Category Archives: Conferences

EFA Conference, NYC, editing, Sacramento Editing

Highlights from the Editorial Freelancers Conference

I’d met Mary Norris and taken care of my obligatory awkward-stuttering-fan first words at the Under the Gum Tree booth at AWP in LA earlier this year. So starting the day chatting with Mary Norris, the Comma Queen herself, was nothing but a pleasure.

My takeaway: There is no need to be intimidated by your heroes.

Jane Friedman’s Keynote was called “The Competitive Creative.” Self-awareness led to Friedman’s departure from the daily grind of her Writers Digest job into something that she felt was more energizing and fulfilling, and now she loves her day job— freelancing!

My takeaway: If you are ignoring the call to be creative, stop! As Jane said, “Art and business don’t have to be at war.”

During two hour-long sessions, attendees could choose to attend one of four simultaneous programs in small breakout rooms. I enjoyed Jake Poinier, who provided pro tips on pricing our freelance editorial services, with the reminder that “the best deals make you and the client happy.”

The takeaway message: “Do what you want, it’s your business!”

Then, Laura Poole and Kristen Stieffel introduced us to some new (and reminded us about some old) ways to organize our clients, jobs, and general to-do lists, including this gem: “Make your to-do lists the night before!”

The takeaway for me: “Don’t let the tools get in the way of your work.”

The incredible, funny, Mary Norris had the ideal crowd for her Keynote address on Day 2. “A Life Squandered on Words,” revealed a love for language that every person in that auditorium seemed to share. She discussed her prescriptivism, and unabashedly held it higher than descriptivism—everyone in the auditorium did not necessarily share this view. One man in the audience felt the need to take her to task on what he perceived as the failings of The New Yorker’s editorial staff, to which she replied: “You’re fired!” Wonderful. This got some play on Twitter (#EFACON16).

Erin Brenner presented the last session I attended about editing for the web. She provided valuable reminders in this session sponsored by

My takeaway: What I am doing at Two Songbirds Press is consistent with best practices.

It was so nice to meet the new members of the Board of Governors, the EFA Chapter coordinators, and those members interested in starting a chapter in their part of the world (shout out Florida!), as well as fellow freelancers from the EFA Discussion List and Social Media. The next EFA conference may be as soon as 2018, and I hope to attend.



Two first-timers talk about attending #AWP16

The Association of Writers and Writing Program’s annual conference and bookfair is a very exciting industry event. It inspires. It disappoints. It overwhelms. It builds. It agitates. It connects a bunch of the diverse people who are in this writing biz. Even though there is no shortage of media posts surrounding this event, I feel compelled to add one. I interviewed two colleagues who attended the event for the first time this year.


Gary is a long-time psychotherapist in private practice. He has two graduate degrees, one of them in literature, but has never formally studied creative writing until he became my client. He writes linked and unlinked fiction, and had never heard of AWP until I suggested he attend the bookfair this year. So far, he only writes privately.


Jen is an emerging young creative nonfiction writer, who has a MA in Creative Writing and three children under 6 at home. Her work has been published in a number of places whose names you would recognize. Jen has a website where you can learn more about her:

TSP: Why did you attend AWP in LA this year?  

Gary: I attended AWP LA to browse the book fair, make connections with other writers, editors, and publishers—and with you, of course, since we had never met in person. Also to catch as many panel discussions as possible that would 1) contain didactic content, especially in the areas of short fiction, LGBTQ fiction, memoir and other forms of nonfiction, and 2) provide guidance and information about getting my work in print, particularly in LGBTQ-friendly publications.

Jen: I had wanted to attend AWP since I first learned about it in grad school, but due to financial viability and familial obligations, was unable to do so until now. For years, I was the person stuck at home, following Twitter feeds, and reading AWP blogs. This year, everything came together. It’s nice to join the larger writing community as a sentient, flesh and blood person, rather than simply words on the screen. Computers are great, but do not replace a smile, an embrace, or thoughtful conversation with a stranger. 

TSP: What were you hoping to learn at the conference?

G: I was looking to make personal connections, learn of more LGBTQ-friendly publications, and benefit from the panel discussions.

J: I recently started a large essay project, so I hoped that the conference would help kickstart my project and motivate me to get some real work done on it. Listening to and discussing writing with other writers creates a sort of delicious frenzy that I wanted to take advantage of. Plus, there were must-attend panels and amazing keynotes. I also wanted reconnect with friends I hadn’t seen in a long time, meet the writers I’d corresponded with online, and thank the journals and editors that had published my work.

TSP: What were your favorite panels (please tell me about up to three) and what did you enjoy about them?

G: Reimagining Literary Spaces [F199] and Story as Survival [F235]: I liked the information about current LGBTQ fiction and nonfiction, LGBTQ-friendly publications, and the political/diversity challenges within the literary/publishing world encountered by authors, and also by publications open to diverse voices. In addition, I learned more about memoir-writing from an LGBTQ perspective, and grew increasingly interested in that form of writing, as a result. Also, Linked and Unlinked, Reimagining Story Writing [S198]: This panel was very helpful to my process of writing linked short fiction.

J: Stories By Design: Visual Narratives [R123]: This was the first panel I attended, and one of my favorites. Hybrid writers are pushing form and language, playing with different medias. Some of the writers were using images, design, maps, drawings, video games and other forms. I think there’s so much exuberance and inspiration to be gained from attending those kinds of panels. You never know how they will enrich your writing. Literary Orphans Presents the Importance of Writing Essays That Change the World [R138]: Writing an essay that can ‘change the world’ seems ambitious and maybe impossible, but I liked the idea that it’s important we try. The all women panel was moderated by Anna March. Some of the things discussed: how personal story can become larger than yourself, writing from a place of authority, and owning your story. I came away from the panel inspired and motivated.

TSP: How much time did you spend at the bookfair? What table/booth at the bookfair was your favorite, and why?  

G: I spent less time than I would have liked, but I visited fifteen booths or more and browsed many others. Favorites: Under the Gum Tree, Narrative, LA Review (The Offing), Solstice, Slice, Lambda Literary, James Franco Review, Ascent, and others.

J: I probably spent three to four hours in the book fair each day. And it was time well spent, despite always thinking, “Oh, I’m missing this panel or that reading.” But there’s so much awesome at AWP, the feeling is inevitable. I couldn’t pick a favorite, though I did enjoy the Iron Horse booth which had a cool little horse race you could compete in for prizes. My favorites were the ones where I knew the people behind the table, and the journals that published my work. It was great being able to say, ‘thank you.’

TSP: Did you make any direct connections in support of your writing and/or publication?

G: I did make several good connections. I had a great chat with Paul Lisicky. He is very accessible and down to earth. He told me to reach out to him for possible submissions to his short fiction review.  As to publications on my list, [I’ve added] Solstice, Narrative, Slice, The Offing, and Under the Gum Tree. Others, too. I also have a better idea of which stories to submit, which to continue revising, and which to skip for now. They are all my babies: which to chose, which to neglect?

J: Yes, I did receive some offers to submit my work to places, and that of course, was appreciated–if you can differentiate yourself from the slush pile in any way, that’s handy. Still, I try to keep in mind that when it comes down to it, a successful writing career has less to do with networking and more to do with the work I create. You can shake every hand at AWP, get invitations from every editor, but if the writing isn’t good enough, it doesn’t matter. That’s why when I do meet people professionally, I’m more interested in connecting with them as individuals. It’s difficult to do, and I know not everyone has the time, energy or the inclination, but that connection is much more worthwhile to me.

TSP: If geography and resources came together right, would you consider attending a future AWP?

G: I would certainly consider attending in the future, but would try to arrange to be there for the entire conference.

J: Absolutely. Professionally, the opportunities the AWP conference provides are unlimited. You might find a publication or press that would be a great fit for your writing, or meet someone you want to collaborate on a project with. Writing can be a lonely business, so it’s wonderful to have a reason to gather now and again with the writing community, if only for support and encouragement.

TSP: What do you know now about the conference that you wish you’d have known going in? 

G: That there is too much to do and learn, and too many folks to meet, in two days!

J: Although countless blogs warned me, I wish I had known how mentally exhausted I would be by the last day of the conference. The first day, I shook hands, smiled, made witty conversation. By the last day, I wandered around the book fair, numb, and struggling to engage. I was zoned out at the booth of a well-known publication (I won’t say which one) when a man said my name in greeting. It was the editor for said well-known publication. We shook hands and he introduced himself. With poor eye contact, I mumbled, “I know who you are,” and kind of wandered away. My prepared canned response should have been: “I’m a subscriber. I appreciate your publication and the work you do. Thanks.” Exit. 

Thank you so much for your thoughtful responses, Jen and Gary. And, hey—no regrets! There’s always next year.

#AWP15 Rundown & Wrapup

No #AWP attendee can do a rundown of the event without talking about the goings-on outside of the conference center. Offsite, I enjoyed the company of crowds at The Loft party, had a terrible drink but was in good company at the Rain Taxi party, thoroughly enjoyed our successful Under the Gum Tree reading at Mason’s Barre (with at least 40 attendees!), and finished up with Phantom Drift’s fabulist reading. Phew! What a whirlwind. Can’t wait for LA 2016.

#AWP reading
UTGT writers at the AWP15 reading

But now it’s time to get back down to earth, where I am working with some amazing writers doing revision.

Rebecca McClanahan, during panel S236: Narrative, Lyric, Hybrid: Crafting Essay Collections into Books, talked about the process of “deep and violent revision” that must happen for writers when they are designing a book. I noted that phrase, because it illuminates the pain and difficulty of the process of making something ready to go out and stand on its own in the world. (The panel also featured Renee D’Aoust, Peter Grandbois, Patrick Madden and Phillip Lopate, each of whom talked about how they assembled their collections.) Her phrase brought to mind being under the earth, where the roots of living things are.

In my capacity as editor, I know that working in our own pieces can sometimes feel like ditch-digging. Having an editor point out areas to be mined can feel like too much. I am always working towards making sure my writer-clients feel as little pain as possible during the process. To this end, we read other writers’ work and have conversations within the framework of those branches, listening to the rustle of the leaves/the language. And it is through the eager consumption of the sweet fruit other writers have borne that our own growth becomes less bitter.

Back to it.

#AWP15 Nonfiction panel

#AWP15 Rundown, part 2: Nonfiction

Janna Marlies Maron, the Executive Editor/Publisher of the literary non-fiction and visual arts magazine Under the Gum Tree, and I (Senior Editor) attended and stopped by to chat with the many writers and publishers of creative non-fiction at #AWP15.

#AWP15 Nonfiction panelWe attended panel F119: Do you Believe in Magic? Truth and Illusion in Creative Nonfiction, with Sy Safransky and Krista Bremer from The Sun, Stephen Elliot, Patricia Foster, and Lee Martin, each of whom brought his/her own way of looking at the issue of that invisible line between fiction and creative non-fiction. My takeaway from that panel? This genre is unique in its moral complexity. “Truth” is a personal matter; take any event and listen to five different participants’ versions of it, and you’ll know this to be a fact. We rely on a fallible memory to say what is the truth. We bring certain facts to the truth and we interrogate these facts in order to find our personal truth. This distinction is important, to me. Because a lot of what I see in the Gum Tree queue is marked by the writer’s inability to actually know what the story is beneath the story- they have put up “facts” of an event but failed to see their “truth.” They have that dislocation of emotion, have been unwilling to see what is really going on. And that examination and what happens when a writer realizes the truth of his or her experience is what I want to read about when I read #CNF.

But there are some things that a writer is not allowed to exaggerate, conflate, dramatize. And depending on the sub-genre of nonfiction, the contract the writer establishes with the reader looks different, has different rules. The reader expects these rules, however established, to be followed.

#AWP15 Hybrid nonfictionAlong the same lines, I attended S119: The Bump and Grind of Meaning: Intuition and Formal Play in Hybrid Nonfiction, a panel assembled by the staff of Passages North, Northern Michigan University’s yearly lit mag. The contributor/panelists talked about textual play, an “interpretive funhouse.” Caleb Curtiss said, as writers, they have “done something with language to tell about something real.” It was non-fiction but not at all essay. In a highlight, Jenny Boully read “Totally,” her piece unravelling music videos. It wasn’t quite flash fiction, not quite prose poetry. What was it? This panel argued that it is okay not to quite know.

At Panel S286: The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing but Your Speculations: The Use of Speculation and Other Imaginative Techniques in Creative Nonfiction, I was reminded of some important stuff, including the fact that to speculate means to examine, so much of the evening news is informed speculation, and we live in a state of constant speculation in order to live our lives. Any story a writer writes is created because whatever pre-existing version of the event the writer is writing about is somehow insufficient. This drives the narrator and it focuses the narrative. It is built on the speculation that there is something else to be learned from the story. This was the last panel of the conference, and I confess, I didn’t make it through all the way to the end.

2015 San Francisco Writers’ Conference Rundown

editorial freelancersGetting back to SFWC after a couple of years away was quite enjoyable for me. Representing the Editorial Freelancers Association at a table there with EFA colleague Chris Rose (we also went to graduate school together and interned at the same literary agency), we talked with conference attendees about how an editor might be able to help them with their current writing projects.
One particularly memorable conversation was with a woman who mentioned that her website content and blogs often fall short when it comes to simple proofreading. She was extremely receptive to the idea that for just a little money she could hire someone to proofread her content before she puts it out there to represent her business. If only I could get the ear of restaurant owners about their menus!!
I attended just one conference session. It was “Creating a Marketing Plan for your Novel” presented by Cynthia Frank. I came away with a better understanding of how brick and mortar bookstores and libraries discover what they put on their shelves, and why it is still important not to have Create Space™ be the publisher of your book. (The right thing to do if you’re self pubbing is to create your own publishing brand. You can look back at my posts from 2012 and 2013, and also the story of this client to learn about the right way to self-publish.)
Speaking of the right way to self-publish, I had an opportunity to catch up with the marvelous Carla King of Self-Pub Boot Camp and the Self-Pub Boot Camp Guide for Authors, 3rd edition (which I downloaded for free just last week!). She is such a neat woman who is very generous with her wealth of experiences and knowledge and it’s always a pleasure to see her. I had the opportunity to present at her boot camp once and hope to be able to do so again.
It was also fun to see the many SFWC regulars with whom I worked in prior years and missed last year (too much on my plate) and the year before (broken from a bike accident). Until next time…


AWP Boston 2013, take aways from the panels

Using Careless Speech for Careful Writing. Peter Elbow’s new book, Vernacular Eloquence: What Speech Can Bring to Writing, was the impetus for this Day One 9 am panel. Elbow talked about intonation units in speech and how the musicality of these intonation units can be harnessed to create beautiful and effective language. Intonation units, he explained, can be used during the late revision stage to “produce strong careful prose.” This strategy is presented on his handout:

Take every sentence or longer passage and read it aloud well, lovingly, but looking for how to improve it. Keep fiddling with it till it feels right in the mouth and sounds right in the ear. In short, don’t use any conceptual knowledge about what makes for good sentences. Use only the mouth and the ear to guide you.

Strong writers, he concluded, harbor no prejudice against spoken language; on the contrary— they are able to hear and feel (in the mouth) the frequent superiority of spoken discourse over written.

Application:  For me, this rang true and played well with several conversations I have been having with myself and others. I am working with a woman on her memoir, and we are maintaining much of her African-American urban patterns and vernacular. It is her story, her life, and while my intern and I were careful to “clean up” anything that might be embarrassing to her on a “correctness” level, it is important to the integrity of her story not to clean it up too much.  Also, I recently began reading Neil Young’s autobiography, which I obtained from a friend (not in the business) who insisted that the musician had no editor.  Well, that speaks volumes for whomever over there at Penguin’s Blue Rider Press had that task, (I know it was someone!) which, based on the beautifully circular, occasionally stream of consciousness design of this work, was extremely complicated.  That Young’s voice- or what the reader could believe was his voice- was maintained throughout, is a thing of beauty.

Thursday night was the VIDA prom at Daisy Buchanan’s on Newbury Street. If you don’t know VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, you should. Cheryl Strayed (and others) read, but the audio was terrible at the bar and I couldn’t hear a thing.

On Day 2, I attended Purpose and Practical in Historical Writing at 9 am, with Zachary Lazar, Emily Barton, Peter Ho Davies, and others. This was a wonderful panel and I learned a ton, not the least of which is that I must read Sway, Lazar’s 2008 Little Brown release. Writing historical fiction is all about creative acts of imaginative empathy, the panelists emphasized. As writers, we must find a personal route into the character, make them feel more available, and like all writing, it is about occupying the other. So how true to the historical record need you be? True enough so as not to remove the reader from the fictional dream. The verifiable facts combined with the imagination make the character come to life for a reader. If a reader knows the rules you’ve created, then you can play fast and loose with the facts.

Day 2, at 1:30 I found myself at Editors as Readers as Writers~ a different kind of reading presented by Fourth Genre, an uber cool non-fiction magazine. The magazine’s editors read their own written responses to the pieces they had acquired for the magazine. It was here that I heard and fell in love with “the taco-Tuesday guy,” Michigan writer Richard Hackler. His voice and pacing and of course the attention to language, the effective way he used repetition… very impressive. I did not flinch paying the special AWP rate of $18 for the fall 2012 issue that contains his piece “Come with me to Taco Tuesday.” I hope I’ll be seeing more of his work. If non-fiction is his bag, perhaps he’ll submit to Under the Gum Tree.

The last panel I attended on this second day was Write Short, Think Long: Exploring the Craft of Writing Flash Nonfiction: a panel with Brevity’s Dinty W. Moore, the wonderful Sue Silverman (who I first heard at AWP Denver 2010), Judith Kitchen, who literally wrote the books on flash non-fiction, and others. It was inspired, at least in part, by the release of Rose Metal Press’ new release, edited by Moore, The Field Guide to Writing Flash Nonfiction. What does digression, so important to a longer piece, look like in a piece that doesn’t go much longer than 750 words? There must be associative connections, a double exposure in each sentence— the voice of innocence and the voice of experience compressed. The images must convey the totality of experience.  I enjoyed the discussion of the second person in a flash non-fiction piece: It is a disguised I, also an epistolary form, a way of addressing the reader, and this is what I found new and interesting— a way to avoid sounding like you’re delivering a eulogy of the subject.

At happy hour, I cruised over to Bukowski’s for a Belgian beer. The beer hit the spot and seemed an appropriate venue but, honestly, I don’t think the man would be caught dead at the place. Dinner at the Trident Book Store and Cafe… what’s not to like? Well, the falafel (it was rather like a hockey puck), but it’s a cool indie bookstore (the breakfast was better).

Creative Nonfiction Editors Explain Logistical Challenges, at 9 am the final morning, helped to remind me that an editor is a mediator who helps the writer put his or her best foot forward. The reason a non-fiction editor includes fact checking as part of a copy edit is because they want both the writer and the magazine not to look foolish. You don’t want to jolt the reader out of the experience.

In Changing the Sheets: How Best to Get Sex on the Page, four writers read sex scenes from their books. They were very different from each other, and after a Bloody Mary lunch, extremely entertaining. How often is a sex scene really about sex? When does vulgar make sense? All of these questions were raised, and no clear answer was ever given, as it seemed the panelists intended to have us answer them for ourselves. I most enjoyed the “panel’s designated prude,” Chris Bachelder.  His theory was that guilt and shame are the existential bits of sex, and the aim should be to defamiliarize the action, to complicate it. In literary fiction, there has to be a balance between psychology and anatomy so that it isn’t sentimentalism and it isn’t porn. The stifled want is way better than the sex in a literary work, they suggested. A takeaway message: A sex scene must always advance a plot. And panels are better after a Bloody Mary.

Shadow Show: The Influence of Ray Bradbury, during the last session of the final day, was a panel inspired by a new anthology of the same name produced by panelists Sam Weller and Mort Castle. Alice Hoffman was also on this panel, and she delivered some lovely one-liners, including “Stories are really the only thing that matter,” and the recognition that “stories can save readers.” The panelists reflected on how Bradbury influenced them and other writers and how he fought against category and crossed genre. He “refused to be bound by the sales department.” He is credited for telling other writers: your first audience should be you. My take away:

Jump off the cliff and build your wings on the way down.



Memorable moments from AWP ’13 Boston #1

Peter and Janna AWP'13

I took this shot at the AWP booth with friends Janna Marlies Maron (writer of Bold is Beautiful, and publisher of Under the Gum Tree) and Peter Grandbois (author of Nahoonkara, winner of the Gold Medal in literary fiction in ForeWord Magazine’s Book of the Year Awards for 2011, and the forthcoming short story collection Domestic Disturbances —Subito Press 2013).

Today’s the last day of the conference, and I feel like there’s still so much to do! I never got my hug from Stephen Elliott over at the Rumpus booth, GOT MY HUG-at the top of the escalator! Thanks Stephen (hugs ARE analog) I did enjoy a chat with the Rumpus poetry editor, who was hawking Write Like a motherfucker mugs. I met up with Red Hen Press author, Kelly Davio, then enjoyed a chat with a novelist I worked with over at AHLM in 2009. I picked up my candy cigarettes from Smokelong Quarterly where they had spent an unbelievable amount of time cutting and pasting (in the old school sense) stories onto candy boxes! That’s a labor of love.IMG_0148

Just had a Bloody Mary with Craig Bueltell

It’s fun, if a bit overwhelming. And I don’t want this to turn into some kind of namedropping exercise.

I am taking notes and will post relevant details of the panels after I’ve had time to decompress.


AWP Boston On Your Mark…

You might think I’m exaggerating when I say I spent two hours reviewing the AWP events schedule to decide what I want to try to get to–on Thursday. But I’m not. I figure at this pace it will take me six hours just to settle on where to be over the three days at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston. Two hours down, and I still haven’t figured out when I’ll have time to eat and when I’ll be hanging out at the Under the Gum Tree table in the exhibition hall (come look for me!).

It’s damn hard to decide! Writing craft with Peter Elbow, writing craft with Debra di Blasi, writing craft with Carole Maso? Or publishing with JA Tyler? A reading from Georgia Review or A Capella Zoo?  Incredible variety. Do I have to pick an iteration of myself? An identity for the duration in order not to feel schizophrenic?

Have you writers seen this short fiction contest?

I get The Kenyon Review on my Kindle and think it’s a really cool lit mag. This is a group of folks I’m hoping to connect with at AWP in Boston because they’re doing some innovative and inspiring things, like sending Weekend Reads so I can re-read stories they’ve sent me before or read ’em for the first time if I never got to ’em. They have beautiful covers and photographs, not unlike Under the Gum Tree, but they have fiction and poetry too. And they have stories read out loud, a lot of them, on KR Online. And the magazine has seventy four years of storied existence. Ha.

For you readers out there, you should grab an issue and read it. For you writers out there, you should grab a copy, read it, then consider submitting a story to this contestKR Logo