Two Songbirds Press

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writing contest, CNF, submission opportunity

May 18, 2018
by queenofbirdpress

Submit your CNF to this contest. Theme: with(out) pretending

So, I’m the managing editor for this little creative nonfiction (CNF) lit mag called Under the Gum Tree. We’ve published hundreds of artists and writers, and I manage a small staff of readers and editors. Together, we read what is commonly known as “the slush pile,” a less-than-kind term for those unsolicited pieces of writing that brave people send to us in the hopes that their work can appear in our pages. It does pile up. But somehow, we’re always seeking more.

Right now, we have a contest going on. The theme: With(0ut) pretending. Here’s the 411:

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines “pretend” as “to give a false appearance of being, possessing, or performing” and both “to make believe” and “to claim, represent, or assert falsely.” There’s a lot of pretending going on these days—and a lot people standing up without pretense, too. We want to see your best writing that converses with these ideas and more, as they manifest in current culture and/or in a moment in collective or personal history.

Tell us your true story of experiencing someone else’s pretending. Or take a hard look at how we sometimes treat others: Tell us your true story of pretending to be someone, or something, you were not or are not, an act you got away with (or didn’t) and which may have cost you (and/or cost someone else). Tell us your own story, and/or the true story of someone you know, and how that story has affected you. Under the Gum Tree wants your very best work, articulated in any form (straight-ahead narrative, lyric, modular, etc.), that invite us as readers and people into a space, experience, examination or contemplation that brings us closer to our raw, complex and varied humanity/ies and challenges us to deeper authenticity with ourselves and fuller empathy toward others.

Learn more about the contest here:

under the gum tree, cnf, literary magazine, janna maron,

April 8, 2018
by queenofbirdpress

The obligatory AWP post: Tampa, 2018

Attending the AWP conference gets easier every year. What was once overwhelming is now energizing. Obviously, some of this is experience: I know not to try to do everything; I pack nutrition and fluids in (peanut butter sandwiches, yogurt, water); I plan an activity away from the conference one night (NHL hockey!); I don’t sweat it if I miss touching bases with someone or if a visit is cut short. But more than all of that, I have accepted myself as someone who belongs behind that table at the book fair. Under the Gum Tree is a fantastic magazine— gorgeous to look at, and, yes, carefully curated. A handful of us take our time respectfully reading and replying to every submission we receive, and that number grows every year. It took six years to get to this point.

I also had a more singular focus this year: All Gum Tree, all the time. In the past, I was divided. I set up some of my time to improve my fiction writing craft, some of my time to improve my freelance editorial and business skills, and some of my time with the magazine. By using other opportunities outside of this conference to build in those other spaces, I freed up this occasion to be more focused. Scattered energy is overwhelming, whereas focused energy is energizing. There you go.

Of course, I found great new books to read. And of course, I met many new people.

awp18, d. gilson, under the gum tree, lit mag, CNF, janna maron

At the event: Elayne Gayle, Janna Marlies Maron, D. Gilson, and me.

The thing I enjoyed the most this year was meeting some of the magazine’s contributors. I had varying degrees of involvement with each of them and their pieces pre-publication, in some cases helping with a re-write and in other cases simply requesting a photo. It was amazing to meet the people behind the stories. Janna and I both posted pictures of these meetings to our Instagram feeds.

I attended a number of CNF panels, and worked with #AWP18 Twitter more successfully than last year, inviting panelists and other attendees to our Friday night CNF happy hour event.

The reading this year included three other magazines: River Teeth (have you read their “beautiful things”?), Hippocampus, and Fourth Genre, and about 130 people attended for a 90-minute reading of true stories. As always, I made the opening remarks and introduced the editors, and even felt pretty comfortable doing that this year.

At some of the other panels I gave out information about this year’s contest, something we started doing three years ago hoping to bring in a more diverse (in experience, and geography, as well as race) writers to submit their stories. Our first year’s contest was (un)seen/(un)heard. The second, (dis)empowered. This year’s contest theme is with(out) pretending. We are working hard to grow so that we support many voices, including those that have been marginalized. This is an exciting time for hearing the human story.

What’s your story? I can help you tell it. Visit my Contact Us page (or my Wix site) and fill out the Editorial Services Survey; it gives us a great place to start.


September 12, 2017
by queenofbirdpress

Just talking about the season

So, it is fall. The teachers and the kids are back at school. If you’re lucky enough to be a student this time of year, you are looking at so many opportunities for growth and connection. I’m still in contact with my favorite teacher from high school. He taught math. Go figure. I didn’t love high school. College and grad school is where I really thrived—and I kind of still want to be there. My spirit age is 19. I sat in the second row, was always prepared for class, engaged with the material—pretty much your cliché first-born English major.

At least once, I was so moved by a piece of literature I cried during the class discussion (Thank you, Kate Chopin).

Between undergraduate and graduate school I taught high school for a few years. I had the opportunity to get to know some great kids, and though ultimately standing in front of the classroom was not for me (I loved planning the lessons, but discipline not-so-much), I wouldn’t trade meeting those amazing people. Some of these students I am still in contact with. They are like thirty-something now. Crazy.

We have just sent the October 2017 issue of Under the Gum Tree to the printer. For this issue, I wrote the Editor’s Letter. I talk about this teaching and learning. Seven of the pieces included in the issue have been crafted by teachers. There is also a story by a 16-year-old high school student. The other writers and artists have figured out a way to earn a living writing and art making. Nice work if you can get it. All of them have shared a bit of their life with us, and we are indebted to them for it.

So many people work so hard for so little.

These days, I am a freelance editor, mom, life-partner, and volunteer, trying to help the world move forward. It can be hard. My kid has almost reached my spirit age, and when I see him go out sometimes it’s hard not to try and live through him vicariously.

One thing about academic life is that, contrary to the world outside of it, autumn is a time of starting over, clean slates, bright sheaves of paper, sharpened pencils, free-flowing ink, crisp index cards, meeting new people, forming new bonds, learning new things. It’s one reason why, despite the shortening days and the impending cold weather, I still manage to be invigorated by the season.

I’m on Twitter and IG now too: @sacramentorobin. Come say hi.

August 2, 2017
by queenofbirdpress

Studying English for a career as a writer?

As we begin to gear up for the new school year, I’m thinking about studies and majors and careers. I’ve encountered quite a few wonderful young people recently who share my interest in language.

Say you are in high school or just starting out on a professional path post high school, and you really enjoy English and writing, and like the idea that you might be a writer some day.  Obviously, if you want to be a novelist or a poet, the best thing for you to do is read everything you can get your hands on, and just start writing.

And if college is in the plans (and I think it is an experience not to be missed, whether you do it right away, with a brief delay- as I did, or as a returning* student), I have a proposal to ensure your financial comfort: Study something in addition to English and writing, so you can have something to write about.

Famously, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Michael Crichton were both physicians. Alice Walker was a civil rights activist; Haruki Murakami, a bar owner; Raymond Carver, a textbook editor. John Grisham, a lawyer; Sue Grafton, a screenwriter;  William S. Burroughs was an exterminator; Harper Lee, a ticket agent for Eastern airlines, but this was a job, not a career, and the same can be said of many other writers whom I admire or whom I don’t admire but who sell a lot of books.

A diversity of life experiences and also subject-area knowledge provides you with a broader base from which to draw as you compose your novel. You meet more kinds of people (not just English majors).

And as another bonus, all fields, all trades, all professions need writers, if you think about it. So if you are a scientist-writer, or a physician-writer, or a psychologist-writer, or a computer tech writer, or a game theorist writer, or a veterinarian-writer, then you have an amazing niche market and can write or edit a variety of materials in a field you enjoy while you are shopping your novel.

My two cents.


oral history, biography series, proofreader Robin Martin

November 11, 2016
by queenofbirdpress

Remembering Hoboken

Though I’ve lived in California pretty much since graduating from Rutgers College in 1993, anyone who knows me recognizes that you can take the girl out of Jersey, but you can’t take the Jersey out of the girl. 

I do make it a point to keep one foot there. For the family, for the food, for the hockey team (Go Devils!), for the “cultcha.” Although– give me California climate, grocery stores, and lifestyle any day.

It’s my Jersey roots that perhaps make me so gratified to be invited to be a part of the Hoboken Historical Society’s Oral History Project Vanishing Hoboken chapbook series. I’ve been working with series editor Holly Metz and designer Ann Marie Manca for a number of years now to keep stories of a working class industrial Hoboken from being forgotten as the city changes.

And Hoboken has changed. I’m not going to say for better or for worse. It will always be Jersey.

oral history, biography series,  proofreader Robin Martin

Historical Biographies
Proofreader: Robin Martin

EFA Conference, NYC, editing, Sacramento Editing

September 6, 2016
by queenofbirdpress

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.



editor sacramento editor

August 10, 2016
by queenofbirdpress

Supporting the community

editor sacramento editorIn 2009, when I joined the ranks of full-time freelancers, I discovered the Editorial Freelancers’ Association, an education and support organization for editing/writing/publishing professionals. I wanted an affiliation, and I needed to learn. Not long after that,  fellow EFA member Susan Herman and I started a Northern California chapter of the organization.

I remember at an early NorCal meeting, a participant (not an EFA member) asked what was in it for him. Were we going to generate business for one another through some kind of referral percentage system? How would we deal with competition among our ranks? This guy wanted to know how we could share information without giving away our own business. How would he wind up with more money in his pocket when he left our monthly meetings?

He didn’t get it.

Increasing skills & helping others understand what we do

Instead of looking myopically at how much money we will see going into our pocket in the short term, consider that building a network of professionals in the same field and discussing best practices may be the best way to support our community, increase understanding of what it is exactly that those in our field can do for a variety of clientele:  a publisher, yes, but also a small business, an author, a tech company, an insurance lender, etc.

Not all editors are the best fit for any given project, and neither are they necessarily in direct competition with one another. In just a small group, like the NorCal EFA chapter for example, we could have an academic textbook editor, a scientific journal editor, a business blog writer, a health ghostwriter, and two or three fiction editors. One of the fiction editors focuses on genre (sci fi/fantasy) fiction, the other on short stories and literary fiction.  While it is true that many of the required skills do overlap, and some of us do more than one thing well, experienced editors often have a niche in which they specialize. (Maybe it is related to subject, i.e. “music”; maybe style guide, i.e. “APA” ) Every one of us is likely to bring different experiences, personalities, policies, and price structures to the playing field.

Seven years later, Susan still has the Nor Cal EFA chapter going strong, and I am the organization’s International Chapter Development Chairperson, helping to facilitate the growth of chapters in order to increase the skills and exposure for EFA members. And I’m not afraid to link to her freelance-editor site from my freelance-editor blog.

Has supporting the editorial freelance community in this way put money directly in my pocket? I’ll say it has, because I believe it, but I have no stats to prove it. However, I am decidedly richer. Sharing, learning, being a part of a supportive community is valuable not only for me as a business owner, but also as a human being.

April 30, 2016
by queenofbirdpress

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.

April 18, 2016
by queenofbirdpress

AWP16: Attending the Writing Industry’s Largest Event

In advance of The Association of Writers and Writing Program’s annual conference and bookfair, you can find serious tips and tricks for surviving it, and humorous explorations, such as this field guide. During it, you can follow literally thousands of attendees and exhibitors on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Even I did a bit of #awp16 @undergumtree tweeting this year.

sacramento editor, under the gum tree, Robin Martin AWP

And following the conference, of course, you can find everyone’s rundown of the panels they attended, the hands they shook, the swag they carried home and the colds they caught.

It is a very exciting industry event and everyone has something to say about it. It inspires. It disappoints. It overwhelms. It builds. It agitates. It connects a bunch of the diverse people who are in this writing biz. This year, over 12,000 of us.
This, my fifth AWP Conference, involved no air travel, fewer expenses, time in my comfortable (hybrid) vehicle with audio books, and lovely weather. The Under the Gum Tree/Fourth Genre event was a tremendous success by all accounts. While at the book fair, I was able to meet many writers that Gum Tree has published, prospective contributors and potential editorial assistants for Gum Tree, as well as current and former clients of Two Songbirds Press, colleagues from the Editorial Freelancers Association, and editors of other presses who have inspired me.

Even though there is no shortage of media posts surrounding this event, I feel compelled to add one.

I thought I’d change it up a bit and instead of writing about my experiences (although I did have a great time and am writing —inspired by a panel I attended), I asked some questions of two colleagues who attended the event for the first time this year.

Gary: 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:

I am looking forward to receiving their responses and sharing them here!