#AWP18 (or, the Association of Writers and Writing Programs) is upon us! And just in time for some much needed sun, no less. But how do you tackle a daunting schedule and make sure you’re checking all the boxes? Fret not. At least as far as Stillhouse Press and its friends are concerned, we’ve got a few suggestions to ensure this year’s conference is an engaging, networking, and inspiration success.
Can't afford AWP? Don't buy into the hype? Happen to be stumbling around Tampa? Check out Whale Prom, the anti-AWP , where you can find our very own Bryan Borland, author of DIG and fellow small press publisher for Sibling Rivalry Press.
Whale prom is free and open to all AND, if that’s not enticement enough, you can get your hands on an early release of Bryan’s forthcoming collection, Tourist, inspired by his book tour for Stillhouse Press’ 2016 poetry title, DIG.
Catch Bryan and his partner in crime, Seth Pennington, at the Sibling Rivalry happy hour and have him sign your book!
--------------------------------------------------------------Happy Everything Hour, Sponsored by Sibling Rivalry Press
Red Star Rock Bar
Thursday, March 8, 2018
5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Beyond Queues and Fees: Poetry Books Outside the Contest Model
Are you a poet looking to get your collection published? Then this panel’s for you. Join former Stillhouse poetry editor and current art director, Douglas Luman, and several other talented editors for a fascinating discussion on how to circumvent the classic contest submissions model (and associated fees!), in favor of a more sustainable and inclusive approach.
Grand Salon B, Marriott Waterside, Second Floor
Thursday, March 8, 2018
9:00 a.m. to 10:15 a.m.
Writing Resistance: LGBTQ Writing as a Platform for Change
With the safety and lives of LGBTQ individuals at stake now more than ever, the call for politically driven writing is even more urgent. Hear friend of Stillhouse, Seth Fischer and fellow LGBTQ writers discuss the importance of using their writing as a platform for activism and change.
Grand Salon D, Marriott Waterside, Second Floor
Thursday, March 8, 2018
10:30 a.m. to 11:45 a.m.
Sound and Fury: Understanding Voice in Fiction
As a press in search of voice-driven works, we’re especially excited for this panel, which considers where voice comes from, and how to use it to play with narration, point of view, and style.
Grand Salon C, Marriott Waterside, Second Floor
Thursday, March 8, 2018
12:00 p.m. to 1:15 p.m.
Superconductors: Poets & Essayists Channeling Science
Catch Generation Space co-author, Anna Leahy’s panel on the connections between science and the literary arts. This panel discussion explores how key historical moments in science have helped shape the literary landscape of these writers’ lives. BONUS: Pick up a copy of Generation Space at the book fair and have Anna sign it!
Room 24, Tampa Convention Center, First Floor
Thursday, March 8, 2018
3:00 p.m. to 4:15 p.m.
GMU Creative Writing Programs & Stillhouse Press Host AWP 2018
Join Stillhouse Press and George Mason’s Creative Writing Programs for drinks and light bites, and catch our very own Dan Tomasulo, author of the forthcoming memoir, American Snake Pit, read from his new book!
Bernini of Ybor
Thursday, March 8, 2018
5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.
#AWP18 Keynote Address by George Saunders
Love George Saunders? Yeah, that’s a dumb question. Who doesn’t? Hear him read and discuss his work in this keynote address.
Ballroom A & B, Tampa Convention Center, First Floor
Thursday, March 8, 2018
8:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.
Strong Medicine: The Poetry of Addiction
The “milk of paradise” can lead to masterworks, while addiction deserts ambition and destroys lives. In this panel, five award-winning poets—including a few of our absolute favorites—explore the swerve from inspiration to ruination from different perspectives and diverse writing styles.
Ballroom A, Tampa Convention Center, First Floor
Friday, March 9, 2018
10:30 a.m. to 11:45 a.m.
Yoga for Writers
GET LOOSE! Stretch those limbs, clear out those toxins, and take a few [much needed & very deep] breaths with a mid-conference yogi sesh. We’ll see you there.
Room 10, Tampa Convention Center, First Floor
Friday, March 9, 2018
9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m.
Challenges and Triumphs: Underrepresented Voices in Publishing
Diversity is key. At Stillhouse Press, we feel that it’s the work of small presses to represent ALL voices, all sexual orientations and identities, genders, and races. Come here these agents, editors, and authors discuss the challenges they face as part of communities underrepresented within the publishing industry, their approaches to overcoming these obstacles, and what we can do to foster diversity and inclusivity among both readers and publishing professionals.
Grand Salon C, Marriott Waterside, Second Floor
Friday, March 9, 2018
1:30 p.m. to 2:45 p.m.
This Is Scary and Here We Go: Fear in the Driver’s Seat
For many in the literary community, these are terrifying times. But when fear strikes, we must write through it. Catch one of our favorite writers—and former Stillhouse fiction contest judge, whose 2016 pick debuts this fall!—Porochista Khakpour and a panel of epic women discuss how fear both holds them back and drives them forward, despite and sometimes because of it.
Room 5 & 6, Tampa Convention Center, First Floor
Saturday, March 10, 2018
12:00 p.m. to 1:15 p.m.
Writing the Pain: Memoirists on Tackling Stories of Trauma
Writing about traumatic experiences does not repair them. However, re-entering those memories, pulling them apart, and putting them back together can transform them into something meaningful, perhaps even beautiful, for both writer and reader. Hear George Mason’s very own Kyoko Mori and others discuss loss, illness, grief, or family dysfunction in poetry and prose.
Ballroom A, Tampa Convention Center, First Floor
Saturday, March 10, 2018
1:30 p.m. to 2:45 p.m.
Passing Into Pages: A Tribute to James Salter
If there’s one thing the last George Mason Professor Alan Cheuse instilled in his students (and there were many), it was a fervent love for James Salter. “Life,” Salter wrote, “passes into pages if it passes into anything.” Celebrate the brilliant short story and novel writer’s life at this panel, which includes George Mason’s very own, Tim Denevi.
Florida Salon 1, 2, & 3, Marriott Waterside, Second Floor
Saturday, March 10, 2018
4:30 pm to 5:45 pm
Welcome to Moonshine Murmurs in 2018
I wanted to take the first blog of the year as an opportunity to introduce myself. I’m Lindley Estes, a first-year MFA student at George Mason University focusing on fiction, and this corner of the internet's newest editor.
I’m a longtime daily news reporter who went back to school to focus on the craft of fiction, which I didn’t get to write often enough before.
Right now I’m reading "How Should A Person Be" by Sheila Heti (it’s for class, but it’s still great), and re-reading E.M. Forster’s "Howards End" (which I was also once assigned and adore).
I’m also a believer in the small, independent press. It is exciting to be a small part of Stillhouse Press, which releases writing that different and bolsters new voices.
This semester you can expect content on this blog that goes behind the scenes of our small press, features on our staff writers and our interests, and interviews with the authors Stillhouse Press is bringing to your bookshelves.
Want to read something in particular? Want to have a conversation? That’s what the comments are for, leave me one.
Lindley Estes is a first-year
fiction student in
George Mason University's Master's
of Fine Arts
program and an editor
Moonshine Murmurs blog.
By Hannah Vandegrift
"Quiet and relaxing" and Washington D.C. seem a juxtaposition to most, but there are plenty of quiet corners around the city that provide a welcoming environment for the wandering reader. Here are some of our favorite spots to relax with a cup of coffee (or tea) and a good book.
Of course, places like the bustling Air and Space Museum, are not good places to relax, but there are a few that can be safe havens from the bustling crowds.
MUSEUM OF THE AMERICAN INDIAN
My personal favorite, this museum is four floors of fascinating exhibits, as well as a restaurant and café on the bottom level. The café is a great place to charge your phone and sit down with authentic Native American cuisine or a simple cup of coffee.
THE SMITHSONIAN CASTLE CAFÉ and GARDEN
One of the lesser-visited of the Smithsonians, this beautiful castle provides a welcome sanctuary. If it is warm enough, the castle’s garden area (which includes the African and Asian Art museums) is a beautiful escape from the city's busy city streets.
NATIONAL GALLERY of ART, RENWICK GALLERY, HIRSHORN GALLERY,
and the NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY
It might seem obvious, but art museums and galleries are a great source for quiet spaces. Wander through the halls of each museum before finding a bench or corner to settle in. Some of the galleries even offer food and beverage options, if you need to refresh.
The National Mall
During the warmer months, spreading out on a blanket in the grass underneath the Washington Monument or on a bench by the Reflecting Pool can be better than the beach. It's great for people-watching or lying on your back
with that great new novel.
Our Favorite D.C.. Bookstores
Throw and stone and you’ll hit a coffee shop or bookstore in Washington D.C. Some of the best-known ones, tucked in several locations around the city, are Busboys and Poets and Politics and Prose. Inside, you can shop for a new book, enjoy a meal, or even attend an author signing and reading at Politics and Prose. And with several locations to choose from, Busboys and Poets makes for an easy trip!
Library of Congress
While this famous library is known as a popular tourist destination, it is also a great resource for researchers and readers. And, most importantly, it’s free. Become a "Registered Reader" and gain access to the library's vast collection of books and research, as well as use the Main Reading Room. And don’t worry about being inundated by tourists; most
simply view the reading room from above. Visit the website for more information.
U.S. Botanic Gardens
If it’s warm, snatch a seat among the local and exotic plants in D.C.’s outdoor botanical gardens. There are plenty of places to sit and read in the shade or sun. Too cold? Step inside and warm up! The humidity is kept as high as your average steamy jungle all year round.
There's always something going on in the city, but sometimes the best escape from finals or the holiday frenzy is a well-lit place and a good book. Don't worry about transportation. For the vehicle-less, almost any destination in Washington D.C. is accessible by bus or metro. And, for those wanting to avoid the traffic, all metro parking is free on weekends, bypassing backups on I-66 or I-495.
Have a suggestion? Let us know in the comments section if we missed any of your favorite areas.
Hannah Vandegrift is an intern for Stillhouse Press.
She is a sophomore preparing to graduate in May 2020 with a BA in English
and a minor in Sociology. She currently works at Diversity, Inclusion,
and Multicultural Education as a Research Student for Research and Assessment.
She loves stories of all kinds, whether they are from books, poetry, film, or TV.
THE HOLIDAY SEASON IS UPON US!
As 2018 steadily approaches, we've go a few drink recommendations
to pair with your favorite Stillhouse Press selections.
Carmen Gillespie’s latest collection interrupts the everyday to bring us the spiritual visitations of Sally Hemings, her half-sister Martha Wayles Jefferson, and other famed and forgotten residents of the Monticello plantation. These poems reach into the distant past to unearth songs of pain and longing, weighty with the long history of American silence that continues to circumscribe our lives today.
Monticello Spiced Rum Punch
History is a tough pill to swallow. For this, we'll need plenty of rum.
Adapted from this Bon Appétit recipe, this rum punchis made to satiate partygoers and historical ghosts alike.
- 1 cup Kopper Kettel chai spiced rum
- 1 cup George Bowman rum
- 1 cup fresh grapefruit juice
- 1 cup meyer lemon juice
- 1/3 cup Luxardo maraschino liqueur
- 1/4 cup simple syrup, 2 teaspoons bitters (Angostura works well)
- 1 cup sliced mangoes
- 1 cup of assorted citrus fruits, sliced into rounds
- Add all ingredients to bowl. Mix well.
- Serve with ice.
Maybe mermaids and robots are lonely. Maybe stargazing dinosaurs escape extinction, and ‘80s icons share their secrets and scams. A boardwalk Elvis impersonator declines in a Graceland of his own, Bigfoot works as a temp, families fall apart and come back together.
The Elvis Peach
Rumor has it, Elvis once reportedly drank so much peach brandy
it nearly killed him. Adapted from Food & Wine, this brandy-based brew will take you from fabulist faraway worlds to Great Recession realism in a single sip.
- Add the rum, peach brandy, black tea, simple syrup and lemon juice to a large pitcher.
- Stir, add the water and stir again.
- Refrigerate until cold.
- Serve in collins glasses with citrus garnish.
When Mark Polanzak was seventeen, his father spontaneously combusted on the tennis court, vanishing forever. It is also entirely possible that he died of a heart attack.
The Gin Fiz Wallop
Like Polanzak's hybrid memoir,
each slurp of this fizzy little number
is scarcely what you might expect.
- Combine 2 ounces Catoctin Creek Watershed Gin
- Juice from 1/2 a lemon
- 2 teaspoons of simple syrup
- Club soda
- 1/2 package of Pop Rocks
- Pinch of granulated sugar
- On a small plate, combine Pop Rocks and sugar
- Wet rim of highball glass with a slice of lemon
- Add gin, simple syrup, and lemon juice to cocktail shaker and shake well.
- Strain into glass, careful not to disrupt the rim.
- Top with club soda and serve.
Bryan Borland’s third poetry collection examines what it means to dig—to undertake the intense labor of unearthing the personal/political/artistic self and embracing the consequences of that knowledge.
The "DIG This" Manhattan
We're craving bourbon for this sexy love story, the way readers crave
their next Stillhouse fix. Adapted from this Ted Allen cocktail, you need this Manhattan like you need blood in the throat.
- Add ingredients to cocktail shaker.
- Shake well.
- Rub an orange pee along the rim of your martini glass.
- Strain drink into glass.
- Garnish with one (or two!) cherries.
For poet Anna Leahy and scientist Douglas R. Dechow, quintessential children of the Space Age, love for each other and love of space are inseparable. The moon landings, the shuttle program, the prospect of manned travel to Mars: each stop in humanity’s journey to space has marked a step in their ongoing love affair with each other and the cosmos.
[Generation] Space Punch
Adapted from the Belle Isle Craft Sprits recipe,
this spacey brew will have you reaching for your dearest...
or maybe just another mug of this stellar concoction.
- Combine ingredients in punch bowl.
- Add ice.
- Garnish with rosemary and serve immediately.
- 1 bottle Belle Isle Ruby Red Grapefruit
- 2 bottle sparkling wine (try Virginia's Horton Sparkling Viognier)
- 5 ounces St. Germain elderflower liquer
- 5 ounces white grapefruit juice
- 3 ounces lemon juice
Lindley Estes is a first-year fiction student in
George Mason University's Master's of Fine Arts program
and an editor for the Moonshine Murmurs blog.
She's partial to bourbon.
By Caitlin Herron
Carmen Gillespie gladly finds time to discuss the importance of questions and [re]creation of historical figures. These ideas are central to the evolution of her latest poetry collection, "The Ghosts of Monticello: A Recitatif" (October 2017), winner of Stillhouse Press' 2016 Poetry Contest.
Despite a busy week taking care of her 10-year-old and the close of George Mason's annual Fall for the Book festival, Gillespie found some time to speak with me about her inspiration for her new book and what brought her to this moment in her writing career.
Although she has always written poetry, and can’t imagine her life without it, Gillespie says her love of the form has been deeply intertwined with her academic pursuits over the last 15 years. “In academics, I tend to focus on black female writers. There is so much that is still covered that needs to be excavated,” says Gillespie, English professor and director of the Griot Institute of Africana Studies at Bucknell University and the author of several books of poetry and critical works.
Part of what motivates her work in both poetry and Africana studies are questions, she says. “Sometimes poetry and academics have the same questions but not the same answers, and sometimes poetry is more effective at answering them.”
This was certainly the case while attempting to answer some of the central inquiries about the life of Sally Hemings, Thomas Jefferson, Martha Jefferson, and others featured in her collection. Primarily, Gillespie wanted to explore the idea of whether or not Hemings had any agency in her story, especially in her relationship with Jefferson, the third president of the United States, with whom Hemings was thought to have had six children. “I can’t believe that every encounter she had with Jefferson was about violence. My understanding of human beings is much more complicated than that, so that is what I wanted to explore,” Gillespie explains.
But she did not stop with Jefferson. Gillespie also wanted to expand upon what Hemings' relationships might have been like with others on the plantation, given her position as both a slave and the lover of such a powerful character. “So many people have said so much about Jefferson, but it was interesting to me to focus on her other relationships with her mother, Martha Jefferson, and her half sister, and how that dynamic would work if they were to have a conversation,” says Gillespie.
She sees her collection as a dynamic story, and one which she hopes “makes the link between our contemporary situation and the paradoxes of the past.”
Interestingly, this questioning of the past in Gillespie's collection is formed by language that was originally written to be sung on-stage. "The Ghosts of Monticello" got its beginning as a libretto for an opera performed at Bucknell University, where Gillespie enjoyed engaging with the actors and musicians. “I am inspired, energized, and sustained by theater, dance, and music performances,” she says, noting that when composing something for people to sing versus developing the structure of a collection, the writing can be quite different.
For those thinking about writing fictionally or poetically about history, Gillespie offers some choice advice. First, she says, research is critical. “If you are going to write about something that actually happened, it is really important to know your subject well... People are often afraid to do that research, and think it will inhibit the imaginative experience, but I don't find that to be the case.” Second, she emphasizes how important it is to be “an observer of human experience and understand how people interact.” Says Gillespie, “Ask the questions: what does it mean to experience grief or lose a child? Once you start thinking about these things, the characters speak to you rather than you having to create them.”
Caitlin Herron is the events intern for Stillhouse Press.
She will graduate with a BA in Writing and Rhetoric in December 2017.
She also works part time in Parks and Recreation for Fairfax County.
We're offering free shipping on all of our titles for the indefinite future, when you buy our books directly from www.stillhousepress.org. Allow us to explain why.
These are tumultuous times for small indie publishers. Like most small presses, Stillhouse has spent the past few months attempting to adjust to a set of sudden policy changes at Amazon, which have dramatically affected all publishers, but especially very small presses, like Stillhouse. Here are links to a few good explanations and discussions of this change:
When Stillhouse Press published its first book, Wendi Kaufman's wonderful Helen on 86th Street and Other Stories, in the fall of 2014, Amazon stocked the book regularly and made it available on the usual shipping schedules. Our next five books were also listed this way. But starting in January of this year, that reliability came to an end. If a book wasn't "temporarily out of stock," it was listed as available in "1-4 weeks," or even "1-2 months."
This is patently false. Both Stillhouse Press and its distributor, Ingram, have an ample stock of books.
If you visit Amazon to purchase one of our books and they are telling you it will take more than a day or two to ship, or that it is "temporarily out of stock," please consider purchasing from Stillhouse directly. Or, if you are lucky enough to have an independent bookseller nearby, consider ordering our books from them. It may take a few days, but you'll be supporting a local business that provides jobs to your neighbors, and helps to strengthen your local economy.
And, as always, from all of us at Stillhouse Press, we thank you for your support!
By Evan Roberts
“Hers, mine, and ours,” says Douglas R. Dechow, co-author of Stillhouse Press’ "Generation Space," a memoir that follows the beginning and end of NASA’s space shuttle program. These are three distinct writing methods that exist between Dechow and his co-author and poet, Anna Leahy. Both together and apart, the couple has a long and prolific history of space exploration coverage and authorship, including Leahy’s book "Constituents of Matter" (Kent State University Press 2007) and Dechow’s "SQUEAK: A Quick Trip to Objectland" (Addison-Wesley Professional 2001).
“Anna writes to learn and her writing process is overtly one of discovery,” Dechow says. “I could contrast that with my own process, which is more an attempt to codify something that I already know or believe, to see what I know or to test what I believe.” But together they are greater than the sum of their parts, explains Dechow. In the process of their joint authorship, a “deep intermingling” of their writing methods occurs and produces new, collaborative writing intentions.
But apart, the writers are just as different as their methods. "Generation Space" alternates between their disparate perspectives: Leahy has the mind and experience of a poet, and Dechow of a scientist. But Leahy claims their perspectives are not irrevocably different. “Our differences emphasize each other’s strengths, which may be why we were attracted to each other in the first place. As a scientist, Doug keeps a lot of detail organized in his head. For instance, he recognizes technological objects—aircraft, rockets—at a glance and often can rattle off the historical or engineering contexts of artifacts. Over the years, I’ve let myself off the hook a bit for doing that sort of work, knowing that I could count on Doug.”
Much like their shared passion for space exploration, their passion for writing provides a firm foundation for the couple’s personal lives. “We disagree regularly and sometimes irritate each other, but we rarely argue—writing together has strengthened our ability to disagree and keep moving forward. Being able to revise a sentence together—to treat something external to ourselves as the most important task—probably helps us keep the rest of our relationship in perspective," Dechow says.
There’s a certain proof of compatibility that can be found in the co-authoring process, he explains. “We have grown to know each other’s voices so well that there are undoubtedly sentences that I suggested to Anna that wound up in her chapters and vice versa. Of course, every so often, I would catch a sentence and say, ‘I can’t believe you wrote that. But, it’s your chapter, so you can say it the way you want.”’
“Our first conversations, when we were getting to know each other, were about writing,” says Leahy, who admits that the writing process can sometimes be strenuous on a relationship. “If we had tried writing together early on in our relationship... I think we would have botched both the writing and the relationship. For us, the relationship had become strong before we became co-authors.”
Regarding future space exploration, particularly commercial space’s part in that future, Leahy says their interest has always been predominantly with the government-funded NASA. "In a competition between NASA and capitalist ventures, our hearts were with NASA, its rich history, and the importance of its programs to science. In Generation Space, we talk about our initial resentment of commercial space and a conversation with Garrett Reisman, a former Shuttle astronaut who now directs crew operations for SpaceX."
But commercial ventures certainly have their place, Leahy says. "As we looked more deeply into commercial space, we understood its potential to pick up the technology that NASA had developed and run with it — NASA had taken the risks, and NASA’s work belongs to all of us. Commercial space is set to complement NASA’s ongoing efforts.”
From the dawn of human civilization, we have always had our eyes set on the constellations. The cause of our enduring fascination with the stars, according to Leahy, “Humans are a curious bunch, in both senses of the word curious. We want to know the unknown. We want to understand what’s out there. When we explore what surrounds us—the universe—we push our thinking to its limits... In Generation Space, we grapple with what that really means—with what it means to be here because there exists an out there of space.”
Anna Leahy and Douglas R. Dechow work and teach at Chapman University in Orange, California. Anna's first book, "Constituents of Matter" (Kent State University Press, 2007) won the Wick Poetry Prize. They have written the Lofty Ambitions blog together since 2010. Anna is the author of the chapbook, "Sharp Miracles" (Blue Lyra Press, 2016), and her nonfiction book Tumor is forthcoming from Bloomsbury in 2017. Doug is the co-author of "SQEAK: A Quick Trip to Objectland" (Addison-Wesley Professional, 2001) and "Intertwingled: The Work and Influence of Ted Nelson" (Springer, 2015).
Evan Roberts is the former editor of Moonshine Murmurs and has worked as an editorial assistant, reader, and media contributor for Stillhouse Press. He graduated from George Mason in the fall of 2016 with his Bachelors of Art in English.
By Caitlin Herron
It’s spring conference season in the DMV, and it’s a great opportunity to connect with your literary community, grow your skills, and network with other local writers. Regardless of your writing experience or genre, there are several upcoming events where you can hear some fantastic readings, socialize, and expand your knowledge of the writing world (and even catch some of our authors in the process!) These are events you won’t want to miss!
2017 NEW LEAVES WRITERS' CONFERENCE
Hosted by Fall For The Book, in coordination with George Mason University's Creative Writing Program.
George Mason University, Fairfax Campus
Monday, April 3 - Friday, April 7
With no registration fee and no sign-up required, this conference is great for writers with changing schedules. This years’ conference highlights its first “Day of Translation” on Wednesday, April 5, presented by our friends at The Alan Cheuse International Writers Center and The Center for the Art of Translation. The day features acclaimed translators and writers presenting on “Translation as a Political Act,” “The Art of Translation,” and other topics. The rest of the week includes readings from established writers Laura van den Berg, Spencer Reece, Helon Habila, and the Loud Fire reading by Mason’s MFA students. (Several Stillhouse Press staff members past and present will be there, so don’t miss it!) On Tuesday evening, Mason MFA alum Mike Scalise will be reading from his memoir "The Brand New Catastrophe "(Sarabande Books, 2017). And on Wednesday night, be sure to check out Linda Chavers reading from her chapbook "(This Fucking Body Is) Never Yours," from our friends at Gazing Grain Press.
Crystal City, Arlington, VA
March 24 - May 6
Artomatic is a fun way to experience all of the performing and visual arts the D.C. area has to offer - in an old laundry building! That’s right, this space has been converted into a venue for writers and visual and performing artists to showcase and sell their work. With so many weeks to visit, there is plenty of time to get a taste of this unique event. Come April 1 for a reading by Stillhouse's Andrew Gifford, author of "We All Scream: The Fall of the Gifford's Ice Cream Empire" (forthcoming May 1, 2017), and get your hands on his exciting memoir a full month before its official release.
Hosted by Barrelhouse
George Mason University, Arlington Campus
Saturday, April 22, 9am-6pm
This conference is the premier way to connect with writers and editors through a day packed with workshops, panels, and ending in a legendary boxed wine reception! Panel discussions include flash fiction, point of view, handling grief, and a myriad other topics. There will even be a panel with Barrelhouse Magazine editors giving advice on how to get your work out of the slush pile and into a lit mag. This year's conference will feature our very own editorial director Marcos L. Martínez, Stillhouse friend and Editor of Smokelong Quarterly, Tara Laskowski, and Rion Almicar Scott, author of "Insurrections" (The University Press of Kentucky 2016), a 2016 Pen/Faulkner finalist. A highlight of this conference is its speed dating event, where attendees can bring their poetry, short fiction, or first few pages of an essay or story for a 10 minute critique with an editor. Lit mags attending include Barrelhouse, Smokelong Quarterly, Potomac Review, Gettysburg Review, and many more. This conference offers a great way to get feedback on your work from a range of editors in your genre. The best part? Your registration gets you a book by a featured writer and a subscription to a participating lit mag. At $70, you get a lot of bang for your buck!
KENSINGTON DAY OF THE BOOK FESTIVAL
Sunday, April 23, 11am-4pm
The Kensington Day of the Book Festival is a lively outdoor literary festival for every reader in your family. Over 100 authors, poets, and artists will be lining the streets of this charming downtown for book sales, readings, and more! There will be tents with an on-the-spot poetry competition, an outdoor kid’s show, and even demonstrations from cookbook authors. Stillhouse's Andrew Gifford, ("We All Scream," May 2017) is a special guest speaker, so you won’t want to miss this event, rain or shine!
BOOKS ALIVE! 5th ANNUAL WASHINGTON WRITERS CONFERENCE
Hosted by Washington Independent Review of Books
College Park Marriott Hotel & Conference Center
Friday, April 28 – Saturday, April 29
Mar. 2 – Mar. 31 $250
Apr. 1 – Apr. 29 $260
Student Discount rate: $130
If you have a novel, story collection, or idea that’s itching to be pitched, this is this conference to hit this spring! After Friday’s “How to Pitch an Agent” session, participants will have the opportunity on Saturday to meet face to face with up to three agents for five minutes apiece. Agents are looking for work in all genres: YA novels, memoir, sci-fi, fantasy and more. Not looking to pitch? There are still plenty of panels from publishing industry experts to attend, including the keynote address from Judith Viorst, best known the children's classic, "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day." This is a great event to meet established authors in your genre and get advice from industry experts!
Caitlin Herron is the events intern for Stillhouse Press and a copy editor for George Mason's student newspaper, Fourth Estate. She will graduate with a BA in Writing and Rhetoric in December 2017. She also works part time in Parks and Recreation for Fairfax County.
Hello, from the other side of AWP! It was a long and amazing weekend of running between panels, readings, off-site events and the Stillhouse Press booth at the Bookfair. The Stillhouse team is thrilled to have had the opportunity to connect with so many great writers, readers, publications, and organizations—not to mention all the opportunities we had to show off our authors and their books! (We’ll take this one last chance to say: if you missed your opportunity to snag a book at the Bookfair, you can order online.)
In honor of the 50th anniversary of AWP and its presence in the nation’s capital this year, we wanted to do something special. If you were at AWP and stopped by, you might have noticed us hanging out with a whiteboard and asking people to participate in our social media project. (Maybe you even stopped by!) We collected all the photos and selected our favorites.
We asked, “What is writing’s role in 2017?”
Here’s what you had to say:
1. “To remember who we/you are, remember who we/you were.”
2. “Bear witness and document history.”
3. “To remind us of the scientific facts!”
5. “To fight the tyranny of ignorance.”
6. “To tell the stories from the perspective of the lion. #resist #minorityrepresentation”
7. “Speaking truth to power.”
8. “Be ever-moving forward and amplify those that have been/will be silenced. #resist #queeraf”
9. “To be not alone.”
10. “‘To reflect the times’ - Nina Simone + speak out against the sh*t!”
11. “Truth and beauty as always, and now...more than ever the will and grace to fight for it.”
There were so many more folks who participated and gave us their two cents. You can check out the other photos on our Twitter page, @StillhousePress, or search #PowerOfThePen. We had a fantastic time talking with everyone who stopped by to tell us what they thought. As writers and poets, we all have a lot of work to do in 2017. And we at Stillhouse Press look forward to working alongside you.
Want to participate? It’s never too late! Tweet @StillhousePress with your answer or comment on this post!
Alexandria Petrassi is the editor of Moonshine Murmurs, a reader for Stillhouse Press, Phoebe, and So to Speak, the Lead Editor at Floodmark (a blog devoted to providing eclectic inspiration for writers), and a first-year poetry student in the MFA program at George Mason University. She also has a day job in health care, where she works in Digital Communications.
With conference season just around the corner, it’s time to prepare for all of the exciting networking and development opportunities ahead. The AWP (Association of Writers & Writing Programs) Conference is in Washington, D.C. this year, which means that many local writers and students in the DMV will have the opportunity to attend the biggest literary conference in the world for the first time. What’s the best way to use the conference to expand your network? How do you avoid imposter syndrome as a first timer? Michelle Webber, Communications Director at Stillhouse Press and resident conference guru, has some helpful hints about how to grow your network and get the most out of the experience.
Know Before You Go: Do Your Research
Spend some time investigating what writers and organizations will be there. This may sound simple and intuitive, but it can be more work than you think! One scan of the list of 2017 exhibitors will show you just how overwhelming your “to do” list could be, but don’t freak out! Print out the list, grab a highlighter, and start annotating. Once you’ve done that, prioritize based on your individual needs. If you’re an author looking to make a personal connection with the editors of a literary magazine that you love, flag them. If you’re an undergraduate looking into MFA programs, make sure they are high on your list. This cheat sheet will help you craft a schedule that will take you everywhere you want to be.
Plan a Loose Schedule That Includes Breaks
Do the same thing you did with the exhibitor list with the conference schedule. Pick out the events that sound interesting, then the ones that you cannot miss. Prepared to be disappointed: the two panels you want to see most will almost certainly be at the same time. You’ll have to make a choice, but that’s okay: the conference is long and there’s always something just around the corner. Scheduling breaks (even if it’s just thirty minutes for coffee) is absolutely essential. If you’re a first-timer, you will be tempted to fill every single time slot in your day. DON’T DO IT! It’s really easy to burn out, and if you over-schedule yourself, you’ll miss out on one of the most important parts of conferences: being there! It’s also a good time to make some notes for yourself and reflect on what you’ve seen.
Don’t be afraid of looking rude if you scribble notes in the middle of a presentation or panel. Write down quotes from authors you love, pieces of advice that you find particularly helpful, any books that you want to add to your “to read” list. After each day of the conference, go back to your hotel and do a little journaling. Write down your impressions from the day; make lists of the people you met and how they fit into your network. You’ll collect a lot of free swag and pieces of paper—write on these too! Write deadlines on bookmarks, notes about the conversation you had on the back of business cards, throw away any fliers or inserts that you don’t need. Culling one day at a time is much easier than trying to remember the details of a conversation you had three days ago.
Don’t Be Shy — Say Hi!
Introduce yourself to one person at every panel you attend. You may be surprised at how few degrees of separation there are between writers, especially at a big conference like AWP. If you’re a member of a lit organization, invite them to swing by your table or come to your offsite event. Every face-to-face conversation is an opportunity to grow your network!
The same goes for presenters. Attend a panel that was helpful? Watch a keynote that really unlocked something for you? See a reading of an emerging writer you really admire? Stay behind afterwards and interact with them. Introduce yourself, ask questions, tell them what you enjoyed about their lecture. This may be difficult for the bigger events, but many presenters expect and even enjoy interacting with audience members after their events. The same goes for the bookfair!
Authors, Agents, and Publishers are People, Too!
Last year, without meaning to and without even knowing who he was until he said it, I met Chuck Palahniuk’s agent at the LitReactor booth. I also had drinks with the Poet Laureate of New York at my hotel bar. These experiences taught me a valuable lesson: the best way to make meaningful connections is putting your respective literary positions behind and focus on the person standing in front of you. At AWP, you’re all on even footing. You’re writers attending an event to listen to and meet other writers. When you meet your literary hero at an after party or shake hands with the editor of your favorite literary magazine, remember that they’re people just like you. Conversations lead to connections; fangirling leads to restraining orders.
BONUS ADVICE: Don’t forget to keep in mind the context in which you’re meeting these people. If you’re at a panel and the agent mentions she’s taking pitches, go ahead and do it. But don’t be that guy who shoves his manuscript under the stall door or gets too drunk and pukes on Sherman Alexie’s shoes (true story from a friend of a friend—seriously, don’t do it).
After you’ve done all the networking legwork at the conference, meeting people, shaking hands, and exchanging cards, it’s absolutely essential to follow-up when the event is over. Believe it or not, most people who say, “I’ll shoot you an email,” never do. Pursue the leads you worked so hard to attain. If you said you’d send that editor a query letter, do it! If you talked to another literary organization about throwing a joint event, get in touch! Making a connection without follow through isn’t really making a connection. Once you’ve made contact, you have to maintain it. If you don’t have anything immediate that you need to address with someone, but your work may bring you to their doorstep later, send them a “nice to meet you, hope we get to work together” note. If you got an emerging author’s contact information, send them an email saying how much you loved their reading. We all like a little affirmation that we made a difference. Going the extra mile is what will take these casual interactions from isolated incidents to nodes on your personal and professional network.
We want to know: what’s your best piece of conference advice? Leave a comment or ask a question on our blog through February 8 and you will be automatically entered to win a signed copy of Christina Olson’s "Terminal Human Velocity."
Michelle Webber has worked as a reader, an Editorial Assistant, and Social Media Editor for Stillhouse Press and currently serves as the Director of Marketing and Communications. She is currently working on a collection of linked short stories and will graduate with a BFA in Fiction from George Mason University in May.
By Alexandria Petrassi
The sky outside my building in Chicago is slate-gray, heavy with a promise of snow, as I settle into a coffee shop booth for my phone interview with Christina Olson, author of the forthcoming book of poetry from Stillhouse Press, "Terminal Human Velocity." She is calling from Kentucky, where she teaches at the low residency MFA program at Murray State University. Of course, the weather is at least a little better there in January, but nonetheless our conversation starts with winter. I learn that winter is one of the many images threaded throughout her latest collection. “When I was writing the early poems, it was the coldest winter on record, so one of the things that happened after I moved to Georgia is that I started romanticizing winter,” she says. Despite our talk about winter and the miles between our phone lines, our conversation is warm and engaging; a welcome break to my Monday afternoon.
As we begin our introductions, it becomes apparent that Christina Olson has a different background than most poets. “This is a bit of an over-simplification, but I always introduce myself as a poet who comes from a family of engineers,” she tells me. She found poetry in college, though she originally intended to study Interpersonal Communication. “Surprisingly—even to myself—I’ve fallen into a pretty traditional academic path,” she says, “but there has been a couple little detours here and there.”
One such detour? After graduating with her MFA from Minnesota State, she found herself working in healthcare marketing. It’s here that the earliest poems from Olson's collection and some of the mindset behind "Terminal Human Velocity" took root. “Two things happened in that job: even though I enjoyed the problem-solving aspect of the work, I realized I had to do something more creative. And my head was filling with this random flotsam about death and disease and things that will kill you,” she remembers. “It got me thinking...how do we reconcile the big fallible machine that is the human body? And then how do we make sense of it? What can we learn about what it means to be human when we look at science and the natural world?” These questions manifest themselves throughout her latest book, though she didn’t set out to write a collection on the topic. She says her approach was more: “How do I feel about my life? Complicated! Let’s write a poem. Do you want to write it about you? No! Let’s write about Ernest Shackleton.”
"Terminal Human Velocity: the book for the person in your life who doesn’t know they like poetry,” she jokes. “And who also maybe wanted to know something about horseshoe crabs." - Christina Olson
So figures from history, both large (like Ernest Shackleton, an eighteenth century Antarctic explorer) and small (Elvita Adams, who jumped from the Empire State Building only to be blown back inside after falling one floor in 1979) grace the pages of her collection, along with what Olson calls “last love” poems (poems written to dead people) and poems that recognize the beauty in the scientific. “Fact is not inherently interesting; stories are,” Olson says. “Even when I think I’m not telling a story, I realize it is a story.” Her skill with narrative in poetry is showcased in "Terminal Human Velocity," which looks at both macro and micro narratives, working to tell the story of everything in between. These poems are interested in what it means to be human, and approaches their questions through narratives of other people discovering the grand scale of our world. It’s a collection where the mind is firmly grounded in the body; it’s equal parts wonder and fear of what it finds.
As we move on from "Terminal Human Velocity," I ask Olson about the best writing advice she has for other writers. Her best advice is to remember patience: “You need to practice craft, but you also have to respect the amount of time that process takes. I don’t think a writer should be project driven, I think they should be process driven. Process takes time. Craft takes time.”
Before we wrap up our conversation, I ask her if there’s anything else she wants readers to know. We spend a minute talking about the at-times seemingly elusive accessibility of poetry for some readers, and how she hopes the narrative in her poems offer an access point. “'Terminal Human Velocity': the book for the person in your life who doesn’t know they like poetry,” she jokes. “And who also maybe wanted to know something about horseshoe crabs.”
Alexandria Petrassi is Stillhouse Press's Moonshine Murmurs Blog Editor and a first year MFA student at George Mason University. She's also the founder of Floodmark, a poetry blog that focuses on prompts, craft features, and interviews.
... to cozy up with a warm beverage,
put our nose in a book,
and forget about the world for awhile.
We'll be back January 18th with
some fresh and exciting content.
In the meantime, don't forget to visit
the Stillhouse Store and stock up
on all your holiday gift needs
for the literary folk in your life.
Enter "HOLIDAY_20" for a 20% discount on all Stillhouse Press titles ($20 minimum purchase; excludes presale titles). All presale titles are $1 off through the end of year, with discount code "PRESALE_LOVE"
Revision can be one of the most difficult parts of writing. Creating a story, essay, or poem has its own challenges, but revision requires patience, persistence, and flexibility. Whether you're revising your NaNoWriMo project or gearing up for the spring submission season, we're here to help! We asked our authors to give us their best in revision advice. Don't forget to share yours in the comments!
“A story should be exciting to read. It should pull us in and not let go. It shouldn't meander unless meandering is its thing. It shouldn't bore unless boring is its thing. And if boring is its thing, it should bore with intensity. What I mean is that stories should be bright and fresh. They should be something we've never read before and that we're compelled to read now. They should make us lean in, lean closer. They should make us want to explore. In revision, this often means cleaning. Wipe away needless words, sentences, images. Knock the dust off old phrases. Heighten contrasts between characters, between images, between emotions. Make the world of the story more vivid and interesting. Make a story that's never been read before and that must be read now.”
— Matthew Fogarty, Maybe Mermaids & Robots are Lonely (Sept. 2016)
“I was recently discussing revision with my husband, Seth, and he said that the act of revision is the act of removing oneself from the poem, which is absolutely true. Early drafts are so often so close to the poet, too close, which is why we often love those early drafts to the point of craft being obscured. Revision is the act of standing outside oneself to make the best choices for the work.”
- Bryan Borland, DIG (Sept. 2016)
“I’ve (perhaps sadly) come to see writing from the publisher’s POV. I think so many people keep their writing too close to them. They fear revision, they struggle with criticism, they’re exhausted by the process, they lack the patience to refine and hone their voices. To commit something that comes from such a secret, private place to the editor’s pen can be horrifying, yes, but necessary. My advice has always been to let go. Most instructors will tell you that 'writing is revision.' It’s also a business.”
- Andrew Gifford, We All Scream (Forthcoming May 2017)
“I tell students to open their journals and start salvaging. Pick over the writing, find the bits worth saving. Don’t think of them as poems, not as even drafts. But as piles of scrap, something to sift through. Scrap it for parts, I tell them. Salvage the images and the metaphors. I use the language of labor because it is labor. Their journals are workshops, places to tinker. Take the line worth saving, plug it into some other failing poem. Pump the pedal a few times, try the engine. Every once in a while, something will suddenly roar to life.”
- Christina Olson, Terminal Human Velocity (Forthcoming Jan. 2017)
Now that you've read our advice, we want to hear yours! What's the best revision advice you ever received? Tell us in the comments below or Tweet at us using the hashtag #RevisionAdvice.
Don't forget to check back Wednesday, Dec. 7th at 10am for our last post of 2016: revision advice from our Stillhouse authors!
Hello Moonshine Murmurs Readers!
My name is Alexandria Petrassi, the new blog editor. I’m a poet and first-year graduate student in the MFA program at George Mason University. Although I focus primarily on poetry, I also dabble in nonfiction, fiction, and the hybrid forms between genres. I am a reader for Stillhouse Press and GMU's literary journals, Phoebe and So to Speak—all of which I highly recommend you check out. I’m also the Lead Editor over at Floodmark, a blog devoted to providing eclectic inspiration for creative writers via writing prompts, think pieces, and humor. I’ve been in Digital Media for almost three years, both professionally and through personal projects. I’m a constant traveller, and while I love adventure, there’s nothing like curling up on your couch with a good book. (Perhaps even a book from Stillhouse Press if I may be so bold?)
I’m excited to join the team and I’m ready to work behind the scenes here to bring you the latest and greatest on issues in craft publishing, perspectives from our authors and poets, and the happenings in the D.C. literary community. I’d like to take this moment to talk about what you can look forward to in the coming months, but first I want to say a huge thank you to the previous editor, Evan Roberts, for his commitment and hard work on Moonshine Murmurs.
So, what can you expect in the future from Moonshine Murmurs? We’ll continue our work exploring the D.C. literary scene and providing you with reviews of bookshops, events, and features on visiting and local writers. We’re also going to open up a dialogue on the craft of writing and publishing: there’s so much hard work that goes in on both ends of the process, and we’re committed to supporting both aspiring authors and committed readers. You can look forward to interviews with our authors, Andrew Gifford (We All Scream, May 2017) and Anna Leahy and Douglas Dechow (Generation Space, April 2017) and frequent updates on the happenings at Stillhouse Press. We also want to hear from our readers about issues that are important to you. If there’s something you want us to talk about, feel free to send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org). Let’s keep the conversation going!
Of course, there will be so many other surprises along the way, especially as we head into AWP 2016 in D.C.. I hope you’ll join us in what’s sure to be an eventful year at Moonshine Murmurs. And if you’re looking for something in the meantime, don’t forget about our latest post about NaNoWriMo.
All the best and brightest,
After working for a year as a marketing and editorial intern, Evan Roberts took over Moonshine Murmurs in June and worked through the summer months to develop and manage a robust calendar of content, including our independent bookstore series and our publishing process series, "From Still To Shelf." He will graduate in December, and while we’re sad to lose him, we are so grateful for all of the work he’s done and wish him the best on his future endeavors.
It’s finally November and change is in the air. In addition to the cooler weather and falling leaves, thousands of people across the globe have begun a writing challenge of epic proportions: to write 50,000 words of a novel during the 30 days of November. National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo, for short) began as a challenge between five friends with frustrated writing aspirations, but has become a major creative campaign for writers all over the world. Why do people subject themselves to this writing frenzy? What is the point of just churning out 50,000 words? Check out this realist writer’s guide to what NaNoWriMo can bring to your writing life.
Revitalize Your Writing
To keep on pace, participants must write 1,667 words a day. For many of us with jobs, kids, and school, this is probably more than we write creatively in an entire month. But having a formal challenge can be a great motivation to finally tell that story that’s been sitting in the back of your mind for months. Participating in NaNoWriMo is a tangible way to “write every day,” and even gamifies the process with fun infographics. Knowing that there are thousands of others undertaking this challenge with you (and reading the weekly pep talks from authors and the program staff) can help, too. This is an opportunity to write experimentally, to become Betty S. Flower’s madman and steep yourself in the primordial ooze of pure creative energy. It’s low risk and the work is yours alone—there’s no impending workshop, no prying eyes, no concern for continuity or perfection. It’s an excuse to write what you want, not what you should. What sticks might just surprise you!
Start Something Awesome
On average, the standard novel is between 60,000 – 100,000 words, give or take a few thousand. NaNoWriMo likely won’t give you a full manuscript, but that’s okay! What it does give you is a start, one you can revise, tweak, extrapolate, explode, deconstruct, and reassemble. Your NaNoWriMo project doesn’t even have to be a novel; it can be a short story collection, a memoir, or a series of linked essays. Even if you don’t make it across the 50,000-word finish line, you will have more words than you did at the beginning of the month, and that is a victory.
Quality vs. Completion
NaNoWriMo critics complain that writing 50,000 words in frenzy mode will only create bad content. The sheer amount of published books that began as NaNoWriMo projects (including Erin Morgenstern's "The Night Circus" and Sara Gruen's "Water for Elephants") have proven them wrong, but the criticism is a valid one. Some of the content you make will be filler: there will be flat characters, plot holes, and plenty of unnecessary dialogue. The good news is you have 11 months to sift through that content and decide what fits your project, what doesn’t, and what might make another, even more compelling story. For every component you find that doesn’t work, there will be one that does—but that’s not a question for NaNoWriMo. December through October is for revising. November is for writing.
The Value of a Minute
One of the best lessons NaNoWriMo teaches writers is just how valuable those “transition” times of the day can be. Sitting in a lecture hall waiting for class to start? Bang out a couple hundred words while the professor sets up. Commercial break during your favorite show? Challenge yourself to see how many words you can churn out in those seven minutes. Waiting for your kids to get out of practice? Pull up the Notes App on your phone and get to work. This anytime writing practice may just stick with you for the rest of the year.
You’re the Only One That Can Tell Your Story
Chris Baty, NaNoWriMo founder and former program director, gives a pep talk every year in the first week of November, and one pearl of wisdom is always the same: no matter what you’re writing, the only person that can tell your story is you. Every writer has received a critique that claims a work is “derivative,” that it’s “too close” to what already exists. Well, guess what? We all live on the same planet, and the realms of human experience are not infinite. Narratives are culturally ingrained, perhaps even tied directly to our identity as a species. But nobody is going to tell that story the way you will. Nobody will choose the language that you choose or create the characters that you create. The only person that can tell your story is you. So go out and write it.
New to National Novel Writing Month? Ready to write a novel? You can participate on your own, or by creating an account on the NaNoWriMo website, where you’ll also find forums, pep talks, a way to track your progress, and more.
Michelle Webber has worked as a reader, an Editorial Assistant, and Social Media Editor for Stillhouse Press and currently serves as the Director of Marketing and Communications. She is working on a collection of linked short stories and is a fiction candidate in George Mason University's Creative Writing BFA Program.
It's fall and like any true book lover knows, it's time to cozy up with your favorite blanket and relax with a good book. Whether you're picking up the latest book of the season or a classic from the canon, we're here to show your the best places throughout the D.M.V. for scoring fresh reads—our fantastic indie book shops, of course!
Kramerbooks and Afterwords Café
DUPONT CIRCLE, WASHINGTON, DC
By Madeline Dell'Aria
Wedged in like the keystone of the Dupont Circle arch, Kramerbooks and Afterwords Café is an amalgamation of culinary and literary worlds. Restaurant, bar, and bookshop, Kramerbooks is not your standard independent bookstore. It has been a fixture of the community since 1976 and offers more than most other bookstores, with a large café peering out onto 19th St. NW that provides an impressive diversity of items and a full-service bar with literary-themed cocktails like “Catcher in the Rye.”
Bookshelves showcase the usual suspects: the bestsellers, the trending authors, and a whole lot more. The small store doesn’t offer used books, its new titles so densely packed into different sections that they seem almost to blend together. Proud of its local heritage, Kramerbooks devotes a large selection to the city that hosts it, which no doubt pleases history fans and tourists alike.
Wanderlust is not lost on the inhabitants of the bustling Dupont Circle and certainly not on Kramerbooks clientele. The Circle is surrounded by embassies from all over the world and gazing upon the brightly colored spines of travel books will have you pining for adventure, from a cheese tour of Vermont to the tropical beaches of Phuket. Like many independent bookstores, Kramerbooks also stays quite busy. Few event calendars can rival the raw frequency of Kramerbooks’ lineup, with an author reading, wine tasting, or music event nearly every night.
Because the bookstore is also café and bar, its hours range from early morning to the very early morning. In other words: it caters to early birds and night owls alike and is easily accessible via metro. Take a gander at the clientele and you’ll see architects scribbling down drawings, lobbyists making friends, and the [rare] government official perusing a government docket. For those seeking respite from the hurry of D.C., you won’t find it here. From the bustle to the price of beer, it's clear you're in the city.
Madeline Dell’Aria, a Northern Virginia native, is a graduate of George Mason University's BFA Creative Writing program. Growing up she wanted to become a tree, a witch, or an explorer; so she became a writer.
By Evan Roberts
In Dewberry Hall during George Mason’s annual Fall for the Book festival, Harvard alumnus and new Mason professor Tania James spoke to a packed crowd of eager, rain-soaked undergraduates. I was privileged enough to be one of them.
“I really was expecting to read to only two people,” joked James, author of the well-received novel The Tusk That Did the Damage. And while I was prepared to pester her with questions about the unique perspectives in her latest novel, she made clear that she had turned the page to the next section of her life, moving beyond this latest piece.
For one, she’s a recent mother, and is more recently escaping a year-long writer’s block following childbirth. With less time on her hands, now she writes in “short bursts,” as opposed to forcing herself to write for extended hours. James recounted that previously she spent long periods of time writing “because [she] had to,” but now believes that time wasn’t used efficiently. It’s a predicament I believe every writer can relate to: the desire to produce, or else face the chest-gripping sense of guilt. “It’s a waste of time to work on one thing if you’d rather work on something else,” she said. Amidst all these exciting life changes there is one writing ritual James still abides, one from before her days as a mother: the first two hours of each morning are dedicated to the craft.
Currently, James is interested in what she calls the “weirdness of early motherhood.” In this transitory period of her life, now she’s drawn towards writers who have a surrealistic take because she feels surrealism speaks to her own experiences of past events – specifically to her own experience with motherhood. This new perspective captivated me. It seemed to provide a new source of inspiration, a way to dwell on the most confusing of reflections, and to appreciate them not necessarily for how they actually occurred, but for how they are remembered. When asked how she balances surrealism in otherwise realistic stories, she said that the voice should not be trying to “convince;” it should not linger in trying to explain or rationalize the science of the world, and should instead state what is occurring with authority. By explaining the inner workings of our worlds, we bring unnecessary attention to the reader’s suspension of disbelief.
In the concluding moments of the reading, James spoke on the dichotomy between a novel-length work and a short story. To her, a novel is the culmination of life lessons and perspectives gleaned over a period of several years of the author’s life. A novel is essentially the product of “countless inspirations,” and I truly believe this to be evident in her works. In contrast, James said that a short story has an intense focus – such an intense focus that it’s impossible for her to see past the borders that this single inspiration has framed for her.
Before the applause of damp hands and the formation of a queue by the author’s desk came the inevitable question during any reading: What inspires you?
Said James, “Every day seems to offer something.”
Evan Roberts is the coordinating editor of Moonshine Murmurs, and has worked as an editorial assistant, reader, and media contributor for Stillhouse Press. He will graduate from George Mason University in December, 2016 with a BA in English.
By Michelle Webber
When students want to enter the publishing industry after college, most of them picture themselves as editors. The leap is a logical one: those of us who pursue a BFA or MFA in writing spend so much time inside the manuscript that we forget the work must reach readers to achieve its true value. Many consider marketing and advertising the antithesis of artistic creation, that marketing’s only goal is to make money for the publisher, and that this process ignores the art of the book itself. But for Stillhouse Press, this notion couldn’t be further from the truth.
Our marketing process begins only after we have first read the book in its entirety. We believe that to build an effective promotional strategy, there are several things we must know about the book that are best discovered by stepping into the shoes of the reader. The most important component of marketing is audience. So we ask:What is its genre? What kind of person would enjoy this book? To whom will it appeal? What other books does it remind us of? Another crucial element is the book’s unique appeal. What about this book is different from others in its genre? What is its greatest strength? If I had to pitch this book to someone in less than 60 seconds, what would I tell them about it? Answering these questions allows us to approach our promotional plan as readers and book lovers as well as marketing professionals.
Once we’ve read the book, our next step is to coordinate our timeline with Editorial. As soon as we acquire a book, we work backwards from the date of publication to plan deadlines, the first of which is the printing of Advance Review Copies (ARCs, or galleys). Publishers send ARCs to a number of contacts, including review outlets, trade publications, and potential blurbers (other authors who will read the manuscript and offer up a quote) to arrange media coverage and cultivate buzz. Each market has its own lead window (an industry term for the minimum amount of time before publication that an outlet will consider a book for review or coverage). At Stillhouse, we aim to prepare and begin shipping galleys four to six months in advance of publication.
After we’ve formed our timeline and the editorial team for the book has begun their developmental edits, we schedule a meeting with the author to talk about their publishing and writing contacts, their list of potential blurbers, and the use and development of their social media platforms. We also discuss any upcoming publications, plans to submit new writing, and career or occupation changes so that we can leverage every advantage and increase an author's visibility. Every author brings something new to the conversation and every book is different, so we refine and tailor our marketing strategy accordingly.
Over the next several months, the marketing team works closely with the author and managing editor to build an exhaustive list of contacts for media and reviews. Each list is pulled from a central database that we continually update with new markets and publication staff changes. Once every contact, email address, and mailing address has been vetted and approved, we begin querying. This is largely the same process that authors go through when querying agents and publishing houses, only in reverse.
As soon as galleys are printed, proofed, finalized, and shipped to us, we begin sending packages to media. In this package, we include an ARC and relevant publication data. We prefer to include all publication info in the form of a postcard, rather than the industry standard press release, which is often discarded, unread. We strive to ensure that the concept driving the artwork and marketing materials is consistent between the galley and the product. This process often continues on a rolling basis until the month of publication.
Once we begin to receive notifications of coverage from some of the outlets that read the book and want to feature it either in a review or in an interview with the author, the marketing team coordinates timelines with the market and the author, and adds items to our roster for social media.
While cultivating media coverage is one of our most important responsibilities, there are several more obscure components of our department that are just as essential to the success of the press. Our Social Media Editor is responsible for writing and scheduling weekly posts on Facebook and Twitter that not only increase awareness of our titles, but that also participate in a dialogue of literary citizenship. Successful media campaigns aren’t paved with purchase-centric posts. The most effective strategy is to participate in relevant conversations, share the successes of your friends in the publishing industry, and comment on recent events. The best way to maintain a strong follower base is to engage the target audience’s community.
The marketing team also plans book tours and promotional events, both in the local area and across the country. Some of our events are recurring each year, including readings at Fall for the Book, AWP, and other literary conferences. If the event is local, the marketing team services and coordinates logistics.
Marketing is perhaps the most collaborative process at Stillhouse Press. Members of our team work closely with authors, managing editors, stakeholders, and industry professionals to ensure that our titles not only sell but that they also reach readers who value them. By taking into consideration the strengths and audience of the work, the network and media presence of our authors, and the literary climate into which each project is released, we are able to construct a plan that pleases all parties. Marketing, then, isn’t just about making money for the press. It’s about making happy authors, too.