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Writing Tips from Our Lovely Contributors

We've been doing Meet The Author interviews going on two years now, and we figured it was time to compile some of their best advice. "I can’t remember who said it, but this has stuck with me: 'Write the story that only you an write.'" - Laurie Easter

"I tell my students to find their own voice and don’t over edit. I am a firm believer in the Amherst Writers Artist practice in which you write freely on the first draft and only receive supportive praise until you are ready for a second draft. Also, to read what you love." - Deborah Meltvedt

"Don’t romanticize writing. Just do it. Write about what you feel passionate about." - Sheryl St. Germain

"Find a more respectable pastime, immediately! Failing that, surround yourself with other writers. Find a community of writers that you can immerse in. Listen to and give feedback. Don’t stay with whatever your first reaction is to any feedback – even if it’s good. Writing itself is a very solitary act, but I think it’s essential to have people to prop you up when things are rough and celebrate with you when they’re good. I also think that a little edge of healthy competition can keep you on your game. I want my writer friends to succeed, but I also don’t want to be left behind, so I work hard to keep up." - Penny Guisinger 

"Go with your gut. It’s never wrong" - Michael Soloway 

"I think anyone who wants to write has to pay attention to the world around us, the one that functions in real time and space." - Timothy Kenny

"Find great readers, people who will read your drafts with compassion, honesty, and insight. I have two readers who see my earliest drafts. They are my cheerleaders, and they tell me what is and isn’t working. I have other readers who get later drafts, and they help me to see the themes and threads in my work, so I can more fully shape and sculpt the pieces. I have readers who think and feel like I do, but I have other readers who come from very different cognitive, emotional, and spiritual places. This helps me create work that will appeal to as many readers as possible." - Betsy Johnson

"Pay attention, not only to the details and particularities of your world, but also to what truly interests you. Sometimes we force ourselves to write about a topic – or in a particular genre – because we want to be that “type” of writer, when, in fact, we are not exactly passionate about our subject or material. I believe that, especially in the first portion of one’s career, a writer must spend quiet time grounding and copious hours reading in order to ascertain what stirs his or her heart on a level required to facilitate the sustained curiosity, interest, and effort that the craft deserves and demands. Writing is hard enough as it is; writing about something we’re not really invested in is even more torturous!" - Chris Malcomb

"Don’t ask questions about writing. Ask questions about real problems. Then try to answer them and you’ve got an essay. I love that most about essay-writing and essay-reading: the trying." - Mandy Len

"Perhaps the one piece of advice I was never given is second nature to other writers but it wasn’t for me, and it’s probably the most important change you can make:  Stop thinking of yourself as a student, an amateur, a hobbyist, etc.  Stop waiting for someone to tell you that you are good, looking for writer’s groups and workshops, and planning for that big thing you’re going to do some day.  Stop worrying about whether you are good or bad, talented or a hack.  You are a writer.  Trust yourself and go make that good thing." - James Stafford

For other writers out there, what's the best advice you have?

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Meet the Author: Laurie Easter

Screen Shot 2014-02-06 at 1.21.28 PMLaurie Easter appeared in our newest issue, and we did an interview with her that we just had to share. She writes from her home in Southern Oregon where she lives in a funky little cabin off the grid and on the edge of wilderness. She hold an MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts and has been awarded a fellowship to the Vermont Studio Center. This was Laurie's first time being published in Under the Gum Tree, with her story "Something to Do With Baldness," but her other work has appeared in Hippocampus Magazine, Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, and Oregon English Journal. She's currently working on an essay collection about loss grief. Here's a short quote from "Something to Do With Baldness":

"Lucky for me, I didn't procrastinate. For if I had, it would have been like looking in the wrong direction as a brilliant shooting star streaked across the sky, only to turn my head in time to see the tail fizzle."

Now, without further ado, Laurie Easter's Interview:

Q: When and Why did you start writing? A: I stared writing when I was in elementary school. English and writing were always my favorite subjects. I wrote a play when I was around ten years old and essays on comets and poltergeists. I avidly wrote in my journal. I was in seventh grade when I declared to my English teacher that I was going to be a writer. I told him that I wanted to write stories so that other kids like me wouldn't feel alone. And essentially that's what I'm doing now, only it's taking more than thirty years and my audience so far is not that of children, but adults. Still, the sentiment is the same.

Q: What do you enjoy most about writing? A: Connecting with others. Writing is communication, and I enjoy communicating - both through reading others' words and having my own words read. I enjoy the process of creation, taking all the stored energy and thoughts from within and turning them into something tangible. I simply love playing with language and enjoy nearly every step in the writing process from first draft to revision and editing. Also I'm a total geek; I absolutely love grammar, and because of this (among other reasons), my kids think I'm nuts.

Q: Who/what is your biggest inspiration when you write? A: I am inspired my nature and quietness and a deep need to understand and resolve life's experiences. Poetry inspires me too.

Q: Do you have a writing  schedule? A: I don't have a set schedule, and I don't write every day. I'm what you would call a "binge writer." I'll work ferociously for a chunk of time - days, weeks, months - and then not. Typically afternoons are my most productive writing time, which can be problematic because that's when other things need to be accomplished.

Q:What is the hardest part of writing for you? A: The hardest part of writing for me is keeping  a regular writing routine. When I haven't been writing regularly and am out of practice, the hardest part is trying to get back in the flow. This can feel debilitating at times. But somehow I manage to find my way back. It's not easy. It can be downright painful. But when the words do come again, it sure feels good.

Q: How long does it usually take you to finish a story? A: It depend son the piece, but I'm horribly slow. Some pieces take me years, others weeks or months. I do a lot of writing in my head during those times that I'm not actually sitting down and putting pen to paper or typing. Often i will make copious notes before I ever get around to writing a draft. I have an essay that I'm currently revising that swirled in my head for a year before I actually wrote a word, but when I finally sat down to write it, the words flowed effortlessly. I then had to put it through multiple drafts to get it just right.

Q: Are you working on anything now? A: I am currently working on what I hope will be the last few essays of a collection on loss and grief.

Q: How many rejections did you get before you had something published? How did you deal with them? A: I wrote a regular Op-Ed column for the college paper during my undergrad, and I wrote some pieces for blogs and newsletters that were solicited. My first publication from an unsolicited submission however, was in a scholarly journal. A happy as I was to be published in that journal, it wasn't "creative writing," and I found it difficult to consider myself  published without having landed one of my creative nonfiction pieces in a journal/magazine. I had close to fifty rejections before I recieved my first acceptance of a personal essay. Rejection for me is an ever evolving experience. At first I celebrated rejections because it meant I was in the game of submitting, and I saved the form letters in a file (this was before online submissions). But after so many, the rejections began to wear on me, and I'd get kind of depressed. Then at a certain point, I learned to be a duck, and (mostly) let them roll off my back like water. Now rejections spur me on to make more submissions.

Q:How did you celebrate when you got your first acceptance? A: I whooped, jumped up and down, and high-fived my husband. Then I emailed some of my closest writer friends.

Q: Do you prefer typing or pencil to paper when you write? A: I love to write by hand when I'm free-writing. It feels more intuitive. But i have severe carpal tunnel syndrome, so I can't do this for very long before my hand goes numb. As a result, typing is my most productive means.

Q: What do you do when you're not writing? A: A lot of chores: washing dishes, cooking meals, collecting eggs, and gathering firewood. And I spend a lot of time editing for other people. Gardening in the spring and summer and then harvesting and processing the food in the fall. I spend entirely too much time on the internet. I love taking walks in nature, spending time with my family, traveling, and reading. I read creative nonfiction submissions for the literary journal Hunger Mountain.

Q: Who is your favorite Author? A: I don't have one favorite author, but a few I love are Alice Walker, Abigail Thomas, Barry Lopez,  Brenda Miller, David Sedaris, and Brian Doyle.

Q: What are some of your favorite books? A: This is an awkward question for me because when I think about my favorite books, the ones that usually come to mind are children's books, which makes me feel as though I've never grown up! But I'll give it a shot: Naked and Me Talk Pretty One Day, David Sedaris; The Marriages Between Zones Three, Four, and Five Doris Lessing; The Color Purple, Alice Walker; Late Wife, Claudia Emerson; What the Living Do, Marie Howe; and Charlotte's Web - because I have to include at least one childhood story.

Q: Do you have any advice for other writers? A: I can't remember who said it, but this has stuck with me: "Write the story that only you an write."

Q: Is there anything else you would like to share with the readers? A: Thank you for reading and supporting independent publishing. I'd love to hear from any readers who are inspired to write to me. I can be reached at  www.laurieeaster.com

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February Contributor News

With almost 10 issues under our belt, we have published nearly 90 contributors. So we decided it was time to check in with our previous contributors and share some of their exciting news on a regular basis.  

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To start us off Samuel Autman, a contributor from issue 7, will be reading his piece "A Walk Through the Neighborhood," at 4:30pm of February 26th at Princeton University's James M. Stewart Theater. There will also be a screening of  "A Long Walk," a short film directed my Chinonye Chukwu starring Colman Domingo, DaVine Randolph, Jibreel Mawry and Francois Battiste. The film is adapted from Samuel's piece. After the screening and reading Samuel will be on a panel with director Chinonye Chukwu and actor Colman Domingo where they will all discuss their involvement in the project. This event is free and open to the public.

 

 

ReneeDAoust

 

Renee E. D'Aoust, published in our 5th issue, will be at AWP this year, and will appear on two panels: Switching Genres Midstream: Searching for the Right Match on Friday, Feb 28, 9-10:15am, and Planning for Surprise: Teaching the Unexpected in Personal Narrative on Saturday, March 1, 3-4:15pm.

 

 

DavidGardner

David Gardner, from issue 9, self-published a book of essays he wrote, which includes a piece that appeared in UTGT called "Spider Webs." The book is titled Speaking Personally: Whimsy, Humor, Essays, Wisdom (WHEW!) and is available through Amazon.

 

 

 

Kate Washington-2

Roan Press, run by Kate Washington (premier issue) and her husband, has a new book of creative nonfiction/memoir out by Steve Gutierrez, called The Mexican Man in His Backyard. And in terms of exciting news for Kate -- her essay "Marrow" recently was nominated for a Pushcart Prize by Bellingham Review.

 

 

 

JacquelineDoyle300 Jaqueline Doyle's creative nonfiction essay "They Tyranny of Things," published last spring in South Dakota Review, was listed as a notable essay in Best American Essays 2013, and South Loop Review nominated her creative nonfiction essay "Doorbells" for a 2013 Pushcart Prize.

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Meet The Author: Deborah Meltvedt

Time for a throw back to our premiere issue. Deborah Meltvedt's story "Things I Left Behind" was in that first issue back in August 2011, and her story "Hitting the Wall is in the current issue. If you tuned in for our two-year anniversary reading this past November, you might recognize her. Deborah is a medical science teacher and program director at a small, public high school in Sacramento. She loves to blend health education and creative writing, not only in her own pieces, but also in the imaginations of her high school students. Here's a short excerpt from her piece "Things I Left Behind". . .

"There was a time I used to leave things behind: embroidered sweaters, letters in manila envelopes, presents wrapped in flower paper. I abandoned them everywhere - on second story balconies, in the back seats of other people's cars, and, more than once, on the platform of a train station, where a small suitcase would sit, cast off and weathering, in the hot sun of a California afternoon."

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Q: When and why did you start writing? A: I remember in fourth grade watching an episode of Bonanza in which some horrific injustice happened to Little Joe or an Indian friend or maybe even Little Joe’s horse. Anyway, I was devastated and didn’t know what to do with my feelings that night. So I wrote a poem and taped it to my bedroom door. My mom kept it forever; it was awful. But it was the first time I figured out what to do with helplessness and anger, especially towards acts of cruelty. I could write about it and I’ve never stopped.

Q: What do you enjoy most about writing? A: Well, not so much about 1960 television shows anymore; but I do like trying to figure out why awful things happen and how individuals deal with injustice and sadness all around them. I like to write about trying to make sense of things that are beyond comprehension. To use the term “enjoy” doesn’t always seem right, but I am more compelled to write about the closeness of love and death and sadness and vulnerability that happens all around me. This might be about the couple who don’t talk on the bar stools next to me in a pub to watching my mother go through a horrible illness and death. Writing for me has to have a bigger picture or “statement” behind it. Although sometimes I should just learn to write happy poems about gardens or clouds or falling in love.

Q: Who or what is your biggest inspiration when you write? A: Damn, I hate this question. It depends. I have to admit, a lot of times it is my husband, he is often the “audience” I write to. But probably my biggest inspiration are the voices that “talk” to me in memory, telling me to explain the small world we live in. It might be my sixth grade teacher or best friend from Kindergarten or my sister who was the bravest in our crazy household growing up. It is anybody who tells me there is a reason I have memory and can’t forget, and need to let somebody know. But if I were to name one person in the literary world who has inspired me to keep writing, that my writing is important, it is my mentor Jan Haag at Sacramento City College. That woman rocks in terms of inspiration. Oh, and the world of injustice, don’t you think? Reading about elephants dying for ivory to anti-birth control legislation to killings in Kenya–all of it makes me want to write. When you are helpless, you can pick up a pen at least.

Q: Do you have a writing schedule? A: I don’t. I am not that disciplined, but mostly I write when somebody gives me prompts or deadlines. Or I hear something on NPR or there is a great line of dialogue at the gym or in my classroom. Having said that, I think I need to take a class again. But I have learned that prompts are everywhere to get me started: in writing group, at bars, sitting at home when my husband makes me dinner, he gives me a prompt. 

Q: What is the hardest part of writing for you? A: Dialogue and plot. I am good at observation and I am good at connecting dots to make a point, to weave in themes and even make people cry. But plot eludes me. Luckily, for the most, plot just happens.

Q: How long does it usually take you to finish a story? A: For nonfiction memoir it may only take an afternoon or a few days. But for fiction, it can be anywhere from weeks to. . . never. Again, it depends on deadlines.

Q: Are you working on anything now? A: Always. I wish I had a “novel” in me. I am hoping it magically appears in some sort of voice knocking at my door with an envelope saying “here is the theme and plot you have been waiting all of your life to deliver.” But, no. What I am really working on is revising about 8 to 10 short stories for a possible collection some day. And poems, always poems.

Q: How many rejections did you get before you had something published?  How did you deal with them? A: I haven’t had many rejections because I haven’t sent out much work.  The first “real” submission I did was with the American River Literary Review and luckily I got accepted. This was in the 1990s and I was already an adult teaching high school and giving writing another chance. Since then, I have entered different writing contests and sent in short stories and I think I almost expect to get rejected. Most of my friends are pretty upset with this attitude.

Q: How did you celebrate when you got your first acceptance? A: Hmm, don’t remember unless you count Diet Dr. Pepper and a Hershey Bar in seventh grade when my first short story appeared in the Wawona Wild Cat Newsletter in Fresno. Otherwise, I celebrate by telling my husband and him telling me how good a writer I am and me never believing it.

Q: Do you prefer typing or pencil to paper when you write? A: Both. I have found with prompts in writing group, that a journal and pen is the best way to write a first draft, I don’t “edit” so much. I have read where writing by hand does something different to the brain, engages the whole body experience of creativity. I really like that. I prefer typing when I am by myself and when I edit a piece. I also sometimes prefer writing with coffee and other times with wine. Depends on the mood.

Q: What do you do when you’re not writing? A: Think about when am I going to have time to write? That actually is true. But most of my time is taken up with teaching. I am a Medical Science Instructor for a small, public school called Health Professions High School in Sacramento Unified School District. My week days and weekends are full of lesson planning, researching, grading papers, and working with wonderful students who teach me more than I teach them. I also am the Senior Project Advisor and Creative Writing Club Advisor in which we work closely with the non-profit 916Ink Literacy organization to help students publish their creative writing. At Health Professions we have published three books so far based on creative writing and medicine. Besides teaching and writing, I love traveling with my husband, Rick Kushman; running; and watching re-runs of West Wing, the best show ever on television.

Q: Who is your favorite author? A: I have many, but Alice Munro is the best short story writer ever. She has the brilliance of making the reader care about an ordinary yet obscure character without being sentimental. And Emily Dickinson. Sometimes I have no idea what she is writing about, but since about seventh grade when I started reading her poems on my own, I fell in love with the language and the humanity of her words. And I have to add Ernest Hemingway, not my complete favorite, but I love most of his short stories and we share the same birthday (July 21).

Q: What are some of your favorite books? A: I usually like books that make me care about the characters despite flaws and are realistic. Also, they need to have a moral code is not traditional, but I love books about survival in extreme and ordinary ways,  but not futuristic, dystopia ones. I also am a sucker for “coming of age” novels and for works that blend quiet feminism with good story telling. Some of my favorites: Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (my favorite recent one) The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton DiSclafani The Bluest Eye and Mercy by Toni Morrison ALL Short Stories by Alice Munroe The Grass is Singing by Doris Lessing Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee Sophie’s World (fun, fun way of exploring philosophers) by Jostein Gaarder A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith Cider House Rules by John Irving Sport of Nature by Nadine Gordimer Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers A Son Also Rises by Hemingway

Q: Do you have any advice for other writers? A: I tell my students to find their own voice and don’t over edit. I am a firm believer in the Amherst Writers Artist practice in which you write freely on the first draft and only receive supportive praise until you are ready for a second draft. Also, to read what you love.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to share with the readers? A: This is the best part of writing for me now:  Pour a glass of wine, have a bite of cheese, and let your husband make you dinner and give you a prompt. I am so lucky that my husband indulges me this way: He cooks and I write and then he listens to my stories. Very Out of Africa-esque. On those moments, we are both doing what we love.

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Meet the Author: Sheryl St. Germain

It's time for another round of Meet The Author. Sheryl St. Germainhas published ten books of poetry and prose, for which she has won numerous awards. Her most recent book is Navigating Disaster: 16 Essays of Love and Poem of Despair. She currently directs the MFA Creative Writing Program at Chatham University in Pittsburgh, PA. If you tuned into our 2-year anniversary live reading broadcast, you might remember Sheryl reading her heartbreaking piece, "It’s Come Undone: Crocheting & Catastrophe," from our October issue.

Here's a brief quote:

"Sometimes she worked with granny squares, stacking up hundreds of multi-colored squares next to her on the sofa, then, months later, stitching them together in a lively design, making a whole of pieces in ways I’m sure she wished she could do with the broken bits of her life with my father."

Q: When and why did you start writing?

A: I always wrote; I have kept journals since I was around 10 years old, and have poems from that time period. I think I wrote to document what I was feeling and, in retrospect to get a handle on the chaos of family.

Q: What do you enjoy most about writing?A: Having reached either some insight or some deeper complexity with respect to a question or issue that is troubling.

Q: What is your biggest inspiration when you write?A: Some pressing issue that I don't understand.

Q: Do you have a writing schedule? A: I try to write in the mornings and weekends.

Q: What is the hardest part of writing for you? A: Actually sitting down and doing it.

Q: How long does it usually take you to finish a story? A: Several weeks to several months.

Q: Are you working on anything now?A:  Yes, a piece about teaching creative writing in a rehab center.

Q: How many rejections did you get before you had something published?  How did you deal with them? A: Uncountable. I tried to ignore them and just kept sending things out.

Q: How did you celebrate when you got your first acceptance? A: Called my best friends to tell them.

Q: Do you prefer typing or pencil to paper when you write? A: I usually write my first draft with a fountain pen in a journal.

Q: What do you do when you’re not writing? A: Walk, read, play World of Warcraft.

Q: Who is your favorite author? A: I have too many to say, but I love Pablo Neruda, Robert Hass, Phillip Lopate, Janisse Ray, Pam Houston.

Q: What are some of your favorite books? A:Angela's Ashes, This Boy's LifeHeroin from A to Z, Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life.

Q: Do you have any advice for other writers? A: Don't romanticize writing. Just do it. Write about what you feel passionate about.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to share with the readers? A: Robert Frost: "No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader."

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It's our birthday and we're giving you the presents!

UTGT_Cover09Fall is here and with it the second anniversary of our little magazine, which comes with some exciting announcements:

Submit

First, during the month of October -- our birthday month -- submissions will be open with no fee required. All we ask is that you send us your best story told without shame.

Second, anyone who submits, starting October 1, will receive a free copy of the current digital issue.

Celebrate

And third (and most important in our opinion), we're having an anniversary party and this year everyone is invited! Last year we had a small reading with a few of our local fans and contributors, but this year we're aiming a little higher. On November 15th at 6 p.m. PST we will be broadcasting our first LIVE reading via Google+ Hangout. Contributors from all over the country will read their pieces and you're invited to tune in. Find us on google+, tell your friends, plan viewing parties, and let us know how excited you are through Facebook, Twitter, and google+.

Subscribe

If you're as excited as we are about the anniversary issue, now is the time to subscribe. Subscribe to Under The Gum Tree for just $2 a month. That’s right, for less than your daily latté you can get each digital issue emailed directly to you. And for just $5 a month, you can receive both the beautiful hardcopy and the digital versions of the magazine. (Side note: digital+print subscriptions will be going up on November 1.)

Click here to begin your subscription of Under the Gum Tree. By doing so, you bring awareness and credibility to an emerging genre of writing as well as providing a much-needed avenue for authors to publish their creative nonfiction work.

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Meet The Author: Michael Soloway

Michael SolowayMichael J. Soloway grew up eating oranges, catching lizards, and listening to the gasp of tennis ball cans being opened in south Florida. He receive his Master’s Degree in Creative Writing at Wilkes University and has served as managing editor of more than a dozen nonprofit magazines. He just finished his first memoir Share the Chameleon, about attempting to break his family’s cycle of abuse as he becomes a father for the first time. His work has been published in other magazines such as Brevity Magazine, Split Lip magazine, Red Fez and Serving House: A Journal of Literary Arts magazines. We had the honor of publishing his story "Light Baked Alaska," and would love to share a snippet of that with you now.

"The stars are different here, too, in the summertime, when the heavens open up and reveal what’s been there all year, hidden under a veil all along. They are droplets of light; they are pinholes in the black above. I stand now, under their canopy, a married man on his honeymoon, slicing through Alaska’s Inner Passage aboard a cruise ship, leaning over the balcony of the suite we just 'had to have.'”

And now it's the author's turn to tell you a little about himself.

Q: When and why did you start writing? A: My writing journey began in the third grade. Before then, I wanted to be what most boys wanted to be in the mid-1970s—an astronaut, a cop, athlete, architect, inventor. Then came Mrs. Charnock’s English class, where we learned the 5-paragraph essay. Most kids loathed the assignments, but I found stringing words together satisfying and inspiring. Growing up in Florida, my scenes often contained one too many palm or orange tree. Disney World was also a common theme. Although the assignments earned me As, I have to admit that these essays were atrocious pieces of work. Every other word was an adjective. I suppose most authors cringe at past writings and wonder what they were thinking when they committed to a sentence that was clearly “all wrong.” But that’s what growth is—not only as a person still forming an identity, but trying to figure out what their voice and writing niche will ultimately be. I still have all of those third grade essays with me today, in a trunk where they belong. I haven’t read them in a while, but I imagine my young daughter will someday. Perhaps they will inspire her or serve to show her what to do or not to do as a writer, depending upon your point of view.

Q: What do you enjoy most about writing? A: The excitement of creating something from nothing and putting sentences on paper (or screen) that I never thought I could possibly write. Even as a primarily creative nonfiction writer these days, there’s a part of me that must turn memory into something extraordinary and nostalgic. Although I am writing the truth, I must still find a way to entertain and write interesting scenes, as I remember them. That’s no easy task, but it’s an exciting one. I believe every writer, no matter their genre, age, or level of “experience,” wakes up each day wondering if they’ll “have it” that day. Will my brain cooperate with my hands and the whiteness of the page? What can I possibly say to rival what I wrote the day before? We all wonder if we’ll ever be able to duplicate that one magical sentence we wrote a month or even an hour ago. But fear is a great motivator and the end result is so satisfying.

Q:  Who/what is your biggest inspiration when you write? A: It used to be other authors, favorites such as Michael Chabon, Natalie Babbitt, Jo Ann Beard, and Lee Martin. Mentors have also been a huge inspiration to me: Beverly Donofrio, Kevin Oderman, Kaylie Jones, and J. Michael Lennon. Today, it’s simply the story itself. And my daughter, Madeline. I’m not a coffee drinker, so that’s what wakes me up each and every morning looking forward to what’s left to tell, what’s left to create.

Q:  Do you have a writing schedule? A: With a 22-month-old daughter, to say that I have a “writing schedule” is a bit strong and misleading. When I was younger and spent more time alone, with less responsibility, I was a midnight writer. I could only write in the dark, by the glow of a candle or computer screen. There was a certain romanticism and anonymity that I felt I needed back then. Today, I write when and where I can: in coffee shops, standing up at the kitchen counter, in bed, at work (don’t tell my boss), or bookstores. Of course, I’m always writing in my head. The key is to simply “get your butt in the seat,” as a former professor of mine, J. Michael Lennon, has told me. Once it’s there, commit yourself to write something, anything, even if only one sentence rolls down into your fingers after an hour of being glued to your chair. Whether I’m in the middle of a piece or larger project, I set a goal of five pages a day, but that plan might end up looking like two pages one day, and eight the next, depending on how I’m feeling. So, don’t worry if you write one word today, tomorrow you’ll probably write a book! Just figure out what works for you, eliminate as many distractions as possible, and get your butt in the seat!

Q: What is the hardest part of writing for you? A: Getting started. It’s like going to the gym—motivation is key, because once you get there you know you’ll feel better about yourself for doing it. Taking that first leap of faith is vital. Also, being away from my family and putting myself in solitary confinement isn’t as easy as it once was when I was that midnight writer.

Q: How many rejections did you get before you had something published?  How did you deal with them? A: Too many to list here! I actually just wrote an essay about this very subject. It appears in the Wilkes University online publication, The Write LifeClick here to read the short piece in its entirety.

Q: How did you celebrate when you got your first acceptance? A: Nothing extravagant. I know, like life, the Writing Life is a journey. My first acceptance could have been my last. Luckily it wasn’t. I believe I shared the news with my family and simply smiled.

Q: Do you prefer typing or pencil to paper when you write? A: Typing. A pencil just can’t keep up. That said, I think every writer should take a moment, perhaps once a year, to write on paper. I’ve had to do it in workshop environments and it definitely slows the brain down and takes the creative process in completely different directions.

Q: Are you working on anything now? A: I’m currently working on a craft paper for my MFA thesis that explores identity and exaggeration in memoir, as well as edits to my own memoir, Share the Chameleon. In my free time, I write personal and instructional essays, as well as plays and flash fiction.

Q: What do you do when you’re not writing? A: Play with my daughter. We introduced her to Star Wars recently. She can say Jawa, Luke, and D2. “Chewie” is her favorite. I also watch movies, follow the New York Yankees box score every night, and read, for inspiration. Above all, I think about writing.

Q: Who is your favorite author? A: I’m going to have to go with a list by genre here. Narrowing it down to one is impossible for me. Fiction: Michael Chabon, John Steinbeck, Kate Chopin, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Edgar Allan Poe; Nonfiction: Lee Martin, Lucy Grealy, Augusten Burroughs, Jo Ann Beard, Steve Almond; Children’s Literature: Natalie Babbitt and Louis Sachar.

Q: What are some of your favorite books? A: Cannery Row, One Hundred Years of Solitude, The Awakening, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Wonder Boys, Catcher in the Rye, Tuck Everlasting, Holes, From Our House, The Cliff Walk, and Autobiography of a Face.

Q: Do you have any advice for other writers? A: Go with your gut. It’s never wrong.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to share with the readers? A: Never think of it as “rejection.” Use the word rebuff. It always reminds me of waxing a car. Your work just needs a polish, then it’s ready for the world to discover!

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Chicago, here we come!

There's a writing conference every year put on by the Association of Writers and Writing Programs. This year it's in Chicago -- and we'll be there! We plan to hit up as many of the nonfiction and publishing panels as we possibly can. But we'd also love to meet any of our readers or contributors who might also be there. So if you'll be there, drop us a line. Here are some of the panels we're looking forward to:

Thursday, March 1

  • Selling Out Everyone You Love: The Ethics of Writing Nonfiction
  • Behind the Scenes of Implementing a Successful iPad and Tablet Publishing System
  • Of course the key note address by Margaret Atwood

Friday, March 2

  • A Year in the Life of Electronic Publishing
  • Memoir without a Net
  • Going Beyond What You Know: Research & the Personal Memoir

Saturday, March 3

  • PIF Magazine & Friends on Memoir Writing
  • Marketing the Literary, or Putting Some Poetry into Your PR
  • Why Independent Publishers Matter / Independent Publishers and the Changing Industry

And we can't forget about the fantastic book fair, off-site events and exploring the greatness that is Chicago. We'll have hard copies of our winter issue on hand, plus we'll be taking subscriptions and newsletter sign ups. We don't have a table at the book fair, but we will be floating around so look for our editor & publisher, Janna Marlies Maron.

Hope to connect!

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2012 deadlines

While we accept continuous submissions year-round, these are the deadlines for 2012:

  • submit by 2/25 to be considered for the Spring 2012 issue
  • submit by 5/26 to be considered for the Summer 2012 issue
  • submit by 8/25 to be considered for the Fall 2012 issue
  • submit by 11/23 to be considered for the Winter 2013 issue

We look forward to reading your work!