CNF Essay: “What Matters is What’s Left of Us”

“After my doctor diagnoses the large mass on one of my ovaries as a Dermoid, he shows me a picture that looks like a macadamia nut cookie rimmed with hair. On the internet, I find pictures of their humanity—a limb like a baby’s arm, curly hair, a row of teeth—grotesque by context: a row of teeth planted in a glob of featureless skin; a ball of hair covering what looks like a finger. I make jokes to my husband and friends that I have It from the Addams Family inside of me, Shrek, an absorbed twin…”

-From Yemassee‘s 20.1 Issue

2013 Goals


Last year, I made a set of writing goals for myself. Out of the five, I met two respectively and three if I’m fudging a bit. I got one of my fiction stories published. I got published in three of the journals my heart leaps for joy over ([PANK], CutBankand Third Coast), and I sort of kept up my writing ritual (this is the one I’d have to fudge on).

Here are my goals for 2013:

#1. Get my poetry manuscript, Swallow Tongue, accepted for publication. (Completing it in 2012 and having just done a major revision on it, this is a fantasy goal and may be on my goal list for years to come. Regardless, I want to put it out to the universe that it’s something I want and see what the universe has to say about it.)

#2. Get one of my creative nonfiction essays accepted for publication. (I was super surprised last year when in November, after working my butt off for a year editing and excising and submitting, I finally got notice that PANK had accepted one of my fiction stories for publication. A month and a day shy of 2013, but I still met that goal! Getting a fiction story published seemed like a nearly impossible goal, something I could only dream might happen. This year, I’m going to try the same with creative nonfiction. I wrote three essays in 2012 and with this goal in mind, I can definitely work on them and see what happens!)

#3. Write 30 50 poems. (Last year, I wrote 25 poems. This year I want to try for more. I also like that this goal has a specific number.)

#4. Submit high. (My submitting process is holding pretty steady, and I just want to continue to submit to journals that daunt me with how cool they are. Maybe one day I’ll grace their pages.)

#5. Do something special just for my writing. (While last year I set a goal to get into Bread Loaf, I probably won’t be applying this year. I need to reserve my vacation for spending time with my two best friends who happen to live in two different states. Maybe I’ll be able to attend a conference or a retreat, but I want to leave myself open to exploring other writing things, like doing a poem-a-day for some length of time, which I’ve never been brave enough to do before.)

While I didn’t meet all of my goals last year, I made some big strides, and I’m looking forward to seeing how this next year pans out.

What are your literary goals for 2013?

New endeavors

After a year-long hiatus from working for a literary journal, I’m pleased to announce that I will now be reading for Fjords Review, an absolutely lovely journal. I’m so excited about this new endeavor, and I hope you will consider submitting your best poetry and fiction!


In other news, I went running this morning (a slow, slow progress, since I’m re-training after re-injuring an old injury) and started thinking about a creative nonfiction essay I wrote the day of my surgery. I’ve been thinking about it off and on since I wrote it, but haven’t been able to figure out how to approach it. I gave it to a friend to read over, but that was it. Finally, today, I came back from that run and edited it and even came up with an ending, when it had none before.

Sometimes, changing genres is exactly what I need to do. I read once that anytime you get to point in your writing where you’re stuck, try changing the form, or even the genre. I’ve had trouble with figuring out whether a poem needed to be in couplets or quatrains, so I changed it to prose. Seeing it as that block of text helped me figure out how to shape it. Topics I haven’t been able to broach in poetry (like my surgery, my trip to Greece, etc.), I’ve been able to express in fiction or creative nonfiction. There can be so much versatility in being a poet; there’s always a potential to switch, to envision space. I make up it’s a great deal harder for prose writers to make that switch, to shrink than to expand (any of you prose writers feel differently?).

Happy writing!

So…I’m in Spain

Richard Tillinghast, in his interview with The Pinch for the Spring 2012 issue, wrote that there is an intoxication that sets in when you visit a country for the first time. You’re amazed by the differences: the food, the architecture, the people, the languages. Those differences you see both help inform how you experience the place you’re in, while also giving you a different perspective on where you’ve come from. He said keeping a running journal as you’re walking around, jotting down thoughts, things, people, etc. you see, can read a little like poetry.

After writing a whole post on why writers should travel, I’m now practicing what I’m preached by staying a month in Spain for a creative writing study abroad program. I arrived in Madrid on June 1st, stayed there until June 3rd, and then took a train to Alicante, where I’ll be until June 28th.

Writing so far has been difficult. I’m very much out of my element. Writing worked best for me at 7 in the morning, coffee in hand. In Madrid, I had to first adjust to jetlag (which took a couple of days), and then I simply had no time because I had a limited window of time in the city and I HAD to run around and see everything (Best thing I saw: Picasso’s “Guernica.” Wow.).

Now, I’ve been in Alicante two days, and the class started yesterday. We have our first writing “assignment” due tomorrow, and we’ll see if something comes up. Spain works on a different set of time. They eat dinner late and wake up later, so 7 in the morning wouldn’t really work for me when we eat dinner at 8:30/9 at night. My host family’s home also only has WiFi in their living room, which means I’m around people or the TV is on whenever I’d be writing. I also don’t speak any Spanish, so it’s been hard for me to try to communicate with my host family, which is a really strange experience. Hopefully, I’ll pick up the language quickly.

I think I just need to fight against my conceptions of where I can be creative and Just.Be.Creative (this sounds like a bad name for a perfume…). This same experience happened when I was in Greece last year. I ended up jotting some things down and reading a lot, but I couldn’t write while I was there. Thankfully, the experiences soaked in and turned into some pieces later.


In other news, I came here on a high of good news. MayDay Magazine accepted my poem, “The Family Pet” (which I unfortunately don’t have a draft process for). Front Porch Journal which I’ve been wanting to get into for some time now, e-mailed me to tell me they really liked some of my work that had been picked up by other journals and asked me to send in more ASAP. New York Quarterly also e-mailed me to tell me they had forwarded one or more of my poems  to the second tier editorial board for further consideration.


I feel like I’m in the right place right now, and I’m curious to see what all will happen while I’m here. Have any of you traveled? What have been your experiences with it as it relates to your writing?

Why you should submit to literary contests

After Calyx threw their two-cents in, I decided to throw in mine as well.

As a writer and teacher, my money is in short supply. I submit to literary journals for a love of contributor copies and a blind, finger-crossing hope that someone might pay me as well. I, of course, don’t live off my writing. I teach to pay my rent. I write to stay sane. I submit because what I ultimately want to do in life is write.

Contests, with their $15 and $20 reading fees, seem like an extravagance. I, for one, have submitted to seven contests in my life, five that had reading fees. I’ve won none of them and only been a semifinalist for one.

Why should you ever submit to literary contests?

  • You could win AND/OR get published. We all submit our work to journals with the wild hope that we’ll be accepted. We can submit to contests with the same abandon. We can have confidence enough in our writing to believe that it’s worth sending out. For The Pinch‘s literary contest, if you are a first place winner in your genre, your work will be published in an upcoming issue. If you are a second or third place winner, your work might be. Also, all work submitted (even if you don’t win) is considered for publication. So, you could win and, even if you don’t, you could get published. Stu Dearnley, the third place fiction winner of the 2011 Pinch contest, got his first ever publication from winning a contest. We have also published work from other contestants that did not win.
  • You could receive critical attention from a great poet/writer/essayist. In terms of The Pinch‘s literary contest, all of the entries are read by the staff and then we, as a staff, decide which ten or fifteen finalists to send onto the bigwig genre judge. If someone on our staff really likes your work, your work might get published or you might get solicited to send us more work. If you are one of the lucky finalists (as in, we, as a staff, decide to send your work onto the bigwig), your work will receive personal attention from that bigwig. If you are selected as a (first, second, or third place) winner, he or she will know your name and write something special about your work. An amazing poet writing something amazing about a poem of mine would be…amazing.
  • You could win $$$. Many contests boast a wonderful $1000 or $1500 prize. That could help with attending a residency, submitting journals that ask for a $3 reading fee with each submission, or sending that manuscript out.
  • Your reading fee helps support the journal that hosts the contest. This point is really important. Since I’ve managed a literary journal, I know firsthand how important these contests can be for ensuring a journal can produce future issues, purchase merchandise to sell, host release parties, host readings, etc. Every year, The Pinch contest is its lifeblood to ensuring we can keep producing a great product, as well as hosting great events for our dedicated admirers to attend.
  • You get something. You more often than not receive at least one issue of the journal, and many times, you receive two issues, a full year of a journal you already adore!

I realize many of us writers aren’t rolling in money (unless we a.) won the lottery or inherited a lot of money, b.) have a fancy job, or c.)   married up), but by submitting to contests, you are not only taking your writing seriously, but also supporting the journals that help keep what we love so much alive and well.