Awp 2014: Flash ‘Em

March 20, 2014 § 5 Comments

flashA belated AWP panel report from Alle C. Hall, on the panel “Getting Short-Form Nonfiction to Readers: A Publication Discussion”:

The place was packed.

Kelly Sundberg opened the panel with words worth my conference fee. She made the case that flash is too often and not thoughtfully enough categorized by length. Sundberg delineated four qualities differentiating flash from short fiction or nonfiction:

1.     Image.
Flash lacks space for explanation and multiple characters. Image is the way into the emotional experience.

2.     Compression.
Nix grammar & punctuation. Fragment good.

3.     Structure
Flash connects emotionally. Intuition is stronger in than in a longer piece. There, lean on structure.

4.     Title
Don’t just label it. Make those words do double duty.

Speaking next, Sarah Einstein, managing editor of Brevity, justified hotel costs by laying out what makes a submission work for the magazine

  • Brevity leans toward memoir over thinky.
  • For thinky-er pieces, try Slate.
  • “We are not the edgyist journal on the planet. Brevity is not usually shocky—raw sex and drugs.”
  • Sex and drugs? That would be a Pank piece.

Moving to what she sees too often, Einstein said, “Ten – 15% of submissions are set at a funeral or doctor’s office.”

  • “Those are the moment that hit the writer in gut … (but they do not necessarily) hit the reader in the gut.
  •  If writing about the loss of a loved one, write “the moment that you get it, that they are gone for good, and what you will miss. Write what you are doing at the time.”

Then came Creative Nonfiction’s Hattie Fletcher. Although CNF recently published several two-page essays, their tweet feature is where they do short. In the name of parallel structure, I thank Fletcher for covering my coffee expenditures.

Fletcher summarized a CNF certified-good tweet:

  • Tell a story.
    • You don’t have much room for reflection, but you must have a “my take.”
    • Find meaning.
    • You see a crazy person on the bus, and then another person says this.
    • Use the juxtaposition to convey observation.
    • Too many read like jokes, observations or description.
    • Or settle for describing a character.
    • The biggest challenge:
      • Get outside your head.
      • Don’t make your tweet cryptic.

The final speaker, Chelsea Biondolillo, posted a summation of her presentation here. Astoundingly, it includes a list of magazines accepting short nonfiction. To be clear, she is sharing what must have been hundreds of hours of research.

With this post, she is saving us all that time and all that rejection heartbreak.

The more I sift through the gifts of the panel, the less I want to poke fun at monetary value or highfalutin’ academia. I’ve been to plenty of commercial conferences. Not once did a writer make as selfless a gesture as Biondolillo’s. Not once did editors give as much submission information about a competing magazine as they did about their own.

AWP is a special experience. Thank AWP. Join. Return. Thank the presenters. Subscribe. Buy books. Donate. Today.

Alle C. Hall won The Richard Hugo House New Works Competition. Favorite publications in Creative Nonfiction, Bust, Literary Mama, Seattle Times, Seattle Weekly, and The Stranger (Contributing Writer). She blogs at About Childhood: Answers for Writers, Parents, and Former Children. Stop by. She’s happy to talk your ear off.

#writertruth: Twitter and Interactivity at #AWP14

March 6, 2014 § Leave a comment

tweetwallBy Allison Pinkerton

Standing in front of the live tweet wall outside the AWP Bookfair in Seattle this weekend, I realized something: We’re not on Walden Pond anymore. (In fact, Thoreau would probably be “Thoreau-ly” disgruntled at the social media presence.) This year’s tweets aren’t from birds on solitary lakes in the woods. This year’s tweets come from writers in real time, recording their experiences.

The Twitter presence at the AWP Bookfair this year seems a lot stronger than in past years—there’s the live tweet wall, where tweets with #AWP14 are posted, (“#AWP14 is all hugs and books and hugs and books and hugs”, for example, and “Thought this couple was breaking up (desperate kisses & ‘I love you’s’) but no—just separating to use the restrooms #AWP14.”)  There’s also a Tweet Up, where people who are live-tweeting AWP can meet in person. Some journals offer prizes to conference-goers who tweet pictures win prizes. (Red Hen was offering free candy. Sarabande Books offered 25% off any book if conference-goers tweeted pictures of a “Hustle” tattoo.)

In the spirit of the tweeting writers, I’ll include my two cents on the AWP Bookfair in 40 characters or less:

@AWPwriter Writing advice at the One Story table: “Marry rich.” #writertruth #AWP14

@AWPwriter Happy small presses offer review copies. #starvingforpubs #AWP14

@AWPwriter  In Bookfair aisle: Rejections from writers on each side.  #writertruth #starvingforpubs #seriouslystarvingforpubs

@AWPwriter The NEA asks: “Why Do You Write?” Answer: “For the fuzzy animals.” #alsomymomreadsmywork

@AWPwriter Haiku board at The Southeast Review: “Short short contest runs/Each year until Mar. 15th/Risk is way worth it

@AWPwriter Overheard at AWP: She’s the writer. I’m the muse #Oregonstatemfabooth

@AWPwriter Overheard at AWP: How many berets have you counted?

@AWPwriter Overheard at AWP: If u want 2 write commercial fiction, write commercials.

@AWPwriter So many books, so many writers. #litnerdutopia #

This Twitter presence might be forming out of sometimes solitary artists’ need to belong. At Hedgebrook, conference-goers used #equalvoice to explain how they support women writers: “I support #equalvoice by being an active listener”, “Helping girls and women find their writing voices”, and “Writing for the silent.”

Community formed in other ways, too: Kaya Press and Writlarge Press worked to bring writers the opportunity to create three-minute-art. Writers were encouraged to write at an old-fashioned typewriter and write for three minutes. At the end of the day, each piece was compiled into a group of anthologies. At the Seattle Arts and Lectures booth, writers could create erasure poems by taking a piece of text and erasing each word except the ones that will make up the poems. At Hoot, writers rolled a giant die to win prizes, including copies of the postcard-sized literary journal. One booth even had writing-related fortunes for conference-goers: “Expect some deus ex machina today.”

Interactive Bookfair booths connect writers to each other. The interactivity served a greater purpose best articulated by Antioch University Los Angeles. “Community, not competition.”

Allison Pinkerton is an MFA student studying fiction at the University of Central Florida. Her fiction has appeared in damselfly press and VENICE Magazine. Her short screenplay, Neverland Lost, was a finalist in the 2013 SoCal Independent Film Festival.



AWP 2014 Tragedy: Missed Panel

March 5, 2014 § Leave a comment

awpChristine Chiosi blogs on the often-difficult re-entry from AWP literary fervor:

Back home from the AWP and still in jet lag mode.  First on the agenda—unpack, laundry, sift through mail.  The bright lights and colors of the book fair still flash in my peripheral vision.  Dust collects on rugs, bedposts, my writing desk.  Yeah.  About that. The writing desk, I mean. Hello, Mr. Writing desk. How’d you fare while I was gone?

No way I’m sitting in that desk chair right now.  I have enough journals (and enough kindling) to torch Rome, enough new poetry collections, memoirs, novels, to keep me busy for a decade.  How’s a gal supposed to write surrounded by all that?  Simple, my right brain answers:  Put your fingers on the keyboard and fly!  Okay, but just for a few minutes.

My first written lines—a poem about Hermes checking into the Seattle Sheraton.  Then another load of laundry.  A second work describing a date between Hera and Jack Nicholson that never actually happens. She stays home and fixes Zeus a casserole instead.  As a work, it’s only so-so, but it keeps me entertained.  The phone rings.  Local hospital asking me to pay a $900 bill for a procedure that was supposed to cost $275.  It was only an estimate, the representative argues.

Last night watched Strapped on Hulu while waiting for a call from Urgent Care where my mom had checked in with a fever and palpitations. Very racy movie.  Interesting.  Dark.  Aye Dios Mio! Mom wails into her end of the phone, a few hours away from mine.  Christine, don’t let me die. Is this hyperbole?  Is she critical?  4AM and they transfer her to a hospital.  Pulmonary embolism, they say.

Putting out the trash.  Fixing my Wi-Fi connection. Packing a suitcase for a trip to Mom’s.  Cancelling Friday’s appointment with the shrink, Saturday’s appearance at the Philadelphia Stories opening for Extraordinary Lives, which features one of my poems.  Cold lasagna for breakfast.  Two Tastycakes for lunch.  Third cup of black coffee today.  Folding.

Thinking about that novel I’m working on, set during the Civil War, wherein the main character does or doesn’t commit murder.  Thinking about that panel at the AWP discussing how to write about murder.  Thinking about how I couldn’t get into the room, because there wasn’t an empty seat in the place.  Thinking about murder—how am I suppose to write a murder into my novel?  I’m mostly a poet, for godsakes.  Thinking about checking in on my second load of laundry in the dryer.  In the basement.  Is it dry yet?  Thinking about how or wtf! or why I should pay that extra $700 to the hospital, when they  ef’d up on the estimate.  About whether I should shovel snow today, before I drive a few hours to see Mom in the hospital, so I won’t get fined by the township for not shoveling snow off my walkway.  And thinking about when, when, I’ll get back home to my writing desk.  About whether an entire manuscript might grow from my nascent poems.  About writing.  About murder.  About how to write one as if someone is actually doing it.

Retiring early from the practice of medicine, Christine Chiosi, now spends her time writing poetry and short fiction. Her poetry appears in several journals, including Painted Bride Quarterly, Carpe Articulum , CloudbankSierra Nevada Review, and was featured on-air by National Public Radio.  Currently she is enrolled in the doctoral program in Medical Humanities at Drew University, focusing in the area of Narrative Medicine.


AWP 2014: No Shame for Women Writers

March 4, 2014 § 8 Comments

awp seattleA guest post on the panel “Breaking Silences: Women’s Memoir as an Act of Rebellion” from Tabitha Blankenbiller:

It feels like everyone goes to AWP looking for something.

Perhaps it’s a check mark on a list, one of those must-haves that we’re told we must shore up before our careers will take off. An MFA, an agent, a Tweet that nabs you 1,000 followers. Then there’s my demographic, those who are beginning to lose faith at one of the dozens of steep inclines in the process, and wander the convention center imploring each room for a sign.

When I sat for the panel “Breaking Silences: Women’s Memoir as an Act of Rebellion,” I was doubting my memoir manuscript. It’s being shopped, and over the past few weeks there’s been a harmonic chord of the same no: what great work! Too bad there’s not enough platform. I was doubting the validity of my experiences and their relevance. I hadn’t promised my boyfriend that I’d make him 300 sandwiches for an engagement ring, and I wasn’t on “The Office.” A tendril of shame was rooting in my heart; the embarrassment of sharing stories that weren’t good enough. That my life on the page wasn’t worthy.

There was a humming, static verve in Room 607. The energy of a packed house fed up with expectations and niches and double standards, impatient for stories to be elevated by bravery and beauty and merit rather than the shelves of gender, race, and age we’ve been forced to inherit. Each woman on the panel had fearlessly written her own truths, despite the anger, discomfort, and squeamishness they’d caused the patriarchal literary establishment. The collective hunger for a revolution was electric.

When Anna March implored us to give up shame for telling stories, I felt my heart’s hinges squeak open. “Don’t get pushed into an arc,” she said. Women’s memoir is an internal journey that we share, and doesn’t have to be Julie and Julia-style or Lifetime special-ready. “Life is a lot messier than that.” Reading women’s memoir makes women and their lives visible no matter the commonality or grandeur of their experience, which is a powerful act.

Kate Hopper echoed the sentiment when she described her obstacles of writing about motherhood, a subject big publishing does not often consider worthy of literature. It’s shoved into patronizing genres like “mom-oir” and we begin to believe what we’re told about our stories not mattering. She felt fear blossoming as the shame of her experience—a woman’s experience—set in. The same noxious weed I felt inside of myself. “We become shameful, not shameless,” she warned.

Connie Mae Fowler, in the panel’s closing, pointed out that there is no section of the bookstore called “men’s lit” or, to the room’s delight, “dick lit.” No man describes his work as “confessional.” He doesn’t have to. As women memoir writers, it’s essential to keep kicking out of the box, the narrow shelf, to refuse to shut up. “Victims must keep secrets. Rebellion and ascension require storytelling.”

Although I had another 48 hours left in Seattle, I could have left AWP on these warrior writer’s words and had exactly the reawakening to continue the fight. Judging from the panel’s delirious applause, I was hardly alone. I refuse to apologize again for my book, even in my head. I will keep churning out words and reading those of other women writers. I will kick until my legs fall off.

Tabitha Blankenbiller is a graduate of the Pacific University MFA program who currently lives in Tucson, Arizona. Her work has been featured in journals such as HobartBarrelhouse, and Brevity, and her memoir-in-essays Paper Bag: Tales of Love, Beauty, and Baggage is represented by Penumbra Literary.

You Can Haz Brevity Chapbooks

February 25, 2014 § 2 Comments

chapsAt our first-ever AWP Bookfair table (A40), we will be selling our first-ever Brevity chapbooks, at $1.50 a pop, or five for $5.  Brief essays from Brenda Miller, Heather Sellers, Joey Franklin, Kent Shaw, and Ira Sukrungruang.  We’re pretty excited.

Plus, three of the authors will be in Seattle and will drop by to sign your copies, so stop in and buy a few while they last.  Here’s the schedule:


4:15                 Brenda Miller


11 am             Ira Sukrungruang

2 pm               Joey Franklin

AWP Blogger Shout Out

February 21, 2014 § 1 Comment

Seattle AWP Starbucks logo

With Thanks to Kelli Russell Agodon

We are mightily pleased by the strong response to our call for guest bloggers during next week’s AWP Seattle Conference.  Here is a reminder for those of you who have volunteered:

When your blog post is ready, e-mail to   About 500 words is best. Please include a two or three sentence bio note when you submit. Photos welcome but not necessary. We’ll post it as soon as the wi-fi fairies allow.

If you are wondering what is open and what is claimed, check out the comments section of these blog postings:

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