Some Thoughts on Choosing the Right Writers Conferences

February 6, 2018 § 6 Comments

hippocamp17 tee shirt - SIZEDBy Lisa Romeo

During several periods in my writing life I attended no conferences, and other times I could get to just a few, dictated by a confluence of budget, geography, travel logistics, day-job demands, family obligations. When I could attend, I had to be picky.

I came to understand that a conference will not make me a better writer or a more published writer by itself. But the right conference can help to make me into a writer who better knows how to identify, create, pursue, participate in, and evaluate the writing life, career, projects, and submission/publication plan that will work best for me, and make me happy.

So, I thought I’d offer this list, and hope it has some value for others. All these things lined up for me last year when I attended HippoCamp: A Conference for Creative Nonfiction Writers, and I hope my list might be helpful to others attempting to choose the right conference:

What makes a writing conference right:

It directly, seriously, fully, and openly addresses, embraces, and celebrates the genre or category of writing most important to you. If you can find it, specialization rocks! One big reason I love Hippocamp is that it’s focused on CNF writing. Yes, I learn a lot at conferences that aren’t so specialized, but a hyper-focused event means you are with your tribe. Everything that happens, each break-out session, panel, reading, or other element is for folks who write what you write.

Enough of what’s on offer is for writers at your skill and/or experience level. Yes, it’s good when some sessions push you to extend your reach; that’s good for learning what to aspire to. But do you want to spend all day, or most of many days, feeling either completely overwhelmed because you have no idea what the speakers are talking about, or bored and antsy because you already know and have mastered what’s being covered.

The mix, intent, and focus of material jives with what you want and need now. Only craft-related sessions? Hands-on (“generative”) sessions? Lecture style only? Workshops (with feedback)? Presentations with opportunities for Q-and-A? Marketing/submission/querying skills?

The size fits. I love a mid-sized conference best so I can make personal connections. Small to mid-sized events usually also foster casual, follow-up interactions with speakers and presenters at meals, breaks, and just wandering about the venue—another thing I like. (I do occasionally like a huge conference, but for very different reasons.)

The conference organizers respect every attendee, and don’t play favorites. This is one of those intangibles that, for me, can make or break a conference experience. At Hippocamp for example, I’ve heard attendees describe the organizers in ways you might reserve for your favorite teacher, coach, or BFF: they listen, help, and care. Every person on the grounds is IN THE CLUB. (I’ve attended way too many conferences where some writers are made to feel inadequate and lesser-than because they don’t “have a book,” are not sufficiently well-connected, and find themselves feeling left out in an us-and-them kind of way.) At Hippocamp, the club is everyone in the room. Look for that.

The fees make sense. Who wants to be someplace where you feel the conference is mostly interested in your wallet? I happen to like conference fees that also include meals, coffee, snacks and parking; offer hotel room discounts; and small goodies that make me feel welcome. If I can get that, and it also lines up with reasonable travel costs, I’m in. (Don’t go broke attending conferences.)

Everything’s included, but there’s also an a-la-carte add-on menu. One year at Hippocamp, I paid for agent pitch sessions, other years not. Twice I took a pre-conference workshop. Choices like that can add value to your time away from home, and (for someone like me who likes to cram every hour with something useful), make the conference a more robust writerly experience.

There’s a little bit of fun built right in. Door prizes? A casual open mic? Fun snacks? Optional, casual meal meet-ups for when it seems everyone else has made dining plans? We’re writers, not robots, and only some find it easy to organize themselves socially.

The conference encourages, and facilitates, continued learning beyond the time limit of each program element. I like to leave a session with something that I’ll consult later (besides my own notes) — handouts, recommended links, the speaker’s email address or resource website, maybe something I’ve been urged to generate during the session. Even better if (as is the case with Hippocamp), I can find some speakers’ entire slide presentations on the conference website later.

There’s a balance between too much and just enough. One day? Four days? Five break-out sessions running concurrently? Or 25 to choose from simultaneously? A crammed daily schedule or one with breaks and free (writing?) time built in? Each is likable for different reasons, by different writers. What do you like at a conference?

The organizers want your feedback. Whether it’s a matter of listening sincerely to an in-person complaint or suggestion during the conference, or providing and urging attendees to fill out post-event surveys, I like it when speaking up about what didn’t go quite right, what was stellar, and what might be a good future addition (or deletion), feels welcomed.

I’m sure I’ve left something out. What do you love about, and look for in the conferences you attend?

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A slightly altered version of this post ran previously on Lisa Romeo Writes. Reprinted with Lisa’s kind permission.

You can get more information on the next HippoCamp Conference here.
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Lisa Romeo is the author Starting with Goodbye: A Daughter’s Memoir of Love After Loss(forthcoming from University of Nevada Press, May 2018). She teaches in the Bay Path University MFA program, serves as CNF editor of Compose Journal, and nonfiction craft essays editor for Cleaver Magazine. Her work is listed in Notables in Best American Essays 2016, and has appeared in Brevity, Under the Sun, New York Times, River Teeth’s Beautiful Things, O The Oprah Magazine, and many other places. At HippoCamp 2018, she will be leading a workshop on “Transforming Essays Into a Narrative Memoir Manuscript.”

Brevity Podcast Episode #8: Submissions

January 30, 2018 § 3 Comments

But what does “please send us more work” REALLY mean?

This episode, we’re talking all things submissions, with The Rush‘s Jobeth McDaniel, Kenyon Review‘s Geeta Kothari, Brevity‘s own Alexis Paige, and writer Tim Hillegonds, with an essay about rejection from our host Allison K Williams.

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, we’ll be talking with Rhiannon Navin about her new novel Only Child and how fiction comes from fact; and with Ander Monson, editor-in-chief of Diagram.

Show Notes: Episode #8 People and Books

Additional music by Coldnoise and Sergey Cheremisinov via freemusicarchive.org

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Allison K Williams is the host of the Brevity Podcast.

Matador Review Call for Submissions

January 27, 2018 § 1 Comment

winter2018cover

Alternative art and literature magazine The Matador Review is now accepting submissions for the Spring 2018 publication. We publish poetry, fiction, flash fiction, and creative nonfiction, 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 February 28, 2018.

We are also seeking submissions for our arts and culture corner, The Matador Post. We’re seeking articles which surround the following cultural topics: Television, Film, Music, Politics, Video Games, and Sex and Love.

The Post exists to ignite cultural discussion and share ideas from seasoned creatives. It operates as its own entity, separate from The Matador Review, yet affiliated with its core intent: to become “a cultural conservationist for the alternative world” and “advocate for a progressive attitude.” Writers should take risks that are interesting and provocative. The Post is brand new, and thus it calls for experimentation.

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.”

 

More information on both The Matador Review and The Post can be found at our submissions page.

Those interested in submitting to The Matador Review can send their work to editors@matadorreview.com. Those interested in submitting to The Matador Post can send their work to contact@matadorreview.com.

We can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.

What a Way to Start an Essay

January 19, 2018 § 6 Comments

categories22Some first lines from our brand new issue, to entice and intrigue you:

I awoke to my mother’s weeping and walked over the jail bars’ shadow the Venetian blinds made on the kitchen floor.  Beverly Donofrio

Our friend Shana… her… father… well, she wasn’t born yet. But her father won a live monkey at a drive-in movie. Jack Pendarvis

In the country of my mother’s birth, miracles and sloths keep to themselves. Traci Brimhall

Imperceptibly, the white pine has grown so tall no one can see what’s happening up there. Fleda Brown

Because I used to stare at Mendy Frankl’s Adonis curls in statistics, because I had a pair of silver boots from Baker’s I got on clearance for $14.99 and Sharpied them to near-extinction, because I dreamed of being the kind of girl who had a red high heel on the end of a keychain, as if that were really even a kind of girl, I sometimes felt sad. Temim Fruchter

When I tell you that my mother’s father was born in a Siberian prison, I’ll remind you that was because his parents were perhaps exiled as retribution for political acts. Or simply because they were Jews.  Jessica Handler

You know how you find yourself in the kitchen and you can’t remember what you’re doing there so maybe you put your hands on the cold sink and look out the window but it doesn’t help? Abigail Thomas

 

 

 

 

 

A Review of Chelsea Martin’s, Caca Dolce: Essays from a Lowbrow Life

December 8, 2017 § 2 Comments

cacaBy Lizzie Klaesges

“What was I doing!?” I shrieked, shielding my face with my hands. I was flipping through old photo albums with my mom and stumbled upon a particularly embarrassing photo of my preteen self.

In the photo, I was wearing a sweatshirt that said Genuine Girl, only I put masking tape over Girl and wrote Alien in black marker. Genuine Alien. I wore this to a Mardi Gras themed fundraiser at my middle school. I was also wearing butterfly face paint.

Of course, I knew what I was doing in the picture. I didn’t have to ask. It was the time in my life when I was obsessed with aliens. Not pictured were my little alien dolls, each with full life stories of my own invention. I was a strange child.

I thought of that picture while reading Chelsea Martin’s recent collection of essays, Caca Dolce: Essays from a Lowbrow Life.  The collection contains the essential stories of her childhood into young adulthood, in which she describes her younger self as a delightful concoction of strangeness. In one essay, “The Meaning of Life,” Martin reveals how she too was preoccupied by aliens. She describes her attempts to summon aliens, believing they had special knowledge far beyond human understanding. She hoped they would reward her belief in their existence and share secrets with her, most importantly the meaning of life.

The strangeness of a child normally doesn’t make sense to anyone else, but Martin finds a way to present her childhood curiosities logically and with deadpan delivery.  She is honest and self-deprecating while maintaining a certain aloofness to her humor that keeps readers unflinchingly by her side. Better still, she captures not only the absurdities of the young mind but also the discomfort. A large part of growing up is the discomfort of an evolving mind, a mind which eventually recognizes former childhood notions for what they are. In the essay, “A Year Without Spoons,” Martin describes choosing to give up spoons for seemingly no reason at all, even though a part of her realizes this is an unusual choice:

I stopped using spoons one day. I was becoming weird, I knew. And it didn’t seem like the good kind of weird, like the eccentric arty weird that could be appreciated by other people. It seemed like the bad, dark kind that could unravel a person if it got out of hand.

Many of Martin’s essays unfold to reveal more tender and complex undertones. The spoons, for example, become a coping mechanism for the lack of control Martin had over her life during a time when she switched schools a lot and had no real friends. Her choice of utensil became a way to practice control and restraint and, in a way, it felt like an achievement.

Some of the many topics of Martin’s “Lowbrow Life” include her sheltered small town, troubled relationship with her stepfather, living with mild Tourette’s syndrome or OCD, meeting her biological father for the first time, attending art school, and various romantic endeavors. Martin often manages to capture the essence of her quirky former selves in just a few words. As I breezed through the pages, I was often left thinking, how did she do that?

In the essay, “Ceramic Busts,” we observe teen-Martin’s attempts at flirting with a boy named Sandy at driving school:

“My favorite Beck song is ‘Thunder Peel,’” I said. ‘The one that’s like, Now I’m rolling in sweat with a loaf of cold bread and a taco in my jeans.

I had practiced the lyrics over the weekend, perfecting my falsetto delivery. I’d hoped that it would make him smile.

“Oh,” Sandy said.

I giggled.

After finishing driving school and leaving that town behind, having had no meaningful interactions with Sandy, Martin goes on to create many artistic renderings of him, mostly ceramic busts.  She eventually submits these for her application to art school and gets accepted.

In an essay titled, “Goth Ryan,” Martin attempts to communicate through facial expression:

Before he disappeared, I tried to give him a look that said I don’t care what you do, and Like at all, and Anyway Zach is here and we are in love, we are going to tell each other how in love we are and soon you will be merely a distant foggy memory that rarely occurs to me, and when I’m older I will conflate you with someone else I knew around this time and you will become a half-person, so unimportant on your own that I couldn’t be bothered to remember you as one being, so utterly useless in my memory that you barely exist, and But in all seriousness, I really don’t care.

Martin’s subject matter becomes more serious towards the middle of the book as she describes meeting her father for the first time at age sixteen, which she says is “an age that is known for being awkward and unbearable and confusing.” It’s already clear to readers that Martin has a difficult relationship with her stepfather, Seth, and it’s apparent early on that Martin’s relationship with her father will also be flawed to say the least. Martin strikes the perfect balance between funny and fraught while talking about her father’s relentless disapproval of her. He criticized her for everything from how much sour cream she eats with dinner to her acne.

I tried to understand what the problem was. My dad wanted to change what I did and said, and also the ways in which I did and said them, implying that possibly everything about me was, if not outright wrong, somehow off, in need of correction.

As writers, we are naturally wondering about the potential repercussions that can come from writing about people we know, especially those related to us. This, Martin addresses in her final essay, “The Man Who Famously Inspired This Essay,” in which she expresses her decision to take a break from her relationship with her dad and eventually choosing to write about him:

“You’re going to thank me one day for giving you all this material for your writing,” [My dad] said when I stopped crying.

I avoided eye contact and silently promised to never write a damned thing about him.

I love the irony here, how Martin writes about never writing about her father. She concludes the essay, and thus her collection, with: “And though I’m comforted by the fact that this past self seemed to know that it was always her story to tell or not tell, I have to admit that what she didn’t yet know is I never keep promises to myself.”  I can’t help but think that this was Martin’s pre-emptive response to our pressing question: it was always her story.

Although I love Martin’s detailing of her poorer, less cultured hometown and lifestyle, this collection gives us more than simply “Essays from a Lowbrow Life,” as the subtitle suggests. These essays are also about the common rites of passage that face most of today’s young people. This book is about leaving home and coming to terms with flawed relationships. It’s about being friendless and making weird fashion choices. It’s about learning to bullshit. It’s about becoming be self-reliant and making countless mistakes along the way.

Like looking at childhood photos, this book is as uncomfortable as it is humorous. It reads like a memory we might have been a part of in another life and reminds us of our shared humanity through even the most painful times of self-discovery.

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Lizzie Klaesges is a Minneapolis-based writer and marketer with recent publications in Rain Taxi, The Critical Flame, and Allegory Ridge. She definitely does not still think about aliens.

A Review of Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich’s The Fact of the Body

November 29, 2017 § 4 Comments

fact body'By Rachael Teresa Hanel

I’m writing a book about someone who made some bad decisions. She bought a gun, kidnapped a woman, held up a bank, and on the very last day of her life shot at SWAT officers. Camilla Hall’s protest of injustice in America in the 1970s—as a member of the violent Symbionese Liberation Army—took a violent turn that put many people in harm’s way.

If you read anything about Camilla today, the story you get is one only of her bad decisions.  Yet, in researching her entire life, I find myself feeling tremendous empathy for her. She grew up with three siblings, but all three had died by the time Camilla was in high school. Her parents were loving, but distant. She kept it secret from them that she was a lesbian. A bubbly personality masked intense sadness and frustration.

I’m trying to uncover who she was before she became the one story the media tell. After reading Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich’s The Fact of a Body:A Murder and a Memoir, I understand I’m looking for what are called “causes in fact” in legal terms. What are the possible causes that led Camilla down a violent path? Is there a “proximate cause” that a judge or jury could point to as “the one” cause? Can any action ever be explained with just one “proximate cause”? The law says yes. Marzano-Lesnevich, a trained lawyer, says, “wait a minute….”

The case that gave her pause was that of Ricky Langley, who had been sentenced to death before getting a retrial. Marzano-Lesnevich stumbled upon his case while interning for an anti-death penalty organization. She was staunchly against the death penalty until she learned about Langley. The violence he was accused of, and how it related to a dark secret in her family, endeared in her no empathy. She wanted him to die.

So she set off on a journey to explain her change of heart. What she found surprised her: the more she learned about Langley, the more she saw herself. They had more in common than she would have ever thought: alcoholic dads, a dead sibling, and families who pretended the dark past had never happened. She and Langley were two people destined to be damaged. Both lived lives that spiraled out of control. But the difference for Marzano-Lesnevich was that she recognized her self-destruction and stopped it before it was too late.

This is a story of a search for causes in fact, a search for why we become who we become. It’s also a story about humanity and understanding. Is there room for compassion in the face of evil? Is there room for empathy for the accused? Marzano-Lesnevich struggles with finding the answers to those questions for people in her own life, and she projects those questions onto the case of Langley.

This is a work of narrative nonfiction, in which Marzano-Lesnevich augments the facts with her imagination. She uses dialogue when she didn’t hear it and assigns thoughts and feelings to others. But ever the lawyer, at the end of the book she meticulously lists the sources consulted in each chapter. She makes it clear when she has basis in fact and when she’s used her imagination to make scenes bloom. For example, when writing about a woman taking a swig of alcohol: “Upon the bare information about the drink in the play, I have layered my imagination of what the moment must have been like. That said, the drink does not occur in other descriptions of the search, and should be considered disputed.” I am thankful that this lawyerly voice is reserved only for the sources consulted section. Marzano-Lesnevich the creative writer appears consistently throughout the book itself.

Stylistically, Marzano-Lesnevich uses an odd construction throughout the book that repeatedly took me out of the story. She consistently interrupts scenes from the past with future tense. In one scene showing her mom getting ready for a night out: “She shimmies control-top pantyhose up her legs. Never a bra—my mother, flat-chested like I will be, hates bras.” By page 40, it became distracting enough that I started circling each “will.” On one two-page span, I circled “will” thirteen times.

But still, I was left with a thought-provoking story that puts my own character of Camilla into perspective. We see ourselves in others, even those we may despise on the surface. As Marzano-Lesnevich writes, “What you see in Ricky may depend more on who you are than on who he is.”

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Rachael Hanel is the author of We’ll Be the Last Ones to Let You Down: Memoir of a Gravedigger’s Daughter (University of Minnesota Press, 2013). She teaches Mass Media at Minnesota State University, Mankato.

More Chinese Brevity

November 28, 2017 § Leave a comment

china_brevityWe posted yesterday about Brevity magazine’s new availability in Chinese translation, specifically on the Chinese social media platforms Zhihu and WeChat. Today, we are happy to share four more essays-in-translation:

The Ten-Year Wake by Sue William Silverman:

https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/KE8QSQCU7PazUwpFYft4Fw. (WeChat)

https://zhuanlan.zhihu.com/p/31205977 (Zhihu)

The Shape of Emptiness by Brenda Miller:

https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/7JehzNpp1LG3akUjMX32xQ. (WeChat)

https://zhuanlan.zhihu.com/p/31206160 (Zhihu)

Anniversary Disease by Diane Seuss:

https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/kZuUgwAnV0iMMgBwAP8j-A. (WeChat)

https://zhuanlan.zhihu.com/p/31424634 (Zhihu)

What Bad Owners Say at the Dog Park by Lise Funderburg:

https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/XyNh2l1G2ZUEFJzbIye7Lw (WeChat)

https://zhuanlan.zhihu.com/p/31424698 (Zhihu)

Meanwhile, If you missed yesterday’s post, the details are here:

For Chinese readers, Brevity will go under the name One Leaf. Tong Tong, part of the translation team, explains: “We intend to translate ‘Brevity’ into ‘一叶 yi ye’ in Chinese. Its literary meaning is ‘one leaf,’ and it’s an abbreviation of a Chinese idiom ‘一叶知秋,’ which means that one can sense the advent of autumn via the changes on one leaf. We think that it shows the power of brief writing. In addition, it is a homophone of ‘一页,’ which means one page of paper. We hope you like this name!”

We very much like the name, and we are happy to share the first three postings, including the editor’s introduction to our 20th Anniversary Issue:

“On Turning Twenty”: https://zhuanlan.zhihu.com/p/31011523

And these essays:

Ira Sukrungruang’s “Invisible Partners”: https://zhuanlan.zhihu.com/p/31011526

Rebecca McLanahan’s “The Birthday Place”: https://zhuanlan.zhihu.com/p/31011527

 

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