Shelter and Write Prompt 4: Start with an Interview

Find someone who is affected by COVID-19 in a different way than you are. It might be someone who is taking a different approach to protecting themselves, someone who is quarantined, a local teacher, someone who had plans that have now changed. 

Get their story. What is interesting or notable about the way they are handling the situation?

Use this interview as the inspiration for today’s writing. Perhaps you want to juxtapose your own experience with the interviewee’s experience. Maybe you want to take key words and phrases from the interview and use them in a poem. You could use one detail from the interview to base a story around, or something that was said as your first line.

This post is part of a series I am doing that includes 30 prompts for 30 days of sheltering at home. You can read more about my reasoning and also find other prompts here. I would love to see what you come up with. Feel free to share here or to tag your work #shelterandwrite.

Let Your Words Fly: Submission Bonanza 2015

photo (7)Do you have stories that have been hibernating over winter in the caves of your computer files? Poems that have sleepily spent the dark months hiding from the cold snuggled between the pages of your notebook? Blog posts or essays that are destined to fly in the summer breeze and see a new audience?

It’s time for a Submission Bonanza, and I’d love for you to join me!

Here in Alaska, the new, green life is taking shape. The air feels fertile and full of possibilities. Birds are sending their songs out into the world and all this makes me feel like I should follow suit. With the start of summer, there’s the reminder of the possibilities that exist and the importance of our art seeing the light of day, stretching in the sunshine and basking in the warmth of the outdoors.

Two years ago at this time, I began a Submission Bonanza. It was an attempt to start getting my work out in the world, which I had been terrible about doing. It had been a long time since I had submitted anything anywhere, thinking of myself as not-a-real-writer, as someone who just wrote to make myself happy. At some point, I realized that writing, for me, is actually about connection and the real reason I was not submitting my work anywhere wasn’t because it was “just for me” but because I was afraid of the rejection. I mean, this poem is my soul; how could I stomach someone saying it wasn’t good enough?

Two years and hundreds of rejections later, I am stronger. I know now how to take the rejection letters. Being an editor of a magazine myself, I see how subjective the process can be and I know that it’s not a reflection of the worth of my soul.

I also have quite a few publications under my belt, because as subjective and harrowing as the process can be, there will also be moments when your work falls into the lap of someone who gets you, someone who connects with what you are trying to say. And they’ll want to share that with other people. Which, honestly, is kind of magical.

I have to say, I’ve fallen off the wagon a bit, been remiss in keeping my work flying out into the world and, thankfully, nature has reminded me that it’s time again.

submission bonanza logo 2 copySo, I’ll be doing another Submission Bonanza this year, 30 submissions in 30 days. For the whole month of June, I’ll be keeping a running list of literary journals that I submit to, and I’ll highlight some of the best ones so that you can submit to them, too.

If you’re new to submitting, check out my Guide to Creating Your Own Submission Bonanza, Choosing and Selecting Submittable Pieces, Finding Literary Magazines, and Six Tips for Perfect (Professional) Cover Letters.

Feel free to use the Submission Bonanza logo and join up. I’ll keep you posted with how things are going. Keep me posted as well!

Eschewing Genre in Creative Nonfiction: Richard K. Nelson’s Make Prayers to the Raven

Make Prayers to the raven book cover

Make Prayers to the Raven: A Koyukon View of the Northern Forest by Richard K. Nelson is a documentation of the plants and animals that frequent the forests of interior Alaska. It’s true that this book is about a place I am currently enthralled with. It’s also true that there’s a soft spot in my heart for any book about plants and wildlife. However, what makes this book really interesting is the ways in which Nelson eschews nonfiction genres to come up with something all his own.

This book could have been a narrative of his experiences living in a Koyukon village in the 1970s. It wasn’t. It doesn’t occur in chronological order and doesn’t have much of a narrative arc. Instead, the book is structured in chapters such as “The Birds” and “Ecological Patterns and Conservation Practices” with subheadings for individual species and phenomena. This sets the tone for the work feeling like a guidebook to the forest.

Instead of listing facts about animals and plants, however, Nelson draws on a multitude of sources in order to give a greater picture of how the Koyukon people view and interact with the world around them. He uses the research of anthropologists who have come before him, anecdotes from his experiences of living in the village, and excerpts from his own journal. The effects of these sources are interesting. What is structured and presented as a catalog of facts about the forest becomes a little less black-and-white. This is apropos given the nature of Koyukon beliefs and knowledge about the forest, which is up for interpretation and change based on personal experience. It is also appropriate given Nelson’s awareness of his own status as an outsider, which makes him wary of speaking for the Koyukon people. By using this variety of resources including his own experiences and journal entries, he can give his readers the same impressions that he had without putting words in other people’s mouths.

Nelson as the writer is interestingly placed in this book. For a book that uses anecdotal evidence and journal entries for much of its information, the narrator is surprisingly absent. This is because all of the personal writing and experience that Nelson uses is always about something other than himself. His journal is only used to further give information and rarely gives his own ideas or thoughts. Nelson very consciously positions himself as an outsider in the village and the culture about which he is writing, and he does a good job of keeping himself an outsider in the book that he writes.

The end result is that Make Prayers to the Raven is not an anthropological study of the Koyukon people, or a wildlife guide to the forest of Interior Alaska, or a narrative about Nelson’s experiences there. Instead, there’s a melding of these possibilities. For me as a writer, it made me think a little more broadly about the ways that I can structure and inform my nonfiction. Nelson shows that the structure, the sources used, and the position of the I do not need to all line up to one traditional standard genre. Instead, using these things in unconventional ways can allow us as writers to come to greater truths than following convention alone.


*This post is part of a series on the craft of writing called Reading for Writers.  This series examines a variety of authors to ascertain the choices they’ve made in their writing and the effects of those choices so that we as writers can make better decisions in our own writing. May contain affiliate links.

You Must Be Crazy!: A Year-long Submission Bonanza!

submission bonanza logo 2 copy

Way back in July, I started my first Submission Bonanza!  This was an attempt to rack up rejections and embrace an aspect of writing that is difficult for me: putting myself out there.  My first Submission Bonanza was so successful and I learned so much from it that I resolved to keep it on the docket as something I did regularly.  I did another one in September and am starting to rack up more than just rejections from that one as well (news to follow!).

One of the habits that I resolved to develop in 2014 was to spend an hour a day on submitting my work to contests, literary magazines, etc.  I am hoping this means that I will be submitting something everyday, but there is a lot of work to do around submitting, so I’m not holding myself too hard to the number, more to the time I invest.  This, for me, is a year of forming habits over having goals.

In an effort to keep myself honest and also to share some great literary journals and contests, I’ll be posting a list here of where I submit to as I go.  Keep an eye on this spot for new magazines and competitions.  I’ll be updating it regularly.

  1. Classical Poets Contest
  2. California Genealogy Contest
  3. Glimmer Train
  4. The Paris Review
  5. Harper’s Magazine
  6. New England Review
  7. The Antioch Review
  8. The Southern Review
  9. EPOCH magazine
  10. The Gettysburg Review
  11. Yale Review
  12. Alaska Quarterly Magazine

My 500 Words Challenge

It’s amazing sometimes how the universe seems to be sending very distinct messages, as if it’s conspiring for goodness.  Pronoia.  After writing a post about forming writing habits and a post about writing word by word, my reading of Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life presents me with this food for thought, which she refers to as “comfort for friends discouraged by their writing pace:”

“It takes years to write a book, between two and ten years. Less is so rare as to be statistically insignificant… Thomas Mann was a prodigy of production. Working full time, he wrote a page a day. That is 365 pages a year… At a page a day, he was one of the most prolific writers who ever lived.  Flaubert wrote steadily…For twenty-five years he finished a big book every five to seven years.  If a full-time writer averages a book every five years, that makes seventy-three usable pages a year, or a usable fifth of a page a day… On plenty of days the writer can write three or four pages, and on plenty of other days he concludes he must throw them away.” (13-14)

Then an email from Jeff Goins over at shows up in my inbox with an invitation to participate in a 31 day 500 word challenge.  Jeff’s advice echoes Annie’s:

“Here’s what I know about writing: It happens in small bites. Step by step. One little chunk at a time. You don’t write a whole book. You write sentences that turn into paragraphs. And paragraphs turn into sections that, then, turn into chapters.  In other words, it all begins with words. You don’t control the outcome, just the process.”

So, clearly, the cosmos are trying to tell me something and I figure that I don’t really have much choice other than to join the challenge.  I won’t be holding myself too strongly to the word count, but I’ll be working really hard to make sure my butt is in my writing seat for at least an hour a day, as per my New Year’s System.  And I’ll be using the My 500 Word Challenge as extra motivation.  Nearly 700 other writers have signed up so far, so it should be some excellent community-building.  I’ll be tracking progress here.   Feel free to join us!

My 500 Words Widget

January 1: 1087

January 2: 675

January 3: 940

January 4: 545

January 5: 629

January 6: 1201

January 7: 524

January 8: 0

January 9: 1152

January 10: 1398

January 11: 540

January 12: 513

January 13: 583

January 14: 503

January 15: 1159

January 16: 278

January 17: 0

January 18: 1097

January 19: 506

January 20: 537

January 21: 1302

January 22: 2173

January 23: 0

January 24: 0

January 25: 634

Prompt: Write Fast

I’ve been told recently that I write too slowly.  I will admit, my process is meticulous.  I follow in the footsteps of Tom Robbins (swoon)* in which I try to make the most perfect sentence possible before moving on to the next one.  There’s all kinds of research that happens and word-associations and trials and retrials.  I realize that this flies in the face of most writing process advice, which is to just get as much down on paper and then edit afterwards, but I have to admit, that’s just not the way it comes out for me.

Lately, I’ve been trying to exercise my “sprinting” muscles a little bit more and one way of doing this is with oneword.  It’s lovely for speed-thinking and writing and a nice little way to start a story.

So, here’s my challenge.  Go on oneword, write for the sixty seconds that they give you and use something you write in those sixty seconds as the start or end of a story.

Ready?  Go!

*It has recently come to my attention that for years I’ve been fostering a schoolgirl crush on a 77-year-old man.  I am not sure how I feel about it, but Switters would be proud.

Submission Bonanza!: Second Time Around

submission bonanza logo 2 copySo, you might have noticed that it’s October 19th.  You might have also noticed that it’s not September any more.  In fact, it’s nearly three-weeks-not-September already.

Way back in July, I set myself a challenge to do a Submission Bonanza!  It was incredible and successful.  I learned so much, and I’ve been published in three magazines so far (more on that to come later!).  It was so successful that I resolved to do it again in September.

Some of my cohorts looked at me like I was insane — and with good reason.  In September, I started an M.F.A. program, began lecturing on writing at university, and moved to the frontier (Why, hello, Alaska!) all in the same month.

It’s true that I didn’t finish my 30 litmags in 30 days.  It’s an ambitious challenge amidst so much transition.  I have, however, finally finished!  It took me much longer than I had hoped, but I still got work out to 30 litmags and ok, it took me 50 days, but better late than never, right?

So, in true Submission Bonanza! fashion, I’ve pasted below links to all the literary magazines that I submitted to.  They’re all magazines that accept submissions online and accept submissions for free, because those are some of the restrictions that I’ve currently set for myself.  You’ll notice that some of the magazines here are quite ambitious for such a fledgling like me to be submitting to (cough, cough, New Yorker, cough, cough, The Atlantic).  One of the things I learned during my first Submission Bonanza! was that I needed to be more choosy.  Once a piece gets published, those First Time North American Rights that all the magazines are asking for are gone, gone forever.  Because of this, I figured I’d start with the big boys and get real about racking up the rejections.

So, here it is, ladies and gents:  an incredibly ambitious September Submission Bonanza! 30 litmags in 50 days.

1. Glimmer Train
2. Subtropics
3. American Scholar
4. Podcastle
5. Writing Tomorrow
6. New Haven Review
8. Nashville Review
9. A River & Sound
10. Journal of Compressed Creative Arts
11. The Pedestal
12. Poetry Magazine
13. Kenyon Review
14. Shenandoah
15. Devil’s Lake
16. The New Yorker
17. The Atlantic
18. Tin House
19. Cincinatti Review
20. TriQuarterly
21. A Public Space
22. Bomb
23. Chicago Review
24. One Story
25. West Branch
26. New Ohio Review
27. Willow Springs
28. Third Coast
29. Southeast Review

30. Pleiades

Call for Submissions: The Round

The Round is a journal of literary and visual arts based at Brown University in Providence, RI.

Published biannually, The Round accepts submissions in all mediums and from all sources, inside and outside the Brown community.

The Round is happy to accept submissions of both literary and visual art. In the past we have published prose, poetry, plays, and translations as well as paintings, drawings, prints, and photography.

Submissions are accepted on a rolling basis. Typically, for the fall issue, we read through October, and for the spring issue, through March. Issues are published at the end of each semester in December and May.

To submit, please send us a brief bio and your mailing address, if not on Brown’s campus, along with your work. Written submissions should be sent in .rtf, .doc, or .docx format. Please send visual art as high quality .jpg images and include a piece’s title, medium, and dimensions.


Please email all work to .


September Submission Bonanza Challenge!

submission bonanza logo 2 copySeptember is here, folks and that means it’s time to celebrate Labor Day by expending a bit of my labor on my writing career.  All this month, I will be working on my second Submission Bonanza!

In my first Submission Bonanza! I racked up a few rejections, got some things published (more info to come on some of those things as the publications come out!), and learned a whole lot.  It was incredibly successful in more than just my initial idea that I would start racking up the rejections to get my work out there.  I am reading more critically and closely.  I found lots of new magazines.  I feel part of a larger literary conversation.  I am inspired to write more.  Also, I am inspired to keep up with submitting and submit more.

Like last time, I will be working on submitting to 30 magazines in a month.  I have my pieces picked out and edited.  I have a list of magazines that I want to submit to. And I have a cover letter and bio template ready to go.

Feel free to join me in this journey.  I loved doing this in July and I am excited about all the magazines opening their doors to submissions this month.  I would highly recommend that anyone who is wanting to grow and develop as a writer think about doing this in some form.  Maybe you don’t want to do one magazine every day.  Maybe you want to do one every other day, one a week, or even just one.  Maybe you want to do three a week or three a day.  Whatever the case may be, set a reasonable goal or yourself and get going.  Your work isn’t going to read itself.  If you do decide to join, please let me know.  I would love to be able to support and encourage each other as the months go on.  Good luck!

6 Tips for Perfect (Professional) Cover Letters for Literary Magazines

submission bonanza logo 2 copyBy now, if you’ve been following my Submission Bonanza! series, you should have picked the pieces you want to send to magazines and compiled a list of magazines that you want to submit to.  It’s time now to write a cover letter to send along with your submissions.  As Michael Nye, Editor of the Missouri Review says, sending a cover letter with your submission is “like wearing a suit to an interview.”  Don’t let your submissions to literary magazines show up naked!

It’s easy to feel stressed about this part of the process of submitting to literary magazines: the cover letter  (duh-duh dun….).  It’s understandable because this can be the first impression that you are giving to the editors of the magazine.  We definitely want to put our best foot forward and present ourselves as professional, competent writers.

But also, keep in mind that you are not being judged on your cover letter.  Editors want solid writing.  So make a nice, neat little cover letter and spend the majority of your time stressing about whether you should put that extra comma in your new creative nonfiction piece.

So here are some things to think about when writing a cover letter:

1.  Follow the guidelines of the literary magazine.

This seems self-explanatory, but a lot of literary magazines ask for different kinds of information in the cover letter.  Some of them want word counts or genre.  Others want a short bio about you.  Some even ask for no cover letter at all.  If you are submitting simultaneously, you’ll also need to note that.  Make sure you follow their specific guidelines.


2. Address the letter to a person.

This is not a “To Whom It May Concern” letter.  It’s pretty easy to find most of the staff at a literary magazine under their masthead.  Some magazines even tell you in the submission guidelines who to address it to.  Be as specific as possible.  If you’re submitting poetry, address it directly to Ms. Sally B. Poetryeditor.  If you can’t pinpoint a specific name, you can address it to the editor.


3. Keep it short and simple. 

Don’t forget, a lot of editors are reading hundreds or thousands of these.  This is not a query letter, so you don’t need to describe your piece to them.  You don’t need to tell them how you came up with the idea or list the twenty-seven other literary magazines you’ve been in.  For example, the Colorado Review suggests this cover letter:

Dear Editor,

Enclosed is my [fiction/nonfiction/poetry] submission “Title of Manuscript.” Thank you for considering it for publication in Colorado Review.

[*If submitting via mail] I’ve included an SASE for [response only/the return of my manuscript].

Your Name

Full Contact Info


 4. Keep it professional.

Naturally, you want to make sure that the grammar and punctuation are flawless and that it is in a professional format.  But also, you don’t need to be cute or catchy to get the editor’s attention.  Let your writing do that.  That’s what they are looking for.


5. Add a short bio (Optional).

Some magazines ask for a short bio or you may feel that it’s in your best interest to include one.  This should only be a line or two of relevant information. Don’t tell your life story, just one or two tidbits that are interesting or pertinent.  Don’t include a whole list of the hundreds of places you’ve been published.  Just pick 3-5.  Also, if you haven’t been published, don’t be ashamed to include that too.  As Nye suggests:

If you’ve never been published before? Say so. “If accepted, this would be my first published story.” All literary magazines love being the one to publish a writer for the first time, so acknowledging this possibility can only help.


 6. Add a note about what you read in the magazine or how you know the magazine (Also optional).

If you want to personalize it a bit for the magazine, some editors might like to know that you did actually take the time to read past issues or that you have had past correspondences with them.  But again, this step could be optional.


In the end, I really like this bit Nye’s advice really calmed me down:

A professional cover letter is all we ask, and even minus that, if the work is excellent, we don’t really care. We want to publish the best work we read, regardless of whether or not you’re an emerging writer or an established one.

So don’t stress too much about your cover letter.  Get it done, and make it professional, so you can get back to your craft.


So, the goal for this week:

Make a template of your cover letter and bio.  Have them ready and at hand when you want to submit.  I personally made a template that had all the information I could possibly want to send to and editor (word counts, genres, bio, etc) and then cut or edited from that for each literary magazine.  Once this work is out of the way, you’ll be nearly set to start submitting!


Need more help?

You can read Michael Nye’s article on The Art of the Literary Magazine Cover Letter.

You could also look at advice about what not to do by Michael Kardos at Writer’s Digest. 

Or take a look at this sample cover letter from The Review Review.