read instead of writing. I read craft books as well as fiction and nonfiction.

Favorite five authors or books?

I love Stephen King, especially 11-22-63, The Stand, and It.

I’ve read most of Jodi Picoult’s novels. She’s a great storyteller.

Donna Leon writes wonderful, rich mystery novels set in Venice, Italy.

Octavia Butler, the first black woman to write sci-fi novels, is one of my favorite authors. Kindred is an important novel, in my opinion.

And George Mason University’s Susan Shreve is a brilliant writer—Daughters of the New World, A Student of Living Things, Warm Springs, and A Country of Strangers are my favorites.

It seems you came to be a writer later in life. Why, and how did you accomplish it?

I’ve been a writer from the moment I learned the alphabet and put pencil to paper. My mother saved a little notebook in which I wrote stories in a baby scrawl when I was five years old. I’ve always known my destiny is to write stories. I wrote stories throughout grade school, high school, and college. But I’m a practical person and before I started my junior year in college, I decided what was most important was to be independent with the ability to support myself and my family whether or not I was married. I changed my major to economics then and studied to earn a BA, MA, and PhD. While my husband and I raised our four children, I worked for Fairfax (Virginia) County Government as a financial analyst and for five of those years, also taught Economics at Northern Virginia Community College. But I never lost sight of my goal to write fiction. As soon as I put in enough years to earn my pension, in 2008, I retired from Fairfax County and entered the George Mason University Creative Writing Program. I knew I had some talent but I was well aware I lacked skill and craft. To the extent I’m now a published author, the Mason faculty and the writers I attended classes with have been instrumental in helping me find my path.

In many ways my ability to live the writing life now results from my youthful decision to live the earning life. I’m awed and impressed by my young colleagues who manage to write while raising their families and paying the bills.

Why did you choose to go the nontraditional publishing route and not through an agent?

At writers’ conferences, I always attended sessions with agent panels and those about finding an agent. (I casually spoke to a few agents and found them to be lovely people). I also attended sessions with newly published writers who’d found agents and who spoke about their experiences. Each of these authors told of years-long (eight years or more from novel completion to publication) struggles to find an agent, for the agent to sell their book, and for the publishing company to include the book on its publication list for an upcoming year. A Caldecott Award-winning author reported that for a number of years (five perhaps?), the publishing house that owned the rights to her book dropped it from annual lists until she despaired of it ever being published. It eventually was published and won awards. I’ve spoken with other authors and learned of similar time-consuming and soul-stealing experiences with traditional publishing.

With my background in economics and lifetime of financial analysis, I spent some time considering the benefits and costs of pursuing the traditional publishing model versus self-publishing versus small press publishing and decided the small press publishing model offered the optimal solution for me. Time was and is my most precious resource and traditional publishing, even in the best-case scenario, requires more time from book completion to publication than I’m willing to accept. Furthermore, all publishing models, including traditional, require the author to engage significantly in the advertising and marketing of her book. For me, the reward-risk ratio excluded the traditional publishing model.

Fortunately, I met my publisher, Meredith Maslich, CEO of Possibilities Publishing Company (PPC), at the 2013 Fall for the Book Festival at George Mason University. I liked her business model and I respected her vision. Furthermore, PPC is a local publisher. PPC is hands-on and author-centric. Within one year of signing a contract, my first novel, Wissahickon Souls, was published. A little over a year later, my second novel, Becoming Jonika, was published. In July 2016, a collection of short stories, Wishes, Sins and the Wissahickon Creek, is scheduled for publication. It’s inconceivable that my work would be published so expeditiously following a traditional model.

What have been the best and worst parts of your publishing journey?

The best part of my journey is the respect, integrity, and commitment of Meredith Maslich, my publisher. In addition, Kirsten Clodfelter, a Mason MFA grad, has edited my novels and is a joy to work with.

I don’t know that I’d call it the worst, but certainly the hardest part of this journey is advertising and marketing. I’m no good at it. And since my publisher, PPC, is a young company, we’re struggling together to figure out how to get my work and other PPC authors’ work noticed by a wide audience. I admit that I don’t have the knowledge, skill, or even inclination to utilize social media as a means of reaching a wider audience.

What are you working on now?

I’m completing the final requirements for the upcoming short story collection—Wishes, Sins and the Wissahickon Creek. As soon as I can, I’m returning to the magical realism novel I’ve been working on. I can’t wait to get back to it.

What advice do you have for others (publishing, writing tips, inspiration, etc.)?

Writing is work. It’s often joyful, fulfilling, and gratifying. But it’s work. Some days each sentence is a struggle. But if writing is the work you love and the life you desire, then you have to go for it. I advise writers to study the craft—through books, conferences, and other writers. My breakthrough came after I studied story structure. One craft book I often refer to is Oakley Hall’s How Fiction Works. I believe a writer has to find her or his own inspiration. Mine is the little memo book with stories I wrote at age five, which my mother saved all her life.

My advice on publishing is that I don’t have any advice. My decision to go with a small publisher was based on a concept I learned in economics—optimizing my personal objective function. If you can stomach considering that concept, then figure out what’s your most important objective for your finished work and what you’re willing to sacrifice in order to reach that objective. Then go forth.

 

Five Secrets of Highly Successful Writers

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If you have five minutes, sit back, close your eyes and listen to some audio advice from novelist Michelle Richmond. Her topic: simple tips on how to become a more effective writer!

Need some of those. Thank you.

Michelle is the New York Times best-selling author of The Year of Fog, and of Golden State, No One You Know, Hum, Dream of the Blue Room and The Girl in the Fall-Away Dress.

She’s also my publisher at Fiction Attic Press.

Now press play and close your eyes.

— Karen

Commercial? Upmarket? Literary?

Of course we all know the differences, right?

Maybe.

Way, deep down.

But in case you’re curious to see them explained succinctly, in colorful little infographics with real-world examples no less, take a glance at these little gems.

Originally posted by Women Fiction Writers, who credit agent Carly Watters for their creation. God love them.

commercial fiction

upmarket fiction copy

literary fiction copy

Glad to know someone’s still reading

From Karen–

Hi Friends,

My novel, Homing Instincts, has been out for one year. Pub date was Nov. 14, 2014. Okay, a year-plus.

Anyway it’s so gratifying to know readers are still discovering it. These stories have a longer life–and touch more people–than we know.

My latest evidence?

Author Hardy Jones is giving Homing Instincts  some online love this month. Please check out Hardy’s review on Cybersoleil Literary Journal, and his nifty interview with me.

cyber soleil

Photo by Natthinee Khot-asa Jones

There’s lots of other good reading in Cybersoleil, too, so dig in.

Cheers.

–Karen

 

Writerly New Years Resolutions You Ought to Try

Bystanders_SM

As we gear up for a new year, Tara Laskowski, author of Modern Manners For Your Inner Demons (Matter Press 2012) and the forthcoming Bystanders (Santa Fe Writers Project 2016) is kindly sharing some suggestions that will benefit your craft, as well as your karma.

Happy Writing in the New Year. Make 2016 your most productive—and more importantly, most fulfilling—yet.

Please welcome Tara to Write Despite.

***

Yep, it’s that time—to commit to something (or several somethings) that you’ll accomplish over the next year. To change the ways that you’re less proud of. To start over, reset, renew.

Only 8 percent of people are successful in achieving New Years resolutions. Perhaps this is because we dream too big and set ourselves up for failure? Whatever the case, I’m presenting to you some resolutions that I’ve tried in the past or would like to try this year. Some are bigger, and some are tiny—and achievable—I swear! I hope they spark some ideas for you and make your 2016 full of happy reading and successful writing.

Re-read a book you love. If you’re at all like me, you’ve got a stack of books somewhere that you want to get to, but can’t ever seem to. You can’t really imagine taking the time to go back and read something you’ve already read, even if you love it.

Well, give yourself permission to do it. For every two or three new books you read, re-read something you love. I have started re-reading The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis again, and it is giving me such pleasure to revisit these characters. Also on my list—Mrs. Dalloway, the Harry Potter series, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and The Secret History.

Subscribe to a literary journal. Lit magazines are struggling. They get more submitters than subscribers in many cases. Find one that you love, and buy an annual subscription. Then read it. If you find a story you really love, email the writer and let him or her know.

Swap favorite books with a writer friend. Ask your friend to name two books that changed her life (that you haven’t read yet.) Then give her two books that you adore that she hasn’t read. Read them. Discuss over drinks and sweets. Consider your life changed and enriched.

Write something outside your genre, just for fun. Normally write novels? Try flash fiction. Are you a poet, always a poet? Why not write a crime fiction story? Instead of science fiction, ground yourself in reality for a time. Pulling out of your comfort zone can get your brain thinking in different ways. A bonus: it also takes the pressure off and gives you the freedom to just explore for a while.

Several of the stories in my new collection exist only because of this experimentation. The story “The Monitor” was my attempt to write something with supernatural elements in it—a woman who starts to see a ghost in her baby monitor. The story ended up getting taken by Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. Another story, “Every Now and Then,” was the result of me messing around with writing modular stories—a form I’ve grown to love. If I hadn’t tried to break out of my writing comfort zone, these stories wouldn’t exist.

Review books on Amazon. This is a really easy and cheap way to show love to the writers you know and adore. There are many articles out there about why and how Amazon reviews are good for the writer. Take five minutes and write a thoughtful, honest review of a recent book you read and post it on Amazon—and Goodreads, too! I promise you that you will make that writer’s day.

Finish that one project that’s lurking behind you. Maybe it’s the novel you’ve been writing for seven years, or the story where the concept is great but you can’t get the ending right. Or the collection of short stories that needs three or four more to flesh it out. Whatever the writing project, make 2016 the year to tackle it. And then go for it. You can do it. I’m cheering you on!

"Tara Laskowski"

Tara Laskowski grew up in Northeastern Pennsylvania and now navigates traffic in the Washington, D.C. suburbs. She is the author of Modern Manners For Your Inner Demons (Matter Press 2012) and the forthcoming Bystanders (Santa Fe Writers Project 2016). Her fiction has been published in the Norton anthology Flash Fiction International, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Mid-American Review, and numerous other journals, magazines, and anthologies. Since 2010, she has been the editor of SmokeLong QuarterlyShe and her husband, writer Art Taylor, write the column Long Story Short at the Washington Independent Review of Books. Tara earned a BA in English with a minor in writing from Susquehanna University and an MFA in Creative Writing from George Mason University.

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