Audio Immersion

April 7, 2022 § 10 Comments

By Sarah Boon

A few weeks ago I was sick – not with COVID, but with an illness that left me dizzy and headache-y. Lying down was preferable to sitting up, and I couldn’t read a book or look at a computer screen because it made my eyes hurt.

So I turned to podcasts about writing to entertain me when I wasn’t trying to sleep. And I realized that, during my solo forays into writing during the closed-off time of the pandemic, I’d been missing a writing community.

I listened to Sarah Broom talk about THE YELLOW HOUSE, a home that carried so much of her life but was destroyed after Hurricane Katrina. I listened to Charlotte McConaghey talk about her two books, MIGRATIONS and ONCE THERE WERE WOLVES, and articulate her idea that climate fiction isn’t really a genre but a theme that is worked into books of many genres. I listened to Vivian Gornick, Ferdinand Mount, and Kathryn Harrison discuss memoir, and the fact that memoir writers carefully curate what they do and don’t include in their text. I listened to Ruby McConnell, author of GROUND TRUTH, talk about her writing process. She ruminates on a piece of writing for weeks, then sits down and puts the whole thing on paper fully formed, as though she is a conduit for the words that have been swirling around in her head all that time. I listened to Helen Humphries talk about the structure of her books, that she puts herself in the same situation as her characters to better understand how to write about them. Like the time she went up in a biplane to see what it was like, then recreated the cramped quarters with a chair and various accessories in her writing room. I listened to JB MacKinnon talk about THE DAY THE WORLD STOPPED SHOPPING, and the process he uses to structure his books.

I listened to all of these recordings lying in bed with my eyes closed, and I felt my soul transformed. I had found my tribe, all of these people talking about writing and the writing life. I felt as though I had been immersed in a world that I had been missing for some time.

I used to take writing workshops, way back when I was in graduate school. I particularly remember the Women’s Words writing workshop, a supportive week of creative writing with only women participants. More recently, I’ve attended the Creative Nonfiction Collective Society’s annual meetings occasionally, and felt inspired by that community of writers to work on my own book.

But this was the first time I immersed myself in recording after recording about writing, hours of being with writers and sharing their lives.

Now I’ve recovered and only listen to podcasts when I’m knitting. But I long to go back to those few days when all I did was think about and listen to authors talking about writing. To keep up the momentum, I’ve signed up for a few webinars and online readings that I hope will draw me in as thoroughly as those podcasts did. These podcasts re-energized my writing, giving me courage and support in my quest to test new ideas of how to approach the structure and content of my work-in-progress book, and to try new essay ideas.

What are your favourite writing podcasts? Please share them in the comments.

Sarah Boon, PhD, is a writer based on Vancouver Island, Canada. She has written for The Rumpus, Hippocampus, Catapult, Narratively, and other venues. She is currently at work on a book about her field experiences as a scientist, and how those experiences affected her love of writing.

Aaaaaaand We’re Back!

October 8, 2019 § 5 Comments

He’s so writing a memoir about this

Query letters. A necessary evil towards the great good of publication. A hoop to jump through towards representation; a lure to draw in the publisher perfect for our story.

Some lucky authors have essays go viral, build enormous social media platforms, or have NYT-bestselling cousins willing to refer us to their own agent. Most of us undertake the slog, often querying a hundred or more agents and revising our query and the manuscript itself many times along the way.

There are some terrific querying resources out there, notably Query Shark, which focuses on fiction but teaches powerful query-letter lessons for writers in all genres. Jane Friedman’s website has information on memoir and narrative nonfiction queries. Absolute Write’s forums are a place for honest chat about specific agencies. QueryTracker helps us chart our progress. Manuscript Wish List shows us which agents might be right for our book. And here at Brevity, we shared suggestions for the actual process of preparing and submitting to agents.

But it is generally more difficult to learn best practices for memoir, rather than fiction, queries—and Brevity is here to help.

The Brevity Podcast returns in November, featuring an interview with Grace Talusan, author of The Body Papers, and a conversation with the Query Shark herself, literary agent Janet Reid.

That’s where you come in.

Podcast host Allison K Williams will discuss memoir queries with Janet, using some examples from Brevity readers & podcast listeners. We’ll assess your clarity and style, how you cover the standard query-letter elements, and talk about what you might do differently (or are already doing well!) to increase your chances of representation.

If you’d like to send in your query for a shot at having it discussed on-air, please paste it into an email, followed by your first two manuscript pages (also pasted), to brevitymagpodcast at gmail.com. Deadline for consideration is October 20th. We won’t use author names on the air, but we will be reading all or part of the query letters chosen, so only submit if you’re willing to have your words read on the podcast, please.

Querying can be overwhelming, intimidating, and depressing. But you don’t have to do it alone, and you don’t have to do it without guidance. Help is out there—and it’s coming to your ears.

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Brevity Podcast Host Allison K Williams, and Editor-in-Chief Dinty W. Moore will also be leading a retreat in Costa Rica in May 2020.

 

 

Brevity Podcast Episode #10: One-Minute Memoir

September 4, 2018 § 10 Comments

It’s been five months of exciting technical challenges since the last Brevity Podcast, but we’re back! This episode, we finally reveal the fifteen One-Minute Memoirs, and our podcast host Allison K Williams and Audio Editor Kathryn Rose discuss why we chose them (from over 300 submissions!), the process of reading and listening to all the submitted essays, and key things writers can do to make their work stand out from the rest of the submissions pile.

Stream the show right from this post, or click over to  iTunes, Soundcloud or Stitcher. If you’re subscribed, we’ll show up in your podcast app queue. And wherever you listen or download us, please take a moment to leave a brief review–it helps us show up in searches and recommendations.

 

The memoirists:

Anne Boaden earned her MFA in Creative Writing at Goddard College and is writing a memoir of her active duty with the United States Marine Corps flying AH-1W Cobra attack helicopters. Her work has appeared in The Pitkin Review and NELLE. She lives in England with her husband, two cats, one dog, flock of chickens, and brand-new baby Robin Anne Delgaard Boaden.

Tracy Royce is a poet, writer, and doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her work has appeared in The Fat Studies Reader, Modern Haiku, Frogpond, Affilia, and Mother of Invention: How Our Mothers Influenced Us as Feminist Academics and Activists.

Anne McGrath’s work has appeared in Antioch University’s Lunch Ticket, The Brevity Blog, Chapman University’s Dirt Cakes, The Caterpillar Magazine, and the One Hundred Voices anthology. Ms. McGrath is an assistant contest editor at Narrative Magazine and is pursuing an MFA in creative writing at Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Irvin Weathersby is a Brooklyn-based writer and professor from New Orleans. His work has appeared in literary journals and magazines including Notable Black American Men Book II, Killens Review, The Atlantic, Ebony, and Esquire.

Patrice Gopo is a 2017-2018 North Carolina Arts Council Literature Fellow. All the Colors We Will See, her essay collection about race, immigration, and belonging is now out from Thomas Nelson, and has been named a Fall 2018 Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection.

MFC Feeley attended UC Berkeley and NYU. She has published in The Tishman Review, Mainstreet Rag, WicWas, Plate In The Mirror, and Ghost Parachute, and was a 2016 fellow at the Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing and a 2013 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Quarterfinalist. She won the Raven Prize for CNF and is writing a series of short stories inspired by the Bill of Rights for Ghost Parachute.

Jamie Zvirzdin teaches in the Master of Arts Science Writing program at Johns Hopkins University. Her work has previously appeared in The Kenyon Review, Issues in Science and Technology, Creative Nonfiction, and CONSEQUENCE.

Evie Gold is a non-fiction humor essayist, a sushi connoisseur, and a wandering nomad.

BK Marcus is a homeschooling dad in Charlottesville, Virginia, where he also performs and coaches live storytelling.

Erin Murphy‘s work has appeared or is forthcoming in journals including The Georgia Review, Memoir Magazine, The Normal School, Field, Southern Humanities Review and North American Review. She is the editor of Creating Nonfiction: Twenty Essays and Interviews with the Writers, and is Professor of English and Creative Writing at Penn State Altoona.

Georgie Hunt’s writing has appeared in Prick of the Spindle, NANO Fiction, River Teeth’s “Beautiful Things” and Brevity. She was a finalist in Black Warrior Review’s 11th Annual Nonfiction Contest, and holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from the University of North Carolina, Wilmington.

Karen Egee writes to savor the good and try to make sense of the rest. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and dog. They spend as much time in Maine as possible.

Rhonda Zimlich’s fiction and memoir has appeared in publications such as Crow Pie, Acorn Review, and Ink Stains. She enjoys living in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, twin daughters, and feisty black cats. She received her MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts this summer.

Scott F. Parker’s book A Way Home from Oregon: Essays has just been released from Kelson Books.

Jennifer Lang writes mostly about her divided self. Her essays have appeared in Under the Sun, Assay, Ascent, The Coachella Review, Hippocampus Magazine, and Full Grown People. She’s been nominated for Best American Essays and the Pushcart Prize, and is writing her first memoir.

Additional voices: Hananah Zaheer (Dubai), Iobel Andemicael (Dubai) and Brian Pastor (Chicago).

Additional music by Sergey Cheremisinov via freemusicarchive.org, and sound effects from freesound.org. Call to prayer from Learn Truth Find Peace.

Next episode, we’ll be talking about Writing Hard Things.

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Allison K Williams is Brevity‘s Social Media Editor and hosts the Brevity Podcast. She’s writing this in Paris, yesterday she was in Tunisia, New York the day before, and tonight she’s back home in Dubai…hence our erratic podcast schedule.

Brevity Podcast Episode #9: Rhiannon Navin and Ander Monson

April 5, 2018 § 1 Comment

This episode, Brevity takes a detour into fiction, speaking with debut author Rhiannon Navin about making fiction from fact and how she turned her real-life emotional experience into a novel. Then it’s back to our regularly scheduled creative nonfiction, with Ander Monson, editor-in-chief of Diagram.

Stream the show right from this post, or click over to iTunes, Soundcloud or Stitcher. If you’re subscribed, we’ll show up in your podcast app queue. And wherever you listen or download us, please take a moment to leave a brief review–it helps us show up in searches and recommendations.

Show notes and links to people, places and things we’ve discussed are below.

Next episode, it’s time for our listeners’ very own One-Minute Memoirs! Audio Editor Kathryn Rose and I will discuss what made the winning submissions stand out, and how to make your own story pack maximum punch in minimum space. And you’ll hear 15 fantastic, very short memoirs.

 

Show Notes: Episode #9 People and Books

Find out more about:

Only Child by Rhiannon Navin

Ander Monson

Letter to a Future Lover

Paul Monette

The Mezzanine

Turtle Island

Casa de los Ninos

Charley Douglas and the “laff box”

Useful Adjectives and Adjectival Phrases to Describe Ander Monson:

  1. phenomenal
  2. maverick
  3. self-involved
  4. trickeration-loving
  5. asinine
  6. straight-shooting
  7. family-betraying
  8. law-breaking
  9. ne’er-do-well
  10. bad boy
  11. future addict
  12. serious and accomplished
  13. brainy but beautiful
  14. chubby
  15. crazy
  16. more than likely delusional
  17. poetryish
  18. encyclopedic
  19. whale-kicking
  20. profane
  21. piratical
  22. regretful
  23. sympathetic
  24. criminal
  25. pensive
  26. bright but misguided
  27. hurt, badly, baldly
  28. good
  29. trying real hard to be good

Additional music by John Stebbe, Ars Sonor, and Kai Engel via freemusicarchive.org.

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Allison K Williams is the host of the Brevity Podcast.

In You We Trust

November 28, 2017 § 10 Comments

Picture of Meryl Streep as a fashion magazine editor in The Devil Wears Prada

…maybe just stop talking.

We’re settled into our seats, ready to watch Meryl Streep perform in the new musical adaptation of Gone Girl (“Gone!”). We’re leafing through Playbill, counting up Oscar nominations, when suddenly Ms. Streep steps out in front of the curtain to address the audience.

“Hi everyone, I’m really excited you’re here for this show, based on the book about a woman who fakes her own disappearance and sets her husband up for a murder rap. I hope you’ll especially enjoy the scene where I write all the journal entries at the same time with different pens.”

Wait, what?

Or she says, “In rehearsals for this show, I worked on my high E notes with a noted vocal coach at Julliard, maybe you’ve heard of him?”

Um, no.

We’re already here, Meryl. We’re ready to watch. We trust you to deliver. Just let us watch you–don’t tell us the story you’re about to tell us. And if it turns out the show isn’t to our taste, your pre-show explanation won’t fix that.

Reading submissions is a lot like being in that audience. Around the Brevity Podcast house, we’re settling in with pages of Submittable entries for the One-Minute Memoir episode. Each essay is the curtain going up on a show we’ve never seen before, enjoying how much humor, sadness, quirkiness, reflection, action, and adventure can be packed into under 150 words, sometimes many fewer than that. There are pieces totally unique in content, and others with universal situations but new approaches. Every author has something truly, beautifully theirs…and some of them tell us about it in advance.

Cover letters everywhere range from a single sentence of author bio to a full page of credits, context, and background information, and every variation in between. Sometimes, authors get nervous that the editors won’t get it. Or they’re really excited about their time working with a prestigious teacher. Maybe they feel like they don’t have enough publication credits, and explaining the story fills up that space. Or there’s a backstory that’s totally amazing.

These things don’t suck, but they’re not helping your submission. I don’t actively read the cover letter until I’ve read the essay–though I end up seeing some of what Submittable displays before clicking through to the submitted piece. Most editors want to come to your words as readers do: a fresh impression on the page. They don’t get to sit down and explain to subscribers what they meant when they picked that piece, why they think it’s great. As authors, we rarely get to discuss why or how we came to write something unless we’re talking about it with our friends or being interviewed. But that’s bonus material for the true fans, not a base to start from with first-time readers. Don’t give away the game.

For example, when submitting your terrific flash essay about knitting with a women’s circle in Guangzhou:

This essay focuses on the time I gave birth in China surrounded by my knitting class.

I wanted to tell the stories of the amazing grandmothers I met while doing handicrafts in China. They all had children who had emigrated, and I saw how conflicted they felt.

Nope.

For the purposes of submission, one sentence maximum about the circumstances directly affecting the writing (not the story).

I wrote this during my missionary work in China.

I’m a professional knitting teacher.

Will detailing parts of your story get you rejected out of hand? Not by us. In the long run, this isn’t a huge issue. For most journals, it doesn’t really matter what you write in that space–at this point in the process, they’re interested in the story and the writing. Explaining neither fixes nor destroys a submission. So don’t sweat it if you’ve fallen into this category before. Just stop doing it.

Reading your story is more powerful than reading about your story. Let us be surprised and delighted and astounded–the way we want our audience to be when they get to read your work.

 

Edited to add: Aerogramme offers some more terrific cover letter advice from Tahoma Review Prose Editor Yi Shun Lai.

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Allison K Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor. Her travel-adventure-writing newsletter can show up twice monthly in your inbox, if that’s not telling too much.

Call For Brevity Submissions: One-Minute Memoir

November 13, 2017 § 28 Comments

Rufus P. Turner, developer of the first transistor radio & a professor of literature–Brevity’s kind of guy

We’re trying something new.

The Brevity Podcast is seeking submissions for our One-Minute Memoir episode. We’re looking for ultra-flash nonfiction of 100-150 words (on paper) and up to one minute (recording time). Accepted pieces will be broadcast in our February episode and receive a $25 honorarium.

Deadline for submission is January 6, 2018.

 

You may submit in one of two ways:

 

1) Text only. Submit a .doc. We will record accepted pieces in the Brevity studio.

 

2) Audio file. Submit an MP3 or WAV of your own recording PLUS a .doc with the text. Read our blog post about recording your own work for basic sound guidelines. We will master accepted pieces. Recordings should be a maximum of 60 seconds.

 

Please start your recording with your name and the title of your piece; this doesn’t count as part of the 60 seconds.

 

Brevity publishes well-known and emerging writers working in the extremely brief (750 words or less) essay form. We have featured work from two Pulitzer prize finalists, many NEA fellows, Pushcart winners, Best American authors, and writers from India, Egypt, Ireland, Spain, Malaysia, Qatar, and Japan. We have also featured numerous previously-unpublished authors, and take a special joy in helping to launch a new literary career. Over the past year Brevity has averaged 10,000 unique visitors per month. The Brevity Podcast launched in 2016, and has featured interviews with Andre Dubus III, Dani Shapiro, Rick Moody, and other nonfiction notables.

 

Please use the Submittable button below to submit your work, choosing the category One-Minute Memoir.

 

We can’t wait to hear what you have to say.

 

submit**

Listen Up

October 19, 2017 § 13 Comments

Yes, I should pause there…

When I teach a workshop, I like to audiotape it. Partly so I can send the recording to the class, which takes some of the stress off taking notes and lets everyone participate a little bit more. But also because ItalkamillionmilesanhourifIdon’tstopmyself.

The same thing applies to readings–when I head up for the podium, I leave my phone voice recorder running at my seat. After, I can listen–did I pause in the right places? Was there audience laughter I didn’t make room for? Often, just glancing back at my chair, seeing the phone there, reminds me slow down. Take a breath.

It’s valuable to listen to our own voices. Find out how long that piece really is with audience reactions in it. See if we really sound like a dork (spoiler: usually no). If the recorder is in the audience, it often picks up the kind of supportive murmurs and agreement breaths listeners make when we’re enjoying a story. Those noises aren’t always easy to hear in the moment, when we’re stressed about getting through a piece. And it’s always awesome to re-listen to applause.

As well as being a great tool to improve our own reading, there are places to submit audio stories. The Drum is a fantastic audio literary magazine, and Story Club specializes in nonfiction performance, with the author setting the text after a live show. The Brevity Podcast will be calling for One-Minute Memoirs next week. For all of these, you don’t have to be an audio whiz, but a few simple tricks will help you sound your best.

Check your phone. Phones usually record better than computers if you’re not using a separate microphone, and you probably have a native Voice Memos or Voice Recorder app. On most phones from the last three years, the built-in mic is good enough to get decent live-audience audio, and decent-to-good private taping. Look up where the mic is physically located on your phone, and point that end toward the reader. Try a couple of test recordings to see how close you want to hold it to your face–usually 4-6 inches away is good.

Check your app. On my iPhone, the Voice Memos app keeps going even when the screen locks or if I open another app. But when I’m doing more sophisticated recording with a plug-in microphone and an app called Motiv, the recording stops if the screen goes dark. I found that out the hard, embarrassing, can-I-please-interview-you-again way. Now I turn screen lock to “never” and put the phone in airplane mode. Some phones also stop recording if someone calls or texts. Find out for sure–or just put it in airplane every time.

Pad your space. Recordings are better with less echo. In a public reading, this is out of our control. Setting the phone on a wooden or plastic surface is better than a metal folding chair (they give a slight echo), but it’s not going to make a huge difference for personal recordings. If you’re taping for submission–like, say, the upcoming Brevity call for One-Minute Memoir–test the first paragraph in a couple of spaces to see what sounds best. Rooms with carpet, lower ceilings, and soft furniture work best. Walk-in closets are great. In a pinch, I record in my car (parked and turned off, until it gets so hot I have to take a break) or with a blanket or towel over my head. (Table fort, anyone?)

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. I always bobble on a few words the first time I read an essay aloud. Plus, speaking into the recorder affects my pace. I try to tape a reading at least three times. Even if I can’t edit, I can at least pick the best take.

Whether you post or submit your work, or just listen for your own edification, taping is a great way to see how you sound. Often, extra lines or awkward phrases jump right out from the audio, or we instinctively smooth out a sentence as we speak it. Why not give it a test run? We’re hoping to hear from you soon, and we’ll tell you how and what next week!

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Allison K Williams hosts the Brevity Podcast. Her most recently available audio class is Write Better with Social Media.

Brevity Podcast Episode #6 Donna Talarico-Beerman

August 31, 2017 § 6 Comments

I hope it’s a podcast!

Surprise! It’s a podcast! We’ve got a few episodes packed and ready from a whirlwind summer of interviews, so we hope you’ll be enjoying (slightly) more frequent listening. Stream the show right from this post, or click over to iTunes, Soundcloud or Stitcher. If you’re subscribed, we’ll show up in your podcast app queue. And wherever you listen or download us, please take a moment to leave a brief review–it helps us show up in searches and recommendations.

Episode #6 features an interview with Donna Talarico-Beerman on the process of becoming a small press, running a conference, and balancing her own writing time in there, too. We’re also talking all things writing conference over the next few episodes, and we’ve got brief on-the-spot interviews from Lee Martin, Sue William Silverman, and some lovely writer-participants from the Postgraduate Writing Conference at Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Show notes and links to people, places and things we’ve discussed are below. Next episode, we’ll be talking with Kristen Arnett about her new book, Felt in the Jaw.

Show Notes: Episode #6 People and Books

Find out more about Donna Talarico-Beerman at her website.

Hippocampus magazine, with links to Hippocampus Books and the Hippocamp conference. You can also follow the conference hashtag on Twitter, and many of the sessions will be live-tweeted.

Today’s the last day to submit to Remember in November

High Ed Web

AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs)

Mary Karr

Photographer Dave Pidgeon

Donna’s essay in the Los Angeles Review, Things That Aren’t Theirs

Questions to ask of a character:

What do I wish for?
What do I hope for?
What is my greatest dream?
What is my greatest fear?

The Moth

Lancaster Story Slam

VCFA (many writing programs/conferences)
Kenyon Review Writers Workshop
New York Pitch Conference

Lee Martin

Miller Williams

Sue William Silverman

Amy Braun’s Attic Discovery Project

David Jauss

Manual typewriter thanks to theshaggyfreak via freesound.org
Additional music, Later Fruits, thanks to Axletree via freemusicarchive.org

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Allison K Williams is the host of the Brevity Podcast. She’ll also be appearing at Hippocamp for an intensive workshop on Self-Editing and consultations on your pages.

Brevity Podcast Episode #5 Dinty W. Moore

August 15, 2017 § 7 Comments

Dinty W. Moore has always stood out

It’s time once again for the intermittent Brevity Podcast! Listen right from this post, or click over to iTunes, Soundcloud or Stitcher. If you’re subscribed, we’ll show up in your podcast app queue. And wherever you listen or download us, please take a moment to leave a brief review–it helps us show up in searches and recommendations.

Episode #5 features an interview with Dinty W. Moore, our very own Editor in Chief and founder of Brevity. Dinty will be keynote speaking at the Hippocamp Creative Nonfiction Conference September 8-10 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Show notes and links to people, places and things we’ve discussed are below. Next episode, we’ll be talking with Donna Talarico-Beerman, Editor in Chief at Hippocampus and the Hippocampus Press.

Show Notes: Episode #5 People and Books

We’re guessing you already know who Dinty is if you’re here, but you can find out more about the author of The Story Cure at his website, and follow him on Facebook.

The Accidental Buddhist: Mindfulness, Enlightenment, and Sitting Still, American Style

Joan Didion’s books

Kathryn Harrison’s The Kiss

It’s the wrong time of year for Peeps, but catch them around Easter. If you’re looking for Samuel Pepys, find out more here. You can also read his exhaustive diary, one of the great records of 17th-Century London, including eyewitness reports of the Plague and the Great Fire of London.

Sarah Manguso’s books

Judith Kitchen’s books

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Allison K Williams is the host of the Brevity Podcast. She’ll also be appearing at Hippocamp for an intensive workshop on Self-Editing and consultations on your pages.

Brevity Podcast #4: Brian Doyle

June 1, 2017 § 5 Comments

The Brevity Podcast returns with a special episode featuring our interview with Brian Doyle, originally recorded last year. We wrote on yesterday’s blog about Brian’s work in Brevity, and his legacy. Here he is in his own words.

 

Show Notes: Episode #4 People, Books and Places

 For many years, Brian edited Portland magazine at the University of Portland

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Allison K Williams is a writer and editor based in Dubai, and the host of the Brevity Podcast.

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