Tag Archives: writing

Please, Mr. Postman


mailboxes, originally uploaded by dcJohn.

On Monday, I received no mail. Periodically through the day, I peered out the door to check. I went to the USPS website to verify that it wasn’t a federal holiday. It wasn’t a holiday, but my mailbox remained empty.

I spent the day on the computer — as I almost always do — and was connected with friends, family, and colleagues the whole time. All the same, I felt I had been passed over, disconnected from the world. How could I have received nothing?

Tuesday, the mailman brought a couple of store fliers, a couple of credit card bills, and a catalog I didn’t want.

Today, I happened to be in the living room looking out the window when the mailman trotted up the porch steps. I went out to say hello and receive the mail in person: another store flier (I didn’t even look to see which), a couple of credit card offers, and a thank you note from CASH Music for subscribing.

The thank you note was a nice touch, but it got me to thinking about kinds of mail and my preferences. Store fliers are the least interesting, junk mail and credit card offers only slightly better, then catalogs as a whole, then catalogs from which i occasionally buy things, then mail from organizations with which I’m involved, bills (hate them, but need them), and then checks. I definitely like checks.

Of course I most prefer to receive correspondence, real letters from real people. But what a rarity that has become! Outside of Christmas/holiday cards, I receive just a few hand-written notes a year, mostly thank yous. I can’t remember the last letter I received by mail.

To receive, you must give. So I’m going to make an effort to write letters. Being goal-oriented, I’m tempted to set a goal like "one letter per month." That seems ridiculously low, yet it would still be twelve more letters than I wrote last year. So, at least one letter per month it is.

Would you like me to write to you? Send me postcard or letter and I will respond. Cynthia Closkey, 711 East Brady Street, Butler, PA 16001. I look forward to hearing from you!

Related: check out Craig Oldham’s hand.written.letter.project.

(Link to hand.written.letter.project thanks to Coudal.)

Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award

The prizes

The prizes, originally uploaded by Photocapy.

My friend Beth Polen submitted the manuscript for her middle-grade novel, Wish, to the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest late last year. She recently received word that the novel has been selected for the semi-finals.

I’ve had the good fortune to read portions of Wish in progress. It’s terrific. The characters are lively and engaging, the plot trips and twists along, and it’s a great read.

You can read an excerpt of Wish and the other semi-finalists, and submit your reviews as well, at Amazon.com. Any reviews you write will contribute to the decision of which books reach the finals, plus if you submit reviews you’ll be eligible to win prizes as well.

Continue reading Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award

What we talk about when we talk about editing

Dept. of Corrections

Dept. of Corrections, originally uploaded by p373.

Caroline of Pinky’s Paperhaus raises interesting questions about a recent piece in The New Yorker about Raymond Carver, his editor Gordon Lish, and the editing of Carver’s work. The piece is highly critical of Lish, but more importantly it’s unsigned — no indication is made of who wrote it.

Caroline notes:

Life and Letters pieces going back to 2006 have been signed. I’ve been a subscriber for more than a decade and I can’t think of another unsigned piece of any significant length. 2,200 words is no brief paragraph — it’s substantial work, one that makes a specific argument. Who wouldn’t want to take credit for it? Why would the New Yorker, which values writers as much as any contemporary periodical does, omit this particular byline?

All this new fuss about Carver — his relationship with Lish and the extent to which Lish may have crafted his signature style — is getting attention as Tess Gallagher, his widow, makes moves to print his pre-edited, pre-Lish stories in a new book.

The efforts to publish his work unedited seem to go hand in hand with the calcification of the uncomplicated, lost-and-then-found version of his biography.

I had just finished reading the piece when I read Caroline’s blog post. I hadn’t noticed that it was unsigned, and now that I know that I put a lot less faith into the story it tells.

I remain interested in comparing "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love" and "Beginners" — the edited, well-known version of a key Carver story and the pre-edited version. See the edits at the New Yorker website.

The long goodbye

Stephen King says goodbye to Harry Potter:

When it comes to Harry, part of me — a fairly large part, actually — can hardly bear to say goodbye. I’d guess that J.K. Rowling feels the same, although I’d also guess those feelings are mingled with the relief of knowing that the work is finally done, for better or worse.

And I’m a grown-up, for God’s sake — a damn Muggle! Think how it must be for all the kids who were 8 when Harry debuted in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, with its cartoon jacket and modest (500 copies) first edition. Those kids are now 18, and when they close the final book, they will be in some measure closing the book on their own childhoods — magic summers spent in the porch swing, or reading under the covers at camp with flashlights in hand, or listening to Jim Dale’s recordings on long drives to see Grandma in Cincinnati or Uncle Bob in Wichita. My advice to families containing Harry Potter readers: Stock up on the Kleenex. You’re gonna need it.

(Link via Coudal.)

Xtreme Critique Weekend

Coming in two weeks, it’s Fat Plum’s Xtreme Critique Weekend in Greensburg, PA.

It’s the perfect writing get-away: a full weekend to focus on your writing and to connect with other writers.

You’ll participate in five 3-hour critiquing sessions (each group will have six or fewer writers), receiving feedback from your session leaders as well as other attendees. You may decide to read and receive feedback on successive chapters or a novel or nonfiction manuscript, or share several essays or short stories.

Plus, you’ll have a full weekend to interact with writing peers and professionals in a warm, non-competitive and nurturing environment!

When: June 29 to July 1, 2007 — Friday evening to Sunday noon

Where: Bishop Connare Center in Greensburg, PA (approximately 30 miles east of Pittsburgh)

Get the details, including costs, at the Fat Plum website. I hope you’ll join us!

One lump or two? Or three?

Friday was a three-coffeeshop day.

I started at Cummings Candy and Coffee, not working but writing, trying to restore to memory what I’ve done so far in the writing of my novel. Cummings has terrific booths with classic wood seats and marble table-tops, and a warm small town vibe, which makes it ideal for writing (or pretending to write).

From there I moved on to the Panera in Highland Park, just south of the PA Turnpike. It also has a warm and welcoming vibe, although none of Cummings’s history. My Fat Plum partners and I have been meeting there for months. We like it for the endless refills on the coffee and the way the tables can be rearranged for multi-person meetings. Also, we can get something substantial to eat there — a little too substantial, actually. I lay the blame for at least 10 of the 15 pounds I gained last year on the shoulders of Panera Bread.

We put in a couple of hours, discussing business and life and bringing everyone up to speed on recent writing progress. We brainstormed the ending of my novel for a while with great results. No actual ending, but several good pieces which will gel soon I’m certain.

And then, on the way back to Butler, I stopped at a Starbucks to check out the long-anticipated Chantico Drinking Chocolate. The Chantico was announced months ago but not to be released until 2005. Well, 2005 is here, and I thought I’d do some reconnaisance on it for my Cummings employers. After all, chocolate is the Cummings game. We like to be aware of modern coffeehouse developments.

I first checked for posters announcing the Chantico. Nothing. Then I searched the chalkboard menus. Again, zilch. I resigned myself to the idea that it was being introduced in big cities first and wouldn’t make its way to little suburbs like ours for some weeks.

At the counter I told the girl that I’d read a newspaper article about a new chocolate drink they were introducing. Was it available?

She knew right away what I was talking about. "It’s not on the menu yet," she said. "I can check whether we’re allowed to sample it." Before I could say anything she’d walked to a nearby manager for a conference. He immediately looked stern and shook his head, saying something as he looked to where I stood at the counter, checking what sort of person I might be.

The girl came back to deliver the bad news. "We’re not allowed to sample it out until next week."

She seemed relieved that I wasn’t upset and quickly typed in my alternate order for a vanilla steamer. (Actually, according to Starbucks terminology I ordered a vanilla creme, which is steamed milk with vanilla steamer. At Cummings, any flavored steamed milk is a steamer, and it’s about a dollar cheaper than what Starbucks charges. It’s also less likely to be burned. Although my vanilla creme was yummy, I have to say.)

Still in my innocent chocolate enthusiast persona, I asked the Stabucks coffee girl whether the new chocolate drink was hard to make.

"No, it’s easy. You steam the chocolate. But there’s milk in it too. We sampled it earlier — it’s really good."

I thanked her warmly, secure in the thought that Cummings could match or exceed the Chantico offering easily, even without having sampled it.

On my return home I rechecked the press release to find that the Chantico would be released officially on January 8 — I was a mere one day off.

Actually, I then also stopped by Cummings to pick up my paycheck for the previous two weeks. I didn’t have a coffee because after my bottomless Panera cup I felt positively fried — it turns out there is a maximum to my coffee intake after all.