In You We Trust

November 28, 2017 § 9 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 § 16 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 § 11 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 #3 Rick Moody and Athena Dixon

December 12, 2016 § 1 Comment

vintage-bakelite-radio-green_small2jpg2It’s time once again for the 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 #3 features an interview with Rick Moody on form, function, life coaching and how to handle the part of depression that makes one want to walk in front of a bus, without losing access to one’s creative spirit. We also speak with Athena Dixon, editor-in-chief and founder of Linden Avenue Lit, about where and how to find new voices of color, and the evolution of her writing from R&B fan fic to establishing a strong new literary magazine.

Show notes and links to people, places and things we’ve discussed are below. Next month, we’ll be talking with Ander Monson, editor-in-chief of Diagram, and Brian Doyle, author of Mink River.

Our episode sponsor is the recorded webinar, Developmental Editing for Fiction and Memoir – useful for authors and editors, and available at Editors Canada (note that the price is in CDN$).

Show Notes: Episode #3 People, Books and Places

Born and raised in NE Ohio, Athena Dixon has been writing for as long as she can remember. From her first short stories to her very first poem, My Dad is Grand, language has been an immeasurable influence on her life. Through her early days sharing her work in online poetry forums, to her days as an open mic poet, Athena has honed her voice into a carefully considered balance of everyday life, childhood memories, and exquisite wordplay. Athena is founder and editor-in-chief of Linden Avenue Literary Journal, a monthly online publication of poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction. She is also a poetry reviewer for Fifth Wednesday Journal. She writes, edits, and resides in Philadelphia.

Linden Avenue Literary

Citrine Magazine

Blavity

The Rising Phoenix Review

Major Jackson

Athena’s favorite poem, Euphoria by Major Jackson

Athena’s favorite Another Bad Creation song, Jealous Girl. (The band looks like they’re about 9 years old!)

Rick Moody was born in New York City. He attended Brown and Columbia universities. He has won awards including the Addison Metcalf Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the NAMI/ Ken Book Award, and the PEN Martha Albrand Prize for Excellence in Memoir. His short fiction and journalism have been featured in such work as Best American Stories 2001, Best American Essays 2004, and other anthologies. He has released multiple novels including The Ice Storm and Hotels of North America and the memoir The Black Veil, works of short fiction, music albums, and co-founded the Young Lions Book Award. He has taught at the State University of New York at Purchase, the Bennington College Writing Seminars, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. He lives in Brooklyn, New York with his wife, daughter, and brand new baby son. Write him with your challenges at Rick Moody, Life Coach.
Metonymy: the substitution of the name of an attribute or adjunct for that of the thing meant, for example suit for business executive, or the track for horse racing.

Crossroads: the story of Robert Johnson and the Devil, on Radiolab

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

Great (Audio) Moments in Storytelling

December 8, 2016 § 7 Comments

Dive in, then get to the background

Dive in, then get to the background

Hark! The Brevity Podcast sings once again on Monday, with Rick Moody and Athena Dixon gracing our airwaves. To tide you over, here are some of our favorite podcasts–some with amazing storytelling, others with sharp tips on story structure. Download a few for your car time or your dinner prep, and we look forward to sharing our own Episode 3!

 

Story Structure: The ‘e’

Transom has long been an excellent source for both radio-makers and storytellers in other mediums. Their podcast How Sound talks about positioning the narrator, asking good questions–even how to approach difficult interview subjects. This episode addresses a story structure often used in magazine articles and personal essays. It looks like a lowercase ‘e’ and solves the problem of how to get the reader involved right away when you still need backstory. The How Sound team breaks down a specific radio story, stopping and starting to point out the structural elements. Only about 20 minutes long, and a must-listen for anyone struggling with where or when to start an essay.

The Mystery Show: Belt Buckle

Starlee Kine hosts this charming, low-key show in which each episode, she solves a mystery that can’t be figured out on the internet. This is the best of last season’s six episodes, and it is beautiful and heartbreaking and pure delight. Listen when you need some feel-good catharsis that’s still plenty meaningful, and notice how she wraps a whole story around a single, quirky object.

Love & Radio: Jack & Ellen

The sound quality is a little weird at the beginning, but stick it out. This is one of the craziest, most twisted, fascinating and bizarre true stories I’ve ever heard. Anything specific I can tell you would wreck it, but know that it’s about turning the tables on some not-very-nice people. Structurally, this story starts us thinking one thing, turns it into something else, and the takeaway is a different subtext entirely. A good one for when you’re struggling with a deep, layered story. Not safe for work or kids.

Reply All: Perfect Crime

What do you do when you love doing something everyone else hates? Actor Catherine Russell is the one-woman motivation behind the worst-reviewed still-running play in New York. She already knows the audience will walk out puzzled, annoyed, even hostile. So why keep doing it? For when you aren’t really sure if the world is ready for your work (it is).

Podquiz

This has zero to do with storytelling. But if you like quizzes and trivia, and you really, really need to get your brain into a neutral, reasonably positive place, this short weekly quiz is a great way to get the neurons firing. Skip the music played between the main quiz and the answers, it’s always terrible. Or revel in the hideousness. Your call. Then go write something, using the weirdest answer as a prompt.

Happy listening–and take a moment to subscribe to the Brevity Podcast, won’t you? If you’re already a happy listener, please leave us a review!

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Allison K Williams hosts the Brevity Podcast.

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