Category: News


On Memorial Day: Books for Soldiers

By Midge Raymond,

One of the many things I love about Forgetting English‘s publisher, Press 53, is its yearly Memorial Day tradition: For every book you purchase from the Press 53 website from Memorial Day until Flag Day (June 14), Press 53 will send, at no additional cost to you, a book to an active-duty overseas soldier or to a recovering soldier in a military hospital. What better way to celebrate mark Memorial Day?

Buy a book for yourself or a fellow reader, and Press 53 will take care of the rest. And, in celebration of National Short Story Month, why not try a new collection?

Forgetting English isn’t the only Spokane Prize winner among Press 53 titles — Becky Hagenston’s Strange Weather is also a recipient of the Spokane Prize for Short Fiction (and it’s an amazing collection…I highly recommend it).

I also loved reading Tara Masih’s Where the Dog Star Never Glows and Andrew Scott’s Naked Summer.

And here are a few recent Press 53 award-winning story collections:

Anne Leigh Parrish’s short story collection All the Roads That Lead From Home won an Independent Publishers Book Award Silver Medal for Best Short Story Collection.

Marjorie Hudson’s short story collection Accidental Birds of the Carolinas won a PEN/Hemingway Award Honorable Mention.

Michael Kardos’s short story collection One Last Good Time won the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Award for Fiction.

Click here for details on Books for Soldiers and to start shopping. Happy Memorial Day.



Instant books, via the Espresso Book Machine

By Midge Raymond,

It was a couple of years ago that I first saw an Espresso Book Machine (EBM) at work, at Village Books in Bellingham, Washington. It was impressive to see an entire book printed and bound in less than ten minutes — and even more impressive than the technology is the print-on-demand aspect itself: Books are made to order, which means no print overruns, which means no waste, which means more trees get to live.

Formerly used mainly for self-publishing, the EBMs are showing signs of going more mainstream. HarperCollins recently announced that it plans to make about 5,000 trade paperback backlist available for printing via EBM — and On Demand Books (the company behind the EBM) has also just announced that it plans to register with Google so that all EBM titles will become available through the Google Books website.

I caught a firsthand glimpse of the mainstreaming of the EBM on my recent book tour, when Northshire Bookstore in Manchester Center, Vermont, printed up copies of Forgetting English rather than ordering the books and having them shipped. A couple of readers got to see their books being printed, which was fun — and the quality was amazing. The book cover was matte rather than glossy, and the pages were thick, the print crisp, and the binding strong. And I got a kick out of seeing a new and different version of Forgetting English, made to order.

The Espresso Book Machine at Northshire is located in a little nook near the front of the store, close to the cash registers.  Northshire also has its own imprint, Shires Press, which offers a variety of packages for authors who want to self-publish their books — a very smart idea and likely one of the many reasons this bookstore is celebrating its 35th birthday and going strong.

And Northshire is far from the only indie bookstore to have an EBM: Check out this list of EBM locations, which comprises indie bookstores, university bookstores, and libraries all over the world, including in the U.S., Canada, Japan, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, China, the Philippines, Australia, and England. If there’s an EBM located anywhere near you, I recommend checking it out (and printing up a book!); it’s a fascinating machine that may very well play a very large role in the way publishing looks in the future.



Bookstore Geek: Tree House Books

By Midge Raymond,

Tree House Books in Ashland, Oregon, is one of the town’s many treasures.  I first visited this sweet little children’s bookstore last year, around the holidays, while shopping for the little readers in my life. And I’m glad I did — it’s one of the most charming bookstores I’ve ever seen, and it’s fun to wander around inside even if you are a grown-up. There really is something for everyone here.

Tree House Books has been on the Plaza in Ashland since 1978 but has relatively new owners who curate a hand-picked selection of books for infants to young adults, as well as a small selection of their favorite books for grown-ups as well. The space is welcoming and inviting, and in addition to books there’s a wonderful selection of gifts, toys, and seasonal items that makes it worthwhile to stop in for a look whenever you’re walking by.

Tree House also has a book club for kids age 11 and older (if there’s anything better than a book club, it’s a book club for young readers) as well as many other events, including local author appearances. And be sure to check out Tree House’s October calendar, coming soon, for upcoming Halloweeny events.



Notes from a book tour

By Midge Raymond,

Years ago, before my book was published, I remember reading an article by a very successful author who was complaining about doing book tours. And I remember thinking, How can any author fortunate enough to have a book published and a tour scheduled complain about the privilege not only of having a book out in the world but of being able to meet her readers?

Now, after having just completed a ten-day whirlwind tour of my own, I can empathize a little more — it really is quite exhausting — but I most definitely cannot complain.

For one, I feel so fortunate to have teamed up with my friend and fellow writer Wendy Call, whose amazing book No Word for Welcome (University of Nebraska Press) was published two months after my book, Forgetting English, was reissued by Press 53. Though my book is fiction and hers narrative nonfiction, our books touch on similar themes — the global economy, home and travel, border crossings both literal and figurative — and we put together a series of workshops, seminars, and joint readings that made for a very busy ten days.

We did eight events in four states, traveling through Hurricane Irene-damaged areas that sent us on all sorts of detours, which were so very minor compared to what most residents were going through. It was amazing to see how these communities we visited bonded together; the photo below is from Woodstock’s Shiretown Books:

Wendy and I gathered a whole series of lessons from this tour, and if I had to sum them up as one, it would be: Be prepared. For anything.

We had water shortages, a car break-in, oddly timed meals (our first meal at 4 p.m. one day, dinner at 11 p.m. on another), and a lot of detour stress. Yet the less-than-fun aspects were offset by being hosted by fantastic indie bookstores and generously taken in by amazing friends. We met with inspiring students and writers, and, no matter how long the day, we  always managed to have a glass of wine and at least a few hours’ sleep at the end of it.

I’ve learned that book events are one thing, whereas an extended book tour is another thing entirely. Book touring is for writers who are flexible above all else —  you never know what you’ll encounter when you show up for an event. You need to be prepared for detours, of course, and for events that need to start late or end early. Be prepared for crowds larger than you’d expected, or smaller than you’d hoped. Be prepared for more questions than you have time for, or for no questions at all.

But most of all, be prepared to have a lot of fun. I reminded myself, even in the challenging moments, that we were out there talking about our books, which is something many writers don’t have the opportunity to do.

So if you’re a writer considering a tour, remember that, despite the inevitable challenges, when you do a book tour you’re not only meeting your readers but supporting indie booksellers, community centers, and other venues important to the literary world. And if you’re a reader, go to your nearest bookstore on an event day and see what it’s all about.



The state of “writerhead”

By Midge Raymond,

Today I’m thrilled to be featured on Kristin Bair O’Keefe’s Writerhead, a fabulous blog in which she interviews writers about the state of “writerhead” and what it means to them and their process. I loved answering her thought-provoking questions … not to mention reading writerhead stories about all the other wonderful writers she has featured.

Stop by Kristin’s blog and check out not only Writerhead but all her fabulous tips, links, and writing news … you’ll love it.







Short Story Month Collection Giveaway Project

By Midge Raymond,

Welcome to Short Story Month!

UPDATE, 6/1: Congratulations to the winners — Tommy, Ed, and Susan — who now have some amazing summer reading material on the way. And thanks to all of you who participated in the giveaway and for all that you do to keep short stories alive and well!

This year, I am happy to be joining other bloggers in the annual Fiction Writers Review Collection Giveaway Project, a community effort by lit bloggers to raise attention for short story collections. FWR Contributing Editor Erika Dreifus suggested FWR as a home for this project last year and will not only be participating on her own blog, but will also be helping FWR run the project. And those of you who are fiction bloggers yourselves, click here for information on how you can participate as well.

The only difficult part about this for me has been choosing a collection to give away…but I’ve finally narrowed it down. To three.

First, I’m happy to be giving away Erika‘s own collection, Quiet Americans, out this year and well worth the long wait! I first met Erika in a bookstore outside Boston, where we did a reading together as finalists for a short story award. So I’ve enjoyed her work for many years and was thrilled to have a whole collection of her haunting and thought-provoking stories to curl up with this winter. From a high-ranking Nazi’s wife and a Jewish doctor in prewar Berlin to a refugee returning to Europe as terrorists massacre Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, the characters and conflicts that emerge in Quiet Americans reframe familiar questions about what is right and wrong, remembered and repressed, resolved and unending.

I’m also happy to be giving away Becky Hagenston‘s collection Strange Weather, which received the 2009 Spokane Prize for Short Fiction and was published by the fabulous Press 53. As with Erika, I’d already been acquainted with Becky’s work and with some of these stories through the many literary magazines they’ve appeared in, and I loved having the chance to overdose on them with this collection, which is nearly impossible to put down. From the visceral tension in the mother-daughter relationship in “Trafalgar” to the wonderfully witty ghost story “Anthony,” these stories offer us a delightful mix of magic and reality, while never losing their grip on the truths that draw us to stories in the first place.

And finally, I’m delighted to offer the wonderful collection The Bigness of the World by Lori Ostlund, now out in paperback. Winner of the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, this beautiful book introduces us to characters venturing out into a world in hopes of escaping their troubles, only to find that life remains as complicated as it was before they left. You may have already read “All Boy” in Best American Short Stories 2010 (two additional stories from the collection, “Bed Death” and “Talking Fowl with My Father,” are on the list of Other Distinguished Stories) — and if you’ve already read Lori’s work, you’ll only want to read more.

To be entered to win, leave a comment on this post any time from now to midnight (Pacific time!) on Tuesday, May 31, 2011, at which time I’ll use a random number generator to select three lucky winners.

Happy Short Story Month! Go forth, read stories, and celebrate.



Stuff for writers: “old” authors, short (and shorter) stories, and more

By Midge Raymond,

Given the way our culture celebrates youth (including writers), I really enjoyed this post by Randy Susan Meyers in the Huffington Post: a list of 41 writers whose debut novels were published after they turned 40 (among them: Meyers’ own book, The Murderer’s Daughters, as well as National Book Award winner Julia Glass and Pulitzer winners Paul Harding, Edward P. Jones, and Elizabeth Strout).

Many authors, both emerging and established, are choosing to self-publish these days, and those of you who are emerging D.I.Y. authors will want to check out this post by Alan Rinzler on literary agents taking on self-published writers to see what agents are saying, both pro and con. Of course, many self-published authors (like John Yunker, author of the The Tourist Trail) already have agents; they just weren’t able to find publishers. For those of you in that category, also be sure to see Rinzler’s list of top genres for multi-book deals in 2010, along with his tips on how to “make publishers drool.” And then there are those self-published authors who are already successful and decide to go solo; this article highlights a couple of these writers.

For those of you who love short stories (and who doesn’t?!), check out Storyville, an iPhone/iPad app that brings stories directly to your device. It’s $4.99 for six months’ worth of stories — one each week. And even better news for short story (and literary novel) readers: Andrew’s Book Club is back! And there’s already a new pick for the new year.

Maybe it’s our diminishing attention spans, but stories seem to be getting shorter and shorter and shorter. Along with flash fiction, micro fiction, and prose poems, we now have “hint fiction” (check out this NPR story for samples).

As I’m sure you’ve heard by now, The Paris Review has made its interviews available online — an amazing series of author interviews all the way back to the 1950s.

If you draw inspiration from seeing where writers work, in the U.S. there are 73 writers’ houses open to the public, including Norman Mailer’s and Edith Wharton’s.

And did you know that for 90 percent of what we communicate, we use only about 7,000 words? We’re losing words from the English language every day, and Oxford University Press hopes to save them with Save the Words, where you can visit with long-lost words and offer up your own words for safekeeping.



Stuff for writers

By Midge Raymond,

On Character

Ever wondered about the subtle differences in accents between an Australian and a New Zealander? Or how to tell by accent whether someone is from Florence or from Sicily? Check out the Speech Accent Archive, which exhibits a large set of speech accents from a variety of language backgrounds. Native and non-native speakers of English all read the same English paragraph, and you can listen to a recording and/or view the phonetic spellings.

And speaking of subtle differences, characterization is all about getting the details right. Does your character say soda, Coke, or pop? Check out this map to see in which regions of the U.S. which terms are used.

On Procrastination

If you don’t already have enough ideas for how to procrastinate, check out this short animated film on procrastination by Johnny Kelly. It’s funny as well as spot-on.

This neat little program from Pilot will turn your own handwriting into a font, so you can type “handwritten” letters.

And finally, check out Underwood: Stories in Sound, founded by writer Nathan Dunne, who turned his love for short stories and vinyl records into a twice-yearly publication produced as a vinyl LP featuring two writers.



Are you addicted to busyness?

By Midge Raymond,

Normally when I go jogging, which I sort of hate, I’m tuned in to an iPod or something else that takes my mind off the fact that I’m bored, out of shape, getting older, and would rather be doing just about anything else. And even though I still refuse to go to a gym, I recognized myself immediately in this New York Times story about people who multitask at the gym to avoid having to think about exercising.

But a few weeks ago, I began to feel differently about distractions. It happened when I started jogging on a trail on which distracting myself didn’t seem like the best idea — the trail is fairly desolate, leads to the middle of nowhere, and has been the scene of at least one recent and very bad crime that I’m aware of. I also wanted to keep my ears open to hear the amazing creatures living along the trail — not only the ones I want to see (hawks, jackrabbits, roadrunners, golden eagles, egrets) but especially the ones I want to avoid (rattlesnakes, bobcats, coyotes). And I knew I couldn’t hope to glimpse (or outrun) any of these animals if I was plugged into an iPod.

And somehow, with nothing to distract me but the sagebrush and the sky and the heat, I actually enjoyed that first jog. Thinking it had to have been a fluke, I went out again, iPodless, and enjoyed it even more. And, just like that, now I actually look forward to heading for the trail instead of finding excuses not to.

I think this NYT story spells out exactly why: instead of a chore, it had become my downtime. As the article notes, “when people keep their brains busy with digital input, they are forfeiting downtime that could allow them to better learn and remember information, or come up with new ideas.” In other words, I had a problem, and the first step was admitting it: I was addicted to busyness. And I’m far from alone.

In case you’re wondering whether you’re not getting enough mental downtime, here’s one of those “do I have a problem?” quizzes for you:

  • Do you check your smartphone for email/voicemail/Facebook/etc. before you get out of bed?
  • Do you email/play games/text/tweet/etc. when in line at the post office/bank/wherever?
  • Do you do a million things at the gym/while exercising to take your mind off the fact that you’re exercising?
  • Do you often feel overwhelmed, time-strapped, snarky?
  • When you sit down to write, do you feel… A) inspired and focused;  B) scattered and stressed?

If you’ve answered “yes” to the first four and chose “B” for the last one, you’ve got a problem. (For the record, so do I.) But there is hope for us. All we need to do is unplug a little bit.

So I’m taking a few baby steps in that direction. I’ve begun daily meditation. (The “daily” part lasted only a week, but remember: recovery is a process.) And I’ve all but abandoned my iPod. I’ve made an effort to cut back on the multitasking; whether it’s talking on the phone or checking email, I do one thing at a time, and one thing only. And ever since, I’ve had more writing epiphanies, more useful ideas, better creative energy, and more focus. While we busy people always think we can’t afford not to do a lot of things at once, remember what Marc Berman, a University of Michigan neuroscientist, said in the Times article about multitasking: “People think they’re refreshing themselves, but they’re fatiguing themselves.”

I took this photo one morning after meditation, and I look at it often. It reminds me that slowing down in life doesn’t mean that I’ll fall behind but that, in the end, I’ll come out ahead.



Notes from the Hugo House Writers’ Conference, Part II

By Midge Raymond,

Okay, now on to Day 2 of the Richard Hugo House Writers’ Conference.

After much coffee on Sunday morning, I presented Think Outside the Book — a session on the myriad ways to market one’s book. We talked about Web sites, social media, blogs, building one’s platform, and the importance of “think not what your local bookstore can do for you, but what you can do for your local bookstore.” Here are a few DOs and DON’Ts from the session:

  • DO be generous (with readers, other authors, bookstores, etc.).
  • DO be flexible. Be open to new ideas for events, readings, etc.
  • DO team up with other authors for support and joint events, and to share ideas.
  • DO be prepared not only to do your own legwork but to spend your own money. Depending on your publishing contract, you may have to cover many promotional expenses yourself, from travel to your web site to postcards and bookmarks.
  • DO keep your blog open to comments, and DO take the time to respond.
  • DON’T be all about you, all the time. Don’t tweet or update Facebook so incessantly that you risk tiring your followers/friends. Be relevant and interesting.
  • DON’T automatically connect all social media; think about how you can use each platform to best highlight your work to different audiences.
  • DON’T take bad reviews or nasty comments personally, and don’t respond to them. You can’t please everyone, and you don’t need to. Engage only with those who are positive and supportive.

After my own session, I sat in on poet Kelli Russell Agodon‘s fantastic workshop on applying for grants and residencies. As both a winner of numerous grants and residencies as well as a panelist on award committees, Kelli had some terrific advice. Among the gems: Set yourself apart (selection committees read hundreds of applications, so it’s important to stand out); keep it simple (don’t offer too much information, which can be distracting, and remember that committees can be very diverse — send a work sample that connects with people on a human level rather than a strictly artistic one); and follow the guidelines exactly (one of the surest ways to be disqualified for a grant/residency is to have an incomplete application). She also emphasized that often winning is all about luck and timing, and quoted Wayne Gretzky: “You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take.”

Attorney Mark Wittow’s session Know Your Rights provided a great overview of legal issues for writers, focusing mostly on copyright laws. I learned a couple of new and interesting things — for example, that research data is not protected by copyright (only the expression of the facts is protected). Copyright laws are fairly complex, but writers with questions can visit the U.S. Copyright Office web site for more info. Also, for a $20 donation, Washington writers and artists can visit a free legal clinic run by Washington Lawyers for the Arts.

This blog can in no way summarize the entire weekend, and it can’t capture the wonderful energy of so many writers together for two straight days, sharing ideas and information and enthusiasm. If you couldn’t make it this year, stay tuned to Hugo House, and register early for next year’s conference.



Notes from the Hugo House Writers’ Conference, Part I

By Midge Raymond,

I spent the entire weekend blissfully immersed in all things writing at Richard Hugo House’s first writers’ conference, which centered around the theme of Finding Your Readers in the 21st Century. Panels and sessions were divided into three tracks: publishing, self-promotion, and writers’ tools. Other than the fact that I was, sadly, unable to be in two (or three) places at once, it was a fantastic weekend — and I thought I’d share a few highlights.

Saturday morning’s plenary with Matthew Stadler was inspiring. A novelist as well as a longtime publishing pro and co-founder of Clear Cut Press, Stadler believes that, despite all the current woes and gloom currently surrounding the publishing industry, the twenty-first century will be better for writers than the twentieth. He believes publication should be cheap and easy, and that our goal as writers should be to connect to our audiences one person at a time, one book at a time, and to develop lasting conversations within our communities. His current project, Publication Studio, is “an experiment in sustainable publication” whose books include works by Seattle authors Stacey Levine and Matt Briggs.

After the plenary, I sat on a panel about support networks for writers with Janna Cawrse Esarey, Tamara Kaye Sellman, and Jennifer Culkin, in which we shared our experiences of how writing networks have helped us market our work, from the submission stage through book promotion. Most important, we all agreed, is having clear goals in mind, meeting regularly, and not only sharing ideas but joining together for events and conferences.

Publicist Alice B. Acheson offered an invaluable session on book marketing, speaking on everything from a writer’s “pre-pub platform” to filling out that seemingly endless Author Questionnaire (and yes, every single paragraph of that thing is important for one reason or another). She had good, practical advice for planning events (BYO postcards and posters; always confirm in advance that books have been ordered), reminded everyone that marketing starts when you begin your book (think of your audience), and encouraged good karma: visit independent bookstores often.

Priscilla Long‘s Tricks of Virtuoso Creators focused on the balance between creating work and getting it out into the world, and she pointed out that most masters of their art are able to create masterpieces because they are constantly creating. She set herself a goal of submitting one work each day, and while she fell a little short, she did finish 300 submissions, and got 11 acceptances. Doing this, she points out, not only gives you an idea of your acceptance rate but also keeps the cycle going: In order to submit, you must create; once you create, you then have work to submit. A couple more tips from this session: Keep a list of everything you’ve ever written, and write for at least fifteen minutes a day.

More coming soon, covering Sunday’s sessions…



Stuff for writers

By Midge Raymond,

While most writers know that book titles can’t be copyrighted, we have yet to see another Moby-Dick or Gone with the Wind. What’s far more common, as this site shows, is using same cover art for many different books.

Doesn’t every writer love a good malapropism? This NY Times article reminded me of my days living in Taipei, when I’d encounter various bizarre English translations. Visitors to Shanghai won’t be able to enjoy similar mistakes much longer, thanks to the Shanghai Commission for the Management of Language Use, which is fixing everything from menus to street signs. So long to menus listing “monolithic tree mushroom stem squid” and restroom signs reading “urine district.” Check out the Times slide show for a few hilarious examples, including the one below.

Speaking of being lost in translation: From Jhumpa Lahiri to Chuck Palahniuk to Donald Barthelme, authors’ names are often mispronounced with such authority that soon even the correct pronunciation sounds wrong. Click here for a guide.

I rather enjoyed this Life magazine slide show entitled “Famous Literary Drunks & Addicts.” If nothing else, it made me feel pretty healthy by comparison.

Having trouble jump-starting your latest story? The American Book Review lists the best 100 first lines from novels here … it’s inspiring, if a little intimidating.

And finally — and definitely inspiring — is this blog from Alan Rinzler on finding courage as a writer, with such advice as not being afraid to talk to yourself, to let things simmer, and to start over.

Enjoy.



May is National Short Story Month!

By Midge Raymond,

It’s been only a couple of years since National Short Story Month was designated by Dan Wickett of the Emerging Writers Network — and as this Poets & Writers article notes, the idea was first floated by The Story Prize‘s Larry Dark back in 2003: “I think the story needs advocacy as a cultural institution the way poetry has done … There’s a national poetry month, and I think there should be a national short-story month, too.”

While National Short Story month may not yet have the organizational and institutional support of, say, National Poetry Month, it still deserves recognition, celebration, and support. Here are a few ways in which readers and writers can do just that …

— Read and support the literary magazines that publish short fiction. There are far too many to name here, but this month, consider one of the many magazines devoted solely to short stories — Zoetrope, Glimmer Train, American Short Fiction, Freight Stories, and Fiction Magazine, to name a few.

— Visit web sites devoted to short stories, such as Andrew’s Book Club and The Short Review. Check out the many diverse collections highlighted on these sites, and treat yourself to one (or more).

— Mark your book club calendar. If you’re in a book club, designate May as the month you read a story collection, if you haven’t already. If it’s too late to make this month’s pick, mark your calendar for May 2011.

Think about the last short story you enjoyed, whether it was in a journal or a book-length collection, then talk it up: tell your friends, family, colleagues, and/or book club about it. Share the love; spread the joy.

Happy Short Story Month to all.