Writing Exercise 22.7

In my previous post, I had a wonderful conversation with Erica Plouffe Lazure about her new linked-story collection Proof of Me. Today, Erica is sharing a very short story from her collection. Originally published in Swink, Erica’s story, “Re: Division Unification,” is a mere six paragraph structured in the form of an inter-office memo. I appreciate interesting narrative structures such as in this one. Another story in Proof of Me, “Azimuth and Altitude,” is told through a series of phone messages. These kinds of structure lend towards a monological confession. In other words, it’s a great way to let a character loose to better reveal their voice and their particular narrative. Read Erica’s story below, and afterwards, I’ll share Erica’s advice about how to use interesting structures in your own work regardless of genre.

RE: Division Unification

Golden Poultry Processing Plant
MEMO
To: All Golden Poultry Division Employees
From: Kitty Ingram Lanford
RE: Division Unification

As you know, Boss Karpinski likes to say that we here at Golden Poultry should all aim for division unification. Better workers, he says, produce better teams; better teams make for better projects; better projects create a better office atmosphere, which brings better leadership, all of which contributes to a better, more unified division, which, in turn, makes our company succeed. The company is considered successful when it makes more money. And it is the division’s office’s leader’s team’s project’s members—each of us—who are charged with making that happen.

To motivate us into further unifying our division, Karpinski tells us to get our “ducks in a row,” to “think outside the box,” and to always leave “room on our plate.” Achieving these three goals, he says, will no doubt put “a feather in our cap.”

More than once, he has noted that members of our division’s team must “wear many hats” in order to succeed. This in particular caught my attention because I have yet to see anyone in our division, save for myself, wear a single hat, let alone several. I did a good stretch of knitting a few years back, after my father died and before my daughter joined the Marching Tigers, and those of you who work on my team in our division’s office know that I actually own and wear an extensive collection of woolen hats—although not at the same time. I’d like to know why Boss Karpinski suggests that we all wear hats, then, when in fact I am the division’s sole multiple hat wearer. I can imagine he’ll read this memo and say, “there’s no ‘I’ in ‘team,’ Kitty Ingram.” But there’s no ‘we” in team, either. Only “me,” mixed up. And wearing all the hats. And while I see boxes of chocolates and boxed pens doled to my colleagues as quarterly rewards, I—the lone multi-hat wearer of our division—have yet to see a reward, let alone a single feather, for my cap—or caps, as it were—come my way.

Perhaps the source of these elusive feathers is the ducks which Mr. Karpinski is so fond of aligning. Every time he urges us to get our “ducks in a row,” I can’t help but think we are getting bad advice. My father was a prize duck hunter out at Mattamuskeet each year, Mallard Class, and I know that, unless they are stuffed and mounted on your mantle, ducks do not readily get in rows, nor do they like to. As everyone knows, ducks in flight make v-shaped formations, which is not a row but rather an elegant, egalitarian arc. And anyone who’s ever watched ducks in a marsh could tell you they aren’t about to line up for you when they’re sitting in the water. That’s why they make buckshot. Yet Mr. Karpinski seems to believe that there is some relationship between row-friendly ducks and our mission of division unification. But to put them in rows is contrary not only to the natural tendencies of ducks, but also to the true aim of the statement, by which I assume he means: get organized.

But in order to get organized, he wants us to think outside the very object that would help us, logistically, to achieve it. It has been nearly three decades since I have been able to maneuver my body to fit inside a box, let alone think inside of one. And, unless you are compelled to place a box over your head as inspiration to get the neurons firing, thinking outside of a box is a natural, if not logical, thing to do. It begs the question why a box would even need to be present in order for thought to occur. My experience suggests that thinking happens—and should happen—when no box is present. So it makes one wonder: why the emphasis on the box? If, perhaps, the word “box” is meant to suggest my rather boxlike “cubicle,” then I heartily agree. And, since boxes tend to stay where you put them—except if that box happens to be in the supply room closet filled with staples and designer pushpins and the four-dollars-a-pop fountain pens and deluxe desk calendar—it seems a far simpler and more logical task to put your boxes in a row, and to let the ducks outside where they belong.

By solving the dilemmas of box placement and duck-alignment, it frees us, then, to consider Mr. Karpinski’s third piece of advice to achieve division unification. When I first heard him say, “don’t tell me your plate is full; always leave a little room,” I thought he was talking about the holiday all-you-can-eat chicken buffet the division pays for down in the break room. It’s advice I get from my dietician, too. And my therapist. But I always want to know, and no one ever tells me: what are we leaving room on our plates for? Ducks? In boxes? But then I realized that leaving room on a plate simply means that there is more to life than ducks and boxes and Golden Poultry, for that matter, and that you need to be ready for it. Leaving room on your plate is, in essence, making room for change, something that would mix up and rehash stale leftovers, be it food or phrase. Maybe it’s something that might inspire you to leave the division’s office for a while, even for just an hour, to take a walk in the woods to experience box-free thinking. And maybe you’d find in the woods a lake, where, if you are lucky enough, you may come across a family of ducks and observe them. You would know how unwilling they’d be to get in rows for you, how easily they spook if you rush at them, scare them a little into taking flight. I used to do this when I was a girl, on those Saturday mornings duck hunting with my dad. I’d rush at the ducks and when they flew away, a feather sometimes would fall from their fold, and land, miraculously, at my feet.

~~~

Erica Plouffe Lazure: When I wrote RE: Division Unification, I was working in an office at a university, and often had to edit the somewhat formalized and (at times abstruse) language of professional communication. And my brain is always looking for something to be entertained by—I’m a terrible punster—and so I thought it would be fun to see what would happen if one of my characters were to co-opt some of the hackneyed phrases we always hear in corporate settings, and use them to address a topic that is personal in nature while maintaining a somewhat formal tone.

I think stories that steal from other formats (with essays they’re called “hermit crabs”) can work, due to the sense of urgency (that “confessional” feel) and the familiarity of the format itself. Something that I always think about when I compose stories (no matter what format they take) is what circumstance would motivate, or even force, my character to ACT? What would push them into divulging something that they might not otherwise? Something I would caution against is using unusual forms gratuitously—there’s a fine line between coopting an unusual format to bring the writer (and character) closer to the truth of a situation, and using it as a gimmick.

As far as Kitty Ingram Lanford, we are introduced to her in the story “Marchers,” but we don’t know precisely what motivates her until she has a chance to speak on her own behalf via the memo in “RE: Division Unification.” Here we see a woman who is probably unseen and ignored at work, who dedicates a lot of time to causes she cares for, who is likely still grieving the death of her father, and who is sick of having people steal office supplies from the closet. To refer back to our earlier conversation about how I shaped my story collection, “RE: Division Unification” is a good example of how I’d reworked the names and some of the minor points of the original story (published in the now-defunct Swink journal) and found a space and voice for her in Proof of Me as Kitty Ingram Lanford.

Prompt: Start by making a list of unique structures along the lines of an office memo/email, or a voicemail. Pick one that allows a character to tell their story. Be sure to allow your character to confess something to their audience. Include a memory from the character’s past.

If you are writing nonfiction, try to recall a job you once held, and write about a time when you wanted to express something to a co-worker or boss, but didn’t. Use a memo, email, or voicemail format to recall that moment to your former colleague, and why it still stays with you.

If you are writing poetry, make a list of the objects of a workspace that is familiar to you. Then make a list of words you associate with that profession (feel free to look them up). Mix and match the words to see what story or throughline surfaces. Or, find a format within the workspace (an admission ticket or order form, for example) that you might borrow to “contain” the poem.

If this prompt helps you, I’d love to see the final product. In the meantime, please check out Erica Plouffe Lazure’s website, and don’t forget to buy her collection, Proof of Me, available from online retailers and your local bookstore.

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Conversation with Erica Plouffe Lazure

Erica Plouffe Lazure is quick to explain that she is not a Southerner nor a Southern writer. But what exactly is a Southerner or a Southern writer today? Are such distinctions based on the accident of birth? On the range of time and experience? How do perspective, talent and empathy work into the equations? I’ve heard every side of these arguments over the years. All I know for certain is that regardless of the way she self-identifies, the stories in Erica Plouffe Lazure’s linked-story collection Proof of Me authentically center on a small square of land called Mewborn, North Carolina, a place born out of Erica’s lived experience as much as from her imagination. Erica was kind enough to answer some of my questions about putting these stories together, about her submission process, and about winning the prestigious New American Press Fiction Prize.

DL: How long did it take you to write the stories in Proof of Me? Can you talk about how some of these stories link together and how those links impacted the shaping of the collection?

EPL: The stories in Proof of Me go back from when I first started pursuing creative writing—as early as 2005. Some were completed and published right away; others sat as drafts that I’d revisit and revise from time to time. I always keep a folder of stories that are “workable” but as of yet incomplete, and as I set out to help round out the stories and voices in this collection, they were integral.

I enjoy the editing process, and believe that, especially when you’re feeling stuck with a particular story, setting it aside for a while and returning to it can help shake loose its arc, and get it into publishable shape. Combing through each story one by one can help you to see how they might all fit together. Initially, I had not set out to link the stories (geographically or otherwise) in earlier configurations of the collection, but in the early days of the pandemic, I decided to dust off the collection, print it out, and see how I might more consciously connect each story to the other. I’d already written several pieces about some of the characters (like the Weaver sisters, or Cassidy Penelope), and so those stories became natural anchors for the larger collection. From there, I reworked some of the other pieces to connect more organically to other characters in the collection, or found ways to tie back stories that were set outside of Mewborn to the town itself. If I hadn’t allowed myself the flexibility to change certain aspects of the stories as I’d initially envisioned them, I’m not sure the collection would have been as strong.

DL: These stories are set in a range of locations such as Nashville and Boston and as far away as India, but each story is centered emotionally around Mewborn, North Carolina. Was it helpful in your writing process to create your own Yoknapatawpha County?

EPL: Mewborn the town is very much an imagined community, a bit of a hybrid of the small city of Greenville, in Pitt County (where I’d lived for about eight years), certain parts of Eastern Carolina, and my own hometown in Massachusetts. The name Mewborn is taken from a small crossing close to Kinston, but I chose it because I liked the sound of the name, and did not want (like Faulkner, I would guess) to have to adhere to the actual historical particulars of Pitt County while crafting a fictional work. And yet, a strong sense of place—about a small town, about how families and neighbors live and function alongside each other, about how even those who leave their hometown are still tethered to it—is what I hope surfaces in this collection. And as I mentioned earlier, I hadn’t intended the stories to be linked when I first set out to write them, but the revision process enabled me to see how I was, in fact, writing of, or about, the same place all along. And I should note that, for the record, I am not from the South, nor do I claim to be a Southerner, but I am very much a student of its literature, and I had never written a word of fiction until I moved to North Carolina.

DL: Can you describe the time between writing and publishing these stories? How did you connect with New American Press? Were there many rejections along the way?

EPL: Since about 2009, I had submitted various versions of Proof of Me to book prize contests offered by smaller presses. I like to joke how I almost renamed the collection The Bridesmaid, because it had been a finalist or runner-up in at least a half-dozen or so competitions (including New American Press, which eventually took it). But I think my effort to substantially rework the collection to make it more directly linked, geographically and thematically, worked in my favor. Rejection is part and parcel of the publishing game, and at some point, you understand that it’s not because the work isn’t any good; it’s more of what fits with the vision of the press, and the aesthetic tastes of the contest judge (or editor). I haven’t really gone the agent route—the agents I’ve had conversations with were always asking about my novel (! Don’t ask !) and were not interested in story collections. I’ve found there is certainly an interest and demand for short stories, but I guess we story writers have more work to do in making a convincing case to big publishers.

DL: Do you have advice for writers who hope to publish story collections?

EPL: This is rather technical advice, but something that helped me to envision my collection AS a collection was printing it all out (1.5 spacing, double-sided) and then read it aloud and edit with a pen in hand. I would make notes of key objects, characters or themes in a notebook, and then look for spots where those objects (sewing machines, dice, cars) might show up in another story. In some cases, I realized that, with a name change and a shift in a few key details, a story that might not have been part of the collection could be transformed into another piece of the Mewborn puzzle.

As far as submitting your work, I suggest that you research the publisher first to make sure it will be a good fit. Some publishers will want you to chip in for paying for a publicist (and there goes your advance), others might not do much in terms of promotion, or expect you to do much of that work yourself. I suggest researching a few past winners of story collections prizes of publishers that you’re interested in, and see how their books fared (via reviews, or press interest, or readings). Smaller presses tend not to have big budgets for book launches, so be aware of that.

DL: What are you working on now?

EPL: I’ve been working on a collection of flash stories under the thematic title Desire Path. It’s a term often used by city planners and landscapers to describe a “footpath made through foliage or grass by repeated traffic, rather than laid out by design.” I plan to take this literal definition in a metaphorical direction, where each of my characters will aspire for something guided by their desires, instincts and travels, and endeavor to carve a path of their own making to attain it. It is slow-going, but I’m enjoying discovering how each story might bend toward (or even challenge!) the established theme.

Huge thanks to Erica Plouffe Lazure for speaking to me about her new book. Don’t forget to order Proof of Me now. Stay tuned for my next post where I’ll share a writing exercise from Erica based on one of her short stories. Make sure you never miss a post by subscribing here:

Submission Calls for Writers 8/9/2022

Thanks and welcome to those of you who’ve recently subscribed to my blog. If you’re not yet subscribed, I hope you’ll go back and check out some recent posts such as A.E. Hines’ poem Waiting for the Diagnosis as well as his prompt based on his poem.

A lot of journals and magazines are opening up now that schools are also starting back. This month, I’ve compiled a list of a dozen opportunities for writers in every genre. So take advantage of the timing and send them some work.

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Anomaly CALL FOR BLOG & FEATURE WRITERS  We’re looking for writers who are interested in contributing in an ongoing manner to the Anomaly Blog, either by proposing a column or series, or by joining a team of staff writers who both pitch and take on assigned pieces for the blog. We are particularly interested in writers to focus on reviews, interviews, and profiles of artists and writers; and in getting pitches for columns or series that focus specifically on a particular artistic or writing community within the purview of our expanded mission. If you are interested, please send an email to Features & Reviews Editor Sarah Clark [sarah (at) anomalouspress (dot) org] with a paragraph about what you’re interested in writing about and your CV attached. https://anmly.org/calls/

Bodega  Bodega releases digital issues on the first Monday of every month, featuring poetry, prose, and occasional interviews by established and emerging writers. Submit up to 3 poems or up to 3000 words of fiction or nonfiction. http://www.bodegamag.com/about  

Lime Hawk Lime Hawk, a quarterly independent online journal of culture, environment, and sustainability, seeks new, unpublished submissions of short fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, and visual art. No deadline to submit. No reading fees. www.limehawk.org/journal

Four Way Review  FWR accepts poetry and fiction from both established and emerging authors. We look for work that demonstrates fine attention to craft while retaining a powerful and compelling voice.  We want writing that showcases the imagination’s unique ability to refine the raw materials of human experience. Unsolicited submissions are considered year round. Submit 3-5 poems or up to 6,000 words of fiction in a single document.  http://fourwayreview.com/submit-3/

CRAFT  Our creative categories are open year-round to any emerging or established author. For flash fiction and flash creative nonfiction, send work up to 1,000 words. For short fiction or creative nonfiction, send work up to 6,000 words. We will also consider previously published creative work. We pay our authors $100 for original flash and $200 for original short fiction and creative nonfiction. https://www.craftliterary.com/submit/

BULL   We are dedicated to examining and discussing modern masculinity: what works, what doesn’t, what needs to change and what needs to go. We’re in quickly shifting times and more than ever this conversation is crucial. We want fiction and essays that engage that conversation from every angle from men and women, gay and straight, Americans and citizens of the world. Everybody has a stake in making men better and, by proxy, culture as a whole. We want stories of exemplary masculinity, cautionary tales, accounts from every possible perspective and persuasion. https://mrbullbull.com/newbull/submit/

2022 University of New Orleans Press Publishing Lab Prize  We are looking for the best unpublished novel or short story collection. The Publishing Laboratory at the University of New Orleans seeks to bring innovative publicity and broad distribution to authors. We collect submissions through August 31, 2022, deciding on 15-20 finalists. The finalists are read by students from The Publishing Laboratory in the fall, and one is chosen for publication. The work does not have to be regionally focused. There is no word limit. There is no limit on subjects covered. https://unopress.submittable.com/submit

Another Chicago Magazine  We’re open through August 31, 2022, for poetry, fiction, nonfiction, reviews, and translations on the theme of Trans/formation. (Trans/formation: shifting, fluidity, change, and rediscovery in all forms, big and small. Consider how trans/formation raises the ideas of both a continuing process of becoming, and of some kind of coalescence. What does trans/formation mean to you?) We have no restrictions on length or style. https://anotherchicagomagazine.net/submissions/

Apple Valley Review  Apple Valley Review is currently reading submissions of poetry, personal essays, and short fiction. Several pieces from the journal have later appeared as selections, finalists, and/or notable stories in Best American Essays, Best of the Net, Best of the Web, and storySouth Million Writers Award. We accept poetry, short fiction, flash fiction, and essays. Submissions are read year-round, but the deadline for the fall issue is September 15. http://www.applevalleyreview.com/ 

Cream City Review  We devote ourselves to publishing memorable and energetic fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and artwork which represent a broad range of creators with diverse, unique backgrounds. Both beginning and well-known writers are welcome. We are currently reading for our Fall/Winter Issue from now through November 1, 2022. For Fiction and Nonfiction, send fewer than twenty double-spaced pages. We are interested in dynamic, well-crafted nonfiction, including creative journalism, personal essays, travelogues, flash, and polemics. We seek book reviews of any CCR-published genre and relevant author interviews. Please submit no more than five poems at a time. https://uwm.edu/creamcityreview/general/

Scholarships & Fellowships Available for the 2023 Eckerd College Writers’ Conference: Writers in Paradise  Located on the coast of the picturesque Boca Ciega Bay in St. Petersburg, Florida, Eckerd College Writers’ Conference: Writers in Paradise offers an intimate experience of workshop classes in Crime & Suspense, Memoir, Non-fiction, Novel, Poetry, Structure, Short Story and Historical Fiction, along with craft talks, panel discussions, Q&As, readings, book signings, and receptions with our award-winning faculty and lecturers. The workshop is scheduled for January 14 – 21, 2023. Deadline is November 1, 2022. www.writersinparadise.com

Outlook Springs Send us stories we can’t put down. Our emphasis is literary fiction, but we aren’t biased against genre. Send poems that ooze with sonic pleasure and stagger from line-to-line with an animated corpse’s lingering bravado. As for nonfiction, send us your travel narratives, your lyrical essays, your personal essays, and everything in between. If it’s real, if it’s interesting, if it’s well-written and gives us a new and exciting way to see the world (or – even better—inside your head), then we’ll publish it. Our current reading period ends December 14, 2022. http://outlooksprings.com/

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Thanks for reading. Please feel free to share these opportunities with other writers. If you’re not already receiving these posts directly to your inbox, please visit my wordpress site and subscribe.

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Writing Exercise 22.6

Writing Exercise 22.6

In my previous post, A.E. Hines shared his poem Waiting for the Diagnosis, one of many wonderful poems in his collection Any Dumb Animal. He also revealed the poem’s backstory. Today, I’m sharing a prompt from A.E. Hines based on this poem.

Writing Exercise 22.6

A.E. Hines: “Think and write of an example from your life of a time you were forced to wait. This doesn’t have to be a dramatic waiting—it could be as simple as idling impatiently at a traffic light, or waiting for an apology from an angry spouse that you are uncertain will come, or for a potential new love interest to call for that first date. The point is to pick a period of waiting, where the duration feels uncertain, and the outcome is unclear, and you can’t easily escape. What does this feel like? Waiting is not typically considered pleasant—but are there pleasant or helpful aspects to this waiting?  Let your waiting be a trigger, and then see what you discover by lingering there.”

As you write your own poem (or scene, story or essay), consider that Hines’s poem embraces the natural world outside of the physical space from which he writes. In this case, the poem’s speaker states that he’s lying with his lover, but many of the images in the poem delve into the wildness of the Colombian mountains which is where the speaker’s hopes for the future reside.

There’s also a celebration of the wild through the depictions of the bats and the monkeys and even in the language used to describe the earth. This prompt gives the same opportunity to embrace the far reaches of our own experience, and encourages us to step into the wider realms of possibility.

By this point, I hope your mind is racing with ideas for writing. If not, I’d offer these concrete steps to include in your first draft. One, don’t forget to tell the reader where the speaker is in the physical world. In Waiting for the Diagnosis, Hines says he is lying with the man he loves. Two, include the actions of at least two animals.

If this prompt helps you, I’d love to see the final product. In the meantime, please check out A.E. Hines’ website, and don’t forget to buy his collection, Any Dumb Animal, available from Main Street Rag Publishing, online retailers, and your local bookstore.

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“Waiting for the Diagnosis” by A.E. Hines

About a year ago, I read a book that completely captured my attention. It was A.E. Hines’ Any Dumb Animal, published by Main Street Rag Publishing. Although Any Dumb Animal is a collection of poetry, it can also be likened to a memoir, moving through time to reveal moments of Hines’ personal life story. I was excited by the mixture of craft and accessibility in Hines’ writing. Many of his poems lean toward the narrative as well as the confessional. The result is that reading each poem feels like you’re being let in on a secret that has the potential to change your personal outlook of the world.

I’m far from alone in recognizing Hines’ talents. Any Dumb Animal received Honorable Mention in the North Carolina Poetry Society’s 2022 Brockman-Campbell Book contest and was a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Book award. His work has also appeared in some of the best journals of our time such as Alaska Quarterly Review, Southern Review, Rhino, American Poetry Review, Poet Lore, The Greensboro Review, Ninth Letter, The Missouri Review, I-70 Review, and Tar River Poetry, among other places.

He splits his time between Charlotte, North Carolina, and Medellín, Colombia. Last week, I reached out and asked if he would share one of his poems.

Waiting for the Diagnosis

Lying with the man I love,
I muse about a farm
high in the Colombian mountains
where terraced slopes of coffee
meander valley to peak
and disappear into mist.

There’s still time, I tell him,
to plant a thousand bamboo trees,
watch them leap into the sky,
to nail bat houses to the trunks
and hear the flitter of webbed-wings,
to hear the night monkeys
winding their way in the dark,
leaping branch to branch.

Let the shadows come
and wrap us
in their slippery shawls—
there’s still time to dig
our fingers into the black
brooding earth,
to taste the prickly fruit,

to believe we can grow old
listening to the bats shriek,
and night monkeys howl,
to bamboo trunks
rubbing together in the breeze,
their insistent music
like the luxury
of creaking old bones.

I asked A.E. Hines if he would share the inspiration for writing Waiting for the Diagnosis, and here’s what he wrote:

“When Any Dumb Animal first came out, a couple of friends contacted me after reading this poem to inquire about my health. “What’s going on?” one asked. As I told my friend, I’m fine now.  A few years ago, I did have one of those surprise health issues that stops you in your tracks, and leaves you worrying and waiting for the days and weeks it takes to get into doctor visits, to schedule and receive various test results. That gap in time was the genesis for this poem. I recall coming home after a particularly invasive test and wrote the title in my notebook. At the time, I was in a brand new relationship with the man who would later become my husband. We were still very new, and it was my first serious relationship after ending a twenty year marriage. Like all new couples, we were making plans for the future. But as middle-aged (and previously divorced) adults, we also understood time isn’t always on one’s side, and plans don’t always work out. Growing old (and doing it with someone you love) really is a luxury. This poem lives in the gap, that anxious moment of waiting. Of not knowing if plans will work out. But also in hope that they will.  PS:  As for me, so far, so good!”

Many thanks to A.E. Hines for sharing the background story of his poem Waiting for the Diagnosis. Just this week, he’s had new work published in the summer issue of The Southern Review and online at South Florida Poetry Journal. And don’t forget to order Any Dumb Animal from the Main Street Rag Online Bookstore, Powell’s or Amazon.

In my next post, I’ll share a writing exercise based on Waiting for the Diagnosis. If you’re not already subscribed, you can make sure you never miss a post by subscribing here:

Conversation with Tony Taddei

For many years before Tony Taddei was creating characters on the page, he was creating them on the stage as a trained actor.  Born and raised in New Haven, Connecticut, Tony now lives in New Jersey. I first met Tony in 2014 when we both attended the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. A few years later, we reconnected through the Bennington College Writing Seminars. Though all of my interactions with Tony had been related to writing, I hadn’t had the pleasure to read his work for myself until the recent publication of his collection of linked short stories, The Sons of the Santorelli. What a joy it was to discover the craftsmanship and poignancy in these twelve stories about an immigrant family, particularly the men in the family who struggle with their desires and ambitions. Yes, this is a narrative about an immigrant family, but as David Gates said about the book, this is not “the conventional immigrant family saga.” Tony was kind enough to answer some of my questions about putting these stories together, about how he avoided convention, and how he infused a political slant into such personal, character-driven writing.

DL: How long did it take you to write these stories, and do you recall when you knew how individual stories would work together? Can you talk about your reasons for writing multiple, linked stories rather than a novel?

TT: I took my time writing these stories, so that the process from drafting the initial stories to finalizing the collection probably took five or six years.  The collection wasn’t the only thing I was working on during the time, and, in any case, I didn’t want to rush the process of writing the collection.  First, because I wanted to get the premise of each story right as well as to spend time considering what stories might need to be added, and second, because I was having a lot of fun writing about these people and I kind of wanted to savor it. 

During the process of working on the stories I don’t think I really had a master plan for how they would all work together.  That said, once I decided to write one story for each of the Santorelli sons and grandsons as well as at least one story about the patriarch, the linkages between stories started to become evident, and I was able to find ways in rewriting the stories and adding new ones to get them to work together as a piece.  My goal was to have each story stand on its own but also for a reader to be able to sit back and think about them in their entirety after finishing the collection to realize that the parts of the book made up a whole.

As to why I wrote the saga of this family as linked stories rather than a novel, I did it because it gave me the ability to tell multiple, smaller stories that I would not have been able to tell in a novel (while still trying to make the novel a cohesive whole).  It was also a lot easier for me to write about the individuals in this very complex and human family in separate stories than it would have been in a novel.  By telling the story of the Santorellis a character at a time, I think I did more justice to each individual while still creating the personality and a legacy of a whole family.

DL: One of the recurring themes throughout these stories is the idea of the immigrant experience, often depicted here in connection with “immigrant shame” and the idea that America “breaks” the spirit of immigrants. This is the antithetical American story. How conscious were you of making this kind of political statement during the writing? Do you have advice for other writers about incorporating political ideas into fiction?

TT: As the work progressed, I was very conscious of it.  Having come from an immigrant family and seen them fail more than succeed at the things they most wanted I can be somewhat cynical about the idea of an American Dream to begin with. I knew that cynicism would likely play a role in the situations I put my characters in.

That said, I didn’t I initially set out to tell stories that torpedoed the idea of what can be achieved in America.  I set out to write human stories that were compelling to read as well as funny and tragic with as many twists and surprises as I could manage.  In order tell the truth about the characters in this family as I saw them, I had to show the forces that were working upon them. The largest of those forces being that for most immigrants and, especially for the poor, this country very often only lets them get so far before it pushes them back down again.  This comes in the form of economic imprisonment, and it comes in the form of racial imprisonment where one wave of immigrants who’d faced bigotry visits their own xenophobia and bigotry on the next wave of immigrants to reach America’s shores.   

My advice for writers who want to incorporate political ideas into fiction is to first find an honest story that is personal and then begin writing it without focusing on the political or cultural connotations. If the story is honest and tracks with the world we live in, they won’t be able to help themselves from writing about the political forces that are acting upon their characters. Those forces come into play in our lives most of the time without us even realizing they are there.  After that, when the writer looks back on what they’ve written, they can draw out the more political aspects of the story to any degree they choose. To put the above more succinctly, all politics are personal. I think any political writing should follow that guideline.

DL: Many of these stories are told through the male point of view which makes sense given the title of the collection. But that’s not to say that you don’t give voice to women within the Santorelli family. How did you settle on the balance between male and female characters and points-of-view? Were there any challenges in allowing the women to have their say in this male-dominated cast?

TT:  Not at all, because I think if you look closely at each of the stories, you’ll see that the women in the backgrounds of these men’s lives are the real truth-tellers.  The stories would not have found the ballast they needed for their conflict and reasoning if it weren’t for the women characters. A reader will likely see this most clearly in a story like “Commedia Dell’Arte” which has the matriarch of the family as the protagonist trying to make sense of and tell the truth about male dominance in her life.  But it’s just below the surface of most of the other stories as well. From “Songs for Swingin’ Lovers” where a prostitute early on dominates a group of highly dysfunctional and misogynist men, to “Valiant” where the sisters and especially the mother in the family turn out to be stronger and more insightful then either the father or the son.

So, no, I did not find many challenges in allowing the women to have their say in my largely male-dominated cast.  In fact, I’d say that the challenge was being able to hold off in letting the women have their say long enough so that the men could act out in the wrong-headed and solipsistic ways that I think make the stories interesting and recognizable to readers.  Especially female readers.

DL: In an effort to demystify the process, I always ask writers about the process of submitting their manuscripts for publication. Can you describe the time between writing and publishing these stories? How did you connect with Bordighera Press?

TT:  The time between writing and publishing was, to some extent, concurrent.  I started to send the manuscript to publishers when I had most of the stories finished but was still revising the last two or three.  At that point it was rejection, rejection, rejection until I found Bordighera Press.

Bordighera is a small independent press that is partially privately funded with a mission to publish writing about the culture of Italy and Italian Americans—essays, fiction, poetry, what have you.  They publish a semiannual review of shorter work as well as a twice yearly run of new full-length work and are always looking for good writing that fits the themes of Italian life.   About 2 years ago, I submitted the title story of my collection to Bordighera for consideration in their semiannual review, and it was accepted.  Once I realized that they also published full length work, I sent the full and, by then, nearly completed manuscript, and I was thrilled when they said they wanted to publish it. 

I’ve been telling people who ask how you find a publisher for your work that you have to persevere until you find a publisher that is the right fit.  Most of the time that’s easier said than done.  In my case I believe it was a bit easier because the work was a more-or-less exact match with the kind of work Bordighera is looking for.

DL: What are you working on now?

TT: I’m finishing up another collection of short stories that revolve around the melancholy, indignities, and occasional pleasures that men face as they age.  Each of these stories also weaves in animals and their ability to live instinctually and unquestioningly as a humorous and (I think) affecting counterpoint to the men in the stories who are creating their own problems and then struggling to accept the circumstances they find themselves in.  These two themes may not at first glance seem to go together, but I think the stories work better because of their juxtaposition. I’m hoping to have these stories published as a collection sometime soon and readers can judge for themselves. For now, if any of your readers want to take a look a couple of these stories, they a can go to Animal Literary Magazine and The Florida Review online.  I’m also beginning a novel but it’s too early to say much about it, so I’ll have to get back to you on that.

DL: Are there any opportunities coming up for readers to hear you read from The Sons of the Santorelli either via Zoom or in person?

TT: Yes, I recently read an excerpt from a story in the collection – “We Now Conclude Our Broadcast Day” – online for the Prospect Street Reading series and readers can view that on Facebook Events at  https://www.facebook.com/events/413658933932101/?ref=newsfeed (no Facebook account required to view).

Folks can also go to the Selected Audio section of my website and listen to me read the first two stories from the collection.

Other readings are in the works, and I’ll post the particulars to my social media feeds when they’re set.  (@tony_taddei / Twitter; Tony Taddei / Facebook; tonytaddei / Instagram)

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Huge thanks to Tony for speaking to me about his new book. Don’t forget to order The Sons of the Santorelli now from Bordighera Press. Make sure you never miss a post by subscribing here:

Submission Calls for Writers 7/14/2022

It’s been nice this month to have heard from a few different blog readers. I still owe responses to a few of you. Please know they’re coming. It’s always great to hear from anyone following the blog. Please know how happy I am if you find the content here useful to you and your writing.

It’s easy to forget about submitting in the summer. Many university journals close during the summer break, but many are still open. In this post, I’m sharing a list of 10 opportunities that range from journal to book publication. There should be something here for everyone.

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The Peauxdunque Review Whether your podunk is a small town in Alabama, middle-of-nowhere-Indiana, a working-class block of slab-houses in New Orleans East, piney-wooded East Texas, a Tennessee hill or holler, or an Atlanta apartment house, send us your expression to the world. Fiction and nonfiction should be no longer than 7500 words. Flash fiction should be no longer than 750 words. Please send no more than 3 poems per submission. https://peauxdunquereview.com/

Image We welcome unsolicited submissions and consider all submissions carefully. We produce two publications: Image, a quarterly journal, and Good Letters, a daily blog. All the work we publish reflects what we see as a sustained engagement with one of the western faiths—Judaism, Christianity, or Islam. That engagement can include unease, grappling, or ambivalence as well as orthodoxy; the approach can be indirect or allusive, but for a piece to be a fit for Image or Good Letters, some connection to faith must be there. Please submit no more than five poems or ten pages total. For fiction and nonfiction, we have an upper limit of approximately 6,000 words. We rarely publish stories or essays under 3,000 words. https://imagejournal.org/journal/submit/

New Orleans Review For web features, New Orleans Review seeks fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and book reviews. Submit fiction and nonfiction pieces up to 5,000 words. Flash pieces welcome. Submit up to five pages of poems. We are looking for reviews of books (all genres) forthcoming or published in the last year. Query us if you’d like to submit or propose an interview. http://www.neworleansreview.org/submit/

Virginia Quarterly Review Submissions are open through July 31, 2022. Submit poetry of all types and length, short fiction between 2,500–8,000 words, and nonfiction between 3,000–7,000 words. We are generally not interested in genre fiction (such as romance, science fiction, or fantasy). We publish literary, art, and cultural criticism; reportage; historical and political analysis; and travel essays. We publish few author interviews or memoirs. In general, we are looking for nonfiction that looks out on the world, rather than within the self. Submissions are limited to one prose piece and four poems per reading period. https://www.vqronline.org/about-vqr/submissions

2023 Howling Bird Press Nonfiction Prize  Howling Bird Press, the publishing house of Augsburg College’s MFA in Creative Writing, seeks submissions for its 2023 Book Prize in Nonfiction. The press welcomes innovative, original work from established and emerging authors. Recommended length is between 20,000 and 60,000 words long although exceptions are permissible. The competition is open to all writers in English, whether published or unpublished. Author of the winning manuscript receives a cash award of $2,500, which serves as an advance, with book subsequently published by Howling Bird Press under a standard book contract. There is a $25 entry fee. Submit through July 31, 2022. https://augsburghowlingbirdpress.submittable.com/submit

The Boiler  The Boiler began in 2011 by a group of writers at Sarah Lawrence College. We publish poetry, fiction, and nonfiction on a quarterly basis. We like work that turns up the heat, whistles, and stands up to pressure.  Our writers include authors such as Thomas Lux, Bruce Bond, Joseph Millar, Cynthia Cruz, Emma Bolden, Marina Rubin, Paul Lisicky, Raena Shirali, and others.  Our current reading period extends through August 15, 2022. http://theboilerjournal.com/guidelines/   

Gold Line Press & Ricochet Editions Gold Line Press and Ricochet Editions are sibling presses run by students of the University of Southern California’s PhD Program in Creative Writing. Ricochet will be open to hybrid manuscript submissions through July 31 2022. Gold Line will be open to chapbook submissions in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry from August 1 to September 30, 2022. https://goldlinepress.submittable.com/submit

Bat City Review BCR is published annually. Submissions are open through September 15, 2022, with responses typically sent within two months of receiving a submission. We are interested in poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, art, and cross-genre pieces that experiment with language, form, and unconventional subject matter. We also welcome traditional styles as well as translations. Send us writing that plays, that strikes out, that enjoys itself, that makes its own rules. http://www.batcityreview.org/submit

Ponder Review Ponder Review is a student-run publication of the MFA program at Mississippi University for Women. We welcome fiction, flash fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, short plays, new media & visual art. Our current reading period runs through September 15, 2022. https://www.muw.edu/ponderreview/submit

I-70 Review The I-70 Review welcomes submissions of poetry and fiction through December 31, 2022. For poetry, submit 3-5 poems of 40 or fewer lines. Fiction and flash fiction should not exceed 1500 words. Publication of I-70 Review is annually in the fall. http://i70review.fieldinfoserv.com/submissions.html

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Thanks for reading. Next week, I’ll share my recent conversation about writing and publishing with Tony Taddei, author of The Sons of the Santorelli. To receive posts like these directly in your inbox, subscribe here:

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“Epitaph” by Todd Hearon

This week’s poem comes from the beautiful book, Crows in Eden, by Todd Hearon. Todd is a native of western North Carolina, and this collection of poems is placed in Eden, a small town in the Great Copper Basin of southeast Tennessee. A century ago, an African-American community was forced out of Eden after the lynching of three young Black men. Hearon’s poems are deeply-felt explorations of that particular time and place, and of the lives of both the victims and the perpetrators. This short poem essentially only 6 lines and an epigraph, is one of my favorite from the collection.

Epitaph

By his own hand to be engraved on copperplate and planted at
The edge of town under the sign that reads EDEN POP. 353

When this grave has eaten us alive
and slugs have blown the marrow from our souls
think not Wildflower Pilgrim as you drive
past this blot we were not particles
of the scene you seek its promise and its poor
mortal glory mirroring your own We were

You can read more samples from Crows in Eden and order a copy directly from Salmon Poetry by clicking here.

In other news… Head over to Americana Highways to listen to Tiffany Williams’ new single All Those Days of Drinking Dust. This song is the first to be released from her forthcoming album which will be available August 19th. Anuradha Bhowmik’s debut collection Brown Girl Chromatography is available now for pre-order from University of Pittsburgh Press. And for your immediate reading pleasure, check out Off the Coast to read Joel Ferdon’s poem Southwest, Southeast, and Rattle for Jeff Hardin’s poem At Least Something.

Thanks for reading. If you don’t already subscribe, make sure you never miss a post by subscribing here:

“When you are not there” by Ron Houchin

The writing community lost a fine poet and friend last month when Ron Houchin passed away from a rare form of kidney cancer. I first met Ron when he attended the inaugural Mountain Heritage Literary Festival (MHLF), and our paths crossed many times in the years since then.

Ron was a consistent attendee at MHLF, and he never missed the Saturday morning hike led by my friend Tony Maxwell. Each year, Tony chose a walk that would eventually lead to the Pinnacle Overlook at the top of Cumberland Mountain, and Ron was always there. In the photo below, taken in 2017 and shared by Thomas Alan Holmes, you can see Ron standing second from the left, wearing his trademark baseball cap.

Thanks to Tony’s suggestion and Alan’s organization, a small group gathered at the Pinnacle Overlook on Sunday morning to remember Ron.

I wish I could share all of the wonderful stories that were told. Ron was often quiet, especially in group settings. He was one of the most thoughtful people I’ve ever met. Those factors combined with his obvious talent as a writer could feel intimidating. And yet he was incredibly kind and generous with his time and energy, and he often surprised us with his witty sense of humor and his always perfect delivery.

Ron published a remarkable body of work ranging from poetry to short fiction and a young adult novel—ten volumes that will keep him and his voice from ever completely dying. We read a few of his poems on Sunday when we gathered on top of the mountain. I didn’t read a poem, myself, although for weeks now, I’ve been carrying around my copy of his 2009 collection, Museum Crows, one of four titles published by Salmon Poetry. The first poem I opened to was, “When you are not there,” a perfect poem for a time of loss.

When you are not there

Five granules of pepper
and three of salt lie on the table
beside two clear shakers.
On the floor a ray of sunlight
lands beside the dog dish.
It creeps over the bowl
while the dog sleeps.

In his dream, he growls,
but the sun beam does not hesitate.
Its bright tongue licking over
the edge of the dry food wets
it with light. The dog blows
out his breath, feet twitching.

Across the room, a tall glass,
empty but for three ice cubes,
clinks and settles its coldness.
Behind the refrigerator, frail
cobwebs, in the pattern
of someone’s initials, wave
in wind from the furnace vent.

Like the music of fear, the red light
of the security system keeps time.
When you are still not back, a full,
pastel moon peers in the big window
over the breakfast nook.

These things, and the bright planet
Venus shining through
the storm door, will not ask your
whereabouts or why the car is not
ticking toward coolness in the garage.

But the dog will wake soon
and whine for you and fresh food.
The philodendra will take
a week to miss you.
The tall water glass, still on the counter,
whispers tragedy in strains of evaporation.

Conversation with Patti Frye Meredith

I can’t exactly remember the first time I met Patti Frye Meredith. I definitely have memories of her at one of the early Mountain Heritage Literary Festivals making people laugh and playing music late at night. One thing I know for certain is that Patti can make anyone laugh. That’s true whether you’re fortunate enough to sit down and share a meal with her, or whether you’re reading her beautiful new novel, South of Heaven, a multi-generation narrative set in Carthage, a small town in the Sandhills of North Carolina. At the center of the novel are two sisters, Fern and Leona. Both have secrets they are keeping from each other and from the world. There’s also Fern’s son Dean who, as Fern says, doesn’t have any secrets. South of Heaven is a meaningful exploration of how the things we try to keep bottled up complicate relationships. The novel is deeply Southern, completely universal and wonderfully fun to read.

DL: South of Heaven centers on the McQueen family, and it’s set in the late 1990’s, a time not so long ago but a time that feels infinitely different in hindsight. Do you have any advice for other writers writing about the recent past?

PM: When Dean first “talked to me in my head,” he told me his dad was MIA in Vietnam, and how as a child he pretended to find his daddy in the overgrown bamboo patch in his backyard.

I wrote the book from that one scene. I knew Dean was in his early 20’s, and that his father went missing at the very end of the war. That’s why I set the novel in 1998. After I got into it, other 1998 occurrences came into play like the Clinton/Lewinsky drama. There’s a lot in the book about the lengths we will go to avoid the truth, so that worked.

Early readers suggested that I move the story up in time, to make it more contemporary, to use the Iraq War instead of the Vietnam War and put it in present tense. I tried, but I couldn’t make it work. By that time, too, I felt like I knew Fern and Leona very well, and I realized they wouldn’t be the same people if they hadn’t grown up like they did in the sixties.

There are pitfalls. It’s not historic, and it’s not contemporary. The characters are just modern enough for readers to wonder, “Why would they think that?” or “Why would they do that?” It’s embarrassing, but I had to do research to remember if everyone had cell phones in 1998, or if fax machines were still a thing. We’ve seen a lot of change in twenty-four years, and it’s amazing how quickly we forget recent history.

DL: I loved reading the “Backstory” on your website about your job at University of North Carolina Public Television, and how you met so many writers there. The authors you mention (Lee Smith, Doris Betts, Reynolds Price, Fred Chappell) all come from the Southern tradition, and South of Heaven feels like a very Southern novel. How natural was it for you to write in that tradition?

PM: Like so many others, reading Eudora Welty, Elizabeth Spencer, Lee Smith, Jill McCorkle, Tim McLaurin, and so on and so on, showed me that stories set in small towns were okay to write.

I grew up in Galax, Virginia, population around 6,000. So, it was natural to stick to the world I knew. Thinking about it, I’ve now lived in Memphis and Chattanooga, Tennessee, Huntsville, Alabama, Durham and Charlotte, North Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Cities large and small, but with the same southern sensibilities. (Or maybe I think all those places have the same southern sensibilities because “wherever you go, there you are”!)

DL: Did you feel any pressure to “live up” to the works of those writers you admired so much?

PM: If I thought I had to live up to their work, I’d never write another word! Back when I first started writing, I didn’t know what I didn’t know, however, it didn’t take long to realize I was never going to be in the same league with the writers I admired most. I’d give anything to see the world and put that world on the page like Fred Chappell, but I don’t have his complexity or depth. That doesn’t mean I don’t love reading his work. But, even when you study the craft and learn what makes great literature, even when you can recognize it, it’s still not possible to re-engineer your brain to create it. Thank heavens. There should be only one Lee Smith, one Jill McCorkle, one Darnell Arnoult.

That’s not to say I don’t spend a lot of time being discouraged! But you have to write what you write, be who you are, I mean, you can’t fake your subconscious! We all have our own perspectives and experiences, and we’ve all drawn our own conclusions.

I’m hooked on the joy of writing. The discoveries, the occasional good sentence, exploring the minds of my imaginary people. Writing helps me understand what matters and it’s my way of expressing what strikes me—good and bad—about being human.

And, since I love a cliché, I’ll say, “It’s the journey, not the destination.” Chasing after the “secret” to good writing has led me to friends who absolutely make my whole life better. Having the opportunity to be with other writers is the best reason to write!  Sorry for getting off on a tangent, but maybe that’s the southern tradition!

DL: How long did it take you to write South of Heaven? How many drafts did you go through?

PM: There’s no telling how many drafts I have. Dean’s voice came to me at Hindman Settlement School in 2005. I wrote the original draft in first person present tense. Then changed it to third person present tense for my MFA thesis at the University of Memphis in 2012. Then I wrote a draft in third person past tense. I was always changing something, adding, taking away. Starting over. We moved seven times in twenty-eight years for my husband’s job, so I had a lot of distractions (excuses) through the years.

When my husband retired and we moved back to North Carolina, I set up my little office and joined a weekly writer’s group. Then the pandemic hit. Everyone is different. I know there are many great writers with extremely busy lives, but for me, the stillness of the pandemic quarantine made it possible to devote the time I needed to work. No travel, no socializing. I don’t think I understood what it meant to really work until the pandemic. I discovered the long stretches of uninterrupted time helped keep the story together in my head, helped me play out the scenes I needed to make the story more cohesive. I think of it as bandwidth. Writing South of Heaven took a lot of bandwidth!

DL: Your novel is published by Mint Hill Books, an imprint of Main Street Rag which published my poetry collection, Crimes Against Birds. What was your experience like in finding a publisher?

PM: I can’t remember if I saw Main Street Rag’s call for novel chapters on social media or in Poets & Writers, but I had one of those “What the heck” moments and sent chapters. Months later, I got an e-mail saying they were interested in publishing the novel, and Scott Douglass sent a contract and a detailed explanation of how the process would go.

I had sent out query letters to agents off and on for years. (One agent had almost taken it years ago, but that fell through when the third reader in her office didn’t think they could sell it.) I knew South of Heaven wasn’t the kind of book that was getting the attention of traditional publishing, or the independent presses I was familiar with. It wasn’t full-blown literary, and it wasn’t quirky enough to be chick-lit.

I didn’t think it was going to set the literary world on fire, but I wanted my imaginary people to live in a real book. So, I asked you, Sue Dunlap, and Darnell Arnoult to read it and tell me if I was about to embarrass myself, and you all said, “Do it.” So, I did. I fiddled with it after I got it back from you all, and I hired an editor to make sure I hadn’t added a lot more typos. Then I fiddled with it some more, and my niece, Becki Vasques, found my last snafus. We made it a family and friend affair! You and Darnell suggested I put an emu on the cover, and my husband, Lee, and I put it together (with Darnell on the phone). It’s been fun. Not “have lunch with your agent in New York City” fun, but better. A true labor of love. And I like that my North Carolina story is published by a North Carolina press. Scott Douglass does something very special with Main Street Rag. He publishes wonderful poetry and stories. I’ve gotten to know him and his wife and his dog, Harley, and I really appreciate the work he does.

DL: Do you have any advice for other writers ready to send their novel out?

PM: Don’t discount the small independent presses. We all appreciate independent bookstores. These presses deserve our appreciation, too.

Do ask yourself if you’re ready to be in the book marketing business, though, and the weird thing is part of that is selling not just the book but yourself. The great thing about the small press is, “You have a book to sell.” The scary thing about the small press is “YOU have a book to sell.” Just be honest with yourself about what you want to accomplish and why you’re doing it.

For me, the experience has been amazing because it has reminded me that I have the very best family and friends in the world. The support has been phenomenal. People I haven’t seen or talked to in ages bought my book after seeing my Facebook posts. Friends talk about my characters like they’re real people they care about. So, if I don’t sell another book, I’m very happy with the response South of Heaven has gotten.

CYNICAL ALERT!

The truth is, without Facebook, I wouldn’t have sold m(any) books. South of Heaven is in two bookstores, Chapters in Galax, my hometown, and McIntyre’s in Chapel Hill, where I live now. I’ve had one reading at McIntyre’s. I hired a publicist, and maybe there will be more readings, but maybe not. Even if I devote a lot of time to driving around, going to bookstores, taking them a book and a nice press kit, there’s no guarantee they’ll carry it. I have a couple of book club gatherings coming up. The bottom line is: It’s up to you to promote your book, to make yourself known. I believe even if you have an agent and a traditional press, they want you to have a “platform” meaning they want you to use your social media connections to publicize and sell your book.

DL: You’ve described South of Heaven as coming out “late in life.” We could argue about what that means, but I’m more interested in something else you said which is that having the novel out in the world helped clarify where and on what you want to focus your energies. Can you talk more about that?

PM: I know for sure I don’t want to be an author who dresses up and talks about writing. I want to be a writer who writes. I want to spend more time with my imaginary people and less time telling real people why they ought to like my book! Ha! I recently got together with a group of my writing friends, and afterwards I realized all we’d talked about was how close each of us were to having finished products to try to get published. Like there was some big door we were all clamoring to walk through to get to a different, more perfect life. I want to spend more time talking about ideas, or break-through moments, or what we’ve discovered about the craft. I don’t want my energy focused on end-products. I want to focus on better writing and storytelling.

DL: What are you working on now?

PM: Not much. I’m caught up doing what I think I ought to be doing to sell books. It’s uncomfortable and not much fun. I did have a little “conversation” with one of the characters in South of Heaven the other day. So, I wrote that down.

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Find out more about Patti on her website, and don’t forget to order South of Heaven, now available from the Main Street Rag Bookstore. Coming soon, I’ll share my conversation with Tony Taddei about his debut story collection, The Sons of the Santorelli. Make sure you never miss a post by subscribing here: