Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Leesburg First Friday: Inside the Mind of an Agent

by Linda Budzinski
We’ve all been there: cyberstalking—I mean, dutifully following—our favorite agents’ blogs and Twitter feeds in a seemingly endless quest to figure out what they’re looking for and how we as aspiring writers can attract their attention.

This month, the Writer’s Center–Leesburg Committee made that quest a little simpler, hosting agent Shannon O’Neill of Lippincott Massie McQuilkin at its October First Friday event at the Leesburg Town Hall. O’Neill offered an inside perspective into agents’ preferences and expectations and answered dozens of questions from audience members on topics ranging from how to find the agent who is right for your work to the elements of an effective query.

O’Neill spoke at length about attracting agents for non-fiction. Unlike fiction, where writers should complete the entire work before querying, non-fiction queries can take the form of a proposal with sample chapters. A key to a successful non-fiction query, she said, is establishing and communicating your platform. “Why are you the person to write this book, and why now?” she asked. “What’s the audience that is out there waiting for it?”

Coming Up in November

Speaking of non-fiction, the November First Friday event will feature Hilary Black, special projects editor at the National Geographic Society and author of The Secret Currency of Love (William Morrow), an anthology of original essays about how money affects and transforms personal relationships. At 7:30 PM on November 7, Hilary will share tips on how to write engaging non-fiction and how to catch  an editor’s eye, as well as her insight into the current market for nonfiction and what she is looking to acquire for National Geographic Books.  

The Writer’s Center–Leesburg Committee offers events the first Friday of every month except for December, January, July, and August. Events are held at the Leesburg Town Hall, 25 W. Market St., Leesburg, VA 20176.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Five Laws of Effective Writing and the Writing Staycation

by Zahara Heckscher

Why is it so hard to write at home? Yes, I can knock off some emails and short articles at my desk. But why is it so hard to do my best focused writing at home?

If you are like me, you have found that your best writing happens somewhere else – a hotel room on vacation, a cozy chair in the café, or in a class with other writers. Why?

Based on extensive research and self-observation, as well as facilitating ten Writing Staycations, I am pleased to announce the discovery of the Five Laws of Effective Writing.

1.      Writing Law of Inverse Distance. The quality of your writing has an inverse proportion to your proximity to your laundry and kitchen.

2.      Writing Law of Healthy Habits. A schedule that includes regular walks, healthy food, and balanced caffeination will promote better writing than sugar-crazed temporary writing highs.

3.      Writing Law of Parallelism. Your efficiency of writing increases when someone nearby is also writing, creating a “Parallel Writing Efficiency Zone” in the region.

4.      Writing Law of Finite Time. Writers have more success when they write with deadlines and time limits than when they write with unlimited time.

5.      Writing Law of Structure. A well structured day of writing will increase productivity compared to an unstructured blob of writing time, which can easily morph into a blob of Facebook checking and irrelevant research projects.

I’ve designed the Writing Staycation to apply all these laws in a week of intensive writing. You bring your writing project—anything from an essay in your mind, to a manuscript to polish. I supply a room far from your laundry, with other dedicated writers, plenty of caffeine and health snacks, inspiring lunch speakers, and a writing schedule aimed at maximum efficiency. I also provide optional afternoon walks, one-on-one consults, and a structured day with tons of time to write.

In the past ten Staycations, I have seen amazing results—from poetry chapbooks compiled to memoirs started to manuscripts outlined to books completed.

Apply the Five Laws of Writing Efficiency with us at the next Writing Staycation, November 1-14, 2014. Hope you’ll join us. Register here.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Marija Stajic on First Person Plural

Writer's Center Undiscovered Voices Fellowship recipients Marija Stajic and Rose Fitzpatrick will be blogging for First Person Plural through the year.  We're glad to post Marija’s first entry on our blog. 

In summer of 2010 I moved from New York City to Washington DC. I had an embryo of my novel on my laptop and I knew that if I ever wanted to be a published fiction writer, I needed to take fiction-writing workshops. The Writer’s Center seemed like the best choice, and just a month later, I signed up for one of the workshops, then became a member of an excellent writing group sprouting from it, then got into highly competitive Jenny McKean Moore Fiction Workshop led by extraordinary Tim Johnston, published a dozen stories in literary journals, then met talented Gimbiya Kettering in the Center’s superb Susan Land’s short fiction class, partnered-up with her to help each other finish our respective novels, got spotlighted by The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review as an up and coming DC fiction writer, and finally, this winter, I was awarded the Undiscovered Voices Fellowship for fiction.

(I crisply remember sitting at my desk one snowy winter morning, sipping tea, reading Laura Spencer’s e-mail congratulating me for the Fellowship, jumping from my chair, loudly yelling “yes” and frightening my two cats under the futon.)

The timing could not have been more perfect. I just began querying agents and receiving long e-mails back stating that I was “an excellent writer” and my stories were “unforgettable” but that the book had, in a nutshell, “structural issues.” (It’s not quite novel-in-stories, nor a novel, nor a collection of short stories, but some hybrid of it all. And here I thought originality was good.) They liked my writing but they didn’t think they could sell it. At least that’s what they said.

The Center’s teachers and fellow-writers have already helped me learn how to write fiction well. It seemed as if all I had to do now is figure out how to structure that writing well.  What better way to do that than take Amin Ahmad’s Master Novel I Workshop? Who better than an MIT educated architect, turned successful mystery writer, to decipher structural problems and solve them? (By the way, my nickname for Ahmad is King Midas.)

And after taking Ahmad’s intense eight-week class, getting lots of useful feedback and ways to resolve my novel’s issues, all I have to do now is apply those tools and ideas, and rewrite my book once again.  Easier said than done, right? With one exception. I don’t feel as if I don’t know where to start or don't have anybody to help me through rough patches. I know the Center has my back, and its brilliant teachers like Amin Ahmad ready and willing to help me achieve my goal--a novel worth publishing and reading.

Honestly, I can’t wait. I can’t wait to take more of the Center’s workshops, to learn more, better my craft, meet more writers and teachers, work on my book, and help others work on theirs.

Neither should you. 


Marija Stajic




Thursday, May 8, 2014

On Blurbs

Writer's Center Undiscovered Voices Fellowship recipients Rose Fitzpatrick and Marija Stajic will be blogging for First Person Plural through the year.  We're glad to post the first entry, by Rose Fitzpatrick.

On Blurbs

When I became a published author for the first time last year I felt a sense of giddy relief: I did it! But my joy evaporated when the assistant editor gently asked me to write an autobiographical blurb.

 Why? Hadn’t I already expressed everything essential about myself in my personal essay? I loathe writing blurbs. Even the sound of the word “blurb” bothers me: the sluggish gulping of water through a blocked drain. The blurb is the opposite of my preferred form, the personal essay.

 A personal essay is a confidence shared with the reader, an imaginary conversation that arises from the inclusion of the author’s subjective experiences, including flaws, self-doubt, and failures. This forges a sense of connection. As a reader of essays, I trust an author who is as flawed and confused as I. As a writer of essays, my flaws and confusion become valuable assets for gaining (and sharing) insight.

The blurb, however, irritates me because it is glossy and promotional in nature. It’s not that I’m modest: I simply don’t yet have many of the kind of accomplishments one includes in blurbs. I’ve made a pig’s ear of my life, but I never worry about this until I read the blurbs of others. Then I become envious and worry that I am running out of time for my own dreams. That’s a worry that destroys creativity faster than anything I know, and I hold it up as proof that the horrible blurb does not shed light on anything, though it can cast a shadow.

Yet here I am, and it appears I have accomplished something new, and must now write a blurb about it. Forgive me.

The Writer’s Center honored me this year with one of the Undiscovered Voices fellowships. It is a generous opportunity for me, but only one example of the kind of outreach that is part of the mission of The Writer’s Center. Like the personal essays I love, the Writer’s Center is about forging connections and building a creative community because that helps us all get closer to our individual goals.

I applied for this fellowship two years ago and was turned down. But since that time I’ve made lasting friendships with instructors and classmates, whose ongoing support and encouragement have enabled me to improve as a writer. Certainly I have accomplished something in which I take pride; but every writer who participates in the community that is The Writer’s Center is part of a much bigger accomplishment.

 And so I humbly ask that you join me as I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world: not so much because I’m proud (though I am) or want to brag (because I do) but because the most important thing to celebrate is the way we writers connect with readers – and with each other.

* * *

Rose Fitzpatrick


Tuesday, April 29, 2014

2014 Bethesda Poetry Competition

Joanne Rocky Delaplaine’s poem “Sentenced” was selected by David McAleavey as winner of the 2014 Poetry Contest organized by Bethesda Urban Partnership and Bethesda Magazine. Ms. Delaplaine is a member of The Writer's Center, and she has taken many workshops over the years.  We're glad to post her winning poem. - The Editors


By Joanne Rocky Delaplaine

 When I think of your arms, I do not think
home, but house on fire, Knight of Wands,
and when we burned too brightly, I’d say
ice on limestone, Nine of Swords...
we were a small country once, Belgium,
fine chocolate, a train station in every town,
but now that you’re dead, we’re Russia, vast,
pierogis and borscht, with the Caspian Sea to cross,
you’re Moscow and I am banished to Minsk,
you’re the crime I’m doing penance for,
you’re my sentence without end.


 * * *

 Ms. Delaplaine's comments about her poem:     

Do I feel more at home in solitude or with another/others? What proximity or distance does any relationship need to endure?  A comment about "home" by Diane Keaton in an A.A.R.P interview prompted this poem. I find the images in the Tarot deck intriguing, dense, the way a dream is...
full of possibility.

Joanne Rocky Delaplaine is a Maryland native. Her poems have appeared in Poet Lore, Beltway Poetry Quarterly, (Walt Whitman and Anti-War issue), Cabin Fever: Poets at Joaquin Miller’s Cabin 1984-2001, Innisfree Poetry Journal, International Poetry Quarterly, The Northern Virginia Review, Radio Pacifica’s WPFW website, and elsewhere. She’s taught poetry workshops at the Great Labor Arts Exchange, and workshops combing yoga and poetry at The Second Annual Mariposa Poetry Retreat, Split This Rock Poetry Festival, and UnityWoods Yoga Center. She consider The Writer’s Center one of her homes and co-hosts Café Muse which sponsors poetry readings in Friendship Heights the first Monday of the month. 





Tuesday, April 8, 2014

And the Winners of the Poet Lore Contest Are...

In honor of National Poetry Month, Poet Lore, a publication of The Writer's Center, co-sponsored a poetry contest with the Enoch Pratt Free Library of Baltimore, Maryland. Chosen from a select pool of Maryland poets, the judges, Poet Lore editors Ethelbert Miller and Jody Bolz, honored four outstanding local poets: Mya Green, Emily Card, Randolph Pfaff, and Margaret S. Mullins. The three place winners will be published in the Fall/Winter issue of Poet Lore. The winning poet, Mya Green, will read her poem, “Responsibility”, at the CityLit Festival in Baltimore on April 12 and her poem has been made into a display at the Pratt Central Library.

1st Place: Mya Green

Mya Green is originally from Tuscaloosa, Alabama. She is an independent editorial consultant who earned both her BA in Liberal Arts and MFA in Writing from Sarah Lawrence College (Bronxville, New York).  She served as poetry contest director and editor for LUMINA Journal Volume XI and acted as a liaison for Sarah Lawrence’s 9th Annual Poetry Festival, where she also opened for 2012 National Book Award winner, Nikky Finney. 

Here is an excerpt from her winning poem, "Responsibility":

Feel the vibrations, she'd say. Deep South extracted

from my throat before it could root. We are not of the tribe,

we are a nation: fifteen burials at every stopping place,

sickness with each mile. Little Wolf says

the shaman woman walks in front of my mother

carrying a woven blanket, white. That I am late,

that I am never late.

2nd Place: Emily Card

Emily grew up on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and spent her childhood combing the beaches of Assateague Island.  She loves to seek out new experiences and moves often, having lived in Canterbury, England, and Boston, Massachusetts.  She currently works as a manager at a law firm in Baltimore, Maryland.  She studied literature and design but also enjoys whetting her mind on the sharp edges of science and politics.  Though previously unpublished, Emily likes to write image-rich poems that draw upon her experiences as a 26-year-old wanderer.

 Here is an excerpt from her winning poem, "Saudade":

but I have flown home for the harvest moon,

pedaled my bicycle barefoot every dusk
and stopping, stood
impaled on the spoked shadow

of a wheel that was always in the path ahead,

always dragging another wheel behind.

3rd Place: Randolph Pfaff

Randolph Pfaff is a writer, editor, and visual artist living in Baltimore. His work has been featured in Poet Lore, PANKH_NGM_NRevolver, and Heavy Feather Review, among others. He edits the literary journal apt and runs the small press Aforementioned Productions.

Here is an excerpt from his winning poem, "Contiguous":

I am opening this story

with the sound of fun--
sing-alongs on FM radio,

and the erratic drumbeat

of highway wind
pulsing through car windows.

I am showing you a picture

so you'll see what it was like
to be confined in this kind of freedom.

Honorable Mention: Margaret S. Mullins

Margaret S. Mullins divides her time between rural Maryland and downtown Baltimore.  She is a Pushcart Prize nominee, the editor of Manorborn 2009:  The Water Issue (Abecedarian Press) and author of Family Constellation (Finishing Line Press, 2012.)  Her work has appeared in New Verse News, Persimmon Tree, Alehouse, Loch Raven Review, Creekwalker, Magnapoets, The Sun, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Sugar Mule, OVS, and Writer's Almanac among others, and been read by Garrison Keillor on NPR.

To learn more about the Enoch Pratt Free Library, please visit: 

To keep up with Poet Lore in its anniversary year, please visit us on Facebook.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

A Splendid Wake Celebrates Washington Area Poetry

Last year's Splendid Wake event drew a standing room only crowd

The Washington area has a rich poetic tradition going back to Walt Whitman and Langston Hughes, including many literary journals, book publishers, movements, and reading series. A public program this spring is part of A Splendid Wake, an ongoing online project to document poets and literary movements in the nation’s capital from 1900 to the present.   

The event, featuring three panels, will take place from 6:30 to 8 p.m. March 21 at George Washington University's Gelman Library, Suite 702, 2130 H Street N.W. The program is free and open to the public.

The program will focus on experimental contemporary poetry, warrior poetry projects, and African-American intellectual/creative activity during years of segregation in Washington.

Moderating the experimental poetry panel will be poet, writer and performer Silvana Straw. Panelists Magus Magnus, Poets Theatre and "non-mainstream poetics," Natalie Illum, activist, poet and storyteller, a producer of "Capturing Fire," and Derrick Weston Brown, Cave Canem Fellow and founder of "The Nine on the Ninth" reading series, will discuss language poetry, women's community, spoken word, and slam.

A panel on veterans’ poetry will feature Frederick Foote, M.D., director of the Warrior Poetry Project at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Sunil Freeman, assistant director of The Writer’s Center, and Maritza Rivera, an Army veteran, poet, and participant in the Warrior Poetry Project.

In the Shadow of the Capitol, with Jim Beall, astrophysicist, poet, and project administrator of the original oral history project, will provide a glimpse of the two-day event by that name, held in 1981 at the Folger Shakespeare Library. Transcripts of this conference serve as an invaluable treasury of eye-witness African American history. James Counts Early, director of Cultural Heritage Policy at the Smithsonian Institution, will speak about Sterling Brown.

Gelman Librarian Jennifer King launched the digital archive for A Splendid Wake in 2013. The archive is evolving, and new material is being accepted. A blog managed by Karren Alenier also supplements the Splendid Wake archive.

For more information, contact Jennifer King at or

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Time to Publish? 'Books Alive!' is Coming Soon!

Guest blog entry from the organizers of the Books Alive! conference, set for March 29.

George Pelecanos and David Stewart at Books Alive! 2013

Ready to catch a publisher's eye? Register by Feb. 28th for the Books Alive! 2014 early bird discount. Hosted by the Washington Independent Review of Books, this year's conference is set for 9 a.m.- 5 p.m. March 29th at the Bethesda Marriott (Pooks Hill).

Books Alive! has quickly grown into the D.C. area’s seminal conference for writers and book lovers of all types. Register before March 1st to take advantage of the early bird discount. Big-name writers will be participating in panel discussions on everything from mystery, fiction, and politics to self-help, cooking, and children’s books. 

This year, a roster of some of the industry's top agents will again be on hand to hear your book pitches. And some of today's biggest names in publishing will speak about their work and the state of the book industry.

Among the list of distinguished guests are Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter David Maraniss,  MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, bestselling author Laura Lippman, bestselling author Jon Alter, Washington Post columnists (and authors) Fred Bowen and Michelle Singletary, and award-winning cookbook author Joan Nathan. (Click here for the full list of speakers.)

“Within a year of my attending [the conference], my book is on track for publication, says aspiring author Alison F., one of last year’s attendees. Without the insights I gained in the interviews with book agents, the panel presentations, and the symposium networking, I would not have found such a reputable publisher and recognition for my work.”

Learn more at  and the Books Alive! homepage. You can also stay connected with The Independent on Twitter via @wirobooks and on Facebook at

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Essay & Short Story Contest

Essay & Short Story Contest

Friday, January 24 is the deadline for submissions to Bethesda Urban Partnership and Bethesda Magazine's Essay & Short Story Contest. Winners will be honored at the Bethesda Literary Festival, April 11-13, 2014. First place winners will receive $500 and publication in Bethesda Magazine

Essay Contest

Topic: Open.
Requirements: Essays should be limited to 500 words or less.

Eligibility: Residents of Washington, DC, Maryland, and Virginia are eligible. The contest will take entries in two categories:  High School (grades 9-12) and Adult (ages 18 +). 
To upload your submission, please visit

Questions? Please email or call 301-215-6660, Ext. 217

Short Story Contest

Topic: Open
Requirements: Stories must be limited to 4,000 words or less.

Eligibility: Residents of Montgomery County, MD and Upper NW Washington, DC are eligible. The contest will take entries in two categories: High School (grades 9-12) and Adult (ages 18+). 
To upload your submission, please visit

Questions? Please email or call 301.718.7787, Ext 207.

For more information, visit or

First place: $500 and published in Bethesda Magazine.
Second Place: $250
Third Place: $150
Honorable mentions: $75

The first place winner in each contest will also receive a gift certificate to The Writer's Center.

All winners will be published on the Bethesda Magazine and Bethesda Urban Partnership websites and will be honored at a special event during the Bethesda Literary Festival.

High School winners receive: $250, first place; $100, second place; $50, third place. Bethesda Magazine will print the first place Essay and Short Story.