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Books, Guest Posts, storytelling, Women, writing

Keeping the Faith through NaNoWriMo and Beyond

November 4, 2015

By Suzy Vitello

This is the month that many writers take the plunge and re-prioritize their lives to take part in National Novel Writing Month. NaNoWriMo, in other words. Probably if you’re reading this article, you’re on a break from the marathon. Or you’re simply not doing it. It’s a huge commitment, this pledge to write 50k words in a month.

Huge.

Five years ago, I embarked on a failed NaNoWriMo adventure – and I say failed, because I didn’t come up with the whole 50, but, November, 2010 was the year I crystallized my obsession with the Empress Elizabeth of Austria, and the effort eventually produced two books. The first one was published by Diversion Books in September of last year.

The level of joy when your book find its way to the hands of readers is only matched by validation  you get when a New York publisher says, “Yes. We will invest in you. We believe in this book.”

But it was short-lived.

Over last winter, I continued the story (the book was always meant to be a series), and wrote the second Empress Chronicles book. I had it professionally edited, rewrote it, and sent it along to my agent in late spring. We both felt pretty confident that Diversion would put the sequel out, too.

But they passed.

Though claiming The Keepsake was “a delight from start to finish,” they felt they needed to focus on books with more robust sales numbers.

This is a polite way of saying: your first book tanked, and we’re moving on.

The level of self-doubt when your book gets rejected is only matched by frustration when a New York publisher says, “Show me the value.”

Because, value is subjective. Value is an abstraction. Value, my friends, should be tied to something intrinsic, but at the end of the day, value is tied to numbers. And consumers. And a system as random as a Las Vegas slot machine.

The hardest thing, for an artist, is to maintain belief in creation in the face of rejection.  It’s not just about tenacity. It’s not just about revision. It’s more than that.

It’s finding that audacious place inside you and pulling her out. Talking to her with tough love. Asking her the hard question: “What is standing in the way of success?” And then, “What do you really want?”

When I answered those questions, here’s what I came up with:

My tendency to value myself only if fancier people value me.

And:

Connection. All I have to give is my love of language, story and the dream that plays out on the page. 

And here’s where the miracle comes in. When you live inside a decision to find connection, you do.

I decided to put The Keepsake out myself, and I found an extremely talented and passionate street team to help me. Continue Reading…

Fear, Guest Posts, imagination, Women, writing

On Writing and Rejection

October 25, 2015

By Julianne Palumbo

When I was very young, I used to write poems on 3 by 5 index cards and paste them onto the blank pages of a large scrapbook. Then, I’d crayon pictures next to them, half-circle trees outlined in Electric Lime green with dots of Scarlet red apples scattered below. My coloring was never worthy of the 64-count Crayola box that I relished, the untouched points lining up in a progression of vibrancy. Perhaps my poetry was not much better. It looked small surrounded by all that white space. At seven, I hadn’t yet mastered the art of figurative language. A tree was typically only a tree. Once in a while it was its roots and its branches, but always I wanted it to be as vivacious as the colors in that box.

My parents typically dispensed the appropriate amount of praise when I showed them my poems, always willing to read my new creations and to pass them around to collect the obligatory nods and smiles of relatives. It was enough to encourage me to keep writing.

But, I remember one poem I wrote while passing a few hours at my grandmother’s house. I was seven, and visiting her home always left me feeling like I never could really sink into the chairs she covered with dishtowels before our visit. I would roam around her quiet raised ranch, inhaling the scent of cherry tobacco and mothballs, and scouring the shelves of black and white family photos searching for a likeness of my own face. The wood floors creaked achingly under my quiet steps as I peeked into the lifeless rooms upstairs searching for the perfect place to write.

The poem I wrote that day was about best friends, a boy and a girl, perhaps a friend I wished I had. In the poem, the friends played together all day, and then, when nighttime came, the boy stayed over the girl’s house. I remember showing it to my grandmother who whispered to my mom, pointing to my small paper with her curled and spotted finger. My grandmother handed my poem back to me. “Put it away,” she said.

I remember the embarrassed cry that welled up inside when she informed me that little boys don’t stay with little girls and that I shouldn’t show the poem to anyone else. I remember ripping up the poem and being so embarrassed that I had written it. I snuck it into the trash bin under her sink, wishing it would just decompose among the milk cartons and coffee grinds so it would be forgotten.

I’m not sure why I remember this so vividly. Perhaps it was my first experience with writer’s rejection.

But, the pull to keep writing remained strong. I wrote through high school, contributing to my school newspaper and entering poetry contests, but mostly I wrote for myself. My writing was usually well received as youthful writing often is. Adults are happy when a teen expresses herself in writing. No one really pays attention to the words she says or to the stirrings that hide behind them.

I didn’t experience rejection again until my valedictorian address was spread across the chopping block by a Sister of Mercy at the all girls’ Catholic school I attended. Sister Marie said something about my speech not being religious enough before she took her merciless red marker to my manifesto. I had earned the title of Valedictorian but apparently not the right to say what I wanted at the podium. It was my first attempt at the art of compromise, actually daring to remind her that I was writing the speech and that it was important that I believed in what I was going to say. It was perhaps my first chance to be heard by my peers, really listened to, and I wanted them to know me through my words.

After high school and college, I practiced law for many years. Law, with all its terseness and arid sentences parceled out into tiny billable minutes, parched my writer’s voice. I wrote legal and business articles profusely, but my creative side nearly wilted under the weight of all those legalisms. During those tedious days I longed to return to the imaginative and colorful. I allowed myself to think back on my earlier years and to remember myself as a prolific creative writer.

It was motherhood and all of the overwhelming feelings that come with birthing and raising another human being that brought my pen back to the page. The joys and struggles cried to be vented someplace. It strikes me now that an introvert like me suddenly became so comfortable sharing myself with you and countless readers I’ve never met. If you knew me in person, you would know very little about what I need and what makes me happy. If you read my writing, you will know so much more.

We write to be read, to be understood, and to understand. We write because when someone else reads us and processes her own pain, we have given a gift. You are either a writer or you’re not. You either understand the need to put down words or you don’t. You will either read someone’s writing and desperately need to know them, or you won’t.

I found that old poetry scrapbook the other day. It had been tucked into a cardboard box in my parent’s cellar then moved to my basement when they cleaned out theirs. It surprised me to find that the cover was nothing more than an industrial speckled tan with a thin functional bronze frame thoughtlessly surrounding the word “Scrapbook.”

In truth, I hadn’t even filled half of the pages with my index card poems. The fancy gold cover, the gilded tipped pages, and the large satin ribbon of my memory had been imagined. I had remembered the book teeming with poetry that documented a young girl’s life with the mastery of a memoirist. But, the poems that had seemed so large back then were in fact nothing more than a few words written squarely on pre-penciled lines. They contained barely even a simile, and many of them were loaded with treacherous rhyme.

Inside the scrapbook was my old valedictorian address, written in bubbly letters, blue pen on a stack of oversized index cards, tea-stained by age. It’s funny how those two relics of my writing past found refuge together for those thirty dry years. It’s as if they knew someday I’d return to them.

As I opened the scrapbook and turned its thick manila pages, a small creak in the binding reminded me of that old feeling of putting myself out there and having it torn. I remembered thinking that day that I hadn’t meant any harm by my words.

When I decided to leave my law partnership and take up writing again, I also decided that I would embrace the rejection that would inevitably follow an attempt at a writing career. I vowed I wouldn’t let fear of rejection silence me. Instead, I would drink in each word of criticism like it was the last drop of water in my inspirational well.

We face rejection in so many facets of our lives. Why then is it so difficult to stomach when it comes in the name of improving something important to us?

I submitted my young adult novel manuscripts to professional editors and poured over their redlines like they were treasure maps to the spot where my future best seller was buried. I refused to allow myself to feel the sting of their criticism. Instead, I read between their cryptic lines, sifting out any tidbit or morsel that would help me to reach the better writer trapped deep inside of me. I told myself that the editors were not offering criticism to make me feel bad but because they understood the human need to communicate well. They were helping me to reach my goal, and I wouldn’t allow my pride or my sensitivity to silence my own voice.

There are so many good writers out there. And for each of those, there are that many more who are even better. I read those writers like I am prospecting their gold, sifting their gravel through my strainer. Turning and shaking it until I find that tiny glittering bit that will raise my own writing, inspire me to reach deeper, to try harder. With each critique or rejection letter, I strive to glean something, anything that will move me forward even a step.

Then I come across a piece of writing that makes me stop short, hold my breath, and wish I could have put those very words down in that very same way. Pangs of writer envy, I guess, but not in a way that shuts me down, in a way that makes me root for the writer to continue to spread her gift to the world. I realize that I had to write those simple poems about tree branches that dropped apples in order to write the better ones about trees branches that blossomed.

I turn the page in my old poetry scrapbook and lift the tired satin ribbon that marks the page. There, in the center, is a poem about me.  I read it and I know myself.

I am a writer.

Julianne Palumbo’s poems, short stories and essays have been published in Literary Mama, Ibettson Street Press, YARN, The MacGuffin, The Listening Eye, Kindred Magazine, Poetry East, Mamalode, Coffee + Crumbs, and others. She is the author of Into Your Light (Flutter Press, 2013), and Announcing the Thaw (Finishing Line Press, 2014), poetry chapbooks about raising teenagers. She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize for my YA poem, “Stuffing Bears” and received a Letter of Merit from the SCBWI in the 2014 Magazine Merit Awards. She is also the Editor of Mothers Always Write, an online literary magazine for mothers by mother writers.

 

Ring in New Years 2016 with Jen Pastiloff at her annual Ojai retreat. It's magic! It sells out quickly so book early. No yoga experience required. Just be a human being. With a sense of humor. Email barbara@jenniferpastiloff.com with questions or click photo to book. NO yoga experience needed. Just be a human being.

Ring in New Years 2016 with Jen Pastiloff at her annual Ojai retreat. It’s magic! It sells out quickly so book early. No yoga experience required. Just be a human being. With a sense of humor. Email barbara@jenniferpastiloff.com with questions or click photo to book. NO yoga experience needed. Just be a human being.

 

 

Join Jen for a weekend retreat at Kripalu Center in Western Massachusetts Feb 19-21, 2016. Get ready to connect to your joy, manifest the life of your dreams, and tell the truth about who you are. This program is an excavation of the self, a deep and fun journey into questions such as: If I wasn’t afraid, what would I do? Who would I be if no one told me who I was? Jennifer Pastiloff, creator of Manifestation Yoga and author of the forthcoming Girl Power: You Are Enough, invites you beyond your comfort zone to explore what it means to be creative, human, and free—through writing, asana, and maybe a dance party or two! Jennifer’s focus is less on yoga postures and more on diving into life in all its unpredictable, messy beauty. Note Bring a journal, an open heart, and a sense of humor. Click the photo to sign up.

Join Jen for a weekend retreat at Kripalu Center in Western Massachusetts Feb 19-21, 2016.
Get ready to connect to your joy, manifest the life of your dreams, and tell the truth about who you are. This program is an excavation of the self, a deep and fun journey into questions such as: If I wasn’t afraid, what would I do? Who would I be if no one told me who I was?
Jennifer Pastiloff, creator of Manifestation Yoga and author of the forthcoming Girl Power: You Are Enough, invites you beyond your comfort zone to explore what it means to be creative, human, and free—through writing, asana, and maybe a dance party or two! Jennifer’s focus is less on yoga postures and more on diving into life in all its unpredictable, messy beauty.
Note Bring a journal, an open heart, and a sense of humor. Click the photo to sign up.

cancer, courage, Grief, Guest Posts, healing, writing

Half A World Away (fugue: unfinished)

October 11, 2015

By Jennifer McGuiggan

I’ve been away: Out of town. Out of state. Out of this time zone.

I’ve been away: Out of words. Out of tears. Out of time.

Out of time: To have no time left.

Out of time: To be outside of time.

* * *

Some people believe that God is outside of time, seeing the whole story from start to finish before it plays out for us mortals. This theory allows for predestination, the idea that God not only sees the whole story but also has ordained it, including who receives eternal life and who, well, doesn’t. This kind of predestination thinking seeps into the highs and lows of human existences. Horrible things happen and some mortals leach comfort from platitudes: This is all part of God’s plan. Everything happens for a reason.

I believe that everything happens for a reason insofar as I believe in the commonsense law of cause and effect.

Yes, things happen for a reason. One thing causes another. We can reason it out:

My friend got breast cancer.
She had treatment.
The treatment worked.
She got well.

My same friend got another kind of breast cancer.
She had treatment.
It didn’t work.
She died.

* * *

Life is a series of If/Then statements.

The day after my friend died, I flew across the country for a trip I’d had planned for months. The older I get, the more nervous I feel on planes. With each takeoff, landing, and turbulent bump of this trip, I thought to myself: If Christy can die, so can I.

This wasn’t a recognition of my own mortality. I’ve been well-aware of that for years, like a stone in my shoe mostly obscured on a daily basis by the padding of a well-placed callous. Rather, this thought was a comfort, almost a feeling of empowerment: If my friend who loved life so much could die, well, then by golly, so can I!

* * *

The week after I returned home, my mother had a scheduled surgery at a hospital an hour from my house. During her five days in recovery there, I drove to the hospital. I sat. I drove home. Repeat.

None of us knows how much time we have. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, I Have Done Love, Retreats/Workshops, writing

Writing & The Body. Jen Pastiloff & Lidia Yuknavitch.

February 8, 2015

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By Jen Pastiloff.

Update: We have just opened registration for our next Writing and The Body Retreat. Book here.

I am on way my to London to lead a workshop and I couldn’t be happier. I do two a year in London (back doing one there Oct 10th), which, truth be told, is a friggin’ dream come true for me. Manifesting.

Making Shit Happen is how I define manifesting. 

Please check out a list of my workshops soon as I have them coming up in Massachusetts (retreat there next week in The Berkshires), NYC in March, Atlanta in March, Princeton, Philly, Seattle, Dallas, Chicago, Tuscany, and more! Post in the comments section if you are attending one soon or would like to.

You do NOT have to know any yoga at all. Just be a human being. All workshops listed here.

Read this to get a better understanding of what it is I do. 

To anyone who may be disappointed that my retreats or workshops are not enough “yoga,”I refuse to apologize. I won’t back down with my mission and the beauty mark I intend to leave.

I want to remind you not to put yourself in a box. That you can make something up and put it out into the world ( I did it!) with one intention and it will work. But do know what that intention must be? Every time? No matter if you are doing this or that or writing or yoga or nursing or mothering or serving veggie burgers?

The intention must be love. My go to saying- At the end of my life, when I ask one final “What have I done?” let my answer be, “I have done love.”

So please, if you want to come to a workshop of mine, know that I may not have you do 39 handstands. I may not have you do 100 vinyasas (although sometimes we do do a lot) but I will try my damnedest to create a space of love. I will do my best to help you not forget who you are in the world.

 

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Jen and Lidia

 

I just led an incredible retreat last weekend in Ojai, California, with one of my favorite authors and humans, Lidia Yuknavitch, called Writing and The Body. We are doing it again over Labor Day weekend 2015. Book here.

A woman in a room is crying, but it’s not what you think. The salted water brings her home, but it’s not what you think. There is another home in her, an ocean of lives lived alongside others. Look in her eyes. Look differently. Look at how her eyes are worlds. Some of the bodies carried life, some of them carried death, some others, both. There are bodies who have starved or needed more than the open mouth of an infant. There are folds of flesh redefine your puny words, “wife,” “mother,” “daughter,” other. If you listen with your whole body, you can hear our skinsong. A beautiful thunder. Even death begins us. Begin again. ~ Lidia Yuknavich after our Writing & The Body Retreat. Continue Reading…

Books, Guest Posts, writing

Scheherazade’s Call.

December 26, 2014

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Laraine Herring.

The Velveteen Rabbit was one of those magic stories that saved my life. I remember the line drawings of the Bunny all alone on the hill, splashes of muted pastel colors behind him. The Bunny was so loved by the Boy that his fur was rubbed away and he was no longer new and pretty, but it didn’t matter because the Boy loved him. But then the Boy got sick and he was taken away and the Bunny was left alone.

This was the part of the story that began to take root inside of me. My dad contracted polio in the 1940s when he was the same age as the Boy, and even though the diseases were different, the story helped awaken empathy in me for the experiences of another. How scared my dad must have been to have suddenly found himself so sick! What treasured toys of his were taken away? I empathized with both the Boy and the Bunny, and I wanted more than anything for the Bunny to become real—to become loved alive—and if that could happen, maybe—even though my father’s right leg was shorter than his left leg, and even though his gaze often rested on distant things I couldn’t see—I could love my dad back alive too.

That 1922 edition of Margery Williams’ The Velveteen Rabbit was my version of the book. My rabbit. My boy. My playroom and wise old Skin Horse. William Nicholson’s illustrations helped make it mine. When later editions hit the shelves, the new illustrations (lovely though they were) were jarring. That’s not my bunny! That’s not my story.

This seems ludicrous on the surface, but talk to a fan of a book when the movie comes out and you’ll get a step-by-step guide of what didn’t match up and how the actors didn’t fit the images the reader had put in her head. Readers claim ownership of the fictional worlds they inhabit, and rightfully so—they helped to create those worlds using the signposts the author provided through text. The reader’s experience with the story is so intimate and so real that it comes as a shock when another reader has a different relationship with the same story. No one can enter the web of words the same way, and no one comes out the other side unchanged either.

Why do books matter? Why do fiction writers matter? Why is fiction reading still relevant? The world changes, evolves, and by necessity leaves behind what no longer fits. The thing is, stories always fit. They take us by the hand and pull us into worlds we didn’t know existed—not the world of the writer, but the world that was within us. Our hidden interior world, on the trigger of a turn of phrase, can expand into new ways of being in and relating to the world. Our experiences with characters and adventures on the page make us move in surprising ways. They give us a window into a way of life we’d never know or a belief system that challenges us and stretches our capacity to care. The author might have been writing five hundred years ago or just yesterday. It doesn’t matter. The readers are the wild card. Each reader co-creates her own story and makes it personally relevant and then engages with the world from that new, changed place.

Our lives are very different from when that first edition of The Velveteen Rabbit captured hearts. Much of what fuels our economy is not a physical product that we can ship and store. Our productivity is intellectual. It’s artistic. It’s creative. And it doesn’t always sit on a shelf. It isn’t warehoused and it isn’t collecting dust. This is an economy of ideas and of inventions based not on a combustible engine, but rather a combustible spirit. As Seth Godin tells us in The Icarus Deception, this is the time of the creatives, the artists, the dreamers and imaginers. This is the time for magic. But it’s hard to put magic in a spreadsheet. It’s hard to make a pie chart or a PowerPoint slide about its benefits. But make no mistake. Our modern age runs on magic. It runs on someone alone in a room with an idea to make the world a little bit better. Innovation and invention start with imagination—the world of fiction.

Who would have thought we’d go to the moon, or store our documents in a cloud, or type a manuscript from across the room from the computer? Who would have thought, until someone did, and then what had once been purely fiction became the norm. Then the standard. But before it became the standard, it was inconceivable. It was impossible and then someone dreamed it. Someone shook the fairy dust and came up with an electric car, solar power, Apple computers, airplanes and stories. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, World Events, writing

I Don’t Get It.

December 10, 2014

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By Powell Berger.

There are some things I don’t get.

Like sometimes the funny pictures George Takei posts on his Facebook page and says, “like when you get it.” I am still trying to figure out the one with the reindeer looking at his grades. (Message me if you can explain it.)

And you know those air freshener things, the ones you plug in and insert the little bottle of various fragrances, and the heat activates it and pretty soon your house smells like apple pie or tropical beach or winter snow?  I love those, but could only have one in my apartment because I only have one vertical plug (they don’t work sideways, I learned.) Then just this week, after a year of constant use, I discovered that the little pluggy thing on the back of the plug-in device rotates. Who knew! All this time, I could’ve had apple pie smell everywhere, if only I’d gotten it, figured it out.

I don’t get two grand juries, half a country and one week apart, refusing to indict police officers whose actions – in one case completely caught on video in horrifying detail – snuffed out two black men.  All the lawyers I know tell me grand juries indict ham sandwiches. But apparently they don’t indict white cops in black deaths.

I don’t get the angry old white guys raging on FOX News about bringing back American values, or defunding Air Force One or disinviting Obama, the President of the United States, to the annual State of the Union. Last I knew, the President was the main event at the State of the Union. But like I say, I don’t get it.

Continue Reading…

Converse-Station, Guest Posts, Interview, writing

The Converse-Station: Elissa Wald Interviews Author Rene Denfeld.

December 9, 2014

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Welcome to The Converse-Station: A dialogue between writers. With the site getting so much traffic (my Facebook page is reaching over 18 million people) I can think of no better way to utilize that traffic than to introduce the readers to writers I love. The dialogues created within this series have stayed with me long after I’ve read them on the page. Enjoy. xo Jen Pastiloff

The Convere-Station: Elissa Wald Interviews Author Rene Denfeld.

He talks about the confused mess inside of him. He says everyone thinks sociopaths are super-smart criminals, but he is just a messed-up guy who doesn’t know why he does what he does. Except there is like a switch in him, and when the switch flips on, he cannot stop.

“If it made sense, I would tell you,” he says. “When you kill people, it is supposed to make sense. But it doesn’t. It never does.”

The lady nods. She understands.

With each secret he tells her, her eyes get darker and more satisfied. York can see from the precious slot of window that the rain clouds have lifted and the sky itself is dark. He has been speaking forever; he has told her secrets he has been afraid to tell anyone, secrets he suspects she knew all the time.

The look in her eyes is of a person who drank from the end of a gun barrel and found it delicious. Her eyes are filled with a strange sort of wondrous sadness, as if marveling at all the beauty and pain in the world. Continue Reading…

Converse-Station, Guest Posts, writing

The Converse-Station: Tim Tomlinson Interviews Stephen Policoff.

November 10, 2014

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Poet, Short Story Writer & New York Literary Lion Tim Tomlinson Interviews Novelist Stephen Policoff

Welcome to The Converse-Station: A dialogue between writers. With the site getting so much traffic (my Facebook page is reaching over 16 million people!) I can think of no better way to utilize that traffic than to introduce the readers to writers I love. The dialogues created within this series have stayed with me long after I’ve read them on the page. Confession: I am totally biased with this one. I love these two writers dearly. They both helped me find my voice as a writer so many years ago when I was a student at NYU. Tim was one of my teachers and Stephen ran the literary magazine and published my first poem when I was still a teenager (and we joked that we were related since both or names ended in “Off”.) It is my great honor to publish this. And, to call both of these men my friends. 

The other day I was emailing with Stephen about his daughter (you’ll read about her below) and I felt overwhelmed with sadness. “Why does the world have to be filled with such pain,” I wrote to him. He replied,  ‘I always knew we would come to this but I never thought I’d have to do it by myself.
So it goes. Or as Kenneth Patchen observes, “Christ Christ Christ that the world should be cold and dark for so many.’ “

I hope this interview leaves you feeling the opposite of cold and dark as it did for me. Love, Jen Pastiloff, founder of The Manifest-Station.

Tim Tomlinson is a co-founder of New York Writers Workshop, and co-author of its popular text, The Portable MFA in Creative Writing. His fiction and poetry have appeared in venues from China and the Philippines to Toronto and New York. He is a Yoga Alliance certified (200 hr) instructor. He believes the easiest asanas are the hardest, and the hardest aren’t easy at all. He lives in Brooklyn, he teaches in NYU’s Global Liberal Studies program.

Stephen Policoff won the James Jones Award for his first novel, Beautiful Somewhere Else (Carroll & Graf 2004). His memoir, Sixteen Scenes from a Film I Never Wanted to See, was published by Monkey Puzzle Press in 2014. His second novel, Come Away, won the Mid-Career Author Award and will be published in November 2014 by Dzanc Books. Like Tim Tomlinson, he teaches in Global Liberal Studies at NYU, and edits their literary magazine The West 4th Street Review, where many years ago, he encountered Jen Pastiloff, then a poetic waif, and published her first poem. He lives in Manhattan with his two daughters.

Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, How To, writing

Finding the Hook.

October 15, 2014

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By Lisa McElroy.

It turns out that, when you’re writing your first novel, finding a hook is crazy hard. How can you capture a reader’s interest in the first few pages? How can you make her relate to your characters? How can you reel her in, keeping her on the line, guiding her expertly into your net, all the while making her think it was her own idea?

It was my own career teaching writing that brought me to question what I really knew about the process.

Since 2001 – for almost all of what I perceive to be my adult life – I’ve been instructing students on the art of legal writing. To teach first year law students to write is to teach communication, the kind that future lawyers need to develop to represent clients, help them solve their problems, convince courts to rule in their favor. Legal writing is highly structured, nearly formulaic in some instances. But as many legal scholars have discussed, it is also storytelling of a very high degree. A good attorney must find a way to tell a client’s story that draws the reader in, holds her interest, and – most importantly – evokes sympathy and understanding for the client’s plight.

It’s a lot like writing a novel – or a novella, at the very least.

Every fall, when a new crop of students sits down in my classroom, eager to learn, I realize for what seems like the first time that legal writing is, while natural to me, overwhelmingly difficult for students who do not know the lingo or the structure or the strategy that make up a simple memo to the file, a motion for summary judgment. The rules – and a certainty about when to break the rules – are all brand new, mysterious, seemingly ungraspable.

Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, poetry, writing

Sojourns.

September 24, 2014

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By Abriana Jette.

Saturday, New Jersey Turnpike, 12:33pm

I had better tell you where I am going and why I am watching smoke sift through the hood of a 1993 green Honda Accord as spritzes of coolant spatter like small kisses onto the windshield. I am with a rap artist named the Deafinition, whom I will call Greg, and we are heading to the Poconos. Just a moment ago I was listening to the brashness of his voice seep through the SONY speakers that cost more than this car. Just a moment before life was working out as planned.

Since I have been near him I can’t help but to touch him. There is a meager patch of skin creviced between his head and neck, where his hair remains prickly, where there sits the redolence of a tender man, a place where my fingers seem to travel to trail the ends of his spine. He is soft to the touch. Wears a size thirteen. Hates tomatoes. Writes.

Except he calls it rapping. Same difference, I say. Within my reach I always keep a notepad or pencil, same as he when he scribbles lines at work or keeps a beat to remember with his fingers on the steering wheel. He writes in rhythms of west-coast rooted torments; here is the best friend’s unexpected death, there, the knowledge he has been forced to accept. He prides himself on his growth. He is 6’3”, has quiet green eyes.

I am trying to keep calm. He storms out of the car; swings open the hood, spouts curses while mumbling under his breath. For the first time I notice he is wearing dark blue jeans that he has rolled once, then cuffed, a pair of black Nike Zooms, a plain Hanes t-shirt (black), and a white Rocawear track jacket, with horizontal red and black stripes. His hair is shaved as if he were a soldier.

 

Ten minutes ago his voice sounded closer on the radio; like I could finally hear him speak. There is a distinct east coast flow in his pronunciation, a syncopated voice that manipulates verbs. A troubled voice permeates through all ten unsigned albums. He is judging, and crude, he lacks the desire to reach out and love, and yet his tone is void of rancor: it is kind, it has listened.

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Guest Posts, healing, writing

Jen Pastiloff on The Rumpus!

September 14, 2014

Jen Pastiloff, founder of The Manifest-Station, has an essay on the amazing site The Rumpus today. Here is an excerpt:

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What the dead leave behind: Questions. And boxes of things. And hair, cut off hair tightly wrapped into rubber bands. And pictures of drunk ex-lovers. They leave behind socks, bodies, skin, recipes for guacamole (always good served with potatoe1 chips or corn chips.)

They leave behind: photographs of Burt from Sesame Street smoking a cigarette and holding a bottle of booze, a Barbie doll spread eagle in his face, an open shirt and a loose tie. My father took that picture. He set my Burnie doll up (I called him Burnie because I didn’t know if he was Burt or Ernie from Sesame Street, but looking at the picture I can now see it’s Burt) like that in what I now think may have been a self-portrait. So the dead leave portraits of themselves.

What the dead leave behind: doughnuts. I remember the morning my father died. I walked into the kitchen and thought doughnuts and also: bodies. Continue Reading…

Converse-Station, Interview, writing

The Converse-Station: Angela Giles Patel Interviews Chloe Caldwell.

September 7, 2014

The Converse-Station.

Jen Pastiloff here. I’m the founder of The Manifest-Station. Welcome to The Converse-Station: A place where writers interview writers. With the site getting so much traffic, I can think of no better way to utilize that traffic than to introduce the readers to writers I love. The dialogues created within this series have stayed with me long after I’ve read them on the page. Today’s is no different. It’s between Angela Giles Patel (who happens to be one of my best friends and one of the 2 editors of this site) and the incomparable Chloe Caldwell, who is just an astounding writer, teacher, truth-teller.

By Angela Patel.

My first introduction to Chloe Caldwell was via her Letter in the Mail from The Rumpus. In the letter she admitted “I’ve never known how to write a letter, or a postcard, (or an email…?) without just going into the dumb shit in my brain.” And it continued on for nine glorious pages filled with all sorts of wonderful. By the end, I was smitten by her and immediately read everything I could get my hands, or cursor, on. Then I learned she was teaching an online course at LitReactor. I signed up, paid attention, and the rest is history. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Self Image, writing

Un-Grounded.

September 5, 2014

By Katie Devine.

Every night, at an interval of approximately ten minutes, the bed shakes violently. The first time it happens, I think it’s an earthquake. I lie in bed, roused from near sleep by the jarring movement, and have trouble remembering where I am. I don’t think Cape Cod has earthquakes, but I allow for the possibility. Or the other possibility that someone has run up the stairs to the patio outside the bedroom, powerfully enough to move the furniture. I never feel safe sleeping in rooms with doors that lead to the outside, and I hate that through the sheer-curtain-covered windowpane I can see shadows moving slowly. I don’t know if they are from leaves, or from the heavy-footed man who tromped up the steps to look in at me. The house next-door, with its menacing cracked window and abandoned sheets on the clothesline only fuels this fantasy. I turn my back to the door; what I can’t see can’t hurt me. And then the rocking begins again.

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Guest Posts, Self Image, writing

Checking Out: A Writer Reboots in Mid-Life.

August 26, 2014

By Alison Manheim. 

I like to say that as a writer, I failed at a very high level. I attended a well-known M.F.A program, ate the same sandwiches and carrot sticks that sustained Sylvia Plath and Patricia Highsmith decades earlier at a famous artist’s colony, and finished three manuscripts that elicited offers of representation from reputable literary agents. An annoying number of my friends are “real,” that is published, writers. My bookshelves are filled with signed copies of their novels and memoirs in which I (or my fictional counterpart) make a cameo appearance, often uttering the funniest lines. Continue Reading…