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Supporting the Craft and Business of Excellent Writing
Volume 14, Number 5: June 2017
Editor: Erika Dreifus
Copyright (c) 2017 Erika Dreifus


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1. Editor’s Note: What’s New
2. Article/Lessons Learned
3. Featured Resource
4. Upcoming/Ongoing Contests, Competitions, and Other Opportunities (NO ENTRY FEES; PAYING OPPORTUNITIES ONLY)
6. Blog Notes
7. Newsletter Matters

Dear Practicing Writers:

Oh, my. Much has happened since I last sent you a newsletter issue. The biggest news is that my day-job status is changing: June 8 will be my last day as Media Editor for Fig Tree Books LLC. I have had a wonderful three years in that gig, and I’m looking forward to the next stage.

Some of that next stage is still in the finalizing stages; for now, I can tell you that I am also going to be accepting freelance assignments again: writing, coaching (on social-media use, submitting your work, or a number of other writing-practice topics), and teaching. So if there’s a project you have in mind, let’s chat! You can reach me via my website: http://www.erikadreifus.com/contact/.

But enough about me! Let’s move on to the June issue. I hope that you enjoy it!

Wishing you all the best with your writing practices,

From “Driveway Moment” to Debut Novel: Q&A with Margot Singer

By Erika Dreifus

I don’t recall exactly when I first became aware of Margot Singer, but her first book, a collection of short stories titled THE PALE OF SETTLEMENT, overwhelmed me in all the best ways; it remains one of my all-time favorite collections, and I consider myself fortunate to have developed a friendship with its author. This spring brought the publication of Margot’s first novel, UNDERGROUND FUGUE, which is the focus of the Q&A that follows here. (We completed this interview, by the way, prior to last week’s horrific event in Manchester.)

MARGOT SINGER won the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, the Reform Judaism Prize for Jewish Fiction, the Glasgow Prize for Emerging Writers, and an Honorable Mention for the PEN/Hemingway Award for her story collection THE PALE OF SETTLEMENT. Her work has been featured on NPR and in KENYON REVIEW, GETTYSBURG REVIEW, AGNI, and CONJUNCTIONS, among other publications. She is a professor of English at Denison University in Granville, Ohio.

Please welcome Margot Singer!

ERIKA DREIFUS (ED): I know that many writers despise the “where-do-you-get-your-ideas?” question. But it’s a question I like to ask, and I understand that this novel has its own origin story. Please tell us how UNDERGROUND FUGUE began.

MARGOT SINGER (MS): This project began with one of those NPR “driveway moments” back in April 2005. The piece that kept me sitting in my car was about a strange fellow who’d been found on a beach in the south of England, dripping wet, dressed in a formal suit and white shirt. He carried no identification; all the labels had been cut out of his clothes. He could or would not speak, but amazed the hospital staff with his abilities at the piano. When a Missing Persons bulletin was put out, thousands of people called in, but no one could identify him. The tabloids dubbed him the “Piano Man”; the story got picked up by the press around the world. Speculation ran wild. Some claimed he had immigrated illegally; others compared him to David Helfgott, the genius pianist portrayed in the 1996 Australian film SHINE.

I was intrigued by the image of the “Piano Man.” It began connecting in my mind to other things that were going on during that summer of 2005: the 7/7 terrorist bombings in London, the fears and paranoia in the wake of 9/11, the resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe. It got me thinking about what it means to flee, to be a refugee, to try to reinvent yourself, and how, no matter how hard you try, the past pulls you back at the same time.

ED: As you (and lots of other people!) know, I am a *big* fan of your first book, the story collection THE PALE OF SETTLEMENT. I’m wondering now how you “know” when an idea is meant for a story rather than a novel (or vice-versa)?

MS: That’s a good question. I had a vague sense that I was writing a novel very early on, but I didn’t really know what I was doing. Mostly I just wanted it to be a novel-sized idea. But there were many times when I was certain that it wasn’t going to work at all. I discarded hundreds of pages of early drafts over several years. At one point I wished it would just turn out to be a short story or a novella so I could be done with it and move on!

To be honest, nothing about the writing process was easy. I struggled to figure out how to hold such a big story in my head. I had to learn how to write longer, less-compressed scenes. I did a ton of research. The turning point, for me, was when I settled on the structure of chapters narrated from four different characters’ points of view. It parallels the structure of a musical fugue – different voices arranged in counterpoint. That’s when I knew it had to be a novel.

ED: UNDERGROUND FUGUE explores the inner lives – and sorrows – of characters from different backgrounds as well as an array of major world-historical events, including the rise of Nazism and the Holocaust, the 9/11 attacks in the United States, and the London bombings of July 2005. This mix could be overwhelming to the reader, but it isn’t. That’s no small feat. Can you please share with us some literary models that take on similar challenges that may have helped or inspired you, as well as any other craft tips you might have for other practicing writers attempting comparable projects?

MS: I was inspired by many books, including Colum McCann’s novel LET THE GREAT WORLD SPIN, Pat Barker’s THE GHOST ROAD, and Michael Ondaatje’s ANIL’S GHOST. Not American-born writers, for whatever reason. I usually look for formal inspiration rather than thematic models, although my tastes often run to work that engages the political in some way.

You say that the mix of elements could feel overwhelming, but at one level the story is pretty simple: it’s about what happens to four people, neighbors, over the course of the summer of 2005. As an American, at least, I don’t think you can think about terrorism without thinking about 9/11. And you can’t think about refugees and racism without thinking about the Holocaust. All of the elements are intertwined in our historical consciousness, in our political discourse, in our imaginations.

From a technical perspective, what helped me most, oddly enough, was focusing not on thematic elements but on image patterns. Early on, I spent a lot of time simply looking for connections, for resonance. I found I kept coming back to certain images: flight, heights, stars, water, grayness, music, underground. I came to see the image-patterns operating rather like the repeated melodic fragments – the subject, answer, and countersubject – in a fugue. I even mapped the image-patterns out on a chart that looked a bit like a musical staff.

ED: What’s the biggest surprise you’ve encountered in this book’s path to publication?

MS: The biggest surprise, I think, was realizing that it’s possible to write a novel that might never get published. I mean, of course I know plenty of writers with novels “in the drawer” [ED’s note: including yours truly!] – probably every serious writer I know has a novel that they never published – but I’d never really had to face what that might feel like if it were me. I never before had to face what it would feel like to work for years and years on a project and then potentially have nothing to show for it.

People often say novels are easier to publish than short story collections, but that isn’t necessarily the case. Literary novels, and certainly debut literary novels, aren’t great commercial bets. Prizes and small/university presses support the publication of short-story, essay, and poetry collections, but few such options exist for novels these days. The commercial element drives publishing more than ever, which is a shame. As we all know, there are so many books in the literary canon that would never have been published if commercial considerations came first.

In the end, I got very lucky. Melville House is an awesome press, and they’ve done a fantastic job of supporting UNDERGROUND FUGUE all along the way. My agent, Irene Skolnick, has been an incredible support as well. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to work with on this book.

ED: At this point, the book has been out in the world for several weeks. What has been most surprising and/or gratifying to you about its reception thus far?

MS: It’s always a little scary to launch a new book into the world. It goes from being your private struggle to having a life you can’t control. For me, the most gratifying part, by far, is to hear from readers who really “get it.” I am so deeply touched by the friends and strangers who have taken the time to write me a thoughtful note. Often I am amazed by their insights. To all of you, a heartfelt thanks.


My thanks again to Margot Singer, and to Melville House for the complimentary advance galley they provided. To learn more about or purchase UNDERGROUND FUGUE, please visit https://www.mhpbooks.com/books/underground-fugue/.

Another of Margot Singer’s credits: She co-edited (with Nicole Walker) BENDING GENRE: ESSAYS ON CREATIVE NONFICTION. I confess that I haven’t yet read this volume myself, but it seems that a website around the book remains accessible, and it’s filled with some mini-essays by some estimable contributors.


Deadline: June 30, 2017

“Poems can be rhyming or non-rhyming, although we find that non-rhyming poetry reads better. We suggest that you write about real emotions and feelings and that you have some special person or occasion in mind as you write.” Prizes: $350/$200/$100 plus publication on the website.
Deadline: July 1, 2017

“The theme for Issue 20’s contest is freedom. The press, speech, bearing arms, George Michael (R.I.P, pouring out a shot of ouzo now), etc. Whatever it means to you, even it’s just another word for nothing left to lose. The submission guidelines are the same as those for the general submission period, with the additional request that you mention it’s a contest submission in the email. Contest entries count towards your total of five poems and one story per submission period, so make them count. Prizes are $20 to the best poem and $20 to the best story. If one category doesn’t have a winner, the sole winner takes home the whole $40.”
Deadline: August 15, 2017 (received, by midnight)

“The fifteenth annual Dogfish Head Poetry Prize for the winning book-length manuscript by a poet residing in the Mid-Atlantic states (DE, MD, VA, PA, NJ, NY, WVA, NC and District of Columbia) will consist of $500, two cases of Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Beer*, manuscript publication by Broadkill River Press, and 10 copies of the book (in lieu of royalties).” NB: “The award will be presented to the winner on Saturday evening, December 9, 2017 at the Dogfish Inn in Lewes, Delaware. The winner must agree to attend this event and to read from their winning book at a reception honoring the winner….The winner agrees to travel to Delaware at the winner’s expense for awarding of the prize. Dogfish Head will provide the winner two nights lodging at the Dogfish Inn in the beach resort town of Lewes, Delaware.”
Deadline: July 18, 2017

“The Frieze Writer’s Prize, our annual international award to discover and promote new art critics, is open for entries. This year the prize will be judged by frieze associate editor Pablo Larios, artist and writer Ed Atkins, and novelist and co-editor of Semiotext(e) Chris Kraus. The winner will be commissioned to write a review for frieze magazine and will be awarded GBP2,000. Aspiring art critics are invited to submit one unpublished review of a recent contemporary art exhibition, which should be 700 words in length.”
Deadline: October 13, 2017

“For 2017, the Futurescapes Contest theme is ‘Blue Sky Cities.’ We’re seeking stories set in a near-future city where significant strides have been made toward improving air quality, climate adaptation, or even net positive impacts on climate and air quality. We want to see your vivid ideas and concepts, but don’t forget the basics of story: strong voice, compelling characters driven by real desires, facing serious obstacles that sum to an engaging plot and story. You need not paint us a utopia – we don’t really believe in those. We believe that at any given time, depending on individual perspective, every city has dystopian and utopian aspects. The key is to show us a solution, but don’t strip it of realistic political, scientific, or logistical obstacles, and don’t neglect the possibility and ramifications of unintended consequences from even the best solution.” Prizes: “$2,000 prize for first place, $1,000 prize for second place, and $500 prize to each of the five runners-up.” NB: “Professional authors are not eligible to enter the contest.” (See guidelines for definition of “professional author.”)
Deadline: June 30, 2017 (received)
NO ENTRY FEES UPDATE: “Due to an increased volume of applications and our thorough review process, we are implementing a $10 application fee to cover review costs.” My apologies for my error in including this.

Three awards are presented annually. “The Marianne Russo Award, the Scotti Merrill Memorial Award, and the Cecelia Joyce Johnson Award recognize and support writers who possess exceptional talent and demonstrate potential for lasting literary careers. Each award is tailored to a particular literary form. The Merrill Award recognizes a poet, while fiction writers may apply for either the Johnson Award (for a short story) or the Russo Award (for a novel-in-progress). Winners receive full tuition support for our January Seminar and Workshop Program, round-trip airfare, lodging, a $500 honorarium, and the opportunity to appear on stage during the Seminar. Runners-up for each award will also be offered financial assistance packages.” NB: “Poets and writers of any age who live in the United States and have not yet published a book with a major publisher are eligible to apply. If you have published a book with a small press that has a print run of 500 or so copies, you are still eligible. We reserve the right to make final decisions regarding eligibility. We will accept only one Emerging Writer Award application per person.”
Deadline: July 31, 2017 (noon)

“Supported in 2017 and 2018 by the Jerome Foundation, the Lanesboro Artist Residency Program awards two to three residencies per year and allows artists to benefit from studio space, ample time to create, and an entire rural community and its myriad assets as a catalytic vehicle for engagement and artistic experimentation. Artist Residents focus on community engagement, and are encouraged to explore ways in which their work can be applied to the community, and how Lanesboro’s rural community can inform their work.” Open to applicants from Minnesota *and* the five boroughs of New York City. NB: “Artists are paid $1,000/week and are provided studio and lodging space.”
Deadline: July 1, 2017

“The Richard J. Margolis Award of Blue Mountain Center combines a one-month residency at Blue Mountain Center with a $5,000 prize. It is awarded annually to a promising new journalist or essayist whose work combines warmth, humor, wisdom and concern with social justice. The award was established in honor of Richard J. Margolis, a journalist, essayist and poet who gave eloquent voice to the hardships of the rural poor, migrant farm workers, the elderly, Native Americans and others whose voices are seldom heard. He was also the author of a number of books for children.”
Deadline: June 30, 2016

“The Review of English Studies is now inviting entries for its 2017 Essay Prize. The RES Essay Prize aims to encourage scholarship amongst postgraduate research students in Britain and abroad. The essay can be on any topic of English literature or the English language from the earliest period to the present.” Prize confers GBP250, publication, and more. NB: “The competition is open to anyone studying for a higher degree, or who completed one no earlier than January 2015. The winner’s student status verification will be requested from their academic supervisor or head of department. The entry must not be under consideration for publication elsewhere.”
Deadline: July 1, 2017

“The Tufts poetry awards – based at Claremont Graduate University and given for poetry volumes published in the preceding year – are not only two of the most prestigious prizes a contemporary poet can receive, they also come with hefty purses: $100,000 for the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award and $10,000 for the Kate Tufts Discovery Award. This makes the Kingsley Tufts award the world’s largest monetary prize for a single collection of poetry. And for most poets who have just published their first collection of verse, $10,000 should keep the pen scribbling.” For the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, the submitted work “must be a book published between July 1, 2016 and June 30, 2017.” For the Kate Tufts Discovery Award, the submission “must be a first book published between July 1, 2016 and June 30, 2017.” In both cases, manuscripts, CDs, and chapbooks are not eligible.
BLACK LAWRENCE PRESS will have an open reading period between June 1 and June 30. “Black Lawrence Press seeks innovative, electrifying, and thoroughly intoxicating manuscripts that ensnare themselves in our hearts and minds and won’t let go.” Will consider submissions “in the following categories: novel, novella, short story collection (full-length and chapbook), poetry (full-length and chapbook), biography & cultural studies, translation (from the German), and creative nonfiction.” For more info, check http://www.blacklawrence.com/submissions-and-contests/open-reading-period. UPDATE: BLP appears to have changed their guidelines; please see https://blacklawrencepress.submittable.com/submit/86566/june-open-reading-period-no-fee-entry-all-genres for updated no-fee info.
Welcoming fiction and poetry through June 15: LIMINAL STORIES, “an online literary magazine publishing the beautiful, heartbreaking, and strange.” For fiction, “we have a soft spot for weird fiction, magical realism, soft science fiction, and those uncategorizable stories that straddle the line between genres.” For poetry, “fantastical elements are encouraged, but not required.” Pays: $.06/word for fiction and $50 per poem. Full guidelines are available at http://liminalstoriesmag.com/submissions/.
Also receiving work until June 15: FREEZE FRAME FICTION. What are they looking for? “Flash fiction, pure and simple. All genres, no content restrictions. We want your science fiction, fantasy, horror, mystery, drama, literary works, satire, or anything else you can come up with or mix together. The only rule? 1000 words or less. The more original, the better.” Pays: “$10 per accepted piece.” Visit https://freezeframefiction.com/write/submission-guidelines-faq/ for the full guidelines.
“The submissions period for Issue No. Two of BLACK RABBIT is now open. We will be accepting the following: One short story of 1,000-1,500 words (that word limit being pretty flexible) with a literary tone and weird tendencies. For reference, to see what kind of things we like, check out Issue No. One. If in doubt send it to us. One poem of a maximum of three pages. Please submit no more than three poems at a time. The same general style and substance as the above fiction piece. One collage or assemblage in any medium. We like thematically dark stuff, but are excited to see anything you think will fit in our publication.” Pays: “We are happy to be able to pay $25 for each of the above.” Deadline: June 21, 2017. Full guidelines: https://blackrabbitquarterly.com/submit/.
Anthology call: “We’re looking for essays and poems for IN CELEBRATION OF SISTERS, an anthology of reflections celebrating the wonderful world of sisterhood. Do you have any tales to tell of special sisters? Humorous stories of your female siblings? We’re looking for a range of emotions – from serious, loving, tributes to humorous tales that have us laughing in agreement with you. Sentimental or comical, it’s your call, although overall theme of the book is positive and uplifting.” Pays: $50 for essays/$25 for poems, plus two printed copies and discounts on additional purchases. No reprints. Deadline: June 30, 2017. Please visit http://www.trishafaye.com/call_for_submissions for more information. (You’ll also find there a call for an anthology project titled MOTHERS OF ANGELS, with a later deadline, on the topic of living through the grief of losing a child.)
From ARC POETRY MAGAZINE: “150 years post-Confederation, we cannot forget Canada’s place in the global and local reality of colonization. For our 2017 Annual themed issue, ARC POETRY MAGAZINE wants to talk about Reconciliation, Decolonization, and Nation(s) – from a poet’s perspective. ARC especially encourages submissions from Indigenous poets, but this call – and conversation – is open to all Canadians, along with anyone, from any country, who feels they have something to say. Guest Editor for this issue is Armand Garnet Ruffo.” Pays: “You will be paid at the rate of $50 per page upon publication and will also receive one free copy of the issue in which your work appears.” See http://arcpoetry.ca/submit/ for details and note that you should query “for features, writing in translation or reviews.”
THE THREEPENNY REVIEW closes annually for submissions July through December, so if you want to send something in, do so soon. No simultaneous submissions. Guidelines and pay rates listed at https://www.threepennyreview.com/submissions.html.
From Canada-based ROOM, which publishes “original work by women, including trans persons, gender-variant and two-spirit women, and women of non-binary sexual orientations”: “All families have secrets. Rooted in guilt and shame, and passed on through the generations, these secrets can have unexpected reverberations in the present. We’re seeking your best poetry, fiction, CNF, and visual art that explores and exposes the dark and tangled secrets that haunt and shape family narratives.” Deadline for submissions for the “Family Secrets” issue is July 31, 2017. Pays: “$50 CAD for one page, $60 for two pages, $90 for three pages, $120 for four pages, $150 for five or more pages.” Visit http://roommagazine.com/submit for more info.
TRIBE “will be a print anthology exploring the lives and experiences of older, single women and will include poetry, fiction, memoir, nonfiction, personal narrative, prose poems… about all and any topics that affect women. It will be published by LPwordsolutions in Nanaimo, BC.” Payment: “Contributors will be paid a small honorarium and contributors’ copies, with 50%+ of any net profits from the book going to a women’s charity… determined with input from anthology contributors.” (According to the call posted on the website, the honorarium will be $25, presumably in Canadian dollars.) The project welcomes contributors who are women 55 years of age and older from anywhere in the world who are single, meaning “single, (by choice or circumstance), widowed or divorced” and not currently living, or planning to live, “in a permanent domestic relationship with a partner of either gender.” Deadline: September 30, 2017. Visit http://loispetersonwriter.ca/2017/03/08/tribe-new-anthology-in-the-works/ for more info. (My thanks to http://BeyondYourBlog.com for the lead on this one.)
Reminder: You might want to make a habit of checking the CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL site to find out which titles are in development/seeking submissions and when their deadlines may be. Pays: “If we publish your story, you will be paid $200 one month after publication of the book and you will receive ten free copies of the book your story or poem appears in.” Here’s the link you’ll want to bookmark: http://www.chickensoup.com/story-submissions/possible-book-topics.
The newsletter is published just once each month, but there’s *always* something new at our Practicing Writing blog: fresh market news, current contest and job listings, links to writing-related articles, newly-discovered craft and business resources, and so much more. Regular blog features include:

–Monday Markets for Writers
–Midweek Notes from a Practicing Writer (formerly “Wednesday’s Work-in-Progress”)
–Friday Finds for Writers
–Sunday Sentence

Please visit, and comment! http://www.erikadreifus.com/blogs/practicing-writing/

And for those of you practicing writers who are interested in matters of specifically Jewish cultural interest, please also visit My Machberet (http://www.erikadreifus.com/blogs/my-machberet). For the curious, “machberet” is the Hebrew word for “notebook”.
Information contained in THE PRACTICING WRITER is collected from many sources, with the purpose of providing general references. It is researched to the best of our ability but readers should verify information when necessary and appropriate. THE PRACTICING WRITER and its editor/publisher disclaim any liability for the use of information contained within. Thank you for subscribing.
For updates and additional opportunity listings between newsletters, please check in with our “Practicing Writing” blog, http://www.erikadreifus.com/blogs/practicing-writing.
ABOUT THE EDITOR: Based in New York City, Erika Dreifus is the author of QUIET AMERICANS: STORIES, which is an American Library Association Sophie Brody Medal Honor Title for outstanding achievement in Jewish literature. A member of the advisory board for J JOURNAL: NEW WRITING ON JUSTICE, she has taught for Harvard University, the Cambridge (Mass.) Center for Adult Education, and the low-residency MFA programs in creative writing at Lesley University, the Northwest Institute for Literary Arts, and Oklahoma City University. From 2014-2017, Erika served as Media Editor for Fig Tree Books LLC. . Please visit http://www.erikadreifus.com to learn more about Erika’s work, and go directly to http://www.erikadreifus.com/quiet-americans/book-clubs/ to arrange for her to visit your book club!
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