Thursday, December 30, 2010

Q&A with author Vickie Weaver

Billie Girl, from author Vickie Weaver, won the 2009 Leapfrog Literary Press Contest and was published Sept 1, 2010. Vickie is a 2005 graduate of Spalding University’s MFA Program (Louisville, Kentucky). Her next novel, Job’s Daughters, is taking form on the page. On Vickie’s website you’ll find event schedules, a ‘reader’s guide’ and more info about her writing.

Thanks for joining us, Vickie. Tell us a bit about Billie Girl and how the story came to be.
After reading As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner, I kept returning to the end of the novel, and the woman Anse Bundren marries right after burying his first wife. As we know, Anse was far from what we'd call 'a catch.' How desperate might a woman be to marry this man? Surely, no one else wanted her or she would not have become the second Mrs. Bundren. So the idea of a girl that no one wanted stuck with me. The remainder of the inspiration came from century-old photographs of pioneer women: unplucked eyebrows, no makeup, unflattering hairstyles, weathered faces and stern expressions, shapeless dresses. Many of them look like men in women's clothing. Billie Girl was born out of these two observations. 

How have the fall promotions come along for you? I’ve noticed you’ve done a lot of traveling for booksignings and related events. How do you manage your writing time while keeping up with the “business” side of things?
Touring is part of the package when a book is published. It’s tough for a first-time unknown author to get her name out there, so I go as much as I can. It’s my routine to head to my office after dinner to write, revise, research, brainstorm—and I like to stick with that because it grounds me. Sure, there have been times when I’m not as productive because I’m tired or distracted. When I have tour details to iron out, three hours in my office to write can be reduced to fifteen minutes, but it’s my goal to at least say hello to my characters every day. They miss me.

You’ve won several awards for your writing, which leads us to the natural conclusion that you’ve also entered a number of contests. How do you determine which ones to enter? How do you know what contests may be right for your work?
Placing in contests is a good way to build writing credits. My writer friends often give me a heads up about contests. Many are listed in publications such as Poets & Writers—it’s a great resource for contests, and grants, too. Besides reading the contest blurb, I check out the contest website for all details to make sure my work is a fit (subject matter, length, genre). I do standard submissions, too (no contest fees!). I can’t always study the literary journals I submit to, to see if they are right for me; I can’t afford to subscribe to them all, and honestly, I don’t like to take the time. I probably should not admit that but it’s true. There are days when I do a Hail Mary and send off my work.

What can you tell us about your experience with the Spalding University MFA program? Do you keep in touch with many of your alumni?
I went to college late in life; I was 48 when I earned a BA in English (minors in Creative Writing and Women’s and Gender Studies). I enrolled at Spalding University in 2003. The first time I stepped into a plenary lecture I was overcome with emotion (it sounds trite but it’s true) to be in a room full of writers. Without speaking to anyone, without knowing one person there, I knew we shared a passion for the written word that had brought us all to the same place. Spalding is the best thing I’ve ever done for my writing, and for my sense of self. I do keep in touch with a handful of alumni, and return to Kentucky often, to visit during every residency that I can. It’s become my second home.

You’ve also done a fellowship at Spiro Arts Community. What did you work on and how was the fellowship beneficial to you?
Because my writer friends encouraged me to try retreats, I did an online search one night and found Spiro Arts. I applied and was absolutely floored that I was chosen. Most of my time there (May 2009) was spent revising the two novels I’d written, Below the Heart and Billie Girl. And I had just started my third novel, a contemporary tale of Job’s daughters (from the Bible). The fellowship was a gift—to be able to write any time I wanted without thought of home-related tasks (laundry, grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, social commitments) was a bit surreal. But that month gave me more than time to write. It helped me (at the age of 57) to look inward, to listen to my heart, to build self-confidence and independence. The Spiro Arts Community values the arts, and it showed in their respectful regard for my profession. I will ever be grateful to them. There are many fellowship opportunities for writers; all you have to do is some research. Apply, and cross your fingers! 

What are you working on now?
While I am still tweaking Below the Heart, and writing a short story every now and again, most of my writing time is spent on Job’s Daughters. I just try to write something every day. I love what I do.


For the latest news and details regarding Vickie’s events, visit her website:

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Low-Res MFA Handbook officially available!

The release date may very well say January, but amazon and other online retailers are shipping orders! If you shop on, you can also use the “Look Inside” feature to catch a glimpse of a few chapters. Here’s the basic rundown of what’s inside:

Features 49 programs and 150+ interviews

Available now from Continuum Books
The Low-Residency MFA Handbook: A Guide for Prospective Creative Writing Students
(ISBN 978-1-4411984-4-0)

Table of Contents
Chapter 1: An Introduction to Low-Residency MFAs 
Chapter 2: Is the Low-Residency Model Right for Me? 
Chapter 3: The Selection Process 
Chapter 4: The Application Process 
Chapter 5: Funding 
Chapter 6: The Programs 
Chapter 7: The Residency Experience 
Chapter 8: Non-Residency Semesters 
Chapter 9: Pedagogical Preparation 
Chapter 10: Learning from Experience 
Chapter 11: Life After the MFA 
Chapter 12: AWP Membership & Services 
Appendix A: Extended Interviews 
Appendix B: Quick Reference 
Appendix C: Additional Resources 

“What an invaluable handbook! Lori A. May has done her research, knows her stuff, and, what's best, lets the programs speak for themselves through her extensive interviews. There's a chorus of quotes from faculty, students, and graduates in The Low-Residency MFA Handbook. Anyone making the decision to apply for an MFA should consult this wise guide. May's clarity and authority make it a gold standard." 
- Molly Peacock, author of The Second Blush

The Low-Residency MFA Handbook is an important book, not only for prospective students, but for program faculty and administrators as well. This guide will prove invaluable for students preparing to apply for low-residency MFA programs and will inform them of what to expect once they gain acceptance. The low-residency MFA in creative writing is increasingly popular, and there has been a lack of resources available to students, faculty and administrators. The Low-Residency MFA Handbook fills that void." 
- Derick Burleson, author of Melt

Click here to order The Low-Residency MFA Handbook: A Guide for Prospective Creative Writing Students on amazon.

Friday, December 24, 2010

new issue of The Ambassador Poetry Project

The Ambassador Poetry Project publishes poems from and about Michigan and Ontario. Submissions are open year-round and the journal is published online two to four times each year. 

The Winter 2011 issue is now online and features work from eleven poets including Linda Leedy Schneider, Gregory Loselle, and Lynn Tremblay. 

Visit for the current issue and the ongoing call for submissions.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

words + paint + scissors

I was digging around in one of my stationery folders, on the hunt for watercolor paper, when I came across a small collection of oddities: ‘greeting cards’ I made a few years back with ink, watercolor, and magazine cutouts.

I’m not a ‘serious’ artist – as you can see in full visual evidence – but I do, from time to time, like to play with texture and color to get the creative juices going in preparation for a writing session.

I am also not afraid of embarrassing myself, so I’m happy to share…

"Virgin Gets Around"


"Art Imitates Life"
I know, clever titles, right? But, these are simply a means to generate the creative vibe. Perhaps I should just stick to writing. ;)

Friday, December 17, 2010

Interview & Poetry in The Smoking Poet!

I’m honored to be featured in the Winter issue of The Smoking Poet. Zinta Aistars, the founder and editor-in-chief of TSP chatted with me about so many writerly things (ideas and creativity, teaching, editing, the lit community, etc) and shares this really in-depth interview with me here.

The issue includes three of my poems: 
Down on the Corner, Public Display of Affection, and Triangular Distortions.

TSP was also kind enough to reprint Zinta's recent review of stains: early poems to accompany the interview. Be sure to check out The Smoking Poet for a full and fantastic winter issue that also features a great interview with Dorianne Laux, an abundance of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, and detailed info about the upcoming TSP 5th anniversary reading: Puttin’ on the Dog.

Thanks to Zinta for an enjoyable interview!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

reviews/ immigration/ haiku

I have an assortment of news bites to share today:

The latest issue of Poets’ Quarterly is now online at The issue is packed with 20 new reviews and four author interviews. Do check it out and if you’re interested in submitting, have a look at the Submission Guidelines. Also, PQ is looking to fill a few volunteer editorial positions. See link and info on the main page. 

Speaking of reviews, I have a review of Slant Room by Michael Eden Reynolds up on Northern Poetry Review.

I’m also pleased to have a creative nonfiction piece, “Rearview Mirror,” online at Phoebe Journal (George Mason University). This piece was written about a year ago and is a reflection of some of my (driving) experiences in my first year as a US resident.

Like haiku? I have six poems over at Black Dahlia Journal. Have a look!

And, finally, just a reminder that Review Copies of The Low-Residency MFA Handbook: A Guide for Prospective Creative Writing Students (Continuum Books, Jan 2011) are available. Send an email with your name, postal address, and publication affiliation to

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Is a low-residency MFA right for you?

Chapter 2 Excerpt in The Writer

The release of The Low-Residency MFA Handbook: A Guide for Prospective Creative Students (Continuum Books, Jan 2011) is right around the corner and you can get a sneak preview in the January issue of The Writer magazine.

An excerpt adopted from Chapter 2, “Is a low-residency MFA right for you” is on pages 21-22. Click here to see the Table of Contents for the January 2011 issue of The Writer.

Available January 2011 from Continuum Books
The Low-Residency MFA Handbook:
A Guide for Prospective Creative Writing Students
ISBN 978-1-4411984-4-0
Pre-order for $13.46 at

Reviewers, contact
More information:

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

review copies! The Low-Res MFA Handbook

Review copies are now available for The Low-Residency MFA Handbook: A Guide for Prospective Creative Writing Students (Continuum Books, Jan 2011). If you would like to request a review copy, please send an email with the name of your media outlet and your full contact information:

Available January 2011 from Continuum Books
The Low-Residency MFA Handbook: A Guide for Prospective Creative Writing Students (ISBN 978-1-4411984-4-0)

Features 49 programs and 150+ interviews

The Low-Residency MFA Handbook:
A Guide for Prospective Creative Writing Students

Table of Contents
Chapter 1: An Introduction to Low-Residency MFAs
Chapter 2: Is the Low-Residency Model Right for Me?
Chapter 3: The Selection Process
Chapter 4: The Application Process
Chapter 5: Funding
Chapter 6: The Programs
Chapter 7: The Residency Experience
Chapter 8: Non-Residency Semesters
Chapter 9: Pedagogical Preparation
Chapter 10: Learning from Experience
Chapter 11: Life After the MFA
Chapter 12: AWP Membership & Services
Appendix A: Extended Interviews
Appendix B: Quick Reference
Appendix C: Additional Resources

“What an invaluable handbook! Lori A. May has done her research, knows her stuff, and, what's best, lets the programs speak for themselves through her extensive interviews. There's a chorus of quotes from faculty, students, and graduates in The Low-Residency MFA Handbook. Anyone making the decision to apply for an MFA should consult this wise guide. May's clarity and authority make it a gold standard." 
-  Molly Peacock, author of The Second Blush

“The Low-Residency MFA Handbook is an important book, not only for prospective students, but for program faculty and administrators as well. This guide will prove invaluable for students preparing to apply for low-residency MFA programs and will inform them of what to expect once they gain acceptance. The low-residency MFA in creative writing is increasingly popular, and there has been a lack of resources available to students, faculty and administrators. The Low-Residency MFA Handbook fills that void."
- Derick Burleson, author of Melt

Available for pre-order:               Continuum Books

Reviewers, please contact
More information is available at

Friday, December 3, 2010

website, handbook, and the art of prioritizing

Newly updated website! (Finally... and hurrah!)

Humbling, but true. Yes, the writer who advocates effective use of social media and connecting with others… fell off the map. Humbling? Yes. Hypocritical? Goodness, no. Because really, as great a medium as social media is, we writers also have a gazillion other responsibilities to manage and sometimes, well… sometimes that means we have to prioritize and fall off the dot com map for just a moment. Just long enough to breathe and catch up.

I do think social media is one of the most important tools we writers have in our proverbial toolbox, particularly in terms of keeping up with the community. How else would I hear about Jessie Carty’s adventures with her writing class or the lovely and talented Kelly Davio receiving not one, but two Pushcart nominations (!), or Jane Friedman’s first new coat in six year (completely relevant: we writers need to stay warm!). Social media – Facebook, Twitter, blogging, all of it – is necessary to my survival as a writer and necessary for my ‘keeping up with what’s what.’ Mostly, keeping connected online makes me feel like I’m not alone and, really, writing is pretty solitary, right, so why not feel part of a larger community?

And… yet… there comes a time or two in one’s writing life that the deadlines pile on, submissions are stacked high, editing awaits, and if a person has any sense of life in the real concrete world there are general life to-dos and busywork to be done. It’s normally quite easy to keep up with the online business while tending to all of the above, but sometimes even social media advocates need a break. As you can see from the lack of blog posts in the last week or so, I took that much-needed pause to just get back above water.

It’s all about balance. And balance is often a battle and one that never really goes away. Yet, it’s possible to find – make – the time to fit in all of these little tasks and bigger priorities, take a break, and come back healthier for it. It’s like tucking away a nearly complete poem or story and spending time away from it before revisiting with an editorial eye. Our brains just need a pause now and then.

But then we get back to work. So here I am, happy to be back and renewed, eager to share some upcoming events, releases, and post some new author Q&As to the blog, etc, etc. If you’d like to be a Q&A guest on here, please let me know! I’m happy to showcase emerging and established authors alike.

I’m sure over the next couple of months you’ll grow tired of it, but I have to start sharing some pretty exciting (to me, at least) news about my next release: The Low-Residency MFA Handbook: A Guide for Prospective Creative Writing Students. I’ll save the hardcore info for another post, but you can get a sneak peek on my recently updated website. I’m also pretty stoked about some new poetry acceptances soon to appear in journals including Ragazine, Ramshackle Review, and Caper Literary Journal.

There’s much on the horizon so you’ll soon see… I may take a break now and then, but even in the quiet moments I’m working, working, working. It’s all a part of finding that balance we all seek.

Until next time…

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


[Out of Order]

...due to an embarassing to-do list. But I'll be back soon with more lit news and author interviews.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

worth sharing: calls for sub

Ontario Veterinarian College Call for Submissions
Deadline: November 30, 2010

Ontario Veterinary College is pleased to a send a call for submissions for our anthology, Animal Companions, Animal People, Animal Doctors, to be published by Ontario Veterinary College in 2011. To mark its 150th anniversary in 2012, the Ontario Veterinary College is producing a book-length collection of poems, stories, and essays about the myriad ways companion animals enrich our lives and our imaginations, as well as about the veterinary professionals who sustain and are part of our life-long relationship with our animals.

For more information visit


Greg Grummer Poetry Award
Submission Deadline: November 15, 2010

Phoebe sponsors the annual Greg Grummer Poetry Award Contest. The author of the winning poem will receive $1000 and publication in the Fall issue of Phoebe. For complete guidelines visit


Phoebe “First-Ever Nonfiction” Contest
Submission Deadline: December 1, 2010

Shauna Cross is judge - $250 grand prize + publication in Phoebe. Visit for more information.


Cream City Review Poetry and Creative Nonfiction Contests
Submission Deadline: December 31, 2010

*The Beau Boudreaux Poetry Prize, judged by Quraysh Ali Lansana, author of They Shall Run: Harriet Tubman Poems and Southside Rain

*The David B. Saunders Prize for Creative Nonfiction, judged by Deb Olin Unferth, author of Vacation and the forthcoming Revolution: The Year I Fell in Love and Went to Join the War

An entry fee of $15 must be included for each story, essay, or group of 3-5 poems. Entrants are welcome to compete in more than one genre, or submit multiple pieces in the same genre. The entrant’s fee includes a free copy of the issue in which the contest winners will be announced and published.

For further details and conditions, please visit our site at

Best of luck!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Q&A with author Loreen Niewenhuis

Author Loreen Niewenhuis has two new books set for release in 2011, A 1-000 Mile Walk on the Beach and Atlanta.

Thanks for joining us, Loreen, and congratulations. With two books scheduled for release in 2011, it sounds like you've been busy! How do you manage your time between writing, study, and work?
I'm quite lucky to be able to focus on my writing full-time at this point. Not that I'm making a living at it, but I've been a stay-at-home mom for a few years and have been able to devote increasingly more time to my writing as my sons have gotten older.

Tell us about your experience with Spalding University's creative writing MFA program. How did the program help you develop discipline and time management for writing and for life?
Spalding was the perfect place for me: a great community of people who are passionate about writing and teaching and making each student a better writer. The residencies were both informational and inspirational. I liked that the intense residencies were followed by solitary and productive months working with a mentor via packets. The packet schedule imparted a certain structure to my writing and my ability to set goals for my work, and this structure has persisted long after graduation.

The first book we'll see from you in 2011 is A 1,000-MILE WALK ON THE BEACH, to be released in March by Crickhollow Books. What is your connection to Lake Michigan and what inspired you to make this figurative and literal journey?
I've always been drawn to Lake Michigan. It's the place I go to center myself. I reached a point in my life where I wanted to take on a big challenge, something that would test me, that I could throw myself into. I decided to take on the lake, to walk all the way around it. In a way, I internalized the lake by completely encircling it.

You're obviously familiar with the Great Lakes, but I'm sure you learned a great deal about your environment as you made the journey. What surprised you most about Lake Michigan?
Walking the varied geology was a revelation to me. I knew that the Great Lakes were formed by glaciers, but to actually walk the entire shoreline of Lake Michigan gave me a unique perspective. I saw the hand of the glaciers in the perched dunes in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. I recognized the work of wind and waves to loft the massive sand dunes I climbed. Hiking the dense limestone deposits in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and the eroding clay cliffs in Wisconsin completed the geological picture of the lake for me.

It was satisfying to connect the lake into a unified view instead of the pinpoint glimpses that I got by visiting the lakeshore at various access points over the years.

How does your writing across genres work in your favor? Or does it? Is it challenging to pen both fiction and nonfiction?
I am, at heart, a fiction writer. It has been a challenge to write nonfiction, especially when it comes to revealing myself on the page. I think that moving between the genres has expanded the way I think about my writing. There is a bigger range of projects I can undertake in the future. The research aspect of A 1,000-MILE WALK ON THE BEACH was fun and I hope to do another project like it in the future.

What can you tell us about your summer 2011 release, ATLANTA?
This book is a novella that was originally written as a screenplay. I actually began writing movie scripts even before I got my MFA. After graduating from Spalding, I returned to one of those scripts and adapted it into a short novel.

So, yes, I hope it gets adapted into a film, because I have the screenplay in my desk drawer (ha!).

I lived in Atlanta for several years and the city has stayed with me. This novella is a snapshot of Atlanta at a time when it was growing, almost bursting at the seams as it transitioned into a major urban center. It's a tapestry of lives woven together in the neighborhoods of Atlanta, and I hope it gives readers a sense of the vitality and life of the city.

I understand you're now working on a new novel, TUMOR BOARD. Can you give us a hint of the premise?
Since this is the first full-length novel for me, I wanted to create a structure that was transitional between short stories and the novel form. So, the novel has a central spine that is told in present tense. This spine is the Tumor Board meeting that takes place in major hospitals. It is where specialists gather together for one hour each week to discuss difficult cancer cases. In this room there are surgeons, radiologists, nurses, doctors-in-training, researchers, pathologists, etc.

Branching off of this meeting are chapters for each character: one in their past, and one in their future. In the first half of the novel, you get all the glimpses into each of their past, in the second half, into their future. By the end of the novel, the reader will know a significant arc in the life of each character.

It takes place in Detroit in Grace Hospital which used to exist, but was torn down in the '70s.

Loreen, we'll definitely have you back to talk about each of these releases in more detail, but in the meantime, where can readers learn more about you and your work?
The blog about my walk around Lake Michigan (where I continue to post information about the Great Lakes) is at
My author website is
I also have a fan page on Facebook where I'll post updates about readings and signings.


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Winter Wheat 2010: MAR Festival of Writing

Registration is open for Winter Wheat: The Mid-American Review Festival of Writing. The event takes place this weekend, Nov 11-13, on the campus of Bowling Green State University. There are more than 50 sessions and workshops to choose from (!) so no matter your level or genre of interest, there’s something for everyone. The festival also includes readings by Jim Daniels, Lola Haskins, Andrew Ervin, Gaylord Brewer, and Rebecca Meacham. There’s also an Open Mic and a Book Fair on Saturday.

I’m leading a session for writers and social media: “Promote your writing by building an online presence” will take place Friday, Nov 12 from 2:30-3:45pm.

Full festival info is online here. Let me know if you have any questions about my session:

I hope to see you there!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

worth sharing, worth reading

The Kenyon Review Literary Festival
November 5-6 Gambier, OH
w/keynote speaker W.S. Merwin, US Poet Laureate


Speaking of KR...
They’ve just launched an occasional new series detailing why a particular submission is selected for publication. If you’ve ever submitted – or want to submit to KR – check it out and learn why editors at The Kenyon Review selected Elizabeth Chandler's “Blue Bear” for the Winter 2011 issue. Read:

Pass it on and on and on....
Another great read for the week was shared via Paper Darts Literary Journal on Facebook and is absolutely worth sharing again. Read “Support for Lit Mags Begins with Writers” as posted on The Things They Read:

Have a great week!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

review: The Plath Cabinet

The latest issue of Cerise Press is now available and in it you’ll find my review of The Plath Cabinet by Catherine Bowman. Check it out:

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Q&A with author David Poyer

Hi, David. Thanks for joining us for a Q&A. You've received some very nice early praise for your November release, Ghosting. Congratulations! Can you tell us a bit about your main character, Dr. Jack Scales, and his story?
Well, Lori, Jack has a lot to do with some real surgeons I've come in contact with! Not to say all surgeons are like this - some are regular people, among them the ones who helped me with this book - but others seem to feel that since they can do one difficult thing well, they're qualified to do just about anything else with no necessity for learning or training whatsoever. This sometimes arrives mixed with not a little arrogance. So I searched for what natural arrogance I own, mixed it with my observations, and came out with Jack. A guy who means well and loves his family, who is ambitious and hardworking and very competent in one area, neurosurgery, but who has some very unlovable traits - which end up carrying a heavy price, both for him, his wife, his son, and his daughter, when he's put to the test.

Ghosting is quite different from your Dan Lenson thrillers. What drew you to this particular story?
This happens very seldom, but the idea of a sailing thriller was suggested to me by someone else - in this case Sally Richardson and George Witte at St. Martin's. I guess I'd mentioned my sailing to them over the years enough times that when I said I wanted to do a shorter book than the Lensons, to gain a little respite for additional research on the next big one, they said, "Why not do a sailing book?" I respect them enough that instead of dismissing the idea out of hand, which I usually do with plot suggestions from others, I went away and thought about it. I did know that this time I wanted to try all new characters, in fact a whole family, to write about family dynamics, which I had never done before. And once the ideas of arrogance and pride and a family in danger tied in with one of my perennial topics - the need for competence at sea - GHOSTING began to take shape. When I added a few of my own most harrowing sailing experiences, like the lightning storm, the outline was practically complete. (The lightning storm and strike depicted in the book actually took place off Cape Hatteras about three years ago - I had to change very little about it!)

You admit to being in a bad mood when you had to kill off some "good" characters from Ghosting. How attached do you get to your characters in draft form? How does this affect your editing process?
Oh, I get very attached! I would not make a good Buddhist. So when bad things started to happen to Arlen and Jack and Haley and Ric, and some terrible things indeed do, it wrecked me. As if they were my own family. It made it hard to edit, yes, but after thirty plus novels, there's enough professional detachment from the prose after the first draft's white heat that I can view a passage dispassionately, and turn it into finished work.

Is Ghosting planned as a stand-alone title or will you be developing Scales' story into a series?
This is definitely a one-off. However, I'm discussing another sailing novel with St. Martin's now. It will really depend on how many fans buy GHOSTING. So if you want to see more, buy this one - for yourself, or as a holiday gift for someone you know who loves boating and the sea!

Is Dan Lenson's series to be continued? What can readers look forward to since The Crisis, your December 2009 release?
I've just completed the first draft of a huge 9/11 novel, tentatively titled THE TOWERS, that will be published in August 2011. When I started to think about a 9/11 book, I realized that each of my major continuing Modern Navy characters - Dan, Blair, Aisha, and Teddy - might well have been in a location that would directly involve them in the shocking events of those days. So it begins at the Pentagon and in New York, and goes from there to Oman and then Afghanistan.

What else are you up to in your writing life? How has this year been for you in the Wilkes University MFA program where you teach?
I have some great students at the low-residency program at Wilkes. We are now the largest low-res writing program in the US! And it's due to our stellar faculty and administration. My current students are writing supernatural stories, ecothrillers, horror, high fantasy, sea novels, and middle grade fiction. One of my recent grads, Kevin Voglino, was nominated for the Lambda Prize. I don't think there's a better way to get started for someone who hopes to write. You work one on one with an established author, from planning the book through to final text and marketing. I wish such a program had been around when I was starting, in the 1970's - it would have saved me years of false starts and wasted effort. In today's market, you just can't afford not to know what you're doing. There's no way anymore to learn on the job. You have to be perfect the moment you step out on the field.

Do you have any upcoming appearances you care to mention?
I don't do that many; the ones coming up are listed on my website. I'm a big supporter of rural libraries, so many of my appearances are there, including the Chesapeake Public Library on Nov. 12. I'll be at the Mariner's Museum early next year discussing the Civil War at Sea books, and at Wilkes in January and June for residencies. I might go to the Savannah Book Festival with Lenore when THE RAVEN'S BRIDE comes out; she's been invited to headline there.

Where can readers learn more about your books, events, and other writing news?
Take a look at my site, There's more about GHOSTING and the other books as well, plus some good info on writing.

Many thanks to all my fans, and to you, Lori!


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Dzanc needs you / upcoming Q&A

Check in on Thursday for a Q&A with author David Poyer, author of Ghosting.

In the meantime, please share this info with writing workshop instructors you know and love:

Dzanc Books is looking for volunteers to lead workshops as part of Dzanc Day 2011, the annual fundraiser that helps fund the more charitable parts of the press. Full info here:

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Q&A with poet & publisher Tonja Bagwell

Today’s Q&A is with poet Tonja Bagwell. She is the curator for Poetic Travelers, a reading series hosted at Lawrence Street Gallery in Ferndale MI. Tonja is also the publisher of Jafansta, which you can read more about here.

How long have you been coordinating the Poetic Travelers reading series? What have been some of the highlights over the years?
In January 2009, I founded a poetry series that was named Poetic Tea Sippers because we met at a teashop in Ferndale. In April, I changed the name to Poetic Wine Sippers when I moved to a wine shop in Northville. In May, I moved back to Ferndale to Lawrence Street Gallery (LSG) under the new name of Poetic Travelers. As I pondered my travels and thought about how amusing (yet confusing) it was to tell features and followers that I had changed names and venues -- again, I was inspired to choose an appropriate name that would suffice in any city at any venue. Thus, Poetic Travelers was born and a new sense of adventure was instilled in poet friends who were excited by the thought of being a traveling poet.

Fortunately, LSG is a fabulous venue that gives the feel of traveling to a new venue. Each month the gallery showcases different art exhibits by its various members. A few of the artists at LSG have embraced Poetic Travelers by joining Open Mic, helping with marketing and set up, as well as hosting. The beauty of art combined with poetry makes Poetic Travelers and LSG a good match.

Poetic Travelers features poets and musicians who travel from various places throughout the southeast Michigan area. Open mic performers and guests have traveled from various counties in Michigan and from out-of-state. For two months last year and three months this year, I became the celebrated Poetic Traveler who gave significance to the name when I traveled eight hours by car to host Poetic Travelers.

Poetic Travelers welcomes and appreciates lyrical talents and creativity. If you have a unique and interesting way of expressing yourself through words or music, contact me. I don’t focus on how many books you have published, how many awards you have won, or how many venues you have been invited to read at when selecting features. During the same month, one feature may be a confident veteran who has done a multitude of readings and the other feature may be a nervous novice making their debut. I am pleased to say that the novice poets who began their poetry-reading career with Poetic Travelers have been traveling to some notable venues and have made a name for themselves.

During a few of my absences from hosting, a few select poet friends have graciously hosted Poetic Travelers. I am forever grateful and elated to have poet friends who are just as passionate as I am when it comes to making sure Poetic Travelers is a series where everyone can come and feel the joy of a compassionate host and supportive poetry family.

Who's on the Poetic Travelers schedule this fall/winter?
Earlier in October, we had John Jeffire, poet and author of Stone+Fist+Brick+Bone as a feature. Joining him was Monica Condiff, a fresh writer from Ohio, who made her performance debut with Poetic Travelers. John Smolinski, poet and author of We Fight to Remember (Jafansta, Inc., 2010) hosted.

In November, John Smolinski will host an interesting trio: Mark C. Durfee, poet and author of Stink: Poetry and Prose of Detroit; James R. Tomlinson, poet and author of Adopted Behaviors and Michelle Brooks, poet and author of the soon-to-be released collection, Make Yourself Small.

In December, Poetic Travelers is honored to feature award winning poet, musician and author of Moonwalking, David "Blair" Blair. Raven "CagedBird" Martin is the other featured poet and Laura Bodary, poet and author of Flock, Feed, Fly will host.

Poetic Travelers will begin its third year in 2011 and the schedule is TBA.

What's happening in the publishing world at Jafansta, Inc? Are there any new titles soon to make a debut?
Jafansta, Inc published We Fight to Remember  this year and next in line is i awoke... and fallen leaves to be released soon. There are other titles in the works, including a memoir and a self-help guide.

Can you tell us about the calls for submissions for the upcoming anthologies? What sort of work are you looking for? When will these anthologies be published?
Jafansta is accepting submissions of poetry, prose, essays, letters, songs, quotes, creative non-fiction, short narratives, and all forms of written creative expressions from the following populations: Substance Users/Abusers; Incarcerated (current & former); Homeless (current & former); and LGBT. All are welcome to submit if they are familiar with or have connections with members of these populations. The submissions are for an anthology series that will be entitled Step Into My Shoes. The purpose of the anthologies will be to provide a voice for misunderstood and ostracized populations in society. Their written word will convey a message to others with hopes that they will better understand the thoughts, feelings, and life from the perspective of a member of the selected population. Expressions can be serious or humorous. There is no fee and submissions are accepted from anywhere in the world. Each anthology will be published separately, so the release dates will vary. At this time, I can only estimate sometime in 2011. You may submit your work via e-mail and please write “poetry submission” in the subject line or via regular mail at Jafansta, Inc., 47448 Pontiac Trail, Ste. 144, Wixom, MI 48393. Please visit for more details.

What about your own poetry? Are you working on anything new?
Due to the fact that I wear the hats of mom, mental health counselor, writer, publisher, editor, massage therapist, and founder of a new online organization, Feminine Unity, I don't dedicate as much time to writing poetry as I would like to. However, I am continuously writing new poems whenever I can take advantage of inspirational moments. I have categorized many of my poems and I’m planning to publish them into four different collections. The questions I ask myself are: 1) when will I put the finishing touches on at least one collection? 2) which book will I publish first? and 3) whom will I consult with about publishing my books? I have never done a small chapbook, so I have been thinking of self-publishing one.


For more info about Jafansta and the calls for submissions, visit

Come back next week for a Q&A with David Poyer, author of Ghosting.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

R.I.P. Zaida May, 15yrs

R.I.P. Zaida May, 15yrs

My very best friend.
An excellent writing assistant.
The quirkiest cat I have ever known.
My sounding board for… everything.

You’ll be missed, remembered, and loved each day.

Sweet dreams, Zaida.
Thank you for the joy.
Thank you for the love.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

guest blog: Joe Ponepinto, On Criticism #2

Welcome to Part 2 of 2 guest blogs by Joe Ponepinto. Joe is a graduate of the MFA program at the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts, and is currently the Book Review Editor for the Los Angeles Review, a literary journal published by Red Hen Press in Southern California. Joe was a journalist, political speechwriter and business owner before turning to writing full time. He’s founder and president of the board of the Suburban Detroit Reading Series. His work has been published in journals including Vestal Review, Fifth Wednesday, Raven Chronicles and others. Joe blogs at

On Criticism, Part 2: "Learning to Take It"
By Joe Ponepinto

Having your work critiqued by a writers’ group is something like voluntarily submitting to an intervention. Everyone tells you they love you (or at least, your efforts), and then proceeds to list everything they think is wrong with you and how you need to change it. Okay, maybe it’s not that bad, but when you’re on the receiving end of a particularly rough critique session, it can seem this way.

As I said in the previous post, many writers act as though critiquing a story means they MUST find fault with it, and they spare no effort to see flaws in plot, point of view, tense, tone, theme … you name it, often forgetting to praise what they did like, or more importantly, to assess the author’s intentions and how well s/he carried them out.

I’ve seen many writers crushed as stories they believed were their best work were ripped to shreds. And I’ve seen many of those writers never return to their groups. I don’t have to imagine what they felt, because I experienced the same thing when I was much younger, and I didn’t write creatively again for years.

The usual response to any appeal to be positive in critiques is, “A writer has to have a thick skin,” or “If a person can’t take it, he has no business being a writer.” There’s some truth to those sayings, but remember that for most writers, the craft is very personal, and they have a tendency to take criticism aimed at the writing as attacks on their worth as a person.

Over the years, I’ve developed a few techniques for dealing with criticism. The goal of these is to put some perspective on the practice, so that it can be useful, without being harmful. Keeping these in mind helps me from viewing criticism as an attack on my ability to write.

1. Consider the Source: Who’s delivering the criticism? How much writing experience does this person have? Has s/he been published? Amateur status doesn’t invalidate criticism, but I’ve found that sometimes the most vociferous criticism comes from writers with the least publishing experience. The most experienced writers in a group usually restrict their comments to suggestions (rather than absolutes) about how to make the work better.

2. Does the criticism pertain to literary conventions, or is it based on the critic’s personal taste? Pay close attention to what’s being said. A bad critic will invoke personal opinion without using a source or examples from literature. A good critic will attempt to analyze the author’s craft in relation to his/her intention, as well as back up the opinion with outside references.

3. Inaccuracies in the Reading: When a critic brings up points in a story that are clearly inaccurate, such as character names or specific events, I tend to tune out the comments. This happens often when the reader disliked the subject, or the particular genre or style of the piece, and had to force him/herself to read the entire text, usually by skimming instead of reading closely. But reading closely to determine the author’s intent and ability to use craft is what critiquing is all about. A critique based on a bad reading is no critique at all. I’d actually prefer a critic to tell me s/he just couldn’t get into the story (although it was extremely well written, of course), and therefore will not offer a critique. I can handle readers disliking the style or subject—what I can’t stand is the sometimes mean-spirited critique that results from that.

4. What if the group’s criticism is divided? Occasionally members of a group will split as to whether an aspect of a story worked or not. Unless the people who didn’t like it have a strong rationale for change, I usually look at the plus side. If it worked for some people, it will work for others. Remember, no piece of writing will work for everyone, and it’s futile to try to make it that way.

5. A Preponderance of Feeling: But if a strong majority of the reviewers finds the same problem in a story, that’s when a writer should take the criticism seriously.

6. The Importance of Time in Accepting Criticism: Since I’m going to wait a few weeks or months before attempting the next draft of a story, it gives me time to let the criticism it’s received chip away at the wall of my writing subconscious. I admit (and you can probably tell from these tips) that I don’t yield to much criticism. But I find that over time, the more valid points of criticism linger, and refuse to be dismissed. By then, the protectiveness in which I encase my first drafts softens, and I’m more willing to accept the aspects of the story that need improvement.

For more great blogs and commentaries by Joe Ponepinto, be sure to visit his blog:

I’m pleased to share another guest blog next Thursday, with poet and publisher Tonja Bagwell. Tonja is the curator of the Poetic Travelers reading series at Lawrence Street Gallery in Ferndale MI and the publisher of Jafansta, Inc. Come by next week to hear Tonja discuss upcoming events and new releases.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Thurs guest blog & Sat workshop

Just a quick reminder for those in SW Michigan – I’m leading a workshop this Saturday at Macomb Community College:

Social Media for Writers 
3 hours: Sat Oct 16th 10am-1pm
Course # 80333
$39 registration through MCC

Macomb Community College
South Campus
14500 E. 12 Mile Road
Warren MI 48088
View Campus Map 

Register by phone: 586-498-4000
Questions? Email me at


Be sure to drop by on Thursday, for guest blogger Joe Ponepinto. This is Part 2 of Joe’s essays on criticism, with Part 1 linked here. Visit Joe’s blog to see what else he has to say about writing and publishing:

See you Thursday!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

guest blog: Joe Ponepinto, On Criticism

Welcome to Part 1 of 2 guest blogs by Joe Ponepinto. Joe is a graduate of the MFA program at the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts, and is currently the Book Review Editor for the Los Angeles Review, a literary journal published by Red Hen Press in Southern California. Joe was a journalist, political speechwriter and business owner before turning to writing full time. He’s founder and president of the board of the Suburban Detroit Reading Series. His work has been published in journals including Vestal Review, Fifth Wednesday, Raven Chronicles and others. Joe Ponepinto blogs at

On Criticism
By Joe Ponepinto

If you are, like me, a member of a writers’ group, everything you write for potential publication is subject to criticism. That criticism can be categorized as professional (editors and agents), or well-intentioned amateur (your writers’ group), but in most cases it is fundamentally flawed. In fact, much of the criticism writers receive does more to keep them from writing than it does to encourage.

The biggest problem with some criticism is that it sets up a false relationship between the writer and the critic, in which the writing is being judged not on its merits, but by a different set of criteria.

In the case of professional critics, sometimes known as agents and editors, the criterion is simply, will it sell? This criticism is a business, and the profit motive must be acknowledged, and that motive influences the efforts of many writers. It tells them they must write in a certain style, or comply with the conventions of a particular genre in order to be published, and that being published is the only measure of success for a writer.

That belief also influences criticism from practiced amateurs, such as members of a writers’ group. But the real trouble with group criticism is that the relationship between the writer and the critic becomes unbalanced. The writer cedes power and authority to the critic. This can be dangerous for the writer, because most amateurs, when given an opportunity to criticize work, approach it from the viewpoint that they MUST find flaws in it. In some cases they attack manuscripts with the attitude that they will not only find defects, but also that those imperfections are all they will find. The very word “criticism” connotes negativity to many amateurs.

This doesn’t do much for the psyche of the writer, who not only has to endure the critique session, but then must cope with lingering doubts over the value of his/her efforts. Because those efforts usually come from the writer’s soul, and because writers, by nature, are particularly sensitive to criticism, the cumulative effect drives many would-be writers to close their laptops permanently.

The attitude of many amateur critics, that they must find only flaws in every work, is puzzling. There are many stories, which, if these critics had read them in a journal or book, would have been praised as works of art, and their supposed “flaws” would have been ignored because the published writer surely “knew what s/he was doing.”

So what I’m arguing for is that members of writers’ groups (or MFA classes or workshops, etc.) adopt a different approach. Get away from the stance of the authoritative, powerful critic and consider submissions for what they are—drafts of materials that could be published. Read stories as though they might appear in a book or journal. The reaction will then be more balanced and fair.

For myself, before I get into specific praise and criticisms, I try always to consider two main criteria. The first comes from a comment made by Henry James. He said, “The only obligation to which in advance we may hold a novel, without incurring the accusation of being arbitrary, is that it be interesting.” And that’s the only consideration he thought important. Face it, if the story is interesting, you’ll probably read it, despite whatever other shortcomings it might have.

My second criterion is also fairly simple, and builds on James’s: what is the writer trying to do, and is s/he doing it? That’s separate from the “interesting” consideration, since a writer can do a fantastic job of crafting a story and it might still fall flat because the subject is of no interest to some readers. Conversely, the premise may be wonderful, but the story doesn’t work because the writer hasn’t thought out the point or reason for the writing. This allows me to get into more specific comments that are geared towards helping the writer realize the goals of the work.

But always I try not to allow personal tastes to influence my comments. That’s not to say I haven’t in the past, or that I don’t when reading for personal knowledge or enjoyment. But when it comes to criticism, which I look at as a request for help in achieving a goal, I try to keep in mind what that writer’s goal actually is, and encouragement that the goal can be reached is as important as anything else I might say.

Joe's Part 2, "Learning To Take It," will appear on this blog Thursday, October 14.