Tag Archives: Heather Sellers

Today’s Fiction. . .

Heather Sellers posted a dinner party what to read list on her blog, Word After Word, recently. Can’t help but notice that so much of the list is nonfiction–which I find myself drawn to more and more these days because. . .dare I say, I find it’s better written, manages to combine interesting subject matter with elegant prose more than much of the fiction that seems to find its way to bookstore shelves today.

I read an agent quote from a Poet’s and Writers interview suggesting that there was a lot of “beautifully written” fiction out there but it didn’t “grab” the agent.

Surely, there must be submissions that do both. . .I’m reading The Lace Reader for a book club right now and while the plot is decent enough, I can barely get through the writing, first person present tense, pretentious and self conscious. Is it possible that these editors/agents are revealing a bias against good writing in fiction, believing, when they see it, that they just have a “beautiful little nonstory” on their hands.

Interestingly, one of the other people interviewed described watching teenage girls in a bookstore talking about great books that they’d read and then observed, that, come to think of it, “there are a lot of good books in the YA market these days.” Well written books, too, I’d like to add. I’m rarely disappointed in the writing in a YA book, and the burden of a strong plot is on those books just as much, perhaps more, as their adult counterparts.

Food for thought. What do you think?


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And people wonder why I love mail so much. . .

When at any given time, something wonderful might pop up, whether in the black mailbox on my house or the little electronic inbox in my groupwise account. Like the message I got today from poet Marguerite Bouvard telling me that her book, Mothers in All But Name, with my essay, “One Morning in May” in it, had finally found a publisher.

The essay had been accepted in Fall 2004 but I hadn’t heard from her since then and I’d all but given up. In fact, weary of changing the date from “forthcoming 2006” to “forthcoming 2007,” and then “forthcoming 2008” I had actually deleted the entry from the most recent draft of my CV/resume. I don’t know why I gave up so quickly; God knows, I know how long these things can take. Can It Really Be Taught: Resisting Lore in Creative Writing Pedagogy, the book Kelly Ritter and I issued the Call for in spring 2002, did not see publication until spring 2007.

So now I can put the essay back on with “forthcoming 2009” on it. Telling a story about my “former life” experience as a Nanny, it’s a piece that’s very dear to my heart. Look for more news when the book comes out.

In other news, I can thank Heather Sellers’ great book Chapter After Chapter, for talking me down from a “Sexy Next Book,” crisis. Sexy Next Book is the well known phenomena whereby a fascinating, all encompassing book idea throws itself at you while you’re deep in the middle of another book. Sexy Next Book is one of my biggest challenges as a writer. I had this memoir idea a few days ago and began to get swept away. I started taking notes, starting doing research, it was the PERFECT memoir for me to write, after all. So perfect, I was practically breathless.

Even in the beginnings of my new affair, I had bursts of sanity. “I think I might be going down the “sexy new book” road again,” I told my husband nonchalantly, struggling to hide how badly I was jonesing to get on the internet right then and start the research.

“Why don’t you do that exercise Sellers had in her book,” he suggested offhandedly (he always suggests things offhandedly). “To see if it’s the real thing.”

To make a long story short, I didn’t even have to do the exercise. Oh sure, I flirted a little this morning, took several pages of notes, looked some stuff up online. But then I borrowed back my copy of Chapter After Chapter (he’s teaching it this semester) and felt myself calming down and coming to my senses just a few pages into that eponymous chapter. The memoir idea will keep; I’m pretty sure the experience is unique enough that no one will beat me to it. Burning Down the Garrett, the creative writing in higher ed book I’m working on now, won’t. Either someone else will beat me to it or no one will care about the subject by the time I get it finished and hopefully, published.

Deep breath. The notes are there. As long as I don’t lose it, the great new notebook my friend, Monda gave me will keep sexy next book safe for me until I’m ready to give it my all.

Untill then, I’ll just keep you in suspense.

Bye y’all,

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Writing Longhand and WIOTD Resurfaces


I’m enjoying a wonderful new book by Susan Bell called The Artful Edit that I’ll be mining for blog discussions in the next several entries. It’s divided into 5 chapters, Gaining Perspective, The Big Picture: Macro-Editing, The Details: Micro-Editing, Master Class, and Servants, Dictators, Allies: A Brief History of Editors. As a connoiseur of writing books, I can safely say, this one is a real keeper.

Right now I’m in the section on writing longhand. Since I’m a big longhand fan, it’s right up my alley. To quote: “the brain and the hand are connected. Once you begin to let an idea unfold, you keep unfolding it. Ink flows, ideas flow with it. When you type. . .into a computer, you don’t give your imagination the chance to really follow things through” (Freeman qtd. in Bell 17). Heather Sellers also writes a good deal on her blog, Word After Word, that her students who draft in longhand often have better, at least more fully realized, first drafts.

Amen! At first I felt I wrote longhand just because I like the sensuous feel of ballpoint (sorry, Monda) on paper. But now I can claim that the “brain-hand” connection is really tapping into my imagination!

Bell goes on to quote from a die-hard computer drafter that he lets his imagination unfold in a similar way by not allowing himself to look at the screen while he’s writing. I imagine this could work in the same way. By typing and “not looking” you don’t interrupt the flow.

I’m interested in my reader’s thoughts on this.

In other news, a wardrobe incident of the day resurfaced this morning. Just when we’d thought we had the sweats or shorts and a t-shirt uniform down, younger son informed us that he had to wear jeans and a plain t-shirt today because he’s in a fifties performance at school.

“In it?” We said incredulously. “You’re actually in it?”

He nodded.

Needless to say, this was the first we’d heard of said performance. So, after checking with the main office and learning that he did, indeed, speak the truth, albeit belatedly, this morning has been a rush of rearranged schedules. As another understanding parent colleague, who was part of the meeting I had to reschedule at the exact same time, said, “Look at it this way, at least he didn’t tell you he needed a tri-fold display on the praying mantis by tomorrow.”

Now there speaks a voice of experience.

That’s all for now. I’m off to write in longhand and then beam proudly at my little guy.

Bye y’all,


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As AWP Turns, Day Two



Well, old home week has commenced.  I missed my first session because Mary Ann Cain and were kibbitzing on our MFA experiences for two hours.  We had a great time.  Then I met Anna Leahy at the book fair (more on the BF later), got her new book of poetry, Constituents of Matter, got her to sign it and rushed off to the session on Key Developments in Creative Writing Research. 

Unfortunately, I missed Graeme Harper’s presentation, and only made it through the second before I had to leave because it felt like 115 degrees in the room.  My cheeks were burning even though I was fanning myself like crazy.  I hated to leave before it was over but it was that or pass out.  Could have been my first hot flash but I doubt it.  I “like” to think I’m still a little young for that. 

The next session, on the difference between the UK MA and the US MFA, was quite good (and considerably cooler).  I learned quite a bit, which is saying something since I’ve been researching the subject for some time. 

Saw Galway Kinnell after that, but, sadly, the room was huge and it was a little like watching a rock star from the nose bleeds.  At least I could munch my lunch–roasted chestnuts and a dunkin donuts coffee (heaven!) in anonymity.

Then, the book fair, the BEST PART, for two reasons.  One, it is HUGE this year; it literally takes up three floors.  I haven’t even seen it all yet and I already have lots of good stuff.  Two, I ran into my dear friend from George Mason days, Adrian Lurssen! I haven’t seen him in 11 years, since I attended his wedding!!  I’ve been following him via the web, since his time as tastemaker for Yahoo (the place to be after their stock soared), his “retirement” and his launch of a new literary magazine with Susan Tichy, Practice: New Writing + Art  (I’m bringing you home some copies, Monda), but it was oh so good to see him in person.  He is still generous with the bear hugs! Hopefully, we’ll find some time to get together and catch up in the next few days!  Of course, he asked about Chris Motto and wondered if she was here too.

After dashing back to the room, I learned three good friends from our Lafayette days, Jim and Tamara Wilson and Kelly Stern, were here as well and looking to have dinner.  We quickly ran to the Bedford St. Martin’s reception to fete Heather Sellers’ new multi-genre creative writing textbook, where I probably gushed too much both literally and figuratively, accidentally spilling wine (white, Thank God!) on a fiction writer from Vanderbilt.  Fortunately, it only hit her shoe.  I think I was just hepped up from the stimulation of running into all these old friends. 

Anyway, after that, we got to meet Jim, Tamara and Kelly for dinner and catch up on their lives.  Jim and Tamara teach at Flagler College in St. Augustine; Kelly is a free-lance children’s book editor in Toronto.  They all looked great.

Phew.  Another exhausting day.  I’m getting some great goodies for the giveaway, though (you can keep posting to enter through Feb. 4).  Next post, I’ll give you some specifics about what I’ve got and announce the 2008 Best Giveaway of the Conference Award (IMHO and, yes, Gettysburg Review is on the shortlist again).

Bye, y’all!


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As AWP Turns: And The Dance Card Fills


AWP has not yet begun in earnest, but after a bit of sightseeing (the MOMA and SoHo) we were able to pick up our programs and then meet with a friend, Wendell Mayo, who now teaches in the Bowling Green MFA, for dinner. Wendell was our teacher at Lafayette and a real mentor and role model for both of us, especially John.

I am exhausted from tromping hither and yon all day and catching up on some work, but I wanted to post SOMETHING.  So I thought I would post a list of the sessions I hope to attend in the next few days.  AWP does a neat thing with their conference program (hint hint, 4C’s)–they provide you with a sturdy detached cardboard foldout with a blank schedule on it where you can write in where you need to be and what you want to see in the next few days.  Called your Personal Planner it may as well be a dance card.  4C’s and NCTE give you a blank planner, but it’s on a flimsy page inside the conference book, so you can’t refer to it nearly as easily.

So, here goes:


Breakfast with Mary Ann Cain

Inside Publishing:  Editor’s Speak

Key Developments in Creative Writing Research

The MA in the UK and the MFA in the USA

Galway Kinnell: A Reading and Conversation

Bedford St. Martin’s Reception


K-12 Poetry Pedagogy

Heather Sellers and Anna Leahy are signing at the Bookfair

From Stories to Novels: Crossing the Great Divide

The Road Not Taken: Alternative Careers with the MFA

Old York, New York: A Picture of the UK’s Literary Culture

Keeping it Real: Everything You Need to Know About Researching and Creative Nonfiction


Recognizing Common Ground: Creative Writer’s as Comp Teachers

The Art of Writing on Craft (with one of my fave writers, Charles Baxter!)

Judging Art: The Role of Assessment in Creative Writing

A Department of Our Own: Creative Writing in Independent Writing Programs (with our own David Harvey!)

Reading and Conversation w/ Martin Amis

Whew!  Will she make it to all of these or will she be trampled enroute to a crowded session, never to be heard from again?  Find out tomorrow in the next installment of . . .

As AWP Turns. . .


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Top Five Books For Undergraduate Writers

pile_of_books.jpg picture by steph_vanderslice


 Why only five?  Well, I consider myself somewhat of a connisseur of books about writing and believe it’s my responsibility to stay up on what’s out there.  Fortunately, I also enjoy reading these kinds of books.  However, there are only five that I consider absolutely essential to the undergraduate creative writer, to someone dipping his toe in the creative writing world and deciding whether and how to take the plunge.  Five that you MUST read.  So, undergraduates, beginning writers, if you haven’t read these, get thee to a independent bookstore, chain bookstore, half.com, library, whatever your preference, asap.

Page by Page: Discover The Confidence and Passion You Need to Start Writing and Keep Writing (No Matter What)–Heather Sellers

Sellers knows how to encourage and enlighten new writers and how to lay it on the line at the same time.  Plus, her graphics are great.  I wish I had this book when I was a young writer and I hand it to every aspiring wordsmith I know.  Lucky us, she now has a blog, Word by Word.  A good companion to this one for novelists:  Chapter by Chapter.

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life–Anne Lamott

For the writer who has been hemmed in for years by all the myths and lore about writing, in addition to whatever arbitrary rules Miss Grundy drummed into your heard, reading Lamott will be nothing short of revelatory.  From “Shitty First Drafts,” to “One Inch Picture Frames,” to the real meaning of writing (psst: it’s necessarily publishing), this book has it all.  I’ve read it several times since it first came out and am always astounded at the new things, the new relevancies, I find in each read.

The Creative Writing MFA Handbook: A Guide for Prospective Graduate Students –Tom Kealey

You may or may not be want to get an MFA after you graduate.  But this book will help you decide.  It will also serve as a no-nonsense introduction to the writing life and to a lot of the realities of undergraduate creative writing.  Another book I recommend so much, you’d think I was getting kickbacks from Mr. Kealey.  But I’m not.  My student’s eternal gratitude is more than enough (snip).


The Practice of Creative Writing: A Guide for Students–Heather Sellers

A revolutionary, concept-based method of laying the groundwork for enhancing any genre of creative writing.  Despite it’s “text-booky” format (well, it is a textbook, technically), it’s immensely readable and enlightening.  I’m really picky about texts for my creative writing class–hadn’t used one for years until this one came out.  Now I plan to make it a standing order. 

The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers–Betsey Lerner

Another look at the writing life from the editor’s side of the desk.  Highly entertaining and enlightening, Lerner is also a writer herself, with an MFA from Columbia, so she can really see the big picture.   A read you definitely will not regret.

And in other news. . .

WIOTD (Wardrobe Issue of the Day)


The inseam, oh the inseam.  The inseam of his jeans was hanging a bit too low.  We tried several belts but ended up adjusting those red elastic things they put on the inside of jeans these days so that they’re well, adjustable.  This was deemed a tolerable solution, though just barely.

It was also sunglass day.  Dad’s sunglasses were nowhere to be found.  After much cajoling and assuring that Mommy’s sunglasses were just as good, since she got from the gender-less sunglass rack at the dollar store, they were accepted.  But his last words as he got out of the car were, “You’re sure these aren’t girl’s sunglasses?”


Backwards day.  First, the bright yellow pokemon t-shirt was refused, without justification,  for the umpteenth time.  This one’s going to have to go Goodwill (which may have been where it came from).  John asked, “What is wrong with the shirt, since there is obviously something wrong with it?”  But apparently, it is something that cannot be put into words, because we just got a frustrated–“if you don’t know I can’t tell you”–huff. 

Pants really seem to be our main problem.  We ended up with a heap of rejects before plain gray sweats were agreed upon.  I see a trip to Target for about 5 pairs of gray sweats in our future.


Bumps under the shirt.  Bumps “everywhere.”  So, we trudged upstairs for a “bumpless” shirt.  Then the cargo pants were rejected out of hand.  Back upstairs.  Fortunately, there were a pair of innoculous blue sweats that fit the bill.

Also, not so wardrobe related, we went through the “my stomach really hurts.  I might throw up,” scenario.  Duly got out the thermometer, but when you’re hanging upside down on the sofa with the thermometer in your mouth, you kind of give your health away.

(And you thought I was exaggerating about the whole WIOTD thing.)

 Other than that, it has been a cold, rainy, uneventful week.  At Parent Teacher Conferences, every time we began with “Hi, we’re Jackson Vanderslice’s parents,” we were greeted, good naturedly, with “that child just cannot sit down, can he?” Little do they know we’ve been hearing since this kindergarten!  In fact, it’s almost up there with, “Vanderslice? How do you spell that?  (Pause while we spell it)  Oh! Just like it sounds!”

However, we must say we are very grateful for understanding teacher’s who are tolerant of the fact that our son seems to need to think on his feet.


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This Ain’t Your Mother’s Creative Writing

If you needed proof about the ways the creative arts are changing, look no further than The Machine if Us/ing Us .  If you’re reading this, you probably know all this stuff, or have some inkling about it.  The walls are coming down, folks, and more and more content is in the hands of the everyday artist.  There’s a reason why they call this Generation C, or the Content Generation. 

What does this mean for creative writing?  Well, as in any art in general, teaching it is more important than ever.  And teaching it well.  We teach a savvy generation for whom a laizzez faire workshop with the sage on the stage just isn’t going to work anymore.  Our students demand more because the world they are heading out into, the world they exist in already, demands more.   We can’t predict where it’s going to go next (who could have predicted you tube a few years back) but we can give them the tools they need to succeed, tools with which they can “monitor and adjust,” to any given situation.

I’m teaching Intro Creative Writing with a great new text book this semester, Heather Sellers’ The Practice of Creative Writing.  And let me tell you, if I tell my students one more time, “I wish someone had taught me this when I was your age,” they’re going to start keeping a tally.  Maybe they already have.

The problem is, I wasn’t taught any of this.  Not even in grad school, not much of it anyway.  Sure, there’s a lot you can learn in a workshop where the wise published writer leads and the rest of the group gets a chance to weigh in on  your work.  And learn a great deal I did. That’s why I wouldn’t take the workshop out of a creative writing class, even out of an undergraduate class, but why I would add to it.

The thing is, I could have learned so much more.

Sellers approaches her class by teaching creative writing concepts. I’ve done this for years and even wrote an article about it, but I like her concepts better.  Concepts that will help any beginning writer take her work from good to great, concepts like:  energy, images, tension, pattern, insight and structure.  Concepts that work on the premise that there are many aspects of creative writing that can actually be taught.  Moreover, concepts that give students, even beginning students, a language in which to talk about their writing, so as to enrich their workshop experiences.

The revolutionary thing about saying outright that creative writing can be taught, inasmuch as painting or music composition or acting can be taught, is that the onus is then on the teacher to actually teach it.  To think about her practices as a teacher, to do more than wing it, which some creative writing teachers have been doing for years. 

Fortunately, the times are changing.  The wingers are marching toward social security while the teachers are beginning to make themselves known in greater numbers.  But we can’t rest on our laurels just yet.  We have a lot more to do.  More that I’ll be writing about here on this blog, more that I’m saving for the book I’m working on right now, working title Burning Down the Garrett: Transforming Creative Writing Programs in the Twenty-First Century.  But it should be interesting.  And thinking about this stuff on a regular basis will enhance our own writing in the process.  I promise.

In other news. . .

It’s Red Ribbon or Drug Awareness Week in the schools.  It was pajama day for my youngest.  It may well have been a something day for my sixth grader too, but he’s generally fairly oblivious to such things, so unless we’re on top of it, he’s not with the program.

But the elementary schooler was.  Clothing is a big deal for him.  When I came home from a meeting last night, he greeted me with a monologue about what he’d wear, “his guitar pajamas,” with a black bathrobe, although by the time I picked him up today, he’d ditched the bathrobe, even though it was freezing.  Not “cool” enough, even though his lips were practically blue.

“Cool” really matters to this child and has since preschool.  We have a “wardrobe issue,” just about every morning, to such an extent that I am considering posting the WIOTD ( wardrobe issue of the day) on this blog because I never thought I’d be saying things like, “What do you mean those jeans are too “heavy”?”   Or, minutes before we are due at school,  studying his tube socks, mystified, trying to figure out why he refuses to wear them; they are too “bumpy,” inside.  We’re not even within shouting distance of adolescence with him and mornings at our house are rife with fashion dilemmas and clothing malfunctions. 

You’ll see.  Just check back in.


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