Saturday, December 22, 2007

Creative Writing Opportunities

Allison Joseph offers a fine service over at Yahoo Groups for those interested: she moderates a listserv devoted to announcing current creative writing opportunities, such as contests, calls for submission, fellowships, etc. The list is on hiatus at the moment and will restart in early January, but if you're interested, visit this link.

I've been a member for a month or two (thanks to Wade, who showed it to me). But local writer Cliff Garstang, posted a reminder to join over at his blog, so I figured I'd follow his lead. He also does an interesting analysis of the Pushcart Prize, which is worth a look here.

Thursday, December 20, 2007


Some things to check out before we break for a week or two:

  • Fiction alum Art Taylor has a series of mystery book reviews over at the Washington Post. Also, he let me know that the next MFA Alumni newsletter (the winter edition, I'm guessing) should have a plug for our blog, but he didn't reveal anything else about its contents. I imagine we can expect to get the newsletter soon though, and hopefully a few more readers will stop by as a result.
  • This is an older article, but I just came across it recently. The Mason Gazette profiled fiction alumna Elyse Becker here.
  • Non-fiction Mike is doing his best to grow a beard by the time he turns 30 in a few weeks. Visit him at his blog, Beard By 30, to read about it, and send him luck.
  • I will not challenge this person to play Scrabbulous.
  • MFA programs in the UK are catching on, it seems, but they're called MA programs, I guess.
  • The New Yorker published Lethem's Fall for the Book story "The King of Sentences." The afternoon before he read it in Harris Theater, he emailed the file to me so I could print it out. Therefore, I am famous by association.
  • A different kind of holiday-inspired, literature-related list: Author Suicides.
  • New issue of the online journal The Quarterly Conversation is up.

Okay, that's all I've got.

More photos from the fiction dinner!

Lynnet (a Mason fiction alumni 2007) and Eliza were kind enough to host the Fiction Dinner earlier this month. Courtney Brkic read a selection of her own work and then answered our questions on writing, writing after graduation, and publishing. Thanks again!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Some New Journals

Just an alert for those interested in taking a look at some recent lit journals - over at the Phoebe and So To Speak office we've received the following:

  • the latest issue of Gulf Coast, which features a special section of Donald Barthelme's collage art and such
  • the Winter 2007 issue of Praire Schooner, out of the University of Nebraska
  • the latest Mid-American Review
  • and the recently redesigned magazine from the University of Memphis: The Pinch (formerly called River City)

Feel free to drop by the office if you'd like to "check out" one of these journals, or any other on our shelves for that matter - simply sign them out in the blue three ring binder.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Holiday Book Lists at The Happy Booker

Liam Callanan has joined a number of other authors in posting their holiday reading list suggestions as part of a series over at Wendi's blog, The Happy Booker.

Wendi explains the series here:

"Lists. We love 'em here at the Happy Booker. So when we asked a few authors to help us kick off the holiday season with a list of their favorite gift books—either to give or to recieve—we could not have been more pleased with the results.

For the next month, we will be running these wonderful book lists, all brimming with titles sure to please even the most difficult-to-buy-for people on your list."

Have a look.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Wednesday Reading - Kyoko and Susan

Two of our favorites (and faculty members to boot), Susan Richards Shreve and Kyoko Mori, will be reading at the George Washington University Visitor Center, at 22nd and H Streets NW. The reading begins at 5 PM, this Wednesday, Dec. 12. I haven't seen it publicized anywhere, so keep it quiet...shhhhh...

Now that the semester's over... need something to read over the break, right? Alan presents his holiday reading list over at NPR. Put down the required reading and move away - the semester is over.

Pindeldyboz #7

Ryan Effgen's latest story is now available at Pindeldyboz.

Benicio Del Toro and Tommy Lee Jones make an appearance. In the story, I mean.

And, by the way, it's the last print issue of Pboz - print it out, take it to Kinko's, bind it, keep it on your shelf. It is free. And if you ever have a chance to pick up an older print issue, do so immediately. I found #3 at Powell's this summer, but my dwindling funds somehow convinced me to wait - surely I'd find it some other time. That has not happened yet, and I am full of regret to this day.

Friday, December 7, 2007

NEA Grants Fellowship to Courtney Brkic

My wife showed me the latest announcement from NEA - and it so happens that Courtney Brkic has been awarded a Literature Fellowship in Prose.

Unless, of course, there is another writer named Courtney A. Brkic living in Arlington.

If you see Courtney, congratulate her.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Interview with Matt Ellsworth

I first "met" Matt several months ago right after we had put up the new Phoebe blog - he left us a nice comment on some post or another and invited us to have a look around his own blog, EditWrite. So I did, and found this great essay called "My Annie Dillard Story." But don't read it yet - first scroll down and read his bio and then the interview, which took place over email from late October to late November. Only after that should you head over to his site.

A bio:

Matt Ellsworth graduated from Mason in 2004 with a concentration in fiction. While he was at Mason, he taught freshman composition and a few creative writing classes. He also served as the fiction editor of Phoebe. Since leaving Mason, he has worked with numerous non-profit organizations and spent a brief stint reading slush for Zoetrope: All-Story; he now lives in Arizona with his wife and daughter, and he produces a variety of web and print projects as part of the communications team at a philanthropic foundation, which seeks to support the state's biosciences field. He blogs at EditWrite.

And now, the interview:

On your blog, EditWrite, you've said "though I write to make a living, I love reading more." As I understand it, you're a writer for a non-profit organization in Arizona, and you freelance on the side. Have these responsibilities changed your writing and reading habits since you studied at Mason? If so, how?

Half the time, I think I'm one of those alums who make Bill Miller cringe. I'm definitely screwing up the average for Mason writers who have won the National Book Award for fiction.

I've barely picked up my lucky fiction-writing pencil at all since finishing the MFA, and I certainly haven't read as much as I did in the program. A sense of regret doesn't eat away at the core of my being, but I do miss it and I more fully understand the statement various people have made about the main benefit of the MFA being space and time--the space and time to step outside of a daily slog and learn something about The Writing Life.

Today's excuses for not working on a story or finishing that book gathering dust on my nightstand are pretty good--wife with the flu, two year-old daughter pooping in the shower, big deadline at work, construction crew ripping out the street beneath our bedroom window at 5:30 am. But they're still excuses.

From a more psychological standpoint, I've found over the past couple of years that I don't have a bottomless well of writerly energy. Not that anyone has ever accused me of being Philip Roth, but I'm not. In fact, at times when my writing in the workplace has been most intense, I even have to bail on the simplest, no-imagination-required freelance editing jobs.

The good side of that, to be sure, is that I am writing in the workplace every day. That's enormously gratifying. The work I do now, drafting articles about proteomics and biosurfactants and God knows what else, requires its own skill set, as was the case in my last job as a grant writer for a child-welfare agency. And the skill set I'm honing now does share an ancestor with that of a fiction writer.

But I think what you're saying about this ancestral relationship between fiction writing and professional writing is interesting, and it might be one of those connections MFA students miss in the scramble for fellowships and teaching jobs. Would you care to talk more about the similarities between the two skill sets? How the writing program at Mason prepared you for that transition (if at all)?

Or, if you'd rather a more concrete question, how did you get into grant-writing/non-profit work?

I have one real regret about my time in Mason's program--I made no serious effort to try out professional writing, despite all the opportunities for that in the DC metro area. Probably the most useful action I could have taken as a student would have been to find an internship or part-time job that would have yielded clips. I got a sense of how interesting that writing could be in Alan's literary journalism course (which I think should be required every semester), but by then I was nearly out of the program.

We moved to Berkeley after I finished, where I might have found a job teaching, but I said I wanted to write for a living. For four months, the closest I got was slush-pile reading for Zoetrope, a great experience that did nothing for the checkbook. Eventually, while futilely applying for jobs at grocery stores and REI, and working a few hours a week for an after-school tutoring program, I got my "break." The director of the tutoring program left, and the overarching nonprofit hired me as the replacement. The curse and blessing of such a tiny nonprofit--it had four full-time staff--is how little institutional infrastructure exists to support or restrict you. I was able to build out the tutoring program, get some experience recruiting and managing staff, and when the development director was "released," I started helping out with grant-proposal and report writing, plus some agency print and web publications.

That experience got me a grant-writing position for a much bigger operation, and there training as a fiction writer began to pay off. Richard Ford said something about fiction writing being a kind of impersonation, and my task felt like that: to represent for funders, as if it were mine, the expertise of really talented clinicians and administrators. Essentially, I had to attend to voice and audience. And having spent some time in workshops, it didn't bother me when a program director asked me to include something in a proposal and the chief executive officer told me to take it out. My colleagues apparently found that as impressive as any writing I did.

My work now is different, somewhere between journalism and public relations, but as elsewhere, I'm relying heavily on training as a writer attentive to structure at the narrative and sentence level. I'm amazed at how structurally complex well-written journalism can be, and I'm newly impressed by the art of general-audience science-writing. I've got a long way to go before I'm good at it.

I'd like to quickly talk about Zoetrope, and then move back to your writing, if that's okay.

I don't know the numbers of submissions
Zoetrope gets a quarter or whatever, but I somehow have this picture in my head of a walk-in closet kind of room full of boxes of slush-pile stories.

In your experience reading for them, how often did a story make it out of that "room" and into the editors' office? How is that process set up (aside from the agented work, I mean)?

Your image is pretty accurate. The magazine's offices are above the appropriately named Cafe Zoetrope, a wine bar in North Beach, around the corner from City Lights Bookstore and Caffe Trieste--where Coppola supposedly wrote the screenplay for The Godfather.

At least during my short time there, slush-pile reading happened in a small room with a couch, a table, a computer for logging submissions, a big window with a nice cross-breeze, and a wall of metal shelving, filled with cardboard boxes of submissions.

Stories rarely made it out of that room. There wasn't a specific rule, as I recall, but I think it took a second recommendation from a reader to get a story to an assistant editor. I'd estimate I advanced one of every twenty I read. Once in a while, a slush-pile story made it all the way to the magazine.

Still, I took more hope from the process than you might at first think. For one thing, they had an application for would-be readers that included substantive written evaluation of some sample stories, followed by a little interview. So I think they had readers who knew something about reading. Second, because it was hard to place a story in the magazine sans agent, I at least was excited at the prospect, and read carefully and generously, hunting for a gem.

It's nice to hear that Zoetrope had generous readers like you working their submission piles. And hopefully they still do.

Earlier you mentioned missing the kind of writing life that an MFA program creates for its students. Do you have any plans to eventually return to some of those creative projects such a life made possible? I'm thinking of fiction or non-fiction work, even something like a non-fiction project in the manner of that general-audience science-writing you admire?

The last thing I want to do is say I plan to start writing again--I already know plenty of people who say they're going to write but don't. I'd rather be He-Who-Doesn't-Write than He-Who-Intends-to-Write. And yet, I would be deeply disappointed if I never returned to writing fiction. So let me contradict myself: Yes, I'm going to get back to it; I think it will be sooner rather than later. But until I actually do, I probably shouldn't say much.

One thing I will say is that I'm literally where I want to be to write--in the Southwest. I remember Alan asking a question at the second or third meeting of Forms, something along the lines of, what writer serves as your model? The two names that first came to mind for me were Wallace Stegner and Rick Bass. When I first read them, I didn't know how to learn from the technical skills they were employing, but I was enthralled with their intertwining of character and plot with landscape. Emulating them seemed as great a reason to write as any I'd found.

I've only been back in Arizona for a few months, but already I feel myself reconnecting to the landscape, and to the tensions that come from growing hordes of people living in such a fragile, sometimes inhospitable place. I know that "a sense of place" isn't essential for all writers, and probably won't be for me forever, but for now, it's marvelously energizing. If that means Mr. A. A. Knopf in New York City can't make sense of what I write, so be it.

Right, I feel as though I can sort of understand the contradiction there - for me, it grows from a hesitancy to tell people certain things for fear of either those things not working out or, even worse, my then having to actually do those things. In both cases, I'm often faced with the question - "Hey, whatever happened to such and such?" It's a hard question to answer, especially when I'm the one asking it of myself. If that makes sense.

It sounds as though you'll be settled in Arizona for a while then. Are you originally from there?

I'm not an Arizona native, but I grew up and did undergrad studies here, and one branch of my family arrived in the 1860s, looking for gold and building cabins and stealing land from the native population.

Outside of the tribal communities, that kind of longevity in the state is pretty unusual, and it has contributed to my sense of being a "Westerner," though as the population of the Southwest continues to metastisize, that's an increasingly empty designation. (While we're still talking about imaginary writing I haven't done) I do get the sense that the tensions produced by the region's transition and ever-more blurred history might ultimately provide the backlighting for my fiction.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Recap/photos from Courtney's Dinner

Hey everyone - Last night was fantastic. Good conversation, good food, good hosts. Thank you to everyone who showed up and for asking such great questions. Big thank you to Lynnet and Eliza for hosting, and for Courtney for answering every question we brought to her.

Here's the first batch of pictures, from the one who isn't a professional photographer. The good one's are coming up next week.

The Future of Reading (according to Amazon)

Tom over at the Barrelhouse blog takes a look at Stephen Levy's Newsweek article praising Amazon's Kindle.

A treat for you:

In response to the idea that the Kindle will allow for interaction between readers and authors, thus redefining authorship, Tom writes, "Jeff Bezos' little handheld machine is going to make Michael Chabon rethink how he writes? Really? Why-- because he'll have to cater to the whims of regulars on Internet message boards? As a message board regular myself, I must confess to you non-message boarders: 95% of all things written on message boards are retarded."

For more, go here.

Friday, November 30, 2007


For near-end-of-semester-procrastinating:
  • Spray Painting Pynchon - academic graffiti...I wish I was still in college
  • Tao Lin describes the levels of fame fiction writers can achieve
  • Another list at The New York Times
  • More of Tom Gauld's illustrations here

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

It's On: Fiction Dinner with Courtney Brkic, December 2nd

Okay, sorry for the delay, but I have VERY EXCITING NEWS: I have confirmation for our next Fiction Dinner.

Sunday, December 2nd, 6 PM
Lynnet Ngulube's house, Fairfax, VA (I'll send directions over the listserv)

Definitely let me know if you can come and meet one of our newest faculty members. Like last time, this will be a potluck dinner, so please let me know what you are bringing.

List so far:
Maria I: Dessert and Wine
Priyanka C: Mac and cheese
Elizabeth B: Hummus and veggies
Rion S: Chicken
Rebecca M: Bread, cheese, wine
Kate H: Something with pita
Norah V: Stuffed mushrooms
David H: Pie
Steve L:
Elyse B:
Elizabeth E: Pasta salad
Ryan C: Reindeer Food
Becky B:
David R: Wine
David C:
Kristin V: Tortilla chips with salsa and bean dip
Sara H:
Tim R:
The mysterious Kelli F: Something vegan
The fabulous Lynnet N. and Eliza: their own fabulousness

Friday, November 16, 2007

Interview with Alexis Santi

Many weeks ago I asked Alexis to see if he'd like to post an interview, and he agreed; we emailed for a while, and after some delay on my part, we finally had something to post. What follows is our discussion about submitting to markets, the founding of his journal Our Stories, the business side of publishing, and what it's like to live in a castle. Alexis graduated from Mason in the spring of '07 (with a concentration in fiction), though I'm sure he'd be quick to point out that he originally enrolled as a poet; it wasn't until after a talk with Bausch, who encouraged him to write fiction, that he switched genres.

You can read another bio of him here at his journal.

Also, look for interviews with Jessica Anthony and Matt Ellsworth in the near future.

And now, on to the interview:

You founded Our Stories in 2006 and released its debut issue that summer, all while working hard to complete your MFA. Since that first issue, I've noticed a few things have changed with the journal: it looks as if your staff has expanded, you've dropped the $20 reading fee for regular submissions, and you've introduced an Emerging Writer Contest with an honorarium of $300 for the winner. Could you describe that transformation for us? What's your experience been like so far working with that unique model (the fact that every submission receives a critical response from your editors)?

Okay, so we started off and really misfired. I really wanted to found a journal that would give feedback. I knew that. I was working for Phoebe and just kind of whipping through stories, hammering out rejections, and I thought, "this is really really stooopid!" and then my next thought was "this is really stooopid, and this is exactly what they do to me too." So that's how it started. So, within a matter of days, I started hammering away at the idea. And my intellectual powerhouse mind did a throw of darts on website names and landed on That was the original name of the journal, and the design was completely different. Pathetic name, no? The design was great but the name, yeah, can't believe I came up with that name. The basic business concept was I would charge people to read their stories, give feedback, and then if I liked their digs, we'd publish them in the journal that was part of entitled Our Stories, because who really wants go around and say, "Yes, GAWD YES, SLUSHSTORIES took my piece on dyslexic mania in the 70's!!" Got me? Sounds a bit confusing doesn't it? Yeah, it sucked. Anytime you need a frickin' road map to get your idea across, you're a lost soul. Lost dog. Lost sailor. Whatever. So we had that site up for about 3 months and I just sat waiting around for someone to be like, "Oooooh this rulez! I'm going to give someone 20 bucks so they can tell me I suck!!?!?!" and low and behold we got zilched. Nada. Not one submission. I had assembled a skeleton crew of reviewers. M. M. De Voe came on early; she did her MFA at Columbia, and I was like, "YES! we got a New Yorker!" She just rocks, by the way; everything that she gets a hold of is really torn to shreds, and she builds it back up. Then I got this guy, JK Mason who is now the Assistant Editor, and he also stepped in during those early days; he'd won a bunch of prizes and is damn sharp. My good friend Josh Campbell who reviews all of my work and is a kick ass reader, and the team was rounded out with Kendra Tuthil, who I had met at Mason. I was really embarrassed because I couldn't pay them anything for doing nothing. So I decided that we had to go free. And in a sense I had to not pay them for their work and asked for that commitment to do it for free. Surprisingly they all stayed on staff. I was really shocked. That was huge. They're the best, most loyal, and caring staff I've ever worked with. They really stuck with it, and they believed in the concept and seeing it through.

So we revamped everything. First to go was the idea, which didn't make any sense anyway, as no one got the joke that I was trying to get across...something like a "your stories aren't slush stories with us," which really sounds too complicated. Then I pumped out a lot of hours playing with design and a new domain name later, we went back up as OurStories (hyperlink). Simple is good. Later we picked up Justin, Ehren and Heidi, who are all great readers as well. So what we do during the open submission periods is give people some general feedback, about a paragraph or so, at the least. During the contests we do these bang-up, professional, kick-ass reviews of stories. HQ shit. 100% pure grade. We work hard for their money and spend a lot of energy giving something back. To me, that's the central part of the journal and the part that will never go away. We started really taking off, well, almost immediately. As soon as people saw that there was a crew of foolios that would actually say something about their work without flat rejecting them, it just caught on like wild fire. I know, I know, I'm getting to the experience itself of reading and reviewing. It's really really rewarding. I love reading, always have, and I get really into dissecting the flaws in stories, making them stronger and attempting to connect to the writers around the world. That's how I see it, and that’s how I see my own writing: an attempt to connect to an audience and have them feel something, be moved by something.

Yeah, I wondered about the "company" mentioned in the preface of the first issue; I couldn't access that site anywhere, and now that makes sense that you've dropped that and stuck with this new version.

So when you say this has "caught on," about how many submissions do you get per reading period?

Been up for a year, and we're growing exponentially. I think that first quarter we got over 100 submissions, and every month we get another 100 submissions more than that coming into our database, so last open period was about 400. The contest, I'm not going to get into that, but we turned a profit, all my readers got paid for their work, which was a great feeling, I reinvested in the website – getting a fancy new database and submission manager, ala One Story – and we were proud to give Joni the $300 bones. Have you read her story? It's really kick ass.

I read Joni Koehler's story and Colin Thornhill's story yesterday and today and enjoyed them both. I haven't gotten to the others yet in the issue, sorry. As for the growing number of submissions, that seems to show how much interest you've received since the new system went into place. What kinds of things have you been doing to promote the journal recently?

To promote the journal we've sent flyers around the country to English departments, paid for some links on, and we send regular emails to a mailing list. Not much. I think it's mostly just word of mouth. We know that the reviews we do have the effect of reaching dozens of others. So it's a bit of "Did you hear about these guys who reject but tell you why?" We get lots of fan mail after we send out rejections, tons of people that want to just let us know their reaction. I'm always worried when I check my email box that someone is going to be like "Hey that review sucked!!” But I haven't gotten one yet, just these emails saying, "Thank you, you have no idea how much that helps me." It really moves me every time to read them. Makes it all worth it. To our writers, and I call them all "our writers" because in a sense they are part of a community, it's akin to therapy. I know we're building because of that. I mean I would go for that, damn, with my own writing I'd like to get some feedback. Maybe I should send my stuff into the journal and give it to one of my staff members, can I do that? I think I'd need to use a fake name, whatcha think? I will hence forth be known as "Garrison Caliente," the Prairie Home Community Cuban. Yeah, that works. Don't laugh, the New Yorker could use a cross between Garrison Keillor and Junot Diaz gracing their pages, might as well be me.

I won't laugh - rumors have it that an Iowa grad recently sold a vampire trilogy to Ballantine for $3.75 million under the pseudonym Jordan Ainsley - so I say go with it.

You mentioned your own writing somewhere in that last response. I was about to ask, really, because it sounds like this journal project is quite big.

How has your own writing been going? You have anything right now, published, forthcoming, or in-progress that you'd like to talk about?

You better laugh Ryan – really – it's the only thing that's going to keep you sane when you graduate and you look at what they pay adjuncts.

Oh hey, my writing I thought we'd get to that. I’m always juggling a few dozen projects at the same time. I started two novels when I was at Mason, in addition to completing a short story collection. I haven't done anything with the stories since turning them in last year. I haven't bothered starting any new stories either since getting the novel bug. That was Bausch's advice, he told me to just get one novel done and then worry about moving back into the short story form when a novel was in the hands of agents. The first novel I started is about a young black boy, by the name of Leland Carter, growing up in Baltimore and the birth of rap music circa late 80's. The kid dies at the hands of two Hopkins students who are white and are, well, for lack of a better term, "wiggers." It's entitled The Leland Carter Incident. I got pretty far on that novel and then set it aside because I fell in love with another project. I recently finished my first novel this summer, and – let me tell you – when you do get done, there is no better feeling in the whole world. It's entitled The Song of the Midnight Rider. It's about a guy who is blackmailed into working for some Hungarian gangsters, transporting drugs up and down the east coast. It was a fun novel to write: fast cars, drugs, rock and roll music and mean Hungarians. That's all done and I've been revising to get it to agents by the end of this month.

The business side of all this becomes frighteningly evident as you decide to try to make a living off of this. I started out joking about adjuncting, and well, yeah that's not the route I'm currently on, and I admire anyone who cuts their teeth at it. Yet, we didn't do MFAs to be adjuncts; we got the degree to fucking write, period. You, well we, really have to be schooled in how to turn our labor into food. We go/went to one of the best MFA programs in the country, seriously, George Mason is one of the top MFA programs in the country. Anyone who tells you different has got to get over not getting into NYU. I read work from writers all around the country, from every major MFA program out there, and there is zero difference between the writing at Mason and the writing at, say, Columbia or Washington, or even Iowa. The big differences are the connections and the ability for you to have agents able and willing to take a look at your stuff. Why not invite agents to Fall for the Book? Have an MFA thesis showcase in the spring? I've been lucky that I have been given some good advice and counsel from friends who have said, "Get the novel done, get your pitch letter ready and we'll send it out to people I know." I mean, I don't remember talking to anyone at Mason about what a pitch letter was, yet alone how to write one...God forbid actually talking about what agent to send it to. Sorry. Tangent. Next?

No, that is a good tangent. I think recently we've had an increased interest among the students to work towards getting publishing help, and Mary Kay Zuravleff, a visiting writer last year, asked her agent to come speak to a class. I've also heard that faculty have specifically worked with students one-on-one to help them best consider how to submit a certain story. So there's definitely an improved focus on that, even though I'd consider Mason to be more "craft-oriented."

So what "route" are you on right now? Obviously not the adjunct one - last I'd heard you were in New York City? What are you doing work-wise?

"Craft-oriented"? You know I want to stick here for a second. That doesn't make any sense. It's a crock of shit. A load. Whatever. You think painters never learn what a gallery is? Or how to approach curators? You think actors don't need to learn how to get into productions? How to nail casting calls? I've heard that "craft-oriented" line before and I think you seriously set back students a good 3-5 years with that sort of hands-off approach towards the business side of all this. I remember we had a class and someone asked bluntly to a professor, "So how do I get an agent?" we were all 3rd years, we were all working on novels and we were pretty bad ass, this professor just said, "oh we're not at that stage yet, let's talk about the craft." Really, that's insulting. I mean, you've worked for Phoebe, you've seen what comes in there, I've seen the work that comes in, and publishers get tons of work that isn't even close in quality as the worst of the first year Mason's students. If a Masters-level program doesn't put in hours to getting our material to the next step, to turning it into food, then the program itself is seriously flawed. So, that's great that Mary Kay brought in an agent for show and tell, but it's not enough. You need an entire course on this shit, negotiations, letters, agents, etc. "Oh Alexis, you're sooo serious!" Yeah, I hear you saying that, but think about what you're saying if you don't think that? It means you're content with just continuing to write and relying on trial and error until you either get lucky or burn out and lose hope.

Back to the question. What am I doing now? Well, since I graduated I had an international translation grant to live in a castle in Romania and work with Romanian literature; that was fun with the exception that the castle didn't have hot water and there were tons of random dogs roaming around in packs and the castle was 30 minutes from the closest cafe where I could get some decent coffee. Hey, it was a Romanian castle, after all. Then I was living in NYC and working for a marketing firm, writing boring technical stuff. The marketing gig paid really well, I worked from home and they quickly found that they didn't have enough to keep me busy. So, for the summer I made lots of money and sat at home every day, wrote my novel and just pretended that I had a really, really good fellowship. Alas, all good things end and the company had some cut backs and their MfAer was on the chopping block. Right now, I'm working on the journal a lot, working on The Song of the Midnight Rider and job searching in upstate NY. I live in Ithaca, where I grew up. For money? Well, their severance package was pretty good and I’ll leave it at that. I would like to teach, really I would, I mean what we do with the journal is essentially teaching — who doesn’t want one of those college gigs teaching creative writing? We're also going to start offering Our Stories regional workshops that our staff will conduct, and an annual writers’ workshop aimed for the summer of 2008. Big plans, keep growing, changing and shaking things up.

That would be nice to have a course that focuses on the business side of things. I wonder how many other programs do something like that already; I'll have to check around. I think that's about all I wanted to cover for now; have you got any last minute thing? It sounds like you're a busy man these days, so thank you again for giving us a chance to hear what's going on with you. Good luck with Our Stories, the novel, and the job search up in Ithaca.

Nothing further on my end, boss. Thanks for the opportunity and write well.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

How to Win a National Book Award

You've probably already read somewhere than Denis Johnson won the fiction NBA last night for his novel Tree of Smoke. Alright, so how did he do it? And more importantly how can we do it next year?

Go to the NYMag find out.

Actually, the implication of #1 is that we can't do it next year...

Then, up at Critical Mass, Jim Shepard has posted a quick reflection on what it feels like to be a National Book Award finalist. Tomorrow Denis Johnson will post what it feels like to win.

And finally, Ron Hogan has some NBA coverage up at Galleycat (scroll down for the info).

My favorite of the whole thing is this little story about nominee Joshua Ferris:

"Then Ferris told me that just before we'd started talking, someone else who had managed to obtain a press pass to the ceremony had tried to take the piss out of him by doing their 'interview' in the first person plural voice in which Then We Came to the End was written. ('Do we have any chances of winning the award tonight?' this guy asked. 'You don't,' Ferris retorted.)"

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Letter to an MFA Student by Joshua Henkin

I came across a series of guest posts by Joshua Henkin, author of Swimming Across the Hudson and the recent novel Matrimony, over at The Elegant Variation (scroll down to the post titled "Reflections on Leonard Michaels" and read up). As a guest blogger, Henkin talks about his new book, discusses some basic MFA concerns, and tells a funny story about Leonard Michaels' obsession with the word "smidgen."

Henkin studied with Michaels at Berkeley.

"This was in the days before the Internet, and Lenny had in his office various dictionaries and textbooks, all of them lined up, it seemed, for the sole purpose of determining how to spell smidgen. It seemed to me obvious how to spell smidgen--exactly the way I'm spelling it now. But Lenny was convinced it worked better as smigeon--like pigeon. On and on he went for what seemed like weeks."

Anyhow, the point is, earlier this summer, he posted "Letter to an MFA Student" at M.J. Rose's blog Buzz, Balls and Hype. I haven't quite gotten through all of it (it's three parts: 1, 2, 3), and I haven't yet processed everything, but I suppose it's worth reading, as it's a sort of record of what Henkin has observed so far during his time as an instructor in the MFA programs at Sarah Lawrence and Brooklyn College. He's also got a recent, lengthy article in the latest issue of Poets&Writers titled "In Defense of MFA Programs," which might be an interesting read as well?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Cheuse on Mailer's passing

If you haven't heard by now, Norman Mailer passed away on Friday. Alan is quoted in the Miami Herald on Mailer's passing.

Friday, November 9, 2007

The Short Story Today...again

More of this dramatic crisis in contemporary literature:

Larry Dark, director of the Story prize and a former editor of the O. Henry Prize series, responds to the whole short story stink over at Critical Mass.

Then poster Samuel Edmonson, professional writer?, presents his own theories in the comments section: "And what I have to say about Larry Dark's essay is that the dishonest attitude it exhibits is the public enemy number one of literature today."

Funny stuff.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Upcoming Contests

Everyone, here are two free contests to think about...

The Atlantic Monthly has an annual Student Writing Contest with a prize of $1,000 dollars. It's a free contest (no payment to enter) - entrants simply must be full time students (for Mason, is that 6 credits?). The judges ask for no more than 7,500 words of fiction post-marked by December 1st. Go here for details. An odd twist of the contest: winning entries do not get published in The Atlantic Monthly; check out last May's issue to see what happens instead...

The Willesden Herald International Short Story Prize is seeking submissions. For this contest, there's no length requirement, nor is there an entry fee. The prize is 5,000 pounds. Zadie Smith will judge the finalists. Entries received after December 21st will not be considered. Go here for details. Oh also, the winning story is published in an anthology and the winning author receives a specially inscribed mug?

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Need Home for December 2nd Fiction Dinner

Okay, We may be able to fit one more fiction dinner in this year, with Courtney on December 2nd. The only issue is we need a place to hold it, preferably in Arlington. At this point, I would take either restaurants with large, private (and quiet) dining rooms or somebody's house where we could potluck again. Sadly, I can only fit about 15 people in my place, so that is out. Anyone have a suggestion or would be willing to host (and we would provide clean-up)?

Email me at if you have a suggestion. I'd like to get a place confirmed by the end of this week.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Spring Registration for Classes

Reminder: registration for Spring 08 classes starts on the 5th of November (next Monday).

And now for some random links:

Okay, that's all I've got for now; I'll have an interview with Alexis Santi (Fiction 07) up next week hopefully.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Graphic Novels and PEN/Faulkner

From Elizabeth:

Thursday, November 8th at 7:00pm, Busboys and Poets is hosting a dinner and discussion about graphic novels. The next day there is a reading at Folger Library with Lynda Barry, Alison Bechdel, and Chris Ware, and that program is NOT sold out if anyone is interested. Also PEN/Faulkner says the more the better at the dinner, so drop by if you can. The dinner costs $15.00 for students (reduced from $22.50).

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Here's to the Death of the "Death of" Article

J.M Tyree, a current Stegner fellow, gives a thoughtful response to King's article about the "ailing short story."

He takes the discussion into the realm of online fiction, which I thought was interesting.

"The online world, especially for the older crowd, is still conventionally depicted as a kind of South Bank of London filled with the literary equivalent of bear-baiting."

It's a long article, but not a bad read. If you read it at all, read it to figure out how the above sentence fits into the overall argument.

Somewhat related to the above is this site. It's a hypertext project...

Free Mary Lee Settle Program

On Friday, November 2, at 7 PM, the PEN/Faulkner Foundation will hold a free reading honoring PEN/Faulkner founder Mary Lee Settle.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Fiction Dinner at Susan's...

The first fiction dinner of the Fall 2007 semester (for those who missed it) focused on the process of working with the novel form. Overall, it was a huge success--thank you to the organizers! Susan has this lovely little cottage space behind her house that is seriously conductive to either reading or writing very good books. We gathered there and Susan read to us from something she's currently working on, along with discussing how it came about and her patterns of novel-writing, all while we played the pass the wine bottle game :). There was talk of organizing a forum next semester which would involve publishing experts from NYC. There should be three more fiction dinners this school year; I think Alan, Courtney, and Steve have each volunteered their home and thoughts. I definitely enjoyed seeing all the fiction people together and having the chance to discuss anything on our minds relating to fiction writing. Here are some images from the gathering...

Friday, October 26, 2007

Lineup for Sunday's Dinner

Here's who I have coming for Sunday's dinner, with what you are bringing. If you aren't on here, and want to come, definitely email me at

Rider - Wine
Harris - Biryani / Something Indian
Ifkovic - Lasagna
Armistead - Tortilla chips and bean dip
Macbride - Hummous plate
Vawter - Vegetable casserole dish
Goldsmith - Pumpkin/sweet potato pie
Morgan - Dessert
Hively - Dessert
Champaneri - Cookies / Brownies / Dessert
Hall - Pasta salad
Heath - Pumpkin pie
Maggio - non-alcholic beverages and dessert
Von Kundra - appetizer / side dish
Eshelman - cucumber-tomato salad
Scott - Chicken

Monday, October 22, 2007

An Interview with Ryan Effgen

I asked Ryan Effgen if he wouldn’t mind leading off what we hope will become a series of interviews with recent graduates that we could post to this blog. We’d like to start posting the interviews with the idea that others might be able to check back in and see what’s going on with their fellow Mason writers. Of course, I don’t have as much time as I would like, so we’ll see how many I get to on my own. That said, we’d like to invite current and graduated students who are interested in perhaps interviewing other alumni to let me know, and we’ll work something out; the more the better.

Now, some information before we go on to the interview.

Ryan Effgen graduated from Mason’s creative writing program in the spring of 2006. While at Mason, he was the chief editor of Phoebe, received a department fellowship, and interned at the PEN/Faulkner Foundation. His stories have appeared in Best New American Voices 2007, Folio, and Painted Bride Quarterly. He was one of five writers to receive a 2006 fellowship from the Virginia Commission on the Arts.

As for the interview itself, we emailed back and forth for a few days last week, and here’s what we came up with (my questions are italicized):

What brought you to the creative writing program at GMU? Why did you choose to apply, and what convinced you to attend?

Prior to applying to MFA programs, I attended the Napa Valley Writers' Conference, which is one of those week-long workshop things. I went to that particular one so that I could be in a workshop with Stuart Dybek, who was and still is one of my favorite authors. We got to talking about MFA programs, and he told me about Mason. I hadn't heard of it, but I was very much in awe of Stuart Dybek and I sort of took his endorsement to be an official stamp of approval. Also, I grew up in the Midwest and I had lived on the west coast for a few years, so I liked the idea of going out east for grad school, just for the sake of being geographically well-rounded. So my reasons were sort of incidental, or they didn't have much to do with the particular quirks of the program (e.g. that it was typically a three-year experience, that they require literature courses, that they make you take a writing class outside of your genre, etc.).

I hadn't heard about Mason either, though I'd read some Bausch stories that I liked in an intro workshop in undergrad, and then when it came time to consider programs, I connected his name with the university. My research didn't extend much beyond the basics for any one program. I think I was pretty naïve about the whole MFA thing back then.

Did you apply to other schools or was Mason pretty much it?

Yeah, even if you're doing all you can not to be naïve about the whole MFA thing, it's still difficult to figure out anything too useful about it prior to showing up. Magazines occasionally publish articles where they rank the programs, but they usually make a point to emphasize that it's not so measurable a thing. It seems like it should be less a question of "Which program is the best one?" and more a question of "What am I actually looking for in a program, and which program or programs best match up to that?" I applied to some other schools. I got accepted at maybe one other school, I got wait-listed at a couple of places, and flat out rejected by even more places. But I heard from Mason first, and right away I just sort of knew that I would end up there.

I agree. When you finally show up, you get a sense of where you stand, what you've done right so far, what you might need to adjust. I had to reorient myself completely; I was still in the undergrad mind-set, which was a bit immature, I think, and that manifested itself in my approach to writing.

How did the program compare to your expectations as well as your pre-grad school writing/reading habits and ideas? And I promise we'll move away from the grad school bit very soon.

Before I got to grad school, I thought of the literature (MA) people and the creative writing (MFA) people as being in distant but related camps. When I arrived, it quickly became clear that these were essentially separate universes. And even within the MFA program, the distinction between fiction, non-fiction, and poetry was greater than I had imagined—not the distinction between what those genres are, but it seemed that the students in each of these genres were having a significantly different experience from one another.

I definitely still had some lingering undergraduate residue when I showed up, and it showed in my writing. I took a bunch of creative writing classes when I was an undergrad, and I had "show, don't tell" drilled into my head. It's good advice, of course, but I think I took it way too literally. I thought that exposition was not just something to be avoided, but that if you used it at all, it meant that you hadn't written a piece of fiction. So I had it in my head that my stories should be these quick bursts of dialogue and physical action. Jill McCorkle, who was a visiting writer, said to us, "It's not show, don't tell, it's show and tell – pick up any good book, you'll find plenty of exposition." This should've been obvious all along, but it came as something of a revelation when she pointed it out.

Yes, the "show don't tell" mantra. That seems like a classic hit for beginning creative writers, sort of like the rule that often hampers students' writing when they arrive in first year composition: never use "I" in an academic paper.

Aside from Jill McCorkle's revelation, what else do you think has significantly improved your fiction and allowed it to sort of clear away that undergraduate residue?

Well, as far as my hang up with exposition—I probably could've gotten past that a long time ago if I had approached reading differently. Like Jill McCorkle said, "open any good book…" I had been reading books all along, but I was primarily interested in the effect that the story had on me—whether I thought it was interesting or moving. I hadn't really gone through a story line by line to try to figure out how the author achieved that effect. This started to change for me throughout graduate school. And it wasn't because of the literature classes, really. I think it had to do more with being in workshops week after week and looking at manuscripts and figuring out how the stories were put together. This affected the way I read regular, store-bought books, and I began to learn more from reading them. And this, in turn, fed into my writing. I imagine that this probably happens for most people, and it's probably the most valuable thing that you take from the MFA experience. It's the most valuable thing that I took from it, anyway.

So what have you been reading recently that has been directly, positively affecting your writing?

While I'm confident that reading—particularly reading I've done over the last few years—has had a positive effect on me, it'd be difficult to give a precise answer as far as direct influence. But I've definitely read some books over the last few years that have made me feel like I was learning something about writing. Books that come to mind include the short stories of Eudora Welty and Paul Bowles. I Sailed with Magellan by Stuart Dybek. A Sport and a Pastime by James Salter. Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami. I'm reading Runaway by Alice Munro right now, and it's making me want to go back and read all of her stuff.

Perhaps that wasn't quite the right question, since it sort of assumes a writer can consistently point at different parts of the text and say how so-and-so's writing exactly influenced a certain combination of words.

One thing I do remember about Welty's work is her sense of humor and how it "functions" in her writing. And I remember the two stories of yours I've read/heard-you-read, and they struck me as funny, but a funny-in-a-sad-sort-of-way kind of funny. I don't mean to suggest that Welty, and only Welty, had this sort of effect on you, nor is she the sole author to have written complicated humor, but I can't help but make the observation. I don't really know where this question is going except to ask, maybe, is this something you see happening in your writing, aside from those two stories? Or is it too mechanical to think of one's writing in that way?

Well, I think I know which two stories you mean, and both of them—and, now that I think of it, pretty much everything I've written—has involved a character or characters that get in over their head in one way or another. And the awkwardness inherent in situations like that can frequently be humorous, though in a way that can also be sad or tense or painful.

There's this moment in the movie The Graduate that I think about a lot. Benjamin moves to Berkeley so that he can be near Elaine (Mrs. Robinson's daughter), despite the fact that Elaine wants nothing to do with him at that point in the movie. In the particular scene I'm thinking about, she's headed to the zoo to meet up with her fiancé, and Benjamin sort of tags along uninvited. As her fiancé approaches, Benjamin says, "He certainly is a good walker."

That always cracks me up, but in a sad sort of way. He's completely defeated and unwanted, but he still feels compelled to make some feeble, meaningless remark as a way of saving some dignity. It might be because I feel like I've been in that exact situation (or variations of that situation) many times in my life, that I'm attracted to stories that feature a character who finds some humorous or mock-heroic way of dealing with their defeat. Cheever's "The Swimmer" comes to mind in this regard. Aspects of that story are pretty funny, despite the fact that it's ultimately a tragic story.

So I've been trying to find a way to hear more about those two stories, and I guess now's the time since we've sort of gotten into your writing; you've already talked about one of the stories, "The Inappropriate Behavior of Our Alleged Loved Ones," in the MFA newsletter, but the second (sorry, I've forgotten the title) is still a mystery to me. All I remember is this: Painted Bride Quarterly published it in their "pirate" issue?

Could you talk some about that process? How did you decide to send it out? Why PBQ? How'd the run-up to publication go?

I lucked out with that one. I brought a draft of that story to a workshop in my first semester. Then, about a year later, my friend Tara Laskowski, who was in that workshop, happened to notice that Painted Bride Quarterly was inviting submissions for a pirate-themed issue. The story I submitted, which was called "The Pirate's Life for Me," fit into the pirate theme in that the protagonist was employed as a promoter for Captain Morgan's rum. His job was to dress up like a pirate and give out free shots at bars. I imagine that when publications announce a theme issue, they probably get a good amount of submissions that are sort of a stretch, as far as how well the story or poem matches up to the theme. But in this instance, I felt pretty confident that I had a pirate story. So that's why I submitted it. And then, months later, an acceptance letter and contract showed up in the mail. And that was pretty much it. I emailed in my manuscript, as instructed, and a few months later, the journal came out.

That's a real nice submission experience. And maybe because of how rare acceptances are, it seems like every one of them has that hint of "luck" about them, despite the obvious fact that the story has clearly made some kind of impression on the editors, has connected with them somehow in a way that the other submissions haven't.

Have you other stories out there, either being considered or published, or are you at work on a book-length work? Or both? Basically, here's the part when I ask you about what you're up to.

I definitely agree that it's merit that gets a story published, but it still seems like luck is a factor. Because it's so subjective. One editor might accept a story that another editor would've rejected. Both editors are probably smart, but they have different tastes. And when your story happens to find itself in the hands of an editor who responds to it—sure, you probably did something right, but I also feel like you got a little lucky that it wound up in the hands of Editor A and not Editor B.

As far as other work, I've got a story coming out in Pindeldyboz (any day now, I think) and, oddly enough, a short story of mine is being adapted for a short film. It's not my project, per se, but I gave my two cents on the script, and I'm excited to see what happens with it. But mostly I'm wrapped up in a novel. It was my thesis at Mason, and I've been working on it ever since. I think I'm approaching the light at the end of the tunnel with it. Not sure what I'm going to do with myself when it's finished. Start another one, I guess.

Congratulations on the short film and the pending publication. Let us know when and how we can see the film.

Pindeldyboz seems to like a few Mason writers; I've seen Jessica Anthony, Tara Laskowski, and Matthew Vollmer in their archives.

That's about it from my side. Thanks again for taking the time to go through with this. And, of course, good luck with the novel.

Cool, thanks for getting in touch. Best of luck with your final year and also with Phoebe.

Friday, October 12, 2007

BASS 07 : Stephen King :: Barnacle : Whale

Jean Thompson has a guest post up at Maud Newton in response to Stephen King's introduction to the BASS 07.

She writes:

"I don’t see what’s so pernicious about the proliferation of M.F.A. programs, even though many are called and few are chosen, and only some minute percentage of their hopeful graduates will achieve careers as writers. Why not train people to value the written word and the habit of careful thought? It provides a counterweight, no matter how slight, to all those other enterprises out there, humming along so splendidly, bringing us war, brutality, poisons, lies."

Go here for more reading.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Phoebe Resources

Another thing I've been meaning to mention to everyone: Phoebe, our literary journal, seems like a good resource for those of you interested in checking out what other journals are looking for. This can be helpful if you've got a story that you'd like to submit somewhere, but haven't had a chance to read enough journals to find a match. Ideally, it'd be great if we could all subscribe everywhere and then read everything, but that's not the case. And usually bookstores don't carry a wide variety of journals anyhow (on a related note: check out Stephen King's introduction to the latest Best American Short Stories for his take on this; it's excerpted here).

Phoebe, though, exchanges issues with quite a few journals, and as a result we've built up a decent library. Anyone is welcome to stop by our office (SUB I, 206A) to check out a few issues - please sign them out in the blue three ring notebook on top of the bookshelf.

Here's a list of what we've recently received in the mail:
  • Zone3, Fall 07
  • Santa Clara Review, Spring/Summer 07
  • Indiana Review, Summer 07
  • Crazyhorse, Spring 07
  • Quarterly West, Spring/Summer 07
  • Bellingham Review, Spring/Fall 07
  • Hayden's Ferry Review, Spring/Summer 07
  • Mid-American Review, Volume XXVII, Number 2
  • Yemassee, Spring 07
  • Alaska Quarterly Review, Spring/Summer 07
  • West Branch, Spring/Summer 07
  • Natural Bridge, Spring 07
  • The Journal, Spring/Summer 07
  • Prairie Schooner, Summer 07
  • Willow Springs, Fall 07
  • Sycamore Review, Summer/Fall 07
I suppose I could have put this in alphabetical order...


I'd like to dedicate this post to Wade.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

National Book Award Finalists announced


Two books of short stories among the five.

Dinner with Courtney - February 10, 2008

It's a long way off, but Courtney has signed up to have dinner with us on February 10th. More details to come, but I thought I would get this on your calendars, since we all live such glamorous lives...

How to go from a story to a novel

From Susan, regarding the October 28 dinner:

"As to what I'd do on the 28th.... i'm at the beginning of a new novel, from which i'd read, but also talk about process--such things as where to start, etc. pacing, etc. all that stuff. And when to move from the small arena where you begin to the larger one of, for lack of a better idea, why bother doing a book in the first place, unless...?"

Exactly what most of us need!

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Upcoming Events in Area Bookstores

I don't know if we've posted this before, but here are a few things to look out for this October. I haven't really looked around for much else, but this is what caught my eye.

At the Olsson's in D.C.
  • This evening at 7pm, Mark Z. Danielewski will be reading his latest book Only Revolutions
  • On Wednesday, October 10th, at 7pm, Brock Clarke will be reading from his novel, An Arsonists Guide to Writers' Homes in New England
  • On Thursday, October 11th, Douglas Wolk will talk about his newest book Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean
At Politics&Prose
  • Richard Russo reads from his latest novel Bridge of Sighs on Wednesday the 11th at 7pm
  • On the 15th at 7pm, Amy Bloom will read from her novel Away
  • On the 17th at 7pm, Andrea Barrett will read from her novel The Air We Breath
  • Dave Eggers will read from his book What is The What at 2pm on October 30th

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Mark your Calendars...First Fiction Dinner of the Year

The first fiction dinner of the year will take place at Susan Shreve's house. It will be potluck, so please email to let me know if you can make it and what you will be bringing.

All current fiction students and fiction alumni are invited.

October 28, 7:00 PM
I will email everyone who RSVPs with Susan's address.

These were a lot of fun last year - they gave us a chance to commune, eat good food, talk about our writing processes, and ask questions of one of our professors. I hope you can make it.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Fall for the Book - Alumni

So far Fall for the Book has gone well, I believe, based on the few things I've heard around the department - unfortunately, I didn't get to the Mason Alumni reading on Tuesday, so I can't speak of how that went other than to say that I'm sorry I missed it (though I did get a T-shirt - if you still haven't picked one up, you'll need to attend Alan's discussion tomorrow at noon or listen to the current MFA students read on Friday before Haslett and Lethem). Danielle Deulen (poetry) and Ryan Effgen (fiction) both read their work along with Dallas Hudgens (fiction). Anyhow, the point of this post is to wish Dallas congratulations; his second book, Season of Gene, was just released by Scribner that very same day as the reading, so I bet he's pretty happy right now. You can visit him at his website for tour dates, etc.

Budgeting for Contests

As we move deeper into contest season, I'm curious to know how much you are budgeting for contests. It seems that most contests these day require a $15-20 entrance fee. How do you determine which contests to go for? How do you decide which are worth your money? And are you submitting for contests now?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

"Most sniglets are too clever for their own good"

The TimesOnline has an interesting piece about how we make up words to fill "lexical gaps," those ideas and things that we have trouble describing. Actually, I think it's an excerpt from The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature by Steven Pinker.

I think these made up words are called sniglets? That's what Pinker says, and he seems like he would know. Anyhow, here's an example:

Furbling v. Having to go through a maze of ropes at an airport or bank even if you’re the only person in line.

The excerpt also talks about how annoying these made-up words really are.

Pen/Faulkner Gala, Monday, Sept. 24

A list of readers (which includes our own Helon Habila) can be found here . No word yet on this year's theme.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Sara Hov, bringing it live

Our own Sara Hov just heard from the Saranac Review that they have accepted one of her stories. Next time you see her, tell her congrats and happy birthday!

Ryan Call, coming at you by land, by sea, and by air

I would be remiss if I did not mention that our own Ryan Call has gotten acceptance notices from not one, not two, but three journals over the last three months:

Barrelhouse Magazine
Hobart Literary Journal
Avery Anthology

Congrats, Ryan!

If you've been published or know you will be published soon, let us know so we can buy you a drink!

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Short Story in Peril?

One Story has been trying to improve the short story's odds of survival since the pocket-sized magazine published its first issue in 2002. Now they're asking for your help. Visit their newest project: Save The Short Story.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Phoebe Needs Readers

Dear Mason Fiction Writers:

Phoebe, Mason's grad-run literary journal, needs fiction readers for the 2007-2008 school year. We've just reopened our reading period and the submissions have started coming in.

Phoebe publishes twice a year; each issue generally has about 4-5 fiction stories, which we select from hundreds of submissions.

This is a good opportunity for fiction writers to see both the work that goes into a literary journal and the quality of writing that other authors are sending around for consideration.

Fiction readers also have the option of using their position at Phoebe to fulfill their MFA Project requirement.

If you are interested or want more information, please email me at as soon as you can.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Fall for the Book!

This is from the Fall for the Book organizers—volunteering offers a great opportunity to get involved in the writing community, here at GMU and in general.

Hi Everyone,
We are very close to the opening of Fall for the Book, GMU's annual book festival and we hope you can all help—as little or much as possible! Below, you will find all the opportunities that we have available for you to volunteer. Please browse the list and let us know what sounds interesting to you. Also, you can check out our website, for up-to-date information on when and where your favorite authors will be appearing. Look forward to working with you!
—The Fall for the Book Team

1. Local Marketing & Program Delivery • Date: Throughout September (*we need you*) • Time: At your convenience

We need people to pick up and deliver programs around Fairfax/ Arlington/ Alexandra/ short, EVERYWHERE. You can pick up a handful of programs to drop off at your local coffee shop - or you can get a whole box to distribute throughout the county. We have a specific list of locations so that drivers don't overlap with one another - so please email me, for a copy and details.

2. Info Tent • Date: Sept 23 -- Sept. 29 • Time: 11 AM - 4 PM, Daily

Got time in between classes? 30 minutes? 2 hours? This is the job for you: We will need someone at the info tent to answer questions, direct confused students and promote events throughout the day. The tent will be centrally located outside of the JC—or, in the event of rain, will be moved inside to the JC.

3. Drivers (This is subject to change and may need updating.) • Date: Sept 23 -- Sept 29 • Time: Varies

Many of our visiting authors are coming from out of town. They need to be met at airports and train stations, driven to the festival hotel, picked up at the hotel and brought to events. If you're interested in meeting a writer and driving him or her to one place or another, e-mail Tara ( The following authors still need rides:

Orville Vernon Burton: Historian

(1)Departs Reagan, DCA Fri. Sept. 28 3:30 pm American Airlines 537
-Needs to be picked up from the Hampton Inn, Fairfax and taken to the airport.

Richard Peck: Children's Author

(1)Monday Sept. 24 6 pm--reception at GMU Dewberry Hall
-Needs to be picked up from Hampton Inn and taken to event
-Needs to be picked up after event at 7:30 and taken back to Hampton Inn

(2)Tuesday Sept. 25 6 pm--reception and reading at Smart's Mill Middle School in Leesburg
-Needs to be picked up from Hampton Inn and taken to school

Janet Holmes: Poet

(1)Departs DCA, Reagan, Tues. Sept 25 6:40 AM Northwest Air # 883
-Needs to be picked up from Hampton Inn and taken to airport

Jonathan Ames: Comedian/Writer
(1)Arrives DCA, Reagan, Thurs.Sept. 27 12:47pm United Airlines Flight# 608
-Needs to be picked up and taken to the Hampton Inn

(2)Event is on Thurs. Sept. 27 3:00 pm
-Needs to be picked up from Hampton and taken to GMU; tent outside Johnson Center
-Needs to be taken back to his hotel after the event is over at 4:00pm

(3) Departs DCA, Reagan, Fri. Sept. 28 11:40am Flight# 615
-Needs to be picked up from Hampton and taken to the airport

4. Venue Managers • Date: Sept. 23 -- Sept. 29 • Time: Varies

Each event needs a Fall for the Book representative to greet the author and be there as the audience arrives. The Venue Manager will be in the room before the event begins and after it ends in order to answer both the author’s and audience’s questions. Email MANY of the events are still open!!!

5. Found Magazine Gallery Managers
Date: Sept. 24, 11-9 PM • Sept. 25, 11-9 PM • Sept. 26, 11-9 PM • Sept. 27, 11-9 PM • Sept. 28, 11-9 PM

This year, we also have the Found Magazine web phenomenon coming to the Mason campus, with a presentation by creator Davy Rothbart as well as exhibitions from Found Magazine. We need people to staff the exhibition in the Johnson Center, 123 Gallery while it is open. If you're willing to help with the exhibition, e-mail Sarah at

6. Introducers • Date: Sept 27 - Oct 5 • Time: Varies

Every speaker needs an introduction - and we still have a few spots available. We will provide you with an introduction (author bio) to read - or, if you prefer, you are welcome to create your own. Email Sarah at for more info. The following writers need to be introduced:

Janet Holmes, editor of Ahsahta Press
Richard Norton Smith, discusses Gerald R. Ford
Betsy Andrews, author of She-Devil, In Trouble, and New Jersey
Chester Gillis, professor of theology at Georgetown University
Michael Richman, author of The Redskins Encyclopedia

7. General "I Want to Help but I Don't Know What to Do" Volunteers • Date: NOW ‘ Sept. 29th • Time: Any

If you just want to meet and greet people, or are willing to help out with anything and everything, e-mail me, Sarah ( with your availability and I will let you know what we have open.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Hayden's Ferry Review

Hayden's Ferry Review is reading new submissions.

Here's a note from the editor, Beth Staples.

Hayden's Ferry Review is looking for prose, poetry, and visual art for its upcoming issue themed The Grotesque. Work should explore the humanity, beauty, and reality of the literary grotesque - the monstrous, the unusual, the abnormal. Postmark deadline: January 15, 2008.

Send to:

Hayden's Ferry Review
The Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Arizona State University
Box 875002
Tempe, AZ 85287-5002

Online Stuff

I know it's not Friday, but I need to catch up. Here are a few random things I've found to look at in my spare time:

  • Mark Z. Danielewski interviewed at Metromix about his latest experimental novel, Facebook, and idyllic writing retreats to Montana. *Spoiler Alert* For those that haven't read (nor flipped through) one of his books, he uses lists. Lots of them.
  • Peter Sacks takes a break from his labor in the trenches of the "midlist" to diagnose the poor state of reading and writing in America today. The culprit: " the Huxleyan drug of American Idol and Paris Hilton." I think my favorite part of the article is the link right beneath the title, which takes the concerned, intelligent, liberal, middle-class reader to some articles about Paris Hilton. And people say The Huffington Post doesn't have a sense of humor. Actually, I don't know if they say that, it just seemed like a good, empty phrase to add here.
  • Whatever happened to Scotland's literary efflorescence? I did not understand this article at all, and so I thought it was hilarious.
  • George Saunders on Letterman here. Watch it now.
  • Bookninja is funny, but it certainly helps to have an easy target.
  • World's longest novel by Richard Grossman et al to be published by FC2. To me, this sounds like it's not just one doorstop, but 4,000 doorstops.
  • Poet David Keeling has been rating his rejections here for a while now. It's a pretty interesting project and has gotten him a small bit of attention from the Virginia Quarterly Review. Local writer Clifford Garstang hasn't quite followed Keeling's lead, but he does have a funny rejection story in his latest post. I still can't figure out what journal he's talking about though.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Visiting Writers Reading Schedule

This just in from the Department:

Visiting Writers Reading Schedule

Fall 2007


James Houston

Reading: Thursday, Sept. 27, 7:30pm, Grand Tier III, Concert Hall

Reception: 6:30-7:30pm*

James D. Houston is the author of eight novels, including his newest work, Bird of Another Heaven, published by Alfred Knopf in March 2007. His recent Snow Mountain Passage, described in The Washington Post as "a dignified, powerful narrative of our shared American destiny," was cited by The Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, and The Los Angeles Times as one of the Year's Best Books. His often anthologized stories and essays have appeared in such publications as The New York Times, The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, GQ, Ploughshares, The Utne Reader, The Los Angeles Times Sunday Magazine, Honolulu, Manoa: A Pacific Journal of International Writing, and Zyzzyva (The Last Word: west coast writers and artists).

Peter Ho Davies

Reading: Monday, Nov. 12, JC Cinema

Reception: 6:30-7:30pm

6:30-7:00pm, Q&A with Peter Ho Davies for ENGL 699 students only

Peter Ho Davies’ work has appeared in a variety of magazines and newspapers, and his short fiction is widely anthologized, including selections for Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards 1998 and Best American Short Stories 1995, 1996 and 2001. His own first published collection of short stories was The Ugliest House in the World (1998), which contains tales set in Malaysia, South Africa and Patagonia. This collection won the PEN/Macmillan Silver Pen Award and the Mail on Sunday/John Llewellyn Rhys Prize. His second collection, Equal Love, was published in 2000. In 2003, he was named by Granta magazine as one of twenty 'Best of Young British Novelists'. His first novel, The Welsh Girl, set in a Welsh village during the second world war, was published earlier this year.


Bich Nguyen

Reading: Thursday, Sept. 27, 7:30pm, JC Gold Room

Reception: 6:30-7:30pm*

Bich Nguyen’s first book was Stealing Buddha's Dinner (Viking Penguin, February 2007). It received the PEN/Jerard Award from the PEN American Center. Her work has also appeared in publications such as Gourmet magazine; Dream Me Home Safely: Writers on Growing up in America; and Watermark: Vietnamese American Poetry and Prose. She has also coedited three anthologies: 30/30: Thirty American Stories from the Last Thirty Years (Penguin Academic); Contemporary Creative Nonfiction: I & Eye (Longman); and The Contemporary American Short Story (Longman). She is currently working on a novel, Short Girls.

Michael Martone

Reading: Thursday, Nov. 14, 7:30pm, JC Gold Room

Reception: 6:30-7:30pm

Michael Martone is a Professor of English and Director of the Creative Writing Program at the University of Alabama where he has been teaching since 1996. Martone is the author of five books of short fiction including Seeing Eye published in September of 1995 by Zoland Books as well as Pensées: The Thoughts of Dan Quayle (Broad Ripple Press, 1994), Fort Wayne Is Seventh on Hitler's List (Indiana University Press, 1990), Safety Patrol (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988), and Alive and Dead in Indiana (Alfred A. Knopf, 1984). He has edited two collections of essays about the Midwest: A Place of Sense: Essays in Search of the Midwest and Townships: Pieces of the Midwest (University of Iowa Press, 1988 and 1992). He edits Story County Books, and his newest book, The Flatness and Other Landscapes (University of Georgia Press, 2000), a collection of his own essays about the Midwest, won the AWP Prize for Creative Nonfiction in 1998. His next book, Racing in Place: Collages, Fragments, Postcards, Ruins, is forthcoming.


Claudia Rankine

Reading: Wednesday, Sept. 26, 6:00pm, Harris Theater

Reception: 7:00-7:30pm

Claudia Rankine is the author of four collections of poetry, including Don’t Let Me Be Lonely (Graywolf 2004), PLOT (2001); The End of the Alphabet (1998); and Nothing in Nature is Private (1995), which received the Cleveland State Poetry Prize. She is co-editor of American Women Poets in the Twenty-First Century (Wesleyan University Press). Her work has been published in numerous journals including Boston Review, TriQuarterly, and The Poetry Project Newsletter. Her poetry is also included in several anthologies, including Great American Prose Poems: From Poe to the Present, Best American Poetry 2001, Giant Step: African American Writing at the Crossroads of the Century, and The Garden Thrives: Twentieth Century African-American Poetry.

James Longenbach

Reading: Wednesday, Nov. 7, 7:30pm, JC Gold Room

Reception: 6:30-7:30pm

James Longenbach published his first book—Modernist Poetics of History—at the age of 27, and to date he has written five influential works of scholarship and persuasion. Longenbach's three collections of poetry Threshold (University of Chicago Press, 1998), Fleet River (University of Chicago Press, 2003), and Draft of a Letter (University of Chicago Press, 2007) reveal his unerring command of sound and line. He is a Professor of English at the University of Rochester.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Opening Day

For those interested in sending out finished work, September 1st typically marks the day on which many journals officially reopen their reading periods and review fresh submissions. Newpages and Duotrope's Digest are a few of the many market resources that might help sort through the options. Take out a subscription, do your research before you submit, and don't carpet bomb anyone.

Friday, August 31, 2007

How did the first week go?

Too much reading? Not enough time to write? If you're a first-year, what do you think so far?

Have a good long weekend everyone -- I'll be on a grassy knoll somewhere, reading Pride and Prejudice.