Friday, September 30, 2011

Writing Prompt: Restaurant or Market Review

Farmstand in South Jersey

Describe a restaurant or market. Write for ten minutes without stopping. Focus on listing all of the details (consider the lighting, floor, cleanliness, activities of people, art, clock, human and mechanical sounds, wall paint, etc.) Do not worry about spelling or grammar.

Write non-stop for five to ten minutes and then go back and underline the key lines/ideas/images that emerge.

I'd love to read your piece or responses to the exercise below in the Comments section.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Fall for the Book and National Book Festival 2011

I enjoyed the problem of figuring out how to choose between various activities at the wonderful book festivals in the D.C. area this past week. Hearing favorite and new writers read their work aloud teaches us, the readers in the audience, about the writers’ voice, background, interests and quite simply how the pieces sound aloud. Poetry was originally an oral traditional and the relationship between the author’s voice and the audience’s reaction is an important one. If it isn’t possible for you to hear authors live, I recommend looking up their video or audio recordings.

I started my literary weekend at the Fall for the Book Festival’s grand finale with Stephen King on George Mason University’s campus.  When I was a young adult, I used to read Steven King constantly. I loved the thrill of his horror novels and still think about the short stories in Four Past Midnight. I try not to think about some of the others, especially after sunset. Or when I’m home alone. Or sometimes even during the day.

As a writing teacher, I’ve always wondered how I would react to a student who writes like Stephen King. After hearing him speak, I’m less concerned. It turns out Stephen King is a funny man. Yes, funny ha-ha (not just strange.) I never would have guessed it.  He told some great stories with strong punch lines. The obvious question – where does he come up with his crazy ideas – came up. He answered, “ I think of the worst possible thing that could happen.” Even if I don’t write horror, my own anxious self understands the instinct. Watch part of his reading from his new book here or his entire talk here

On the National Mall at the National Book Festival on Saturday and Sunday, I heard so many wonderful writers that it is hard to summarize what everyone said in one post. I expect that their voices will come back to me, through my notes, memory and readings, as I continue to write and consider literature. Here were the writers I had the privilege of hearing:

Claudia Emerson
Kimiko Han
Dave Eggers
Dolores Kendrick
Terrance Hayes
Stanley Plumly
Yusef Komunyakaa

I have wanted my husband, a political scientist, to hear Yusef Komunyakaa for years. I am always moved by the poet's attention to detail, integration of history and his personal experiences in Vietnam and as an active citizen of the world and his voice. Very few poets give the riveting live reading as Komunyakaa and he didn’t let us down.  (His voice!) He read from his published books and included some new poems, too.

In fact, most of the poets read some newer, unpublished poems. Reading work aloud is an important editing tool. The writers have a chance to hear how an audience reacts to a work. What a treat to be a part of that process.

I left with two books that I cannot wait to read: Kimiko Hahn’s Toxic Flora and Crossing State Lines: An American Renga edited by Bob Holman and Carol Muske-Dukes.

Thank you to Hans Noel for the photographs. 

Monday, September 26, 2011

Memoir Writing: Role of Universal Truth and Ego?

As I plan my Memoir Writing Workshop at Politics and Prose bookstore this November, I’ve been reading memoirs and thinking about their construction and relevance to readers. I continue to believe that the relevance of a memoir lies in the presence of a universal truth with which the reader can connect and a balancing of the ego.

Combining my interest in food and writing, I read Garlic and Sapphires: The secret life of a critic in disguise by Ruth Reichl. Even if I hadn’t heard the author speak a few times at the Key West Literary Seminar this January, I still would have loved it. The narrative is clear and the writing is mesmerizing. Reichl describes her experience working as the food critic for the New York Times. In order to keep some anonymity, she dresses up as characters that were both inventions and people she knew (including her mother!)

The book includes recipes and actual restaurant reviews mixed into the chronological narrative. As a home chef, I’m interested in trying her recipes. As a writer, I’m interested in seeing how she developed a review out of her actual experience. If a reader didn’t care about the recipes or the reviews, she could easily skip over them and still enjoy her own experiences.

When someone decides to write a memoir, the ego can be quite troublesome. It can be difficult to have enough ego to realize that a personal story has merit to an audience. At the same time, it can be necessary to tone down the ego enough to make the story accessible and interesting to an audience.

Many readers are familiar with Ruth Reichl’s work and would naturally be interested in how she came to her reviews. To keep the readers engaged in the book, however, she has to do more than offer a simple biography of an important person (that would be too much ego.) She has to allow us to join her on her journey of self-discovery which occurs as she works as a food critic. There are universal truths that those of us with less illustrious careers can still connect with, understand and learn from as we consider our own life choices.

What role do you think universal truth and ego play in writing a memoir?

Friday, September 23, 2011

2012 Poet's Market

I was excited to receive a copy of the 2012 Poet’s Market with my article, “Be Creative in your Career: Offer Private Writing Workshops.” If you are a creative writer, working in poetry or another genre, I think you’ll find the practical tips about how (and why) to set up a private writing workshop helpful.

It is wonderful to have my essay article in such great company. Some of my favorite articles from this edition include Nancy Susanna Breen’s “From a Judge’s Perspective,” Taylor Mali’s “10 Tips for the Perfect Reading” and Sage Cohen’s “Why Poets Need Platforms.” I look forward to discovering new presses and literary journals in the Markets section and learning more about related resources, like educational programs.

I have been regularly reading the annual Poet’s Market and Writer’s Market, published by Writer’s Digest Books, for years. The submission listings, helpful articles and more taught me how to better organize my individual and manuscript submissions.

What have you discovered in the Poet’s Market?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Interview Caitlin O'Sullivan from The Postcard Press

Thank you to Caitlin O’Sullivan, founder and managing editor of The Postcard Press for discussing her press with us. She is a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing candidate at Minnesota State University, Mankato, where she is writing a historical novel about bank robbers hiding out in a small town. Look for The Postcard Press at the Twin Cities Book Festival in Minneapolis on October 15.

For more on Postcard Poetry, you might be interested in recent posts. 

I've always loved postcards and think this is a great way to combine poetry and postcards. I read on your site a bit about how you got started with this idea. How has the original idea shifted or grown as you've published poems and postcards?

Well, originally, I envisioned the postcard designs I’d be doing as very simple, very minimally designed, because I’m a pretty terrible artist. But I’ve been lucky to work with several artists who’ve leant a hand to creating some beautiful postcard designs: Jorge Evans, who did “How to Make a Bullet,” Emily J. Eisenhauer, who did “Angelique,” and David Johnson, who did Michael Martone’s postcards and “Paper Chain.” So instead of having, say, a green postcard for July and a blue postcard for August, I’ve been able to send out postcards that I consider little works of art. I think it’s a unique opportunity for writers, to have a work of art designed around your words.

Postcard poems seem closely related to the broadside. Can you discuss how these two art forms might be both similar and different?

They’re very similar. Originally, broadsides were sheets of paper which varied in size, and which were printed with news accounts, poems, and fables. Peddlers would sell them on the street for a few pennies. Now, broadsides are often beautifully typeset and designed poetry that’s intended to be displayed. Postcard poems are a kind of hybrid of the old and new broadsides: they’re intended to be displayed, but they’re also inexpensive and intended for a popular audience. They’re broadsides for your refrigerator or your cubicle, rather than the wall of your study.

As a writer, has your work been influenced by this project?

I think the greatest impact has been on my understanding of literary magazines and the submissions process. There are many, many good writers out there, and very small details—two or three weak lines, or a poorly-chosen title—can be the kinds of things that editors seize on when they have to make the difficult choice between two pieces they like. So I’m definitely paying more attention to the details in my work.

Your postcards vary greatly in tone and style. What are you looking for when you consider your submissions? Who does your printing and who designs the art?

I’m looking for a connection, the sense that I’m reading about or through the eyes of a human being. (Sometimes that connection comes through strongest in contributor bios—I’ve had one or two bios that I’d like to publish as flash nonfiction.) I like concrete details and strong images—in part because that’s a preference of mine, but also because it’s easier to design postcards which already have some visual cues in the text.

Right now, I’m working with David Johnson, a friend of mine, to do the designs; he’s a sculptor and a designer, but his real artistic love is painting. My printers are a local father-and-son team, Gayle and Tyler, who take care of me when I bring in files and say “I don’t know if you can work with this but . . .”. They can always make it work.

Be sure to visit The Postcard Press website for more!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Interview with Novelist Chris Huntington

Pop quiz: What has Mike Tyson, poetry and China in common?

Answer: Novelist Chris Huntington’s award winning novel, Mike Tyson Slept Here.

For some more answers, read my recent interview with the author published on The Literary Review’s blog.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Writing Prompt: Indoor Description

Inn on Ferry Street, Detroit, Michigan

Describe a room that is not yours. You can choose a clothing store, take out restaurant, movie theater, catering hall, public bathroom, bagel store, bookstore, dentist’s office, auto body shop, etc.

Write non-stop for five to ten minutes and then go back and underline the key lines/ideas/images that emerge.

I'd love to read your piece or responses to the exercise below in the Comments section.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

August Postcard Poem Project Summary

I really enjoyed participating in Concrete Wolf’s Postcard Poetry Project this August. In fact, as you might remember, it helped to spur on my own Postcard Poetry Project.

While I received 17 postcards (instead of the 31 for each day in August), I thought the whole program was fantastic. It made my day to receive poems in the mail. Two of the postcards were international (England and Canada) and the rest were from the United States. Most were handwritten and some were typed and then glued onto a postcard. It was interesting to consider the images and their relationship to the written words.

I look forward to doing it again next year. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

September Brings Major Book Festivals in the Washington, D.C., Metro Area

It is a great time of year to attend readings and discuss literature. Will you be attending one of these major festivals this month? I hope to see you there!

September 18 – 23 at George Mason University and various locations in the area

September 23 – 25 in Baltimore

September 24 – 25 on the National Mall

Friday, September 9, 2011

Ten Years After 9/11

View of the new tower, One World Trade Center, 
as it is being built from Hudson River Park (July 2011)

It is hard to believe that the 9/11 terrorism attacks happened ten years ago.

I remember running a fire drill in New York University’s dormitory in Florence, Italy, around 3 PM on September 11, 2001. The students took over ten minutes to exit the building and I was frustrated. Yes, I was partly frustrated because there was a bit of a contest between the villas to see who could run the fastest fire drill and apparently I couldn't.

I think I might have said something to the students lazily walking down the stairs about how dangerous it would be if there had really been a fire. That people could have died. That is, if something had happened. I know, the villa was mostly made of stone and the structure burning was unlikely, but we had to follow American protocol with these "pretend fires," as one local called them.

After the drill, I went back into the office and received a phone call from a professor living on campus. He was the first to tell me what happened. He liked to joke and I thought he must have been telling a bad joke. When someone came running into the office with tears running down her face, I knew he wasn't.

We quickly got to work. In the midst of helping the students, I tried to check-in with family and friends back home. Of course, as we all remember, phones were down. I was able to get through my Aunt Dora, who was 93 at the time and almost always at home in a New Jersey suburb. She passed messages between me and my parents. I thought of all of my friends, those I still talked to regularly and those I had lost touch with, who lived or worked in New York City. Throughout the next few days, I managed to find everyone I imagined was missing.

Today, I might hear plane pass low and suddenly feel afraid. It doesn’t seem as though ten years have really passed. But they have. The world that existed that morning, or afternoon for those of us in Italy, before the first plane struck and the world today is quite different.

Writers have been doing their job of writing about that day and the world as we know it now. Facts have been cataloged and analyzed. Human truths have come to the surface. We’ve all been changed and writers can be thanked for helping us to understand what happened, from the dangers, like increased discrimination and hatred, and the joy, like the re-connections and community.

Here are some places to find poems and art that help to illuminate what happened and our changed world:

Poems After the Attack, An Poetry anthology

What else would you recommend?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Third Thursday Reading Series in Takoma Park, Maryland: Chloe Yelena Miller Reading on September 15, 2011

I look forward to reading poetry with three other writers as a part of the Third Thursday Reading Series. The reading will be held in the Takoma Park Community Center (7500 Maple Avenue) on September 15th at 7:30 PM.

I hope to see you there! I will be reading mostly new poems. I will have postcard poems available for sale, too. 

You are welcome to RSVP on the Facebook invite.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Massimiliano Chiamenti

This picture is from Big Bridge, where you can read 
some of Max's poetry in both English and Italian 

I am deeply saddened to learn this morning that my friend Massimiliano Chiamenti passed in Bologna, Italy. Max, as he first introduced himself to me, was a poet, musician, professor, Dante scholar, translator and more.

I met Max in Florence, Italy, in 2000 when I started working at New York University’s campus there. I have fond memories of us working together to organize poetry readings for the students downtown and on campus. He shared his energy and enthusiasm for words at the mike and with the students.

I remember sitting in his apartment, between shelves crowded with so many poetry books, discussing writing and life. One lovely evening he prepared pasta for dinner. We sat for hours at a round metal table in his garden on the Via Bolognese; the sun went down and the candles grew brighter in the night.

When I was a graduate student at Sarah Lawrence College, I worked closely with Max to translate his series Le Teknostorie. You can read one short translation published by Private. The Italian version of the complete work can be found here. We finished many sections, but never the entire piece. I fear that Max thought I was not only a better poet and translator than I was at the time, but a writer who could infuse a fast, almost rap or hip hop, beat into lines of prose poetry. He believed in my abilities. He taught me many things about writing and Italian.

Death, chosen or not, is never simple. Ti volgio bene, Max.

To learn more about Max, visit his Wikipedia page or watch him perform music and poems on many Youtube videos.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Labor Day Sale!

Jersey City, New Jersey, seen from New York City

Happy Labor Day! To celebrate, I am offering a Fourth Free Hour to writers who book three hours of private writing coach services by midnight, Monday, September 5th.

During your four hours of private writing coaching, I will read your writing and discuss it with you. You are welcome to write something in response to a prompt or submit previous writing.

Beginning to experienced writers can benefit from my services as a writing coach. We will meet in-person in the Washington, D.C., area, on the phone or Skype video conference.

Email me (chloemiller(at)gmail(dot)com) before midnight, September 5th, and you’ll be eligible for a Fourth Free Hour!

The cost for three hours is $300.00. You are welcome to purchase the hours for yourself or a friend. You can also split the hours between yourself and a friend.

If you book by midnight EST, September 5th, and receive a free fourth hour, you are not eligible for the usual 10% discount on booking three hours at once. This sale ends at midnight EST, September 5th. Limit two discounts per customer.