Jewish Fiction Writers’ Conference

I am proud to tell you that I will be one of the presenters taking part in the Jewish Fiction Writers’ Conference scheduled for Sunday, March 15, 2009, in New York City. Here’s a brief event description:

If you write adult fiction for the Jewish market, this conference is for you. Meet and network with top publishing professionals, including publicist Shira Dicker (Shira Dicker Media International), writer Erika Dreifus (The Practicing Writer), literary agent David Forrer (Inkwell Management), publicity director/acquiring editor Cary Goldstein (Warner Twelve), author Jeffrey Hantover, editor Lara Heimert (Basic Books), editorial director Altie Karper (Schocken Books/Random House), author Binnie Kirshenbaum (Columbia University Graduate School of the Arts), author Liel Leibovitz, publisher Elisabeth Scharlatt (Algonquin Books) and author Darin Strauss. Whether you are a new author or have already been published, meet experts who can help you get your work into print.

My presentation will focus on “Publishing Your Jewish Short Stories,” and it will include plenty of advice and resources based on my own experiences publishing Jewish-themed short fiction in magazines and journals.

Registration is now open. Click here for details! I hope to see some of you on March 15!

Friday Find: The Writers Loft

As a writer who spent half her childhood (ages 9-18) in New Jersey, I am happy to spotlight this piece of literary NJ: The Writers Loft, located in Montclair.

I found out about The Writers Loft, “where creative people come to work,” from Lisa Romeo, who will be leading an essay-writing seminar there on December 10. (Lisa and I recently strengthened our bond as New Jersey writers when I attended a poetry reading she participated in at my hometown library. Such fun!)

If I were still living in ye olde suburban town, I’d definitely look into The Writers Loft. Perhaps those of you in the Garden State will wish to do the same.

My Favorite “Emerging Writer”

If you’re a longtime follower of this blog, you know that I spend a lot of time with my sister’s two kids, now ages 5 and 2. (And if you’re new, you may as well get used to it.) And you also know, as this photograph from February 2004 (reprinted with maternal permission) suggests, that I’ve tried to take an active role in shaping their reading and writing lives from the start.

In that spirit, today I will share the Thanksgiving literary debut of my niece, R., the proud author (and printer/publisher, thanks to independent folding and stapling efforts) of what’s sure to be a bestseller: The Mouse Eat Cheese. (R. is still working on some subject/verb agreement and verb tense issues–play a game with her and you’ll hear her shout, ‘I winned!’; ask her to show you what she’s done lately with paper and markers, and she’ll display what “I drawed.”)

Although I’m still getting used to what seems a newfangled emphasis on allowing young children to spell words however the words may sound to them, rather than according to the correct spellings (a subject of commiseration with one of my college roommates in our most recent telephone call–apparently kids on the West Coast are encouraged to follow this system, too), I am absolutely heartened by R.’s mastery of plot–something her Aunt Erika still needs a lot of help with. Although you can’t see this for yourself, take my word for it: The eating of cheese represented on this sample page is followed by a series of other concrete actions, culminating in going to sleep.

I am also deeply impressed by R.’s efforts to illustrate her own work. (So what if the mouse “lack” ears?)

Beyond her self-started literary activities, R. was kept busy over Thanksgiving checking off the responsibilities Grandma had outlined for her on a to-do list. These included writing out placecards for the holiday table. Check out my favorite.
(Interestingly, R. seems to be grappling with the same “k” difficulties that plagued me when I was her age: Don’t ask about the traumatizing experience of seeking my first library card and encountering a librarian who refused to let my dad print the “k” for me–I was a perfectionist pretty early.)

So, you heard it here first, folks: The author of The Mouse Eat Cheese is destined for great things! And in case you’re wondering, R. has confirmed that she is not working on a “mouse” series. Her next book, she shared in an exclusive interview, will feature a cat protagonist. (Then again, maybe she’s planning The Cat Eat Mouse. Stay tuned!)

The Wednesday Web Browser: Katy Lederer, Literary Agents, and the Chicago Scene

The New Yorker profiles Katy Lederer, an Iowa MFA grad who has just published The Heaven-Sent Leaf, “a collection of poetry animated by the idea of the economic bubble.”
Chuck Sambuchino shares a way to think about “tiers” of literary agents.
If you’re in the Chicago area, you may want to check out Chicago Scene, the Poetry Center’s new page for listing literary events and readings taking place in and around the Windy City.

End-of-Year Reading Recommendations from and for Practicing Writers


Compiled by Erika Dreifus

Throughout 2008 my writing life intersected with the work of other practicing writers in many ways. I profiled writers, reviewed their books, and/or simply mentioned their efforts in this newsletter or on my blog. So I thought I’d return to some of these writers and invite them to participate in an end-of-year roundup article in which they might cite ONE book they’d read this year that they’d recommend to other writers and explain why they thought writers, especially, might enjoy it.

I told the participants that they could spotlight any type of book – fiction, nonfiction, poetry, writing reference, etc. Anything. My only condition was this: They could not recommend their own books. I’m gratified and inspired by the responses my invitations yielded, and I thank these authors once again for sharing their time and thoughts with us.

“The book I am truly excited about reading is Ryszard Kapuscinski’s Travels with Herodotus (Knopf 2007). It’s a wonderful translation from the Polish [by Klara Glowczewska] that keeps the directness and luminous quality of the writing. The author travels from his native place to India, to China, to Sudan. The themes of crossing borders, of memory and history are all evoked with great wisdom and clarity in this book. He writes of hearing Louis Armstrong play in Khartoum, an amazing concert I was fortunate enough to go to when I was a child. I have been carrying this book with me from New York, to Provence, and will take it to India as I continue my travels.”
Meena Alexander


Leaving Mother Lake: A Girlhood at the End of the World, by Yang Erche Namu, Christine Mathieu. This is a memoir of growing up in a small Tibetan village near China’s border, in Moso country, called “the Country of the Daughters.” Here a sort of matriarchy reigns – still, today – called walking marriage. The women take as many lovers as they want and the men continue to reside in their mothers’ homes. Yang writes of her girlhood there in the late-1960s, early-’70s where she was known as “the girl who was given back three times.” The story is magnificent – you’ll wish for more of it.”
Camille Cusumano


“I reread Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig (HarperCollins) this summer. What Pirsig does so well is to use a motorcycle road trip of a father and his son as a narrative ‘engine’ to explore dense philosophical ideas about the nature of Quality. We wouldn’t read the philosophy without the road trip, and vice versa. The book is a great reminder of how narrative can be used to present abstract ideas.”
Sandeep Jauhar


“I’ve always been interested in the work of Patricia Smith. And now, she has given us Blood Dazzler: poems so true, it hurts to read them, so gorgeous you can’t put them down. The subject: New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. If you think you’ve heard all you need to hear, or even all you care to hear on this subject, give Patricia Smith a chance, so she can show you all you failed to see and failed to feel. In addition to the triumph of this work in its own right, Blood Dazzler [was] nominated for a National Book Award.
Tayari Jones


“This year I had the marvelous experience of reading Chasing the Flame: Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Fight to Save the World by Pulitzer Prize winner Samantha Power. The life story of a Brazilian diplomat and his lifelong service of the United Nations, Chasing the Flame is much more than an extremely rich and complex portrait of a truly remarkable man; it is also a fascinating look at the intricacies of recent international relations, particularly as they influence the Third World. As a writer, I was especially struck by Power’s sense of ethical balance and her ability to represent all sides of a subject whom she clearly admires but wisely chooses not to deify.”
John T. Matteson


Here’s my recommendation: My Misspent Youth, essays by Meghan Daum (Open City Books). A must-read for any young writer who dreams of packing up their VW Beetle and moving to New York City to pursue their literary dreams. Daum’s world is both hilarious and perilous; she takes her reader from band camp, to the big New York publishing houses, to Flight Attendant Training School. By the end, she’s in debt up to her eyeballs, but has had such fun getting there that it almost seems worth it.
David McGlynn


I’m going to nominate a new collection of stories written by a friend of mine, David McGlynn, called The End of the Straight and Narrow (SMU Press, 2008), that I really liked. The stories, many of which engage questions of religious (Christian) faith, are filled with amazingly complex, human characters that touched me in a way I rarely feel with contemporary fiction. They are also beautifully written – a wonderful example of what can be done with the short story form.
Margot Singer

© 2008 Erika Dreifus. This article originally appeared in The Practicing Writer, a free monthly newsletter, and it may not be reprinted without permission.