Teaching Brevity: A Little Bit of Brevity by My Side

September 22, 2017 § 7 Comments

lisa2bromeo2b2-2015by Lisa Romeo

Do I teach creative nonfiction by incorporating Brevity? You may as well ask if I teach writing that involves using words.

I teach across a range of models and levels – undergraduates  (on-campus CNF elective); MFA students (all-online program); CNF writers of all skill levels (In-person regional workshops and classes); private writing clients (in person and/or online). Brevity is included in all of those scenarios.

Often, as soon as I mention Brevity, I see heads nodding, or get Yes! Yes! on-screen messages. But just as often, I encounter blank stares or “Never read it” notes. Either way, I’m pleased. Those who already know Brevity will, I hope, be exposed to different pieces and other craft essays than they might have found on their own. And for those who have not yet explored Brevity, I get to play enthusiastic tour guide, pointing out not major current highlights and treasures from the archives.

I have my stand-bys of course, pieces I’ve loved since I first read them, those that to me are excellent, specific examples of craft, form, voice, tone, or structure. Every few months, however, I challenge myself to dig deeper into the archives and read more pieces I probably didn’t have time for the first time they appeared. Or, a student will ask me a question or be struggling with a draft, and I’ll dimly recall a Brevity piece that may perfectly illustrate a way forward.

When that happens, and I’m off in search of a piece, it may take me a few minutes or it may take me an hour or more, because I get lost, distracted by so many shiny things I haven’t yet read. I kind of like the latter better. What’s not to like about reading—again or for the first time—such good work? Finding gems I didn’t even know were there?

Sometimes, it’s just a matter of sending off a Brevity link to the student with a few notes about why I suggest the reading. But not too many notes; I want the student writer to read without too much expectation, and just see what happens.Often, I copy and paste a full piece (and link) over into WORD, make a pdf for future teaching use, sometimes as a reading assignment followed by discussion. Always, I add the new piece’s title and link into a running list I keep of pieces that illustrate great writing—and I include notes so I can easily remember why I tagged it: one basic major reason, and additional notes maybe on content, take-away, author, or any backstory I might know.

For example, the notes on Erika Dreifus’s “Before Sunrise” readSuperb example of second person. Raises race/privilege issues from white POV. City life/crime. Trauma, injury, assault. She’s pubbed other second-person & a first-person piece on the further events connected to this experience at (links). The “Before Sunrise” narrator is not a young adult, yet the piece always resonates with undergraduates who want to write about difficult life experiences, but are challenged by the exposure of an *I* narrator. Soon after we read and analyze this piece together in class, coupled with a craft lesson on second person, I begin to see second person pieces in which the students not only confront their difficult stories, but have stretched and developed their voices.

For Brenda Miller’s “Ordinary Shoes”—introduced to me by a writer friend (a great benefit of Brevity’s reach)—my note says: Strong example of moving back and forth in time. Object as memory trigger. Nicely done speculative/imaginary scenes between narrator and parent. Nostalgia without sentimentality. Recently, I’ve paired a close reading of this piece with an assignment to sort through old objects for one that elicits strong emotional memories tied to a friend or relative, and then write a reflective story the object spurs.

For “Devotion” by Sarah Lin, my notes say Sensitive writing about someone else w/a disability. Developing secondary character with good details. Narrator grappling w/past behavior—knowing & not wanting to know. An essay that tries to understand something from childhood/teen years. When I teach this, it opens a discussion on what stories we have the right to tell, considerations of how others appear in our nonfiction, and how to convey emotions not by explaining them, but via scene, dialogue, and description.

When possible I encourage students to print out, so that they can do the close reading on paper (though the undergraduates will fight this). I want writers to use highlighters, sticky notes, colored pens, and margin notes as we discuss issues of craft, structure, organization, pacing, rhythm, characters; I want them to put their mark on the page in ways that tie the piece to their own thinking and writerly understanding.

For online students, I will sometimes paste the piece directly into our private discussion forum, and use highlighting, underlining, bold, and my own notes (in a vivid color) to draw attention to what the author has done—and spur discussion about those choices.

One of my goals for CNF writing students is to have them not just read one or two things I’ve directed them to read at Brevity, but to establish their own relationship with the site, to start to think of it as something personal that offers them insight and endless lessons for developing their own craft. I want them to learn to follow their nose, to crawl through the Craft Essays section as well as the featured pieces archive, not just when we’re working together, but going forward, so they can look there to find guidance at various points in their future writing life.

Sometimes, I assign students to browse and locate any two or three craft essays that seem of interest; read them, and then explain: how they might use this newly acquired advice their own in-progress piece(s); what the craft essay brought up for them; whether they either agree or disagree with the craft essay’s points. Sometimes the “disagree” reasons provoke the best class discussions on the topic.

While Brevity is itself a deep, wide, and rich resource, I also want to show writers more of the literary world, using Brevity as a launching pad. So I will often recommend that writers read one particular featured piece at Brevity, then assign them to move from that piece away from Brevity to learn more and read more. How?  Begin with the writer’s bio at their Brevity piece. See where it leads. Visit the writer’s website or blog. Look up the writer’s books, find their other published short works. Then, read. Very often, when writers do this, they begin to talk about and perhaps  begin to understand how a singular piece fits into—or breaks out from—a writer’s larger body of work, typical style, tone, or voice.

I don’t encourage undergraduates to submit to Brevity, though I do hold it up as a future goal for those who seem interested (I give them a list of undergraduate-focused journals instead.) For MFA students and private editing/coaching writers, Brevity often turns up on their own lists of dream-to-be-published-in venues, as it should, and we talk about ways to get there. I encourage them to follow the Brevity blog, to get a glimpse of how CNF writers navigate projects, productivity, writing lives—and then to get more curious about those writers, and go find them in other places around the web or bookstore.

Since I was fortunate to be published in Brevity (“On the Near Side of the Tracks, in the September 2016 special issue on race), on occasion, I’ve taught from this piece, coupling it with the Brevity blog post I wrote which details my writing and submitting process. I do this as a way to break down for others any mystery surrounding how one might get published in a bucket list venue. (Key takeaway: write your brief piece for Brevity, rather than yanking a short section from a longer piece.)

I use my own work not because I think it’s fabulous (though of course I like it!), but because I can answer questions—about narrowing my idea, writing early drafts, revisions, submitting, working with an editor. I also use it to draw them to the other pieces in that special issue on race, as a timely and robust way to explore writing about difficult issues. Many students want to tackle personal experiences around explosive topics and need as many examples as possible of ways to approach them.

I’d need way more words—it wouldn’t be brief!—to talk about how Brevity infiltrates my own creative writing life. But one thing I will mention here—because I like to share it with my students, as an example of  the value of a developing one’s own writing community—is that when time permits, I like to let a Brevity writer know when I’ve read, admired, learned from (and/or taught from) their work. Reaching out this way (via email, Facebook, or Twitter) has led to a few lovely conversations with writers I might not have ordinarily “met,” and further demonstrates the power of a strong online journal like Brevity, to foster connection not only through the original writer’s words, but in ways beyond.

‘Teaching Brevity‘ is a special blog series celebrating the magazine’s 20th Anniversary, edited by Sarah Einstein. Read the other teaching posts here: 1, 2, 4, 5
Lisa Romeo teaches creative nonfiction in the Bay Path University MFA program, at Montclair State University, with The Writers Circle, and privately. Her nonfiction is listed in Notables in Best American Essays 2016, has been nominated for a Pushcart, and appeared in Brevity, Hippocampus, Under the Sun, the New York Times, O The Oprah Magazine, Sweet, Word Riot, River Teeth’s Beautiful Things, Harpur Palate, and many other places. Her memoir, Starting with Goodbye: A Daughter’s Memoir of Love after Loss, will be published by University of Nevada Press in 2018.

The 750 Project: Julio at Large (Revisited)

September 21, 2017 § 2 Comments

750(As part of Brevity’s 20th Anniversary celebration, Guest Editor Shane Borrowman asked past Brevity authors to return to their piece and take on the task of either shortening or expanding it. William Bradley cut his 2010 essay, “Julio at Large” nearly in half. The result is below, followed by William’s reflections on the process.)

By William Bradley

One summer day my dad came home with the newspaper in his hand.  “Do you know this girl?”  We had been in the same homeroom when we were middle school students and had taken ninth grade history together the previous year. “She’s missing,” he said.  “Her parents think she was kidnapped.”

Of course, she hadn’t been. I imagine deep down, we all knew. So when we learned two weeks later that she and her companion—a boy who hadn’t been reported missing—had been charged with indecent exposure, having sex on a beach in Florida, I think many in the town sneered, called her a slut, thought she was damn lucky to not be prosecuted for her sinful behavior.

This was rural West Virginia in the early 90s. Conservative Baptist country. Most everybody knew—just knew—that girls like her were trouble.

I didn’t really “know” this though. I wasn’t a Baptist myself; nor was I a conservative. I was just me—weird, anxious me. I didn’t want to judge her, but I was kind of scared of her. Sex as a concept terrified me; sex on a beach seemed unthinkable.

I didn’t see much of her after she returned. We started our sophomore year in the high school, where the homerooms were not arranged by alphabet and she was no longer taking the same classes those of us who were college-bound were taking. And I moved away that November anyway. Decades later, I would try to look her up online—Facebook, Google, Twitter—but she was gone. Vanished again.

We were never really friends. Now, 25 years later, I just remember us as kids who sat near each other in sixth grade homeroom, kids who giggled sometimes. That, and the last time I recall seeing her, sophomore year when I usually didn’t see her at all. I was walking through the school parking lot one morning, and I saw her standing beside a car, smoking a cigarette, a behavior that was only recently banned. We made eye contact, and I almost said hi to her. But she frowned, narrowed her eyes. Ready, I think, for a fight over whatever I said to her. I just looked down and kept walking.


wbradleyWilliam Bradley’s Thoughts:

It occurs to me only now, over seven years later, that when I wrote “Julio at Large,” I was really attracted to the idea of youthful rebellion, of refusing to follow the rules, of sneering and proclaiming one’s own status as both anti-Christ and anarchist, as Johnny Rotten shrieked (before he became a fan of conservative control once again called Lydon—and honestly, before a lot of parents of “kids these days” were even conceived). I was in my mid-30s and working at a private college that seemed to become more regressive and disdainful of its students on a weekly basis. I think on some level I had begun to romanticize the idea of fighting the power, raging against the machine, or in some other way telling clucking adults with sticks up their asses to mind their own damn business. I knew by then that I was a sell-out and a square, but I was still young enough to have a silent respect for kids who refused to do as they’re told. And in most ways, I still do.

But thinking about Julio all these years later, I wonder if I actually wrote the thing correctly. I mean, it did what I wanted it to do at the time, but when I think about that story as a middle aged man now, I’m struck not by Julio’s coolness, but the cruelty she must have endured. Why did she decide to run away from home? It might have been for fun or passion or something else we’d romanticize. It might also have been something darker—an abusive parent, maybe, or a manipulative older boyfriend who could drive when she couldn’t and must have had an interest in public sex with his 14-year-old girlfriend.

Of course, the goal was never to write her story. I lack the knowledge and the right to claim that I can. My hope was to write the story of my response to what I thought I knew. So in that sense, I know it succeeds. At least partially. Because the truth is, these days I don’t really think of Julio’s coolness—I think of the sadness I imagine she might have lived with. Again, I know very little about her, really. But the memory that comes to my mind now is that final scene in the parking lot. Her obvious anger when she saw me. Although we had never had a hostile exchange, it seemed like she had come to expect cruel confrontation after her return to our town. So rather than think about how cool I thought she was when I was a frightened 14 year old boy, I find myself reflecting more on how sad I think she was—or at least, might have been—now that I’m a 41-year-old man.

William Bradley is the author of Fractals, a collection of personal essays published by Lavender Ink. His creative and scholarly work has appeared in a variety of magazines and journals including SalonThe Mary SueUtne ReaderThe Bellevue Literary ReviewInside Higher EdThe Chronicle of Higher EducationCreative NonfictionBrevityFourth GenrePassages NorthCollege English, and The Missouri Review. William passed away in August 2017 and he is greatly missed.

Teaching Brevity: Joe Mackall’s The Little Girl at the Door

September 20, 2017 § 8 Comments

pgBy Penny Guisinger

My students are arguing. One of them points to a paragraph in the essay  we’ve just read and says, “No, this is reflection, not summary. The author is telling us how he feels.”

The passage reads, “I want nothing more in life at this moment than for this child to leave our home. I don’t want her to return, not ever. I don’t want to care for her. I don’t want to worry about her.”

Another student shakes her head. “No.  This is information he could have showed us in a scene, but he’s telling us instead, so it’s summary.” She runs her fingertip under the words and reads aloud, completely clear that she has this figured out.

I offer my best, most-practiced, most-teacherly nod at this exchange, but the truth is that I don’t care which of them is right, and that’s fortunate because I’m not sure  I even know which one is right because I think, in some ways, they might both be right. What I care about is that they’re having the conversation at all. Further, they’re taking sides and getting upset. While they parry and thrust, I rub my inner hands together in delight. We are here to learn about the building blocks of CNF, but also more.

We’ve just read Joe Mackall’s piece, “The Little Girl at the Door” from the September 2005 issue of Brevity. I’ve taught this essay many times in CNF courses because I love the way the sentences (mostly) break cleanly across the lines (when we can find them) between the tools of scene, summary, and reflection. These terms are abstract until we do a close reading of Mackall together.

Check out the four sentences that open the second paragraph:

Sure enough, it’s the girl from the next street asking if my granddaughter is over. The little shit seems to have a sixth sense about Ellie’s visits. What I hate admitting to myself or anybody else is that I fear this child. The house she lives in screams of too much activity and not enough care.

Four sentences serving up the three tools: scene, summary, reflection, plus one line-straddler, which is part of the lesson. The first sentence is clear action: scene.  The second doesn’t want to be categorized right away. The third? Such a clear example of the reflective voice that it makes the distinction impossible to miss. And the bit that glosses over about what the house screams is a fine example of summary.

It’s the moments when the sentences sit on those blurry lines that can often be squeezed for the pulpiest juice. When the students disagree, and have to mount a defense of their position, they have to get their mouths around these concepts and describe them. What makes something a scene? The verbs? The sensory information? I hold myself back from the fray here and let them argue.

I have a hidden agenda. Getting students’ heads around scene, summary, and reflection is important, yes, but this piece has more important lessons to teach. That sentence about the little shit? I tell them, “It might be some fourth category. It might be summary or scene, but thoroughly filtered through this narrator’s eyes. Just because it reveals something about the narrator doesn’t automatically categorize it solely as reflection.” I pause, watching foreheads crinkle around the table. “In some ways, really, every sentence can and should reflect on the ‘I’ that’s telling the story, right?”

Now, they’re kind of annoyed.

Over and over, students of writing have to confront this terrible reality about our craft: the answer to most questions is “it depends.”  Sentences defy categorization. Narrators are shifty. And – here’s the worst news – narrators and writers do not have the same goals and are, in certain important ways, not always the same people.

“Do you like this narrator?” I ask.

At first, universally, they do not. “He’s mean. He’s judgmental. You’re not supposed to say things like this.” His willingness to be so openly unlikable feels risqué.

This conversation unfolds predictably.  Some student with children or grandchildren puts together enough courage to say, “I understand him.”

Silence. For about ten seconds.

Then others creep onto that same platform, tentatively at first then more firmly. “He just wants to protect his granddaughter. He’s kind of right, you really can’t save everybody.” And, finally, we get to the truth: “I have felt like this, but I’m not proud of it.”

I ask, “Do you think Joe Mackall is proud of this?”

Nobody thinks that. Together, we zero in on this central line: In certain important ways, I’m much less of a person now. This line is the gravity around which the whole piece orbits. I talk about the narrative hand-tip. The pulling back of the curtain. The authorial back-flip required to get there.

At this point, all concerns about which sentences are which things have fallen away. Now we’re talking about the real issue on the table: we’ve moved into a discussion about situation and story, as defined by Gornick. We have moved beyond craft into questions about why we write CNF at all.

I reach for Philip Lopate’s Introduction to the impressive-looking anthology, The Art of the Personal Essay – an introduction I keep in my teacherly hip pocket for this moment. I read two sentences, heavily underlined:

(1) The harvesting of self-contradiction is an intrinsic part of the personal essay form.

(2) If some readers are repelled by a writer’s behavioral contradictions, this is quite all right, because the personal essayist is not necessarily out to win the audience’s unqualified love but to present the complex portrait of a human being.

I have shared similar ideas from minute one of every class, but this is the moment when it sinks in: using the tools we have at hand, we make our work resonate by admitting our complicity in this flawed mess called humanity.

All around the classroom table, heads slowly nod and eyes roam across the printouts of Mackall’s piece.

Class ends, as all classes eventually do, and my students slide their copies of Mackall into backpacks, inside the covers of notebooks, or into computer bags. The course changes – every time – at this moment. Students leave this conversation less content with telling their stories as anecdotes. They want their stories to do that magic trick of lifting off the page, doing the half gainer, flipping inside out, and revealing something complicated about the “I” on the page. They’ve seen it. Deconstructed it. They get it.

‘Teaching Brevity‘ is a special blog series celebrating the magazine’s 20th Anniversary, edited by Sarah Einstein. Read the other teaching posts here (once they are posted) : 1, 3, 4, 5
Penny Guisinger is the author of Postcards from Here. Her work has appeared in Fourth Genre, River Teeth, Guernica, the Brevity blog, Solstice Literary Magazine, and others. Pushcart nominated, a Maine Literary Award winner, and twice named a notable in Best American Essays, she is the director of Iota: Conference of Short Prose and an assistant editor at Brevity. Penny is a graduate of the Stonecoast MFA Program.

The 750 Project: Icky Papa Died

September 19, 2017 § 5 Comments

750(As part of Brevity’s 20th Anniversary celebration, Guest Editor Shane Borrowman asked past Brevity authors to return to their piece and take on the task of either shortening or expanding it. Shane took the challenge himself, cutting his brief essay “Icky Papa Died” from 2009 down by more than 200 words. The result is below, followed by Shane’s reflection on the process.)

by Shane Borrowman

I was relieved when my great grandfather died.

I learned, a year too late to celebrate, that he’d been buried beside my great grandmother—in a grave unmarked and expected to remain that way.

No one would spring for a tombstone.

A horse-thief-turned-burglar-turned-forger-turned-rapist probably can’t expect better, even if he is family.

The last time I saw him I was twelve, and he was standing stolidly in his white gravel driveway, asking, “Are you mad at me? Your mother sure is.” I nodded, dropping an armload of brightly colored books into the trunk of my parents’ red Volkswagen.

He was remarrying. No one was anything but mad at him.

Thirty years after I nodded my answer, I discover his prison records.

“His picture,” I say over dinner and around a mouthful of steamed broccoli, “was right on top of the file. Didn’t look anything like him.”

Elizabeth shrugs, doesn’t point out that the picture is of a thin boy, while the great grandfather I remember was sixty-five and fat and liked to push his thumb into the bottom of pieces of chocolate to glimpse the filling, leaving a sweet smelling cardboard container of violated candies no one would eat.

John is three, sits to my left, knows I’m going to make him eat broccoli before he leaves the table. As I speak of family and criminal records, he furrows his brow and asks, “What papa?”

A simple grammatical structure for a complicated question.  I chew, consider answers. John can’t grasp that my father is his grandfather; this discussion is already nothing but abstract genealogy.

Elizabeth steps in: “This papa died a long time ago.”

“He got dead?”

I nod.  Because I’m an English teacher, I almost never correct my son’s grammar, even when it’d be a good way to change the subject. John immediately shares his new knowledge across the table with his twin sister, leaning from side to side to see around the collection of salts and spices that serves as a centerpiece: “Hey, Sam! The Icky Papa died!”

I notice that “got dead” has become “died” and that my great grandfather has gone from being an abstraction to being an icky. He was icky, yet my instinct is to defend him.

“Honey,” I might say, “We don’t call people icky. That’s not nice.”

I can’t correct John because he’s right and because I smiled when I learned that Chips was dead.

“Honey, eat your broccoli.”

At bedtime, I spin the story of Terry Troll, bridge builder in my Kingdom of NeverEverWas.  John stops me: “Daddy? The Icky Papa died?” His voice is filled with anguish that hurts deep in my chest.


“Were you mad?”

My knees pop as I stand. “No, I wasn’t mad.”

John rolls to his side, faces the wall, falls asleep with his arm over the battered orange and green cover of Go Dog Go. I watch, feet planted solidly on the graying bedroom carpet

Shane Borrowman’s Thoughts:

In May of 2009, I published “Icky Papa Died” in Brevity 30.  It wasn’t the first text I’d ever written about my great grandfather, but it was the strongest over time, an essay that still chokes me up when I read it aloud (most recently at a Spoken Word Festival in Dillon, Montana).  That original essay came in, by my count, at 704 words.

I’m shocked, in retrospect, that I didn’t cram in exactly 750 words.  I write short…but I don’t tend to be a writer who can resist one more line of description, one more adjective or adverb, when the space exists for it.  Maybe a new sentence fragment.

Late in 2016, as the contributors who join me here worked, I returned to “Icky Papa Died” with the intention to halve the text, the intention to cut those 704 words down to a slim and trim 352.  To drop the middleweight down to a welterweight without losing any punching power or stamina.

I failed.

I could only bring “Icky Papa Died” down to 491 words—a reduction of only 213 words.  Worse, I think I did almost irreparable damage to the essay’s foundation.  The new, slimmed-down essay seems, as I read and re-read it, to lack context, to lack meat on the bones of its story, to lack, well, power.

There are moments where I like this new version of that old story better:  “John is three, sits to my left, knows I’m going to make him eat broccoli before he leaves the table” has a nice flow to it, better than the slightly longer original, which took 25 words and two separate sentences (as opposed to 20 words in a single sentence—not a huge change, but a good one).

But those moments are rare in this new iteration of “Icky Papa Died,” and with the exception of these limited points, this new essay lacks the poetry of the first.

It’s still got a good opening line, though…


Shane Borrowman is a professor of English at the University of Montana Western, where he teaches classes in nonfiction, the history of technology, and zombie cinema/literature/gaming.  He is author, editor, or co-editor of eleven books, including Mistakes Were Made: Reflections on Being a Mediocre FatherTrauma and the Teaching of WritingAuthenticity, and Rhetoric in the Rest of the West.  His current writing focuses on the intersection of family, memory, and the collapse of copper mining/smelting in southwest Montana.


Brevity’s Twentieth Year & A New Issue

September 18, 2017 § 6 Comments

brevit20ylogoxx1Twenty years ago I had an idea for a magazine that combined the swift impact of flash fiction with the true storytelling of memoir, and Brevity was born. To be honest, I expected it to last a year.

But here we are, with our 56th Issue, marking two decades of providing fine flash essays to readers, students, and teachers. To celebrate, we specially commissioned authors who have appeared multiple times in Brevity over the years to return to our pages, and when you read the work of Lee Martin, Diane Seuss, Brenda Miller, Sue William Silverman, Rebecca McClanahan, and Ira Sukrungruang in this issue, you may detect a common theme (or at least a common word).

A large part of Brevity’s mission remains providing a venue for new writers, sometimes writers who are previously unpublished, often writers who are just starting out. You’ll find these folks in our new issue as well.

​Plus a trio of fascinating craft essays from Karen Babine, Nicole Caron, and Jill Talbot.

Thank you to all of our authors over the years, to our readers, and to our staff of brilliant volunteers!

— Dinty W. Moore

P.S. — Brevity is staffed by volunteers, and paying the bills can be a dicey proposition, but still we pay our authors and are proud of that. Whatever assistance you can provide will help us to expand and strengthen our upcoming issues. ​We are a 501 (c)(3) charitable organization, and as such all of your donations are tax-deductible. You can donate here:  YOUR SUPPORT IS GREATLY APPRECIATED

Matador: “Offend Fine Storytelling”

September 17, 2017 § 2 Comments

SU17_coverFrom our friends at The Matador Review:

Alternative art and literature magazine The Matador Review is now accepting submissions for the Winter 2018 publication. We publish poetry, fiction, flash fiction, and creative non-fiction, inviting all unpublished literature written in the English language (and translations that are accompanied by the original text) as well as many forms of visual art. The call for submissions will end November 30, 2017.

Our purpose is to promote “alternative work” from both art and literature, and to encourage the new-wave of respect for online publications. In each issue, we offer a selection of work from both emerging and established artists, as well as exclusive interviews and book reviews from creators who are, above all else, provocative. For us, alternative is a way of voice and experience. It is the distinction from what is conventional, and it advocates for a progressive attitude.

When asked by author Angela Yuriko Smith what we’re looking for, Editor-in-Chief JT Lachausse replied:

“We want what you haven’t seen. Allow me to be dramatic: Imagine that every piece of art is represented by a stone. Many stones make up the mountains and buildings, but even more hide beneath the surface. We are so familiar and fond of the overground rocks, but in the caves and oceans-deep, there are stories that tell things wildly. Desperately, furiously, without great laborious sanitizing or editorial puncturing.

Art that seems ridiculous, haughty, aggressive and pathetic. Amateur hour, disjointed comedy, horror shows, family debacles that at first glance seem like New Yorker material, but upon closer inspection offends every cornerstone of ‘fine storytelling’. Not everyone will like it. And that is entirely the point. If you find your pebble at the bottom of a canyon, bring it on over.”

More information can be found at our submissions page, and inquiries may be directed to contact@matadorreview.com.

Writers Conferences: Doodling HippoCamp 2017

September 16, 2017 § 8 Comments

By Rebecca Fish Ewan

1 hippocamp17 donna

1. HippoCamp, the brainchild of Donna Talarico-Beerman, in its third year, three-plus days of focus on creative nonfiction. p.s. Donna has way more amazing hair than shown here. I tend to put a little of myself in all my portraits and my hair sucks.

2 hippocamp17 Beverly

2. So funny. Waiting to forget the movie plot, so I can enjoy reading Riding in Cars with Boys by Beverly Donofrio, serial memoirist.

3 hippocamp17 Dina and Melanie

3. Dina Honour’s voice still resonates in my head. Keep an eye out for the army of women she’s amassing. They will save humanity.

4 hippocamp17 Joanne Lara Alexis

4. All of the readers that followed Dina brought their own brand of awesomeness, reading from their debut books. Google them: Melanie Brooks, Joanne Lazar Glenn, Lara Lillibridge, Alexis Paige and Lisa Smith.

5 hippocamp17 Lisa and panel

5. Their panel after the readings set a tone of generosity, humor and serious investigation of craft that echoed throughout the conference.

6. hippocamp17 Gabriela

6. Gabriela Pereira presented a VITAL analytic for finding your groove as a writer. p.s. You don’t have to write 2,000 words a day just because Stephen King says so.

7 hippocamp17 Lara

7. I love hybrid work, so duh, I’m going to this session. Lara Lillibridge cracked my head open even more.

8 hippocamp17 Penny and Alexis

8.  Penny Guisinger & Alexis Paige. Flash CNF. Take off. Compress. Embody. Reflect. Land.

9 hippocamp17 Allison

9.  #AllisonWilliamsishilarious&platformsmakemewanttobarf

10 hippocamp17 Athena

10. Athena Dixon’s advice: “Be Brave. Explore new avenues of yourself. Don’t exclude people. Put yourself in the shoes of marginalized writers/people. Be a voice for people who are marginalized. Don’t make people tokens.” Bingo! (Yes Bingo! we made our own bingo squares).

11 hippocamp17 John

11.  If I only remember 11 out of 20 words, should I go see a neurologist? No, because memory is a construct that we reconstruct all the time, so next week I’ll believe I remembered all 20 words. Huge relief.

12 hippocamp17 Donna and Tobias

12.  I love when famous people don’t act famous. I love that Tobias Wolff admitted he can spend many hours alone in a chair “taking semicolons out and putting them back in again.”

13 hippocamp17 Elane

13.  I wish I had doodled everyone on the Flash Panel I was on, but first (Lisa Cottrell) I was too nervous, because I had to present next. Then I had to doodle Elane Johnson and her BALLS. Then I worried, if I sketch (Kate Meadows and Lisa Romeo), the audience will think I’m rude and not paying attention.

14 hippocamp17 Sam

14.  Then I saw this amazing nose (Sam Schindler) in profile and had to draw it.

15 hippocamp17 essays and articles panel

15.  Okay, by now my head is about to explode from all the thinking and learning it’s been doing. Shh, shh, listen. Dina said this. Okay. Platform. Pitch. Twitter. Acceptance 10%. Rejection 90%. Bottom line: write, submit, repeat. Find your voice. Find its place. Both exist.

16 hippocamp17 Agents and Editors panel

16. This is advice gleaned from the list of mistakes writers make when querying/sending a proposal: Have a strong concept, a strong voice, a complete and polished manuscript, consider publishing costs, use spellcheck, listen to the agent/editor, match the execution to your pitch. p.s. Platform.

17 hippocamp17 Dinty

18.  When Dinty feels inadequate as a writer, he worries that his nostrils are too big. I couldn’t see his nostrils from where I sat, but just want to point this out, so you know even Dinty W. Moore frets about silly things as a writer. He gave tons of sage advice that I hope he publishes somewhere soon, but I have enough words left here to pass this on: “Don’t hold anything back. Life is too short.”

18 hippocamp17 Donna and Kevin

19.  Donna and Kevin. Seriously. Totally adorable. But underneath their exterior of major kind cuteness lies dedication and commitment. Donna has done the heavy-lifting for HippoCamp 15-17, helped out by a team of volunteers, including local rock star Kevin Beerman. Bravo Donna!

P.S. HippoCamp returns to Lancaster in late summer 2018. Details Here.


Rebecca Fish Ewan is the founder of Plankton Press (where small is big enough) and creates Tiny Joys & GRAPH(feeties) zines. She is a poet/cartoonist/professor/mom/writer and teaches in The Design School at Arizona State University. Her publications include work in Brevity, Femme Fotale, Survivor Zine and Hip Mama. She has two creative nonfiction books: A Land Between (JHUP, 2000) and By the Forces of Gravity, a memoir of cartoons and verse about a Berkeley childhood friendship cut short by tragedy, forthcoming from Books by Hippocampus. @rfishewan

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