Jodi Paloni’s Collection Reveals Small Town Life

Jodi Paloni’s linked story collection, They Could Live With Themselves, has been called wise and brave. Quietly observant and written in deceptively simple prose, she explores the hidden lives of the citizens of a fictional Vermont small town called Stark Run. This debut book was runner up in the 2015 Press 53 Award for Short Fiction and published by Press 53. As always, I’m interested in the path to publication for a first book. How did this collection take shape and now that Jodi lives and writes in Maine will that wild and beautiful state become the focus of future work? VP: Over how many years did you write the stories in your collection? JP: In a sense, I think the writing of They Could Live With Themselves about a small New England town was in the works   long before I sat down to write them. I’ve been “gathering” personal experiences that fed the well of this project for years. That said, I started working on fiction in earnest back in 2010 during my MFA program at Vermont College. I finished the final story about three weeks before publication date in the spring of 2016. “The Physics of Light” was an add-on to the original manuscript. That is

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Leslie Pietrzyk on How to Build a Writing Life

Leslie Pietrrzyk and I met at the wonderful Virginia Center for the Creative Arts years ago and really hit if off. I enjoyed her first two novels and waited eagerly for the next. But as she describes in this interview, sometimes writing takes longer than we hope–and publishing even more so! But her experience shows there are ways to build a writing life, even when you’re not publishing. Her advice here is spot on and so important. Luckily for us all, she kept writing and her moving short story collection, This Angel on My Chest, won the Drue Heinz Literature Prize and was published last year. As she describes, she wrote it pretty much on her own. But Leslie is not an isolated writer. Her work is known and much admired. She’s a bright and generous star in the constellation of writers out there today.  VP: Your two wonderful novels–Pears on a Willow Tree and A Year and a Day–came out some years ago. I read them and admired them both. And for many years, you published short stories in top notch literary magazines. But if I remember correctly, you had a hard time placing a third novel. But then, something miraculous happened: you

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Why Blogging Takes a Backseat: or, the Birth of a New Book!

I can offer the best good excuse from any writer: my manuscript ate my blog! I’ve ignored this blog shamelessly because my writing brain has been elsewhere–in another far off, purely fictional, land. I’m thrilled to share that I have completed a strong draft of my long-time-coming manuscript, SLEEPWALKING TO CHINA. I’ve sent it off to my agent for the second time. Technically, she’s read it three times, the first being almost a decade ago, but that’s another story. Or perhaps it’s the same story. Because while some novels come forth in tidy, easily delivered packages, this one has been birthed slowly over several lifetimes. But before I explain: here’s a visual to prove I’ve been working: I outlined and and reshaped and outlined some more, using my trusty and colorful 3 x 5 cards. I used them also for River of Dust and Dreams of the Red Phoenix, but this time, they were especially needed to keep my story from sprawling. There are some scenes in this novel that I first wrote when I was fresh out of graduate school at Sarah Lawrence College, many, many years ago. Those scenes are what attracted an excellent agent to the book in its earliest incarnation. Since then, it has

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Grateful not Griping in Final Days before Launch

In the final days leading up to the launch of Dreams of the Red Phoenix, I’m busy writing. That seems logical, since I’m a writer. But now is not the time to work on another novel, but instead on short guest blog essays, literally hundreds of email invitations, Facebook and Twitter comments and shares. Writing as basic communication is needed at this time. Fielding invitations to do book events. Encouraging old friends and new to come to those events. Sharing whatever bits of wisdom I can offer about books and writing and life on the blogs of colleagues who I now consider friends. I am pedaling as fast as I can on the publicity bicycle that is this part of the writing life. Pedaling and peddling, so I can then enjoy the long coast down hill that will be the pleasure of sharing my second novel. Because as soon as I finish all this communicating via email and social media, I will share Dreams of the Red Phoenix–in person! I have sixteen book events set up and more in the works. Most of them will take place between October 7-November 5. My launch happens in Richmond, VA, where I lived for seventeen years until quite recently. Followed by other

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Capturing Memory & Change in Writing

Change. Change. Change. It’s a kick in the pants. It’s good for you. It makes you grow. It’s hard, but worth it. Since deciding to move, I’ve heard or thought of every cliché about change imaginable, and each one rings true. After seventeen years in Richmond in the same wonderful house, my husband and I recently moved to Cambridge. We raised our kids in RVA, but we live now as empty nesters. We evolved into our adult selves in RVA, and we are now those people we became. I wrote five novels in my Richmond study overlooking the backyard and little fishpond. Now I’m at a desk in a modern home on a narrow side street in Cambridge with a view of treetops and an old farmhouse across the way. As best as I can tell, the move is good, though hard in ways that pull me up short. Before moving, I asked our Richmond house painter to remove and preserve the doorjamb where our kids’ heights had been written. In our new home, I stand at a loss in the living room with the strip of wood in my hand. It’s pictured here in the back of my car on moving day–too precious an

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Author and Blogger David Abrams Does it All

After the great success of his debut novel, Fobbit, I wanted to check in with David Abrams to see what he’s working on next. I’ve come to rely on his daily book blog, The Quivering Pen, and when he stopped posting earlier this year so he could focus on his own writing, I grew curious. David is such a vital and generous presence in the literary community, I was intrigued to learn how he manages to do it all–pen books and oversee an important and much-read blog. Here is his answer to the time management conundrum that all writers face: I’m a people pleaser. Before you go saying, “Hey, that’s great!” let me stop you by saying, People Pleasing has ruined my soul. Oh sure, it’s all well and good on the surface: putting others first, altruism, the wisdom of New Testament Bible verses, etc., etc. But all that Others First philosophy means I put my own needs in second, third, or last place. I spend so much time thinking-slash-worrying about what others think and feel and need that it leaves precious little “Me Time.” (To my dear wife who might be reading this: please note that I will ALWAYS put you first–just wanted to

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Posted in The novel, The Writing Life, Uncategorized, Writing Advice

Michele Young-Stone: Finding the Light in the Dark

Michele Young-Stone’s first novel, The Handbook for Lightening Strike Survivors established her as a new and distinct voice in American letters. Her second novel, Above Us Only Sky, is now out and is every bit as original, heartfelt and lovingly written as her first. It is a magical novel about a family of women separated by oceans, generations, and war, but connected by something much greater—the gift of wings. Both novels offer whimsical, imaginative stories that balance danger and the dark side of life with an uplifting spirit. Lydia Netzer, author of the Shine, Shine, Shine and How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky, has called, Above Us Only Sky “…a raw, beautiful, unforgettable book that folds unfathomable horrors and unfathomable love into a story of incredible power.” I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Michele when we were neighbors in Richmond. When her first novel came out, I interviewed her, her editor, and her agent at a James River Writers event. Michele has a sparkle to her that is evident in person and on every page she writes. I’m delighted to interview her here. VP: Your second novel is set both in the present in America and in the past in Lithuania during

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Novels as Ultimate Expression of Free Speech

In his Commencement speech at Dickinson College earlier this week, author Ian McEwan, spoke about the importance of free speech: “Let’s begin on a positive note: there is likely more free speech, free thought, free enquiry on earth now than at any previous moment in recorded history (even taking into account the golden age of the so-called ‘pagan’ philosophers). And you’ve come of age in a country where the enshrinement of free speech in the First Amendment is not an empty phrase, as it is in many constitutions, but a living reality.” He went on to say…”The words associated with Voltaire (more likely, his sentiments but not his actual phrasing) remain crucial and should never be forgotten: I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” His argument for free speech is strong, but for me the most compelling aspect centered around the role of novels to help us understand differing points of view—a necessity in a divided world. “In making your mind up on these issues,” McEwan said, “I hope you’ll remember your time at Dickinson and the novels you may have read here. It would prompt you, I hope, in the direction

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Anjali Mitter Duva’s Debut Novel of Ancient India

At The Muse and the Marketplace writers’ conference earlier this month, I enjoyed an historical fiction panel featuring several authors, including debut novelist Anjali Mitter Duva. Bret Anthony Johnston, author most recently of the brilliant novel Remember Me Like This, offered these words about Anjali’s book: “Faint Promise of Rain is a gorgeous book, a story that is at once spare and lush, wrenching and restoring. The characters are so fully realized, so keenly nuanced, that they linger with you long after the last page, like the sweet smell of a recent storm.” VP: It was great meeting you at The Muse and Marketplace in Boston. I gather you’ve been involved with Grub Street for some time. What have you gained from being part of a writers’ organization? How has it helped you as a writer? AMD: I owe so much to Grub Street. Honestly, the workshops, the instructors, the camaraderie I gained from that organization are what enabled me to take the leap and turn my writing into more than just a hobby. In 2007, I took my first workshop at Grub. It was Lisa Borders’ ten week Novel in Progress class. There were twelve of us, all writing our first novels, all doing so while

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Posted in Debut Novelist Interviews, Publishing Tips, The Writing Life, Uncategorized, Writing Advice

Learning from Authors as Scholars of Writing

Last weekend, I ventured into the literary heart of my soon-to-be home city. Boston’s Grub Street is known nationwide as a excellent place for aspiring writers to learn every aspect of the craft and art of writing. Their annual conference, The Muse and the Marketplace, is certainly impressive, though not intimidating, because the staff and volunteers go to great lengths to welcome participants. I met writers at the beginning of their journeys, first time authors, as well as highly respected editors and agents. But the highlight for me was talks given by two seasoned and brilliant writers who I think of as scholars of writing. Here are a few tips gleaned from them. In her workshop, Roxana Robinson, author most recently of the moving novel, Sparta, described how successful literary fiction shares five key elements: A new world that entices the reader to see even the familiar as different and new. Beautiful language, which doesn’t mean flowery. Each sentence must have a rhythm of its own. A clear voice and point of view create a bond between writer and reader. Sympathetic, though not always likable, characters, whose humanity is accessible. Conflict, which is essential, otherwise the story dries up. Conflict brings characters

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Why Baked in a Pye?


As it happens, I have an ancestor, Henry James Pye (1745-1813), who has been called “the worst Poet Laureate in English history.” Byron wrote of him, “What! What! Pye come again? No more—no more of that!” The familiar nursery rhyme has its origins in a verse that ridicules Pye’s poems and hinges on the pun of his last name:

  • Sing a Song of Sixpence,
  • A bag full of Rye,
  • Four and twenty Naughty Boys,
  • Baked in a Pye.

As I work to live down his bad rep, the question nags: who were those Naughty Boys and why were they transformed into Blackbirds? Or, to update the question: what thoughts and words go into a pie of our own making—mine, yours and the writers of our day? What does it take to get those four and twenty to fly up and sing? And what makes their song carry on two centuries later, not to mention into the next news cycle? 

In other words, this blog is all about writing: What goes into it and what good comes out of it? And who are those roguish writers who create each dainty dish to set before the reader, our King? 

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