Elizabeth Evans on Sustaining a Writing Career

Elizabeth Evans’ fourth novel, As Good As Dead, is a compelling, suspenseful tale about a friendship between two women writers. Charlotte and Esme become best friends while at the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop, but jealousy and competition lead to a betrayal that ends the friendship. Twenty years later, their connection is revived and proves even more destructive than before. Bharati Mukherjee has called Evans “a masterful storyteller,” and the exquisite psychological tension in this novel shows us why. VP: As Good As Dead vividly reveals the experience of young writers in graduate school who must navigate their insecurities and jealousies, as well as their deep and meaningful connections to each other. I’m curious if their experience was at all similar to your own at Iowa? Have you ever tried to write about the young years in a writer’s career, or did you need the distance of time to capture it? EE: It was good for me to be at Iowa, to be with other people who believed—as Charlotte put it—in the importance of making “one sentence after another do what you wanted them to do.” In some ways, however, my experience was quite different from that of Charlotte and Esme—and

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Posted in Publishing Tips, The Writing Life, Uncategorized, Writing Advice

Reading as a Writer

As I prepare to move out of our house of seventeen years to a much smaller one, I need to narrow down my library. Although the move isn’t for months, I’ve started to look at my bookshelves with a critical eye. Some shelves hold poetry collections from high school and undergraduate years. The bulk of the others are fiction: novels and short story collections arranged in no particular order, crammed side by side or tucked every which way. How had I not noticed what a mess my books had become? I hadn’t noticed because my bookshelves aren’t for show. They are receptacles for books I’ve read and, for the most part, will never read again. Although I hadn’t noticed it before, and it’s a sacrilege to admit, my bookshelves might as well be trash bins or garbage heaps, because in most cases when I’m done with a book, I’m done. Once I faced this hard cold fact, I suddenly felt liberated to say good bye to old favorites. In a frighteningly short period of time, I started to pull titles off the shelves and stacked them into boxes to take to my local used bookstore, Chop Suey Books, for some cash. They would surely want these brilliant titles I had once

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A Second Book is Born!

A second book confirms that the first wasn’t just a fluke. A second book means you’re not a flash in the pan. A second book means…well, that since you wrote another one, you can do it again, and again, and again. I’m so excited to share the news that Unbridled Books will publish my new novel, Dreams of the Red Phoenix, in October, 2015. I was lucky enough to work with the same editor who edited River of Dust. Greg Michalson is a seasoned, skilled and sure-handed editor. When Greg suggests a paragraph should go, then it should go. When he doesn’t get my meaning, then I’d better believe my meaning’s not clear. In other words, this book was greatly improved and deepened because of Greg’s fine efforts. As with River of Dust, I wrote the very first draft of Dreams of the Red Phoenix in twenty-eight days. Just twenty-eight days! I’ve been trying to figure out if writing first drafts in precisely the same number of days might have something to do with the stages of the moon, or a woman’s cycle. There must be some mysterious force at work, because in both cases I felt driven and blessed

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A Premier Publisher of Rich Literary Quality: Unbridled Books

I am honored and proud to be an Unbridled Books author. In their Indie Spotlight column, Ploughshares literary journal focuses on the co-publishers of Unbridled: Fred Ramey and Greg Michalson. Here is how the interview begins: “Unbridled Books was founded in 2003 by co-publishers Fred Ramey and Greg Michalson, who together have more than 50 years experience in publishing plus a terrific track record for finding and promoting literary fiction that sells in the commercial market. Self-described as an independent publisher focused on producing books that are “moving, beautiful, and surprising,” Unbridled’s list is an international patchwork of well-told tales set everywhere from Cuba to Iceland to Afghanistan, as well as America coast-to-coast. For the Ploughsharesblog, Ramey and Michalson share the secrets of their indie success as well as what makes a writer Unbridled.” Check out the rest at Ploughshares Indie Spotlight. My editor, Greg Michalson, says he had “a blast” working on my book. I had one, too, working with him! The man knows how to make a book stronger and I’ve learned so much from him. Here we are holding an incredible cake version of River of Dust!  

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Bonnie ZoBell on her Story Collection, Book Trailers and More

Lionel Shriver, author of Big Brother: A Novel and We Need to Talk About Kevin offered high praise for Bonnie ZoBell’s recently published collection of short stories: “In clear, lucid prose, What Happened Here evokes a haunting sense of place—calling up a California you don’t often read about, with Californians you don’t often meet.” I’m delighted to have the opportunity to ask Bonnie about her path to the publication of this beautiful work: VP: Your collection of stories, What Happened Here, came out in 2014, and just prior to that in 2013, you published a chapbook called The Whack-Job Girls. You’ve also published short stories in literary magazines for years. Can you talk about how these magazine and chapbook publications helped lead you to book publication? What path do you recommend for writers who are working in the short story genre and want to eventually publish a full collection? BZ: It’s a funny story, Virginia, but after years of not getting a book published, Press 53 accepted What Happened Here the very same month that Monkey Puzzle Press accepted The Whack-Job Girls—May of 2012. I’d been writing novels for some years, none published, mind you, though each had an agent, and since I was feeling really down and out

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Tips from a Pro: How Sheri Reynolds Writes

Some years ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sheri Reynolds at the James River Writers Conference, in Richmond, Virginia. In preparation, I read a good handful of her novels. I was so impressed with the ease of her language, the charm and quirkiness of her characters, and the depth of her stories. She is a natural-born writer, not unschooled, but with a strong affinity to the Southern oral storytelling tradition. Wherever her magical novels come from, I always look forward to reading them! In honor of her return to the JRW Conference in October, I wanted to ask Sheri a few questions about her writing process. VP: You are the author of six novels, which is very impressive and wonderful. I’d love to learn about your process. You mentioned to me that the next novel is still in your head. I’m curious how you take it from there to the finished manuscript? SR: I’m the author of more than six! I’ve got six published, though, and I’ve submitted number seven. I’ve written a lot of novels that never made it into the world, and really, they shouldn’t. They’re books I needed to write to figure something out—practice books or experiments. So I’ve written probably a dozen novels—and

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Kim Church Talks About Byrd

I’ve loved getting to know Kim Church, whose debut novel, Byrd, came out earlier this year from Dzanc Books. I’ve admired Dzanc for years and have enjoyed every book I’ve read from them, so I wasn’t surprised to discover that Byrd is a beautifully written, honest story that follows the arc of a woman’s life from the time she meets the cool guy in high school who winds up fathering her child, to when she’s an older woman, looking back on her decision to put that child up for adoption. I was most struck by the subtle way Kim gets inside her characters’ heads, especially her protagonist, Addie. I was eager to ask her some questions about how she wrote Byrd: VP: I’m so happy for you that Byrd has received such fine recognition. I wonder if you can share with us your path to writing this wonderful first novel and to its publication? KC: Thanks, Ginny. Years ago a friend told me about a woman—an independent, single, capable woman—who had an unplanned pregnancy in her thirties and decided to give up her baby for adoption. I was fascinated. How had she made the decision; how did she live with it? I didn’t press my

Posted in Debut Novelist Interviews, Publishing Tips, River of Dust

Kristen Lippert-Martin Talks About her Debut, Tabula Rasa

Kristen’s Young Adult novel, Tabula Rasa, is out this fall and receiving great notices. A mother of four, a self proclaimed geek, and a former literary novelist who decided to take a different path, Kristen shares the story behind the story here. I’m looking forward to meeting her at the 2014 James River Writers Conference in Richmond, Virginia, in October. Hope you’ll join us there! VP: On your website, you offer a humorous and encouraging video about how you overcame the early rejection of your novel, Tabula Rasa. I love stories of authors surmounting the difficulties of the trade. Would you share your pre-publication story here? KL-M: Oh, boy. Sometimes I think I’m doing no favors to aspiring writers sharing my path to publication. It’s a cautionary tale! I wrote at great length about the six months that preceded my book deal here on my blog, but I’ll condense it to this: I graduated from my MFA program intent on writing literary fiction. I wrote two full-length manuscripts and had so, so many close calls with interested agents during that time, but I remember the moment I just gave up. I was walking with my daughter, who was two at the time, rushing

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Debut Novelist Kristen Harnisch’s Perfect Summer Read

Debut novelist Kristen Harnisch’s The Vintner’s Daughter came out not long ago in Canada and more recently in the US. Booklist called it, “a story of perseverance and transcending one’s past,” Kirkus Reviews suggested that, “Wine aficionados and fans of romance and historical fiction will drink this in,” and bestselling author Adriana Trigiani had this to say: “Lush and evocative, this novel brings the Loire Valley and its glorious vineyards to life in a story that will delight readers everywhere. Enjoy with your favorite glass of Merlot.” Sounds like a perfect summer read to me! And for further confirmation, check out David Abrams’ My First Time column with Kristen on his brilliant book blog, The Quivering Pen. As always, I was curious about the story behind the story, especially because The Vintner’s Daughter straddles two countries and two types of publishing ventures: VP: In your author bio, your publisher mentions that your family left France in the 1600s and emigrated to Canada. Your novel, The Vintner’s Daughter, explores the Old World and the New World through the lens of vintners. I wonder how your family’s background influenced your novel’s subject? Did you have firsthand family documents that sparked your imagination?  KH: Absolutely. With regard to my

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Hawking My Wares

Win a free copy of River of Dust To enter, leave a comment here. Share the link to this post on Facebook or tweet it on Twitter. Two winners will be randomly selected on Friday, June 13. When Bill Wolfe invited me to write a guest post for his blog, Read Her Like an Open Book, I was excited to do it. He had generously reviewed River of Dust and interviewed me, but now he wanted me share my thoughts on any topic related to writing. In the year since my novel came out I’ve experienced so many things for the first time—all the wonderful rewards of being an author, and some of the anxieties, too. In my essay, I decided to share my impressions of my first ever book signing at Barnes & Noble. Since the piece appeared on Bill’s site, I’ve heard from several more experienced authors that they refuse to do signings any more. It’s just too excruciating, not to mention time consuming, to literally hawk their wares. I understand that, but I found the experience to be pretty eye-opening and rewarding in its own way, not that I’m eager to do it all the time. But I

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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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