Freewrite: Marian Calabro's Writing Newsletter

Issue No. 53

November - December 2014

In This Issue
Q&A: Big Changes in Self-Publishing
My New Favorite How-To Book about Writing
Send Out Your Work
Wisdom in the Pat Schneider Vein
Quick Links

Dear Writers,   

Much to be thankful for this holiday season.  

  • Giant congrats to Rachelle Parker, whose poem "The Dream's Path" won the 2014 Pat Schneider Poetry Contest, and to Barbara Krasner, whose "Finding Franz Kafka" earned one of two honorable mentions. The judge was Dr. Sue Walker, Stokes Distinguished Professor, University of South Alabama. Both Rachelle and Barb have been in my workshops for years so I'm prouder than a mother hen.
  • Kudos to Patricia Bender, well-known to many AWA writers, who has two stories in the autumn issue of The Paterson Review.
  • Adult School of Montclair will reemerge in a new, independent format this winter (what a relief!), and I'll teach there this spring. Watch the ASM website after Thanksgiving for news.  
  • My play "Testa Dura" enjoyed a beautiful staged reading in October, thanks to the talents of Fair Lawn's Radburn Players.

Hope you'll mark your calendar for March 27-29, 2015, when Barb Krasner and I will return to Mendham to lead our second AWA-style weekend retreat. Details and early booking discount will appear in January Freewrite.


My gifts to you are the nuggets of writing wisdom rendered by William Sloane, below.


May your writing light the way to good holidays.




 Write an uncensored holiday list. What would you or a character 

really like to have happen from now until January 1, 2015?


Q&A: Big Changes in Self-Publishing

Alice Lazzarini has worked on her book Both Sides Now for more than 10 years. It covers Parkinson's disease (PD) from a unique perspective: Alice was both a PhD researcher on a team that discovered the causative gene for PD, and she lives with this disease as well.


I interviewed Alice for Freewrite in 2009, when she had an interested literary agent. At that time, she absolutely didn't want to self-publish. Now she has a different agent who recently urged her to self-publish a paperback and Kindle download on Amazon's CreateSpace, in order to test the waters for mainstream publishing. Yes, that's how much times have changed!


Alice and I met when she took a publishing class I taught at NJ's County College of Morris. She also invited me to talk with a writing group in Mendham to which she's belonged for many years. Intermittently, I have helped her with some editing and urged her to blog, which she does here. She's on Wikipedia and Twitter, where her handle is @lazzaral. I admire Alice's persistence. Her updated story offers much food for thought.


Marian: In terms of rewriting, how has your book changed since you originally drafted it some 10 years ago? I recall that some family members were not happy with the more personal parts of the story.


Alice: I had struggled with the comment by some that I had two stories. Having looked at Parkinson's disease from both sides of the white coat, however, I felt strongly that the personal and professional viewpoints were what made my story unique. The fact that I had the courage to forge my independence only after being diagnosed with a disease that would ultimately cause dependency was integral to my story, but I had difficulty knowing how to tell of the breakup of a relationship without causing embarrassment to people who would be affected by intimate revelations. A huge breakthrough came when a member of my writing group said, "You don't have to justify leaving a difficult relationship; you just did it!" In essence, she gave me permission to handle it in a kinder way, in the spirit of my mediated divorce itself.


Indeed, that was a breakthrough for you. How about editing changes?


Another big breakthrough came when an editor suggested that I needed to open the story at a different time point--that of my diagnosis. I had been locked into opening with a dramatic scene from my research days, but her advice was an "aha" moment that improved the flow of the story. With those two breakthroughs, I felt that the story that I had been obsessing over since I began writing in 2004 was "ready for prime time."


When we spoke in 2009, you had interest from an agent, but that cooled down on both sides. How did the project revive?


Coincidentally another member of my writing group pitched my story at a writing conference that she attended and she drew the interest of two agents. (Neither was the person I dealt with in 2009.) One immediately began talking $10,000 for a book doctor, but the other one, Rita Rosenkranz, with whom I signed in October 2013, felt the story was compelling without the need for major editing. She had gleaned interest from a few mainstream publishers, but no offer. Then the Parkinson disease stars nigh on collided:

  • On July 31, 2014, an Austrian drug development company announced success with the early trial of a vaccine directed against alpha-synuclein, the very protein in which my research team at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School had found the first mutation to cause Parkinson's,
  • The American Parkinson Disease Association was launching a new Public Service Announcement in New York and Los Angeles and offered to include my book launch in their publicity, and
  • The announcement that Robin Williams had been diagnosed with PD before his untimely death made Parkinson's particularly newsworthy.

Rita and I agreed that the time was ripe to get the story out there, and that if I garnered enough momentum, she could re-approach publishing houses. Laura Duffy, who has designed nonfiction covers for Random House, provided me with several designs within a few hours, and I was able to upload the manuscript and cover to Amazon's CreateSpace Independent Platform.


I was surprised to see that the word "Parkinson's" no longer appears in the book title or subtitle. Why?


I decided to take Parkinson's out of the title because I wanted to reach a broader audience. In addition to delivering a message of hope to the Parkinson's community and "paying forward" monies that supported my research, with Both Sides Now: A Journey from Researcher to Patient I hope to encourage women to believe in themselves and own who they are; to show that, with enough tenacity, a shy young girl can succeed in a male-dominated world of science; to convey the inside story behind a major research breakthrough; and to share a love story for the man whose vision made it happen.


I wish you all the best, Alice! Please keep us posted on the book's success.   


My New Favorite How-To Book about Writing

Not 10 minutes after the release of the last Freewrite, I heard from author and editor Cindy Kane about the writing books I keep on "My Essential Bookshelf." Cindy was my first editor and I still regard her as the best ever. Here's her email: "Hi! Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird didn't make the cut, hmmmm? And I think you don't have more fiction writing books because you don't write fiction? John Gardner's The Art of Fiction, Janet Burroway (yes, our Janet)'s Writing Fiction (v. expensive but can be found used), and above all, William Sloane's The Craft of Writing are all excellent -- hard to separate out how they help me teach writing vs. how they help me write."


Fair enough. I'm familiar with the guides by Lamott and Gardner, but they doesn't resonate with me. (It always annoys me that Gardner's final piece of advice, offered without irony, is to "marry a rich woman.") The reference to "our Janet" involves the novel Opening Nights, which Cindy and I both love. I see that the 9th edition of Burroway's Writing Fiction came out last February. It is expensive, since it's a textbook, but I will catch up on it.


Ah, but the William Sloane book! Totally new to me, so I bought a used copy online. What a masterpiece. Sloane (1906-1974) was an editor and writer who taught at the Bread Loaf Writers' Conferences in Vermont. It was hard to whittle his gems down to the 10 quoted below. I recommend the whole book wholeheartedly. I've added italics to passages I especially like:


1. "After some weeks of correspondence with an excellent teacher I discovered that what I was trying to write as a play was really a novel. It was a lesson I have never forgotten because the novel turned out to be a modest success, and from that day to this, many better dramatists than I shall ever be have tried unsuccessfully to make a play or a motion picture out of it. Put concisely, the lesson was to let the material dictate the form."


2. "Those first sentences of a novel are a contract between the writer of fiction and the reader .... The contract has to be clear almost at once. What does the writer contract to do in those crucial sentences? Several things that are, taken together, the core of the fictional process. First, he contracts to tell a story, not necessarily a highly plotted one, but a story. Second, he promises that the story will be told in terms of people, and most usually in terms of scenes, not descriptions. Third, he promises that there will be an end, just as there is, in front of the reader's eyes, a beginning. And that adds up to a promise of some kind of fictional action-narration, conflict, change, and resolution."


3. "In the best fiction and most of the time, the reader is identifying with one or another of the characters in the story. He is being the Ishmael of Moby Dick. He is being the narrator of Deliverance. He is not, be it noted, being either Herman Melville or James Dickey."


4. "Entertainment is a quality we do not treasure enough in our contemporary reading and writing. Significance is a dry crust without it, protest is both ugly and violent without it. Neither can be widely communicated without it."


5. "Life does not come to us packaged in a series of scenes. It is up to the writer to package it." 


6. "Perhaps the most central matter to the inexpert writer is the apparent temptation to try to use real people in his fiction. This is not the reality of the problem because no writer can or does use real people. He does not even know himself fully, and all that he knows about other people is what he has observed and felt about them himself.


7. "The character that is rendered too meticulously often fails to convince. Too little is left for the reader to contribute out of himself."


8. "Writing fails because the writer does not know enough about his material. If he knows enough he will feel enough. The rest is editing, personal and otherwise. But any real writer does know enough. Every human being does. The difficulty is in knowing what you know. Unless you are discovering some things while engaged in the process of adjusting your material, you are probably not writing. Writing is finding out what you really know, and knowing creates density."


9. "If fiction is a world, nonfiction is the world. In the end all writing is about the business of being human. ... The nonfiction writer has two main approaches to his subject. One is through fresh information or experience, the other through fresh interpretation of the old."


10. "There are not uninteresting subjects, only uninteresting writers. Any subject can also be made dull. The basic difference is the intention of the writing. Graduate school writing is defensive and self-seeking. Journalism, and I use the term in its highest sense, the sense in which even the Bible might be called God's Millennial Gazette, is an attempt to share, to communicate, to say something another person will understand."  


Send Out Your Work

Glimmer Train Short Stories by New Writers

Open only to writers whose fiction has not appeared in any print publication with a circulation over 5,000. Publication and prizes ranging from $300 to $1,500.

Entry Fee: $15 per story, up to 3 stories

Deadline: November 30



Ruth Stone Poetry Prize

A prize of $1,000 and publication in Hunger Mountain, published by the Vermont College of Fine Arts, is given annually for a poem.

Deadline: December 10

Entry Fee: $20 for up to three poems



Money for Women/Barbara Deming Memorial Fund

Individual Artist Grants for Women

Grants of up to $1,500 are given twice yearly to feminist writers who are citizens of the U.S. or Canada. The current round is for fiction writers. Visit the website for the required entry form and complete guidelines, which are quite detailed.

Deadline: December 31

Entry Fee: $25



Spark: Multi-Genre Contest

A prize of $500 and publication in Spark: A Creative Anthology is given quarterly for a poem, a short story, or a personal essay on changing themes. This quarter's theme is BRIDGES. Winner also receive a lifetime membership to Scribophile and subscriptions to various literary mags.

Deadline: January 4

Entry Fee: None



Wisdom in the Pat Schneider Vein

Pat Schneider's website is undergoing maintenance. When it reappears, it will list her schedule of workshops for 2015. Yes, she will return to leading or co-leading regularly. That's great news, and I've already signed up for three sessions, including a June reprise of SoulCollage.  


Subbing for Pat this month, so to speak, is painter Jonas Gerard. My husband and I visited his gallery in Asheville, NC, in early November, drawn in by the brightly painted van parked outside (see photo; the window sticker says "Changing the world one painting at a time"). His art is equally vibrant.


Is he internationally famous?  Probably not.

Is he nationally famous?  Maybe. I don't follow the art world.

Has he made a living doing what he wants to do and spreading positive energy about art?

Absolutely, and he was also instrumental in helping to transform Asheville's dying industrial section into the now-thriving River Arts District.  


Inside his gallery I found Jonas Gerard's artist's statement, which reminds me so much of Amherst Writers core beliefs:


"One of my teachers once said to me, 'Your brushes are very smart. Why don't you let them do the work?' This is the secret of letting go....Painting fast and spontaneously has been extremely beneficial:

  • It helps me to accomplish more with the least effort, and yet allows me to evolve and grow with renewed trust and confidence.
  • It encourages my mind to be quiet and temporarily stops its judgmental tendencies, relinquishing my attachment to any imagined result.
  • It helps me lose all concern for the approval of others and their criticism.

"This process clears the way so as to become a clear vessel, that which welcomes the creative energy of the universe to come through with enthralling rhythms and patterns that connect us all."


What is Written