Guest Post: Chloé Yelena Miller on Preparing for a Writing Retreat

Please extend a warm welcome to our guest blogger, Chloé Yelena Miller, whom you may remember from a previous post. Today, Chloé shares some thoughts as she approaches a writing retreat. She’ll be back with another post once she has returned home. Chloé has poems published or forthcoming in Alimentum Journal, Lumina,, South Mountain Poets Chapbook, Sink Review and The Cortland Review. Her manuscript, Permission to Stay, was a finalist for the Philip Levine Prize in Poetry. She teaches writing online for Fairleigh Dickinson University and edits Portal Del Sol. She received an M.F.A. from Sarah Lawrence College and a B.A. from Smith College.

A Women’s Writing Retreat: One Woman’s Treat and Necessity
Chloé Yelena Miller

I have never seen a desert, and I am obsessed with Georgia O’Keeffe. The Writers’ Retreat, hosted by A Room of her Own, adds writing to the mix of a desert landscape and O’Keeffe’s home. What could be better?

I have been in love with O’Keeffe’s work since I first saw an exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York as a child. The landscape that helped to form her art was so different from my own setting: urban New Jersey. I remember sitting cross-legged on the carpet in my parents’ living room looking through her oversized book One Hundred Flowers. This upcoming retreat feels like a homecoming as visual art brings me to a writing space.

A black and white portrait of Georgia O’Keeffe has been pinned over my desk since high school. It has traveled with me from New Jersey to Massachusetts to Italy to New York and finally to Michigan. This year’s retreat’s theme is “My Country is the Whole World” (Virginia Woolf.) Perfect.

We all need more time and space to write. While I am working part time and have been dedicating much of my time to my writing this last year, being surrounded by other writers and attending classes (far from laundry, bills to pay, and other time-
consuming tasks) can only spur my writing, editing of past work, and contemplation of ideas. I truly can’t wait. (On the other hand, there is a pile of procrastination that must get done before I can leave.)

I enjoy the company of forward-thinking, creative women. There are always potential risks to gathering folks around one aspect of themselves, but since we will have two – writing and our gender – in common, we shouldn’t have any problems. I imagine this will be similar to my experience at Smith College. I chose Smith College not because it was an all-women’s school, but because of the type of motivated students it attracted. There is indeed something special about being surrounded by women.

I look forward to attending classes, writing and hopefully talking at length to the other writers. I will be in a workshop led by Laura Fraser, whose book An Italian Affair I recently gobbled up in three evenings. From the memoir, I think she is a woman after my own heart. I have been doing some freelance writing and hope to improve my hand at not only being honest, but including facts in my writing (a puddle-jump from my poetry.) I promise you the same in a blog post when I return.

I hope to return rejuvenated and with a long list of books to read, craft challenges, ideas for future pieces and if I’m lucky, the start to a few new pieces.

Aside from small festivals and short workshops, I haven’t returned to the humble state of student for some time. As a writing teacher, I know how important this is. I was a poetry writing graduate student at Sarah Lawrence College and attended the Western Michigan State University’s program in Prague (where I met our lovely, creative and energized Erika) and was a resident at the Vermont Studio Center. I learned something new in each program.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, as perhaps it might keep me honest), I will be finishing teaching an online course during the retreat. I hope I will have some time every day to log into the class and grade papers as they come in. I’m a wee bit nervous about combining the two activities and doing both well simultaneously. I will also admit that while I can’t wait to see the desert, I am not someone who loves the heat. I will report back about how hot “dry heat” really is.

Writing students must expect as much from the program itself as from the other students. We all have a lot to do to prepare. I’ve been reading works by the authors who will be there, listening to interviews online, and tweaking my own writing for workshops. I’m ready.

Letter from the London Book Fair

I am proud to present a guest post written by Brett Jocelyn (BJ) Epstein, who very recently attended the London Book Fair. Among BJ’s latest literary accomplishments is Northern Lights: Translation in the Nordic Countries, a volume she edited containing essays from a conference she organized. To learn more about this wonderful writer-editor-translator, please visit BJ’s blog and Web site.

The London Book Fair 2009

by BJ Epstein

Ah, books, books, books. Rows of books, books for sale, authors signing books. Books and more books. That’s what the typical bibliophile would excitedly imagine when thinking of a book fair. In fact, although events such as The London Book Fair (LBF) and the Frankfurt Book Fair seem to be about books, they are really about the bottom line.

The LBF is a place where publishers come to show their wares to other publishers, hoping to make foreign sales. People rush around holding notebooks, looking for books they might want to purchase the rights to and then have translated to their own tongue. The major publishers have big stands with lots of small tables where their agents can meet with other agents. An observer can stand at a distance and watch as figures are discussed and hands are shaken. It’s all very serious and pragmatic and it doesn’t seem to be predicated on a love of books. Writers and translators may feel unwelcome amidst all this deal-making.

Nevertheless, for a visitor willing both to accept that and to do a lot of walking, there is plenty to see and enjoy at the LBF. The fair takes place at Earl’s Court, a large convention center in London, and it is very well organized. The huge main room is where publishers from all over the world have their stands. One area has children’s books, another travel books and maps, the religious (primarily Christian) books are in one (fairly small) spot, textbooks are in their own section, and so on. If you go past this room, after, of course, having browsed it to see what is being published these days (gift books seem to be a growing trend), and on into the next, smaller one, the atmosphere is different. This room is where the printers and binders have their stands, where people sell little book lights and other items for the book-lover, and where the various cultural agencies are located.

As a translator from the Scandinavian languages, I spent most of my time flitting between the Swedish Arts Council, the Danish Arts Agency’s Literature Centre, Norwegian Literature Abroad, Finnish Literature Exchange, the Iceland booth (this was the first year the Icelandic publishers and agencies had their own stand). On Monday, April 20, there was a joint Nordic reception, and events like that are excellent for networking, especially for writers, translators, and people from smaller publishing companies.

I also made sure to visit the stands from other countries. Several of them publish an annual or biannual magazine with biographical information and short translated excerpts from their nation’s top writers. This magazine, such as Sweden’s Swedish Book Review or Portugal’s Voices from the South, is meant to tempt publishers, but it is also a wonderful way for curious readers to learn about the kind of literature being published in other places. Because so few works are translated to English, unless you happen to read a particular tongue, you will never know what writers are doing in other parts of the world. I picked up as many of these magazines as I could carry. India was this year’s special focus at the Book Fair, and I had no idea there were so many publishers in that country. It was very interesting to see the way these publishers manage to differentiate themselves; I was slightly surprised by how many seemed to have a distinct niche in spiritual books.

PEN is also at the fair every year, offering readings. And one of my very favourite parts is the Gourmand area, which showcases top cookbooks from every culture imaginable. Even if you can’t read the books, you can salivate over the pictures. A number of chefs give demonstrations of their craft and they always make enough of the dish for the audience to try a bite as well.

In short, then, the LBF can be an enjoyable event, but only if you are prepared for what it can and can not give you. It is not a place to buy books or to connect with other writers. But it is a place to get a deeper understanding of the publishing world and to feel inspired (or overwhelmed) by the sheer number of books published each year.

Writing Your Family History: Five Hints from Chloe’ Yelena Miller

My friend Chloé Yelena Miller will present a workshop on “Writing Your Family History” at the Ann Arbor Book Festival Writer’s Conference, which will take place on Friday and Saturday, May 15-16, 2009. (Chloé is also coordinating the Author Breakfast that will take place as part of the Festival on May 16.)

If you can’t get to Ann Arbor, you’ll appreciate Chloé’s guest post, featuring tips on her workshop topic. And if you can get to Ann Arbor, perhaps you’ll want to check out the conference for yourself.

Writing Your Family History: Five Hints from Chloé Yelena Miller

On the first day of an adult memoir writing class I taught a few years ago, I asked the students what motivated them to take the class. One elderly woman said that she has been waiting for her children and grandchildren to ask her about her life story. They never did. She decided to take up the pen and write her own story.

Don’t risk losing your family’s stories. Here are five hints to help you collect, preserve and share family stories.

    1. Start with what you know. Make a list of memories. Then, work step by step to add details and develop the narrative scene by scene. Try to include details that involve the five senses (What did the food taste like? Was there air conditioning?)

    2. Expand on your memories by discussing them with family members. Inevitably, they will remember something differently. One technique is to share what you’ve written and ask them to fill in the blanks. Ask specific questions (What do you remember eating on your birthday? How did you find your first job?) Another technique, which is a more standard interview process, is to ask your family members very open ended questions. You could start with asking them about their earliest memories and what they enjoyed doing as children. Practice listening and don’t interject your own memories. See what they come up with.

    3. Family history isn’t relegated to the past. Journal regularly to keep track of your life and what you witness. Include quotes from relatives that display their tone and speech patterns. Note where and when moments took place such as personal moments between you and a loved one and national moments, like Obama’s inauguration.

    4. Learn (or remember) more about the past. If you are writing about something from your parents’ generation, read contemporary novels that they might have read as teenagers. Watch movies set in that period. Look at local newspaper ads. The word changes so quickly; remember what it was like then (without the internet, cell phones, etc.) Consider how daily life was different and use your findings as prompts for future questions.

    5. Share your findings with family members. You may decide to make photocopies of your stories and documents, share scanned pictures on a website or even ask family members to write their own memories. This last holiday season, I asked family members to write a short piece about past Christmas celebrations. Each resulting piece was intimate and shared a slightly different experience. Being from a younger generation from most of the contributors, I loved learning about their past in their own words. They brought up details that I wouldn’t have known to ask about. Relatives had a chance to organize their memories and reminisce together, even across geographical boundaries.

My mother, a professional photographer, and I have compiled a collection of paired poems and photographs documenting our family’s emigration from southern Italy to New Jersey. These pieces are based on visits to the town where our family originated, oral histories collected with Americans and Italians, historical documents and cultural history about the towns and time periods involved. What we created contains an emotional truth and some facts, but the stories mostly contain facts as we experienced them or as they were told to us. We continue to translate the experiences in the form of our art.

Good luck and enjoy the journey.

Chloé Yelena Miller has poems published or forthcoming in Alimentum Journal, Lumina,, South Mountain Poets Chapbook, Sink Review and The Cortland Review. Her manuscript, Permission to Stay, was a finalist for the Philip Levine Prize in Poetry. She teaches writing online for Fairleigh Dickinson University and edits Portal Del Sol. She received an M.F.A. from Sarah Lawrence College and a B.A. from Smith College.

Saturday Special: Win A Book!

The giveaway is now closed! Thanks to everyone for participating. I’m particularly happy to welcome the blog’s new readers! And I’m delighted to announce that KIMBERLY ZOOK has won a copy of Christina Katz’s Writer Mama. Kimberly, please e-mail me with your mailing address, and I’ll forward the info to Christina.

Saturday posts don’t happen too often around here, but I’ve made an exception to help celebrate the two-year anniversary of the publication of Christina Katz’s Writer Mama book. This post is for all my writing friends, whether they are “writer mamas” or not!

Please welcome our guest blogger, Christina Katz!

The Writer Mama Two-Year Anniversary Blog Tour Giveaway!

Post #28: Your Book’s Features

During the book writing process, you’ve made an effort to make your book as unique as possible, right? Well, now that your book is complete, you have your first opportunity to write down the features that makes your book desirable to your book’s targeted audience.

Features are the simple facts that describe your book like size, length, font choice, cover design, etc. Sure, features sound straightforward, but one of the advantages of working with a traditional publisher is that care and consideration are devoted to every aspect of your book’s production. If your publisher has gone to some lengths to make sure your book has unique features to suit your audience, you’ll want to highlight those features as you prepare to market your book.

For example, Writer Mama has some unique features. First of all, the book was intentionally designed in a small, chunky size so it would be easy to stash in a diaper bag or give as a shower gift to a new mom. Over the past couple of years, dozens of moms have commented to me that they appreciate the stash-able, sturdy size. Will your book have a unique size or shape? Or is size not a marketable feature?

How was your book written to particularly suit your readership? For example, the short chapters with lots of condensed information were purposeful to make Writer Mama easy for a mom to read while sitting in a waiting room or car-pooling. I just re-connected with a friend from sixth grade who keeps her copy of Writer Mama stashed in her car so she can read it while ferrying her four kids around town. Mission accomplished! Now describe your book. What’s special about the way it is written or organized? Have you taken the reader into account? Or is format not a feature you’ll highlight?

You’ve probably noticed that book covers vary greatly from the most simple, two-color text only cover all the way to the fully designed, four-color cover extravaganza. Another unique feature of Writer Mama is the colorful, stylish book design. So many how-to writing books are a turnoff because they are gray, businesslike, and boring. In contrast, Writer Mama is sassy, fun, with a starburst of color on the cover. The book designer, Claudean Wheeler, really outdid herself when designing the cheerful cover and bright inside designs. Does your book’s cover design reflect something about the book’s intended reader?

You’ll want to remind readers that care and consideration has gone into the design and production of your book. So be sure to pay attention during the production process so you can communicate the distinct features when you are ready to start promoting your book.

Today’s Book Drawing: To enter to win a signed, numbered copy of Writer Mama, answer the following question in this blog’s comments:
What unique features will your book have that will take the reader’s needs into account? Or what book from your bookshelf do you love for the way it suits your unique needs as a reader?
Thanks for participating! Only US residents, or folks with a US mailing address can participate in the drawing. Please only enter once per day.

Where will the drawing be tomorrow? Visit to continue reading the rest of the Writer Mama story throughout March 2009!

Writer Mama, How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids by Christina Katz (Writer’s Digest Books 2007)
Kids change your life, but they don’t necessarily have to end your career. Stay-at-home moms will love this handy guide to rearing a successful writing career while raising their children. The busy mom’s guide to writing life, this book gives stay-at-moms the encouragement and advice they need including everything from getting started and finding ideas to actually finding time to do the work – something not easy to do with the pitter-patter of little feet. With advice on how to network and form a a business, this nurturing guide covers everything a writer mama needs to succeed at her second job. Christina Katz is also the author of the newly released Get Known Before the Book Deal, Use Your Personal Strengths to Grow an Author Platform (Writer’s Digest Books 2008).

The Wednesday Web Browser: Questions for Deborah Treisman, Wiki for Job Seekers, and Guidance for Guest Bloggers

Have a question for New Yorker fiction editor Deborah Treisman? Ask it here. And don’t forget to check out the magazine’s new Winter Fiction Issue, which is packed with promising stuff I have yet to read!
John Griswold (aka “Oronte Churm”) points us to a wiki for those on the academic job market in creative writing.
Guest-blogging advice
galore on Buzz, Balls & Hype. (via The Book Publicity blog)