Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Finding My Voice

by: Carol Westreich Solomon
The Writer's Center's
2016 Undiscovered Voices Fellow

Seven years ago, on the first day of my retirement from teaching, I sat on my patio with
a glass of wine and began to write creatively after a 40-year hiatus. What I started that day
evolved into a self-indulgent teaching memoir revisiting my professional life. Though valuable
as a spiritual transition to my new life, my teaching memoir had an audience of one—me. I
wanted to write for a wider audience, but my creative skills had rusted, and the writing world
around me had changed.

I first ventured into creative writing instruction at the DCJCC Writing Retreat under the
direction of Michelle Brafman and Faye Moskowitz, both of whom provided tremendous
encouragement and pointed, constructive suggestions. Later I joined the DCJCC Writing
Workshop, in which participants critiqued each other’s work in three-hour sessions, but soon
the limitations of 900-1000 words read aloud chafed. I could craft three or four pages that
worked, but what about the structural issues of a full story or even a novel? Three of us in the
workshop created our own separate writers group focusing on longer works, and I thrived with
the critical commentary of my colleagues, producing a couple short stories that were published
in print and online.

However, after years of working with the same writing group, I needed a fresh critical
audience to identify different areas of concern in my work. A friend suggested The
Writer's Center, and I enrolled in Aaron Hamburger’s novel writing class. His detailed criticism
of a large chunk of my YA novel provided valuable feedback, as did the commentary of
classmates. As a result of substantial edits, my self-published YA novel Imagining Katherine earned a 2016 Notable Book Award by the Association of Jewish Libraries.

In Fall 2016, when I learned The Writer's Center, had named me an Undiscovered Voices Fellow, I was thrilled! With unlimited financial support to enroll in workshops, I knew my writing could continue to grow rapidly. I decided to focus on short fiction, taking John Morris’ workshop “Writing Short Stories,” Julie Wakeman-Linn’s “Write Off the Map,” and her extended workshop “Fiction II.” I also did literary cross-training with the dramatic format in Richard Washer’s single-session playwriting classes. John and Julie’s comprehensive written feedback, offered with encouragement and tact, led me to question assumptions about my writing and modify techniques.

One year later I have finished Echoes of Love, a compilation of short stories, many
written or substantially edited during the past year. But just as important, my teachers at The Writer's Center, as well as Michelle Brafman and Faye Moskowitz, have taught me
how to marry passion with technique. Now I’m ready to find a wider audience for my work.
Thanks, Julie, John, Richard, and the fabulous Writer's Center!

Friday, September 15, 2017

Meet the Instructor: Meg Eden

Meg Eden is one of the most beloved and prolific writers in the DC area, and brings a special flare to the literary community. She is known for her online workshops, and can make an online experience feel more personalized than many can in the classroom! We caught up with Meg to talk about her new book, Post High School Reality Quest.

TWC: What was the inspiration behind your book? Do you have a personal connection to the subject matter?

Meg: I think it started with me playing with friendship dynamics in my life, and what it looks like when we transition from high school to college. I struggle with change, and I think writing this book allowed me to process my struggles and cope with them in a healthy way.

TWC: Your book is pretty popular with gamers. If this was intentional, what was it like writing for a niche audience?
Meg: I'm a pretty niche-y person with unusual tastes, and often struggle relating with mainstream media.  I often struggle to find protagonists whose perspective and experiences I can relate to, so I tried to write a book that and experiences I can relate to, so I tried to write a book that I would want to read. I didn’t want to worry about audience while writing, and as I edited, I definitely did think about the gamer audience. For me, writing for a niche audience is freeing because it allows me to be myself and not really worry if the “mainstream” will like it or not. It creates a space for me to just be me.

TWC: What was the most fun part of writing? Inevitable next question: What were the less-than-fun moments?
Meg: The most fun part was when I was doing final editing, knowing the characters and knowing the plot, and writing a few new scenes to accommodate changes. I knew what I was playing with which let it be more fun than some of the earlier stages, where I was still figuring so much out. Everything that involved playing with writing the perspective of a video game was fun too. The harder part was going back and editing, especially when my editor wanted me to cut a character. I’m a very character driven writer so this was like asking me to cut my arm off! 

TWC: How is Post High School Reality Quest unique among your writings?

Meg: I’ve written quite a few novels, but PHSRQ is the first one to get published. It’s the only one I've written in second person, and the only one using the text adventure form. If I tried writing anything like it again, I think it would come off as gimmicky.

TWC: What do you hope the reader is left with after finishing the book?

Meg: In whatever I write, I hope that it makes my readers think about the world around them, and interrogate their own worldviews and assumptions. I know every time I write, I’m constantly interrogating myself. I hope that readers will walk away with the message of redemption—that even though Buffy made choices she later regretted, there were opportunities for her to make
a new path and do things differently. Even if we can’t re-spawn at save points in our everyday life, there are always opportunities to start over, change and grow.

TWC: Any advice for aspiring novel writers out there?
Meg: The best advice I can give is to read, write, and submit! I have done thousands of submissions to get my relatively few acceptances. Keep reading, keep writing, keep sending, keep editing. Go to local readings and conferences. Learn about literary magazines and presses. Don’t be afraid of mistakes, and don’t be afraid to declare what you have done. Also: Publish smaller work before sending out a full novel. In high school, I sent out my poems and short stories to literary magazines.

Then when I queried an agent, I was able to mention places I had already been published.
I think this helps a query letter stand out.  It says that you’ve already been vetted as a writer, that what they’re about to read is probably pretty good, and can get them excited about reading your work.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Announcing our 2017 Undiscovered Voices Fellow: Julia Tagliere!

by: B. Rae Perryman

The Writer's Center is pleased to announce our
Undiscovered Voices Fellowship
winner for 2017:

Julia Tagliere

Each year, The Writer's Center awards a Washington, DC area writer earning less than $25,000 per year with this exclusive fellowship. We believe that writers of all backgrounds and experiences should have an opportunity to devote the time and energy toward their craft. Of the many qualified applicants, this year's winner was Julia Tagliere, who submitted a short story that wow-ed our judges.

Ms. Tagliere is a freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in The WriterThe Bookends Review, Potomac Review, and Hay & Forage Grower (yes, that’s a thing), as well as in several anthologies, including Here in the Middle: Stories of Love, Loss, and Connection from the Ones Sandwiched in betweenCandlesticks and Daggers—An Anthology of Mixed Genre Mysteries; the juried photography and prose collection Love + Lust; and The Way to My Heart: An Anthology of Food-Related Romance. Her short story, “Te Absolvo,” was named Best Short Story in the 2015 William Faulkner Literary Competition. Julia currently resides in Maryland with her family, where she recently completed her M.A. in Fiction Writing at Johns Hopkins University. To learn more, visit her at justscribbling.com 

Our Development & Community Outreach manager, Bethany Perryman, caught up with Ms. Tagliere. 
Read her exclusive interview below:

Bethany: First of all, congratulations on winning our Undiscovered Voices prize for 2017! We are so excited for you to be a part of our prestigious cadre of writers and literature lovers. Your short story was selected by judges as the best of many qualified candidates. How does it feel?

Julia: I'm incredibly honored and excited to see what the year ahead will bring. 

BP: You've also won other prizes for your short stories. Can you tell us what you think makes a great short story? 

JT: As a writer, there's no way to answer that without sounding like far more of an expert than I consider myself to be at this point in my writing--I mean, if there is a formula, I'd certainly love to learn it. As a reader, however, I find that the stories I most appreciate, first and foremost, move me in a way that lingers long after I've finished reading. It could be a really well-developed character, an unexpected twist in the narrative, lush imagery or rich, vivid language; in the best stories, all of those elements are present.  

BP: I'm personally curious: What's your process when you begin a new story? Do they come to you in a flash or inspiration, or...?

JT: Flash implies a much speedier process than what I normally experience. Sometimes the inspiration comes from an image or a feeling, a face I see, maybe something I see on the news. That thing, whatever it is, gets stuck in my mind like a grain of sand in an oyster, and I find myself coming back to it over and over again, worrying at it. It either drives me crazy, or it starts to grow and take shape into what I think might be a workable piece--usually both, if I'm being totally honest. 

BP: What are your plans for your next year at The Writer's Center? Any books or stories in the works?

JT: I have a novel in progress I've been twiddling away at for a while now, and I'm planning to use this next year with TWC to finally complete it. 

BP: What's the biggest setback you've encountered in your writing career? How do you deal with it?

JT: My biggest setback was probably being rejected repeatedly by a particular M.A. program some years back. It really stung for a while, to keep applying and keep being rejected. But I understand now that I wasn't prepared at that time--I had a lot of growing I needed to do as a writer to be ready for a program of that nature. I dealt with it by spending the next several years after my third and final rejection doing a lot of reading, independent studying, and connecting with other writers to try to reach a point where I felt comfortable applying again. 

BP: What's your favorite type of writing to do, and why? Tell us a little more about what turns your gears.

JT: I used to think I preferred writing novels, but since I've been working more in shorter forms lately (short stories, flash), I must confess, I enjoy the greater frequency of those moments of gratification that come from actually completing a story. Those moments take so long to arrive when writing a novel; it's easy to become discouraged. 

BP: Any last words of advice for students at the Center and other aspiring or emerging authors? What about for writers who are hoping to enter contests and fellowships? What's your secret, besides great work?!

JT: Writing can be a very lonely business, if you let it be. Step away from your keyboard for a while and engage with other writers. Take classes, attend conferences, engage with folks online via social media, form a writing group of your own, support local writers in their endeavors. Those connections not only can sustain you when you get down in the dumps about a given work-in-progress--and you will--but they can also help you learn about opportunities that will contribute to your growth as a writer. That's what it's all about, isn't it? 

For more information about the Undiscovered Voices Fellowship, please contact Bethany at b@writer.org.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Retreat to Mariposa

By Alec Woodard

Photo by Mig Dooley
A writer is a powerful force, but communities are the foundation of society. To strengthen that foundation, writers may retreat into nature and each other, into worlds of words and ideas that come to shape the broader communities to which they belong. Maritza Rivera has published several collections of poetry, been awarded local and international poetry grants, and since 2011, has run the annual Mariposa Poetry Retreat. The weekend opportunity invites 25 writers to step deeper into their work and away from the stresses of daily life. I recently spoke with Rivera about her work as a mother, a soldier, an artist, and a community leader.

Rivera has adopted the name Mariposa - the Spanish word for butterfly - in many of her endeavors: The Mariposa Poetry Retreat, Casa Mariposa Press, the Mariposa Poetry Readings. “I have been fascinated by butterflies since I can remember, and I have a large collection of butterflies in my home,” she said. The poet wanted her writers retreat “to be an extension of my living room. I want people to feel comfortable and at home.” Rivera is open and effusive about her efforts: “My intent - because I was a single mom for a long time and  . . . many events were too expensive to attend - was to build something, to create something I would have liked to have available to me: a place for inspiration and community.” Despite rising costs of living and consumer goods, Rivera said of the Mariposa retreat, “I really try to keep it affordable, the fee is all inclusive - room, board, the whole fun-filled weekend. You get a lot in a short time.”

When asked what set her venture apart from others, she said, “I like to know everyone by name.” Her warm and friendly demeanor draws people in, and they look to her as a leader. This closeness has resulted in success, as “there have been occasions when participants from a previous year became faculty in a subsequent year . . . that’s part of what creates community.” This personable and community-based strategy works. "[Approximately] 50% of people who have been before, 50% new [people]”make up her yearly retreat. Rivera pairs past attendees with new ones in shared rooms that create a tight learning community. Participants come to see this tightness as part of the formula.

The popular retreat and its spirit of community as resulted in sponsorship. These writers are dedicated to the success of their peers, and they donate registration fees anonymously. Rivera calls the attendees and teachers at her retreat the “Mariposa Family.” This family is the reason she organizes reunion readings for former participants in the retreat, so that they can come together and strengthen the bonds of the community they have built.

My conversation with Ms. Rivera ended with a more personal discussion of her time in the military and the influence of military on her life generally. Brought up in what she called a traditional Puerto Rican household, she said “it was marriage versus army and I picked army.” She did not regret her military experience, but she was more affected by the experience of her two children, both of whom went on to serve. The work Rivera said she is most proud of, a book of poetry titled “A Mother’s War,” came out of her experience as a mother to two soldiers.

To Maritza Rivera, poetry is an integral part of life, an outlet for emotion, and a road to community. Register for the October 2017 weekend Mariposa Retreat by visiting www.mariposapoetry.org/mariposa-poetry-retreat-2016/registration-information
More Washington and Baltimore-area Writer Retreats

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Spotlight on Literary Events August 2017

August 1st 6:30 PM
1517 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20036

Washington Post reporter Dan Zak discusses his book Almighty, which covers the history and politics of the United States’  relationship to atomic power. From the race to create the bomb to today’s concerns of nuclear proliferation and the threat of a nuclear terror attack, Almighty covers the highs and lows of the United States and its most dangerous weapon.

 Zak will discuss his book and nuclear issues with Denise Kiernan, journalist and author of The Girls of Atomic City. 

August 2nd 7 PM
Politics and Prose
5015 Connecticut Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008

Tracy Crow and Jerri Bell, both female former military officers, discuss their book on the history of women’s contribution to the United States’ armed forces. Their book sees through the eyes of women on the field to give voice to the trials and successes of American women in war. With accounts taken firsthand from memoirs, letters, diaries and oral histories, this is a new telling of an otherwise incomplete history. 

August 6th 2 PM
The Writer’s Center
4508 Walsh Street, Bethesda, MD 20815

The Writer’s Center welcomes Undiscovered Voices Fellowship winner Margaret Sessa-Hawkins, novelist Keith Fentonmiller, writer Donald Illich and author CL Bledsoe for a night of reading from their works. Featured readings will come from Illich’s recent chapbook, The Art of Dissolving, from Katzen Mutzenmacher’s Cursed Hat and from other works.

August 6th 7 PM
Busboys and Poets
1025 5th Street NW, Washington, DC 20001

Award-winning journalist Michael Deibert presents his work on Haiti’s recent history. From two decades of reporting on Haiti, Deibert composes an insightful analysis of Haitian hope and heroism in pursuit of the construction of their own nation. 

August 8th, 6:30 PM
Busboys and Poets
235 Carroll Street NW, Washington, DC 20012

Kyle Dargan, the Director of Creative Writing at American University, Tiphanie Yanique, award winning author and professor at The New School, and Sheri Booker, winner of an NAACP image award, are featured readers at this presentation of work from the Hurston/Wright foundation’s summer workshop.

 August 8th 7 PM
Politics and Prose
5015 Connecticut Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008

Gillian Thomas, a senior attorney for the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, will read from and discuss her new work on the fight for women’s rights in the workplace. Thomas looks through the lens of ten civil rights cases brought by women in order to receive the rights guaranteed to them by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The book exposes lesser known heroines in the struggle for women’s rights.  

August 10th 6:30 PM
1517 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20036

Erik Love, associate professor of sociology at Dickinson College, presents his exploration of civil rights advocacy and its weaknesses. Love finds startling holes in American civil rights protections and the systems that allow survivors of hate crimes, prejudice and social exclusion to fight for their rights. 

August 13th 2 PM
The Writer’s Center
4508 Walsh Street, Bethesda, MD 20815

The Writer’s Center welcomes Marita Rivera to present a reading by participant poets of the Mariposa Writer’s Retreat, which she leads. 

August 14th 7 PM
Politics and Prose
5015 Connecticut Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008

Anne Petersen offers an approachable analysis of the way a few celebrity women act to push the boundaries of what it means to be an “acceptable” woman. From Kim Kardashian to Hilary Clinton, Petersen uses her expertise in celebrity culture to define an increasingly common form of feminine power.

August 20th 2 PM
The Writer’s Center
4508 Walsh Street, Bethesda, MD 20815

Award winning contributors and editors of The Little Patuxent Review gather to present work from recent issues. Readers will include the widely published Ann Bracken, Clarinda Harris, Jean Kim and Steven Levya. 

August 27th 5 PM
Politics and Prose
5015 Connecticut Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008

Professor of Humanities at Columbia University, Mathew Lilla, talks with Vox Interview writer Sean Illing about his new work on the failure of identity politics as the basis of left-wing political strategy. Lilla argues that progressives must embrace solidarity and encourage policies that will help all Americans. A continuation of the ideas in his New York Times op-ed, The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics offers a new way forward for the Democratic Party. 

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Novel Year: Info Session July 29

By Henry Shuldiner
Novel Year Info Session
Sat, 29 Jul, 2017 10:30 AM - 12:00 PM
Join us for a free information session on our third annual Novel Year Program. Starting September 12, serious novelists who have completed a draft of their manuscript will have the opportunity to workshop their entire novel over the course of a year. This year's instructor is Susan Coll, who is the author of five novels. Learn all about the structure of the workshop, and get to know Susan! Please RSVP to laura.spencer@writer.org

One of the most exciting workshops we offer is The Novel Year Program, a year-long intensive that gives novelists the opportunity to finish, polish, and prepare to publish their novels. The small group of 10 meets bi-weekly and is similar in structure and rigor to an M.F.A. program but lacks the expense and time commitment that such programs require. Also, unlike M.F.A. programs, authors will workshop their entire manuscripts with feedback from other members of the group and the workshop leader, Susan Coll.

Susan Coll
Coll is a five-time published novelist who has taught courses at The Writer’s Center for more than 12 years. At the start of her career, she worked as a journalist and submitted short stories to publishers, but only accumulated rejection letters for the latter. Coll eventually sold a short story to the BBC, which encouraged her to tackle her first novel. “It was still a long road from there to getting published,” Coll said. “But I was always a glass half-full kind of person, and the small successes along the way kept me going.”

The Novel Year Program is best suited for writers who have either finished a manuscript or have at least 75 pages of a novel in progress. During the course, students will have the chance to workshop over 300 pages of their book. Participants also have the opportunity to hear from guest speakers, including published authors and an agent. The course is broken down into two segments, fall and spring. The fall segment includes occasional exercises in craft, and the spring is more focused on the “nuts and bolts of publishing” according to Coll.

Spreading the class out over a year gives writers the “chance to revise and take the long view of what they are working on,” Coll said. Due to the length of the class, it’s important for her to maintain a supportive environment in the classroom, which can be difficult at times. “It’s hard to be on the other end of a critique, and I’ve emphasized to my students that they are there to help one another construct the best possible versions of whatever they are working on,” she said.

The critiquing aspect, while difficult at times, is essential to the editing process. It helps writers build trust in the individuals editing the stories and bolster their relationships as critics. One of the most rewarding parts of the class was “the way the group bonded” said Coll. “We had a lot of fun [last year], and people seemed genuinely disappointed when we took a break for the holidays; I think some good friendships and possibly some ongoing writing groups have formed.”

The only change Coll plans to make to this year’s course is to extend  meetings through June and meet every other week rather than every week. “This will give students more breathing room to read manuscripts and to work on their own books,” Coll said. Individual consultations will be offered in July after the classroom portion of the class ends. The schedule of the class will be as follows:

Fall: Every other Tuesday, from September 12 - December 12
Winter/Spring: Every other Tuesday from January 16 – June 26
Summer: Individual check-ins with instructor in July

Interested students are required to submit a cover letter and 25 sample pages of their work. Admission to the course will be on a rolling basis, and the number of participants will be limited to 10, so participants are encouraged to submit early. If you are interested in this class, please send your submission to laura.spencer@writer.org.

Monday, July 17, 2017

New Independent Bookstore in D.C.: Duende District

By Angela Maria Spring

Angela Maria Spring and Tara Campbell at Artomatic
 What does it take to create a bookstore by people of color, where everyone is welcome? As Duende District Bookstore enters the final days of its second pop-up venture (at La Mano CafĂ© in Takoma), it’s a perfect time to reflect upon how we got here.

The vision for Duende District first began to take shape after I visited Puerto Rico for the first time since I was 12 years old. As a child of immigrants, sometimes you have to go back to the place where a large piece of your identity was formed before you were even born. That’s what Puerto Rico and Panama are to me. It shook me loose from a lifetime of living a double identity, the feeling of never being solidly formed.

Duende District Pop-up at La Mano Cafe
When you see your people on the streets of your neighborhood each day, but hardly ever in the bookstore you work at, and you go back to a country where everyone looks like you, acts like you and owns all the businesses, coming home to the exact opposite is quite a shock.

I’ve been a bookseller for nearly two and half decades, and it was past time to find the courage to venture out on my own and create an amazing, gorgeous bookstore that will embrace and serve my community, as well as other communities of color, then extend the invitation to everyone.

When I met Tara Campbell, a fellow writer of color, at a book group of local women writers this past February, I was only just beginning to think about what it would take to open this bookstore of my dreams.

Tara is also the literary coordinator for Artomatic, a non-profit organization that hosts a six-week arts and literary festival each year in a building either slotted for demolition or change. I had left my job as the floor manager at Politics & Prose in late 2016 and my original plan had been to have a pop-up venture by the end of 2017.

But when Tara mentioned that Artomatic was looking for a start-up bookstore to work with, well, when opportunity knocks, you take it. I decided to use the experience to put together the pieces of a mobile bookstore and start my first crowdfunding campaign to test the viability of the business idea.

Part of the Children's Book Selection
From the end of February to today, Duende District has gone from a conceptual bookstore “installation” in Artomatic to a mobile pop-up bookstore operation with a fully funded Kickstarter campaign to back its existence. We are already forming strong partnerships with different communities in the DMV and lining up future pop-up opportunities in the coming months, including The Writer’s Center in October 2017.

I couldn’t have done this without such strong support of the D.C. bookstore and writing communities.

For more information and our hours, visit www.duendedistrict.com.

Angela Maria Spring is the founder and owner of Duende District Bookstore. She is originally from Albuquerque, N.M. and holds an M.F.A. from Sarah Lawrence. She has been a buyer and manager in indie bookstores in New Mexico, New York City, and Washington, D.C. Her poetry has appeared in numerous publications, including District Lines, Tar River Poetry, and Revolution House.