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Showing posts from June, 2011

Literati on the Beach

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Just in time for July 4th -- thank you Shelf Awareness.

We love Flavorwire's gallery of Literary Greats in Their Bathing Suits but can't decide which is sexier: Sylvia Plath's two-piece or Truman Capote's Speedo.... You, on the other hand, may be transfixed by Virginia Woolf's ankle-length striped swim jammies or Papa Hemingway's manly trunks. Too bad there isn't a comparable gallery of contemporary authors; we'd love to see the beachwear choices of Jonathan Franzen, Joan Didion and Jennifer Egan, among many others.

Who gives a F#@% about an Oxford comma? (Vampire Weekend tribute to J'ru's grammar final)

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Jerusha's been taking a killer grammar course this summer with a brilliant professor who's made it everything a parsing of language particulars should be: fascinating, hilarious and memorable. She's been on fire for the grammar, I tell ya, and it made me hungry for refresher, which I found in this handy dandy punctuation toolkit.

Incidentally, the Oxford comma (aka serial comma) is officially off style per The Oxford Style Manual:
As a general rule, do not use the serial/Oxford comma: so write ‘a, b and c’ not ‘a, b, and c’. But when a comma would assist in the meaning of the sentence or helps to resolve ambiguity, it can be used – especially where one of the items in the list is already joined by ‘and’: They had a choice between croissants, bacon and eggs, and muesli.Good luck on your final today, J'ru!

Missing RWA National Conference? It's Twitter to the Rescue!

As a long-time Romance Writers of America national conference junkie, I've been worried about skipping my first one in eleven years. And it's in New York City, which makes missing out even more painful.

While I still hate notseeing my agents, editors, and many pals and supporting my Golden Heart and RITA finalist buddies, I'm gathering valuable intel by following (or go to Twitter.com and search "#RWA11".)

Here's what I've gleaned so far:

1. Last night's literacy signing was super crowded and successful.

2. Madeline Hunter gave a wonderful, inspiring keynote earlier today. But that's no surprise. She's brilliant and always worth listening to.

3. Avon's new Impulse line for romance e-books has the same editorial input as its traditional print line. They're getting the books our more quickly and interested in the following: contemporary romance (especially with humor, according to a tweet from Senior Editor Erika Tsang), Western histori…

Had enough Angry Birds? (Penguin just came out with a cool classics app)

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For sixty-five years, Penguin Classics has been the leading publisher of literature in the English-speaking world, providing readers with a global bookshelf of great works in all genres. The free Penguin Classics app is a fun way to put the complete list of Penguin Classics in the palm of your hand.

Not sure what you want to read? The “Discover the Classics” section lets you pick a Classic based on your interests. Or give your iPhone a shake and let the app pick a title for you. Browse over 1,500 Penguin Classics titles, test your Penguin Classics knowledge with a Classics quiz, bookmark titles, keep a scorecard of which Classics you've read, and of course, be all in your Facebook about it.

The app will be continually updated with news, new quizzes and lists, events info, and the latest Penguin Classics titles. Check it out!

Buy This Book: Adam Mitzner's "A Conflict of Interest"

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Nearing the top of my TBR pile is Adam Mitzner's debut novel, A Conflict of Interest. Talking about his journey to publication on his website, Mitzner says, "I have always been interested in writing, and yet, oddly enough, never took any courses in college (or after) and actually never seriously tried to write until a few years ago. I showed a first draft of my work to a friend whose brother is an agent for cookbooks, and he suggested I retain a private editor, Ed Stackler. Meeting Ed was the turning point. He was the first person who thought I had publishable talent, and working with him was like taking every creative writing course I missed in college. Of equal importance, when my first novel was finished, Ed hooked me up with my agent, Scott Miller of Trident Publishing."

Mitzner's first novel was close but no cigar with a few publishers, but didn't sell. There was interest among a few houses, but no offers.

So, back to the drawing board. For my next work I de…

"Cemetery Road" author Gar Anthony Haywood joins Murderati blog crew

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The unkillable Gar Anthony Haywood, author of Cemetery Road (and a boatload of other books), talks about the ups and downs of his long publishing career in his first post as a Murderati contributor...
The mid-list crunch was on throughout the industry and my sales numbers made me an easy target for dismissal... What followed, in 2004, was a crater in the ol' career path not unlike the one that asteroid in Armageddon might have left on the face of the earth had Bruce Willis and company not blown it to smithereens. No one wanted to touch the proposal I'd written for a third standalone and any conversation about a new book in either of my two series was a non-starter. Oh, and that burning smell I was gradually beginning to notice turned out to be my agent's disappointment grinding his faith in me as a saleable commodity down to a smoldering nub.Read the rest here, and when you have a minute, scroll down the FeedMe bar on the right. We follow Murderati and a lot of other gre…

Because it is Saturday and because it is my heart: Laura Roppe "George Clooney"

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Life is finite, my dear!

J.K. Rowling's Newest Venture

If you're one of those Harry Potter fans who never wants J.K. Rowling's epic, formative work to end, and you can't afford the ticket to the theme park in Orlando (I've heard it's fabulous!) the author has a digital surprise for you. Check out her latest announcement of Potterworld, an interactive experience based on the books. Sounds like great fun... and a wonderful reminder of how far the oft-rejected product of one woman's imagination can go.

Smashwords founder says PLR is "one of the worst threats to ebooks today."

If you're an author delving into the world of ebook publishing, don't miss this excellent Guardian article about spam ebook infestation that has some of the largest distributors justifiably concerned.
The ease with which you can license content and repackage it to sell as an ebook has created a growing problem for Amazon and other resellers – spam ebooks. Distributors are worried...

A key starting point of the problem is Private Label Rights content (PLR), which allows anyone to buy prewritten content in bulk that they can then make into ebooks or website content. PLR seller Ronnie Nijmeh of PLR.me describes it as "royalty-free content, which means, when you pay for a licence, you get the rights to use the content without royalty in nearly any way you please".

Mark Coker, the founder of Smashwords, an ebook distributor, sees PLR as "one of the worst threats to ebooks today...idiots fall prey to the PLR schemes and pay their $24.95 a month or whatever to access va…

Buy This Book: "The Secret Sisters" (aka "The Dirty Dirty Dildo Sex Book") is now on Kindle

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The Secret Sisters was my fifth book, originally pubbed in hardcover by HarperCollins in 2005 and now available on Kindle with added bonus content, including reading recommendations from my own fabulous sisters. It's a bit of a departure from my previous work. I've always been a happy and optimistic person by nature - and I still am - but this novel definitely leans more toward tragedy than comedy. It's darker, more erotic, and more message-driven than anything else I've ever written.

An agoraphobic (Pia) is taken by a con artist. A party girl (Lily) goes to jail for vehicular homicide. A bereaved mother (Beth) is forced to confront the fact that her cherubic child was actually a little pain in the patootie. Each of the sisters has constructed a private prison for herself. They each serve hard time searching for redemption.

My prime directive is always to tell a great story, but deeply saddened by what I saw happening in the world after 9-11, I wanted to tell a deeper,…

Fighting the Wrong Fight?

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I've been quiet on the blog for the past week, away from home and most Internet access enjoying family, cooler weather, small-town life, and the Jersey shore. Just before leaving yesterday, I came across this crime blotter news item in the Vineland Daily Journal:

A turkey set off an alarm at a business on Wolf Road just after midnight Saturday. An officer found a turkey pecking at the glass on the front door. It appeared to be fighting its own reflection.
Reintroduced to Southern New Jersey a couple of decades back, wild turkeys have proliferated to the point where you see them everywhere, pecking in the weeds, scratching at the dirt, and fiercely protecting their young. They're alert parents and large enough to open a can of whoop-ass on any dog, stray cat, or fox who dares to venture too close to their brood.

Yet, as seen above, they're not exactly Rhodes scholars about figuring out the difference between a real threat and their own reflections. They've been seen att…

Buy This Book: The Commoner by John Burnham Schwartz

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There are few worlds as shrouded in mystery as that of Japan’s imperial family. It is generally thought of as cloistered, as beautiful and exotic but few real details regarding the day-to-day lives of the ruling monarchy are known. That is what makes The Commoner, John Burnham Schwarzt’s fourth, wonderfully-researched novel, so fascinating. We are led into that very private world by Haruko, a commoner from a well-placed Japanese family, who in 1959 marries the crown prince and afterward very nearly disappears from public view. It is through her soft but completely compelling voice that we learn of the hardships of that life--think bird in a gilded cage. Think Cinderella without the godmother and without the opportunity to flee. For one, Haruko is cruelly separated from her parents and friends. Not only are they not permitted to attend her wedding as other than members of the crowd of spectators that clog the streets on the day of the ceremony, but after, it is almost as if she is dead…

Buy This Book: Jojo Moyes' beautiful heartbreaker "The Last Letter From Your Lover"

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I've become a fan of Pamela Dorman Books, a Viking imprint that dependably delivers unique, well-written novels I'd classify as "accessible literary fiction." Meaning the writing is gorgeous, the characters talk like real people, and the stories engage from front cover to back.

The Last Letter from Your Lover by Jojo Moyes (arriving in bookstores right after the holiday weekend and available for pre-order now) weaves together two love stories (and then some) with all the chic of the Mad Men era and all the complications of love in the time of text messages.

Per the PR:
It is 1960. When Jennifer Stirling wakes up in the hospital, she can remember nothing-not the tragic car accident that put her there, not her husband, not even who she is. She feels like a stranger in her own life until she stumbles upon an impassioned letter, signed simply "B", asking her to leave her husband.

Years later, in 2003, a journalist named Ellie discovers the same enigmatic letter…

Seen on the scene: Promise Me fragrance ties in with Nancy Brinker's bestselling memoir about sisterhood in action

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Colleen just flipped me a smart phone photo she snapped on her way into an east coast department store. The Promise Me fragrance is fresh out, a perfect tie-in with Nancy's NYT bestselling memoir, Promise Me: How a Sister's Love Launched the Global Movement to End Breast Cancer.

Nancy and Suzy were impeccably classy young women of the Mad Men era. I love the chapters about their adventures and misadventures. It's well known now that Suzy died of breast cancer at age 36, and her little sister Nancy went on to create the world's largest grassroots organization, Susan G. Komen For the Cure. In her memoir, Nancy wanted to share more about Suzy's life and her joyful, free-spirited style, along with the story of this world-changing legacy of love.

Perfumer Jean Claude Delville says, "A fragrance is a message in a bottle. In Promise Me, I was inspired to capture a long-lasting emotion of positive energy, hope and love. I wanted to create something empowering, someth…

Werner Herzog reads "Go the F#ck To Sleep"

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Buy This Book: Liane Moriarty delivers on an intriguing premise in "What Alice Forgot"

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With bright, engaging style and smart plot choices, Liane Moriarty makes the most of a genius idea in What Alice Forgot, fresh in bookstores this month from Amy Einhorn. (Is it impossibly nerdy than I am the groupie of certain imprints?)

Per the PR:
What would happen if you were visited by your younger self, and got a chance for a do-over?

Alice Love is twenty-nine years old, madly in love with her husband, and pregnant with their first child. So imagine her surprise when, after a fall, she comes to on the floor of a gym (a gym! she HATES the gym!) and discovers that she's actually thirty-nine, has three children, and is in the midst of an acrimonious divorce.

A knock on the head has misplaced ten years of her life, and Alice isn't sure she likes who she's become. It turns out, though, that forgetting might be the most memorable thing that has ever happened to Alice.As she did with her debut novel, Three Wishes, Moriarty brings a welcome bite that takes her books beyond …

A letter any writer would love to receive

A friend of mine just directed me to this letter from Michael Powell to Martin Scorsese, from Letters of Note. What strikes me most is the way Powell balances his perceptive suggestions for the script's improvement with his obvious admiration of the script and specific praise. This letter should be required reading for anyone who attempts to give a critique.

Salman Rushdie writing a series for Showtime

According to the Guardian, Salman Rushdie says TV drama series have taken the place of novels, and he's working on a series called "The Next People" for Showtime. The pilot has been commissioned and written with "an almost feature-film budget" and a plot revolving around politics, religion, science, technology and sexuality.

Saith Rushdie:
"It's a sort of paranoid science-fiction series, people disappearing and being replaced by other people. ...They said to me that what I should really think about is a TV series, because what has happened in America is that the quality – or the writing quality – of movies has gone down the plughole."Read the Guardian article.

Great Tony Award moment: Andrew Rannels sings "I Believe" from The Book of Mormon

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"I believe that God has a plan for all of us. And I believe that plan involves me getting my own planet!"

Apply to your writing life as you see fit, have a productive work week, and believe!

Dreaming It Up

Last night, I fell asleep trying to untangle a seriously knotty plot issue. I often set my brain to work on these issues before bedtime, and every now and then it pays off and I'm awakened by my subconscious at 3 AM with the answer.

Sometimes, it's one of those answers that only seems brilliant at 3 AM. Other times, it's exactly what's needed (including lines of dialogue or fabulously-crafted bits of narrative that I take down and use verbatim.) Last night, my brain's response came in the form of one seriously bizarre, convoluted, and colorful dream where I was simultaneously my story's heroine, myself (as the story's author), and a mysterious third party who was witnessing and directing the twisty action. And getting increasingly frustrated when the characters (who included members of my critique group) refused to stay on script and do what I wanted.

Gee, that's not so different from my everyday writing life.

Still, as I lay in bed this morning, I foun…

Let’s talk about sex: The Mistress Contract, great conversation starter and dangerous projectile

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Last week I read a book that literally set my brain on fire. My brain. Was firing. Neurons. Axons. Claxons. I’m talking about intellectual orgasm. And I suspect I’m not the only one. BEA goers rapidly snapped up the entire supply of The Mistress Contract advance galley copies, which were cleverly presented in plain brown bags. (The book is due out in October, but I was able to beg a PDF from the publisher.)

I’ll admit it, curiosity — prurient interest even — kicked it straight to the top of my TBR pile. I inhaled it, stumbled gobsmacked around the grocery store for an hour, then returned home and inhaled it again.

The book opens with the document which we're told the anonymous author actually sent to her wealthy lover in the 1980s. A single page generated on an old-school typewriter, it pitches a straightforward deal: He will provide adequate accommodations for her and cover her living expenses. She will provide 1) all housekeeping duties and 2) “all sexual acts as requested, wi…

Buy This Book: Alice Bliss is a lovely summer read

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Back in March, I issued a buzz alert for Alice Bliss, the debut novel of playwright Laura Harrington. The book grew out of Harrington's off-Broadway musical "Alice Unwrapped". Expanding the one-woman show to a book gave Harrington an opportunity to explore the the idea of war as seen from the homefront, including the loss of a father. (Harrington cites the post-war PTSD of her father, a WWII navigator/ bombardier, as one of the greatest mysteries and inspirations of her life.)

Alice Bliss is now in bookstores, book clubs and beach bags everywhere. Harrington's writing is simply beautiful. Fluid, page-turning, paced exactly right. The story flows, the protagonist grows, secondary characters blossom fully. It's the quintessential multi-Kleenex summer house read.

Per the PR:
When Alice Bliss learns that her father, Matt, is being deployed to Iraq, she's heartbroken. Alice idolizes her father, loves working beside him in their garden, accompanying him on the occa…

Enter laughing: "Weiner like me" is the most hilarious and painfully true op ed in NYT history

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The brilliant columnist, essayist, and proud Weiner (long may it wave!) writes about the fraught connotations of his family name, which has not advanced in cool points with the recent media fixation on a "scandal" (it's so tepid and silly, I wish I could give it air quotes here instead of actually wasting a perfectly good pair of quotation marks on it) involving lewd (yawn) photos sent by Representative Anthony D. Weiner, a congressman from New York.

From "Weiner like me" in the NYT yesterday:
With all due respect to Shakespeare, a rose by any other name just isn’t the same. We look in the mirror and see not a generic person but a very specific one. We see Ted, and Sarah, and José, and yes, sometimes we see a Weiner. Names don’t merely describe. They impugn meaning. The river of semantics flows in both directions. Call someone a nincompoop often enough and long enough and they start to believe it. There is no such thing as “mere semantics.” Names matter.

Some f…

Cutting to the Chase: Writing the Category Novel

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For years, I've written long books containing complex webs of characters and convoluted plots. My historical romances (written as Gwyneth Atlee and Colleen Easton) started out at about 120,000 words, but thanks to the rising cost of ink and paper, word counts gradually dropped. Even so, it was rare for me to turn in a book of less than 100,000 words for my single-title romantic suspense novels.

I love writing the big book and building the world and complexities that go with it. But my brand new release, the Romantic Times Top Pick Capturing the Commando was written for Harlequin's Intrigue line, which has a carved-in-stone word count of 55-60,000 words. Since I sold this book off of a brief proposal, I was a little nervous about how I would handle the challenge of "waltzing in a phone booth," as I've heard the writing of the category or series novel (shorter, numbered books, usually some flavor of romance) described. How would I boil down the story to its essent…

Plotters, Pantsers, and Underpantsers: Taking Mythic Structures into the prison

I just finished my first day back with my prison students after a three-week break, and, as usual, I'm totally psyched. Never do the hours fly by faster than there, and I always leave jazzed and happy. Today was especially interesting, because I'm trying something new, something which, to my knowledge, has not been done. I'm taking several different theories of dramatic structure, holding them up alongside several theories of story structure, and carrying all of it into the prison. Throughout the nine-week course, I'm hoping that the students will see that there are many different structures available for planning a long work like a screenplay or a novel. For the less linear, pantser types, I'm doing a lot of freewriting and intuitive exercises, too, ultimately trying to tap into both sides of the brain. From what I've learned so far with my own writing, long projects involve both, and both the planning and revision stages are, at best, a dance between th…

Braveheart

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Check out Aubrey Hirsch on the bravery it takes to write a first novel:

"When the despair sets in it reminds me of of being on airplane. I’ve always been a nervous flyer. I analyze every bump and whir. I hesitate to make plans when vacationing, as I never expect to make it to my destination alive. Every time I force myself down the jet-way, I am absolutely positive that I will die."

And yet she keeps flying.

Here's to our firsts.  Keep at it, my friends.

--MD

Handling Warp Speed

Today on twitter someone described the pace of change in the publishing industry as “blistering.” It’s a good adjective – and spot on. With the pace and the pressure in the book world today, it’s easy, I think, to get wrapped up in the speed, the new vocabulary, the rush to try the newest platform/gadget/software. But for me, in times like this, I actually settle in to myself, simply, literally, put my feet back on the ground. I don’t worry about the latest gadget. I try to avoid the rush and hum. In the midst of the noise, you see, there are always the stories. And stories connect us. It’s not that I’m disinterested in how the industry is developing. I’m keenly interested in the changes. It’s simply that I don’t want to flap and puff about it. Right now everything is shifting. It’s an adventure in books. It’s scary, liberating, challenging, and exciting. Recently I discovered a writer whose novel is a riot—a smart, funny, well written tale that is only coming to me because ebooks all…

Buy This Book: Jane Bradley's dark and compelling heartbreaker "You Believers"

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Of all the books burning up my TBR pile the last few months, Jane Bradley's You Believers is the one I was dreading most -- for the same reason I dreaded but felt compelled to read Masha Hamilton's 31 Hours. Being the parent of young adults in this world is just flat terrifying. Books about the worst that can happen are not my fave, but when a book is just too beautifully written to resist, well, you know it's going to leave a scar, but you read it anyway.

Oddly enough, this author came to my attention in the context of a text book, Screenwriting 101: Starting Small While Thinking Big (which is terrific but quite expensive, if you're into that), and a bit of the ol' google took me to her short story collection, Are We Lucky Yet?. (Bradley's earlier short story collection, Power Lines and Other Stories was cited as a NYT notable book.) She's an amazing writer, and in her capable hands, a story that could have gone very Nancy Grace ends up being about human…

Active Birds and Quiet Domesticity: Yvonne Murphy reads from Aviaries

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When I first got to UH, there were a few young women who were my SHEROS. Brave and talented, these women were smart, savvy teachers and writers and battled gender stereotypes every day. In particular, I resonated with the work and personality of Yvonne Murphy, a poet who also taught for Writers in the Schools. When the WITS staff tapped her as my mentor, I was more than delighted, and went along to the elementary school where she was working with the children on literary techniques like rhyme and onomatopoeia. There's a lot of attention to sound in Yvonne's work, and she was giving those children the gift of that attention. I watched as she taught them to hear the music in other people's poetry and, more importantly, to find the hums and rhythms within themselves.

If you have time today, I hope you can listen to the music of Yvonne's own words, as she reads from her new poetry collection, Aviaries. It's longish (23 minutes, roughly), so you might want to wait …

50 nifty state stereotypes in 2 minutes! Hilarious trailer for "States of Confusion" by Paul Jury

Using Radio Interviews to Promote Your Book

Recently, I was asked to stop by Pitch University (an amazing free resource for writers) to talk about using radio to pitch your novel to listeners. Since I'd just completed an interview with host Rowena Cherry and fellow guest Paula Graves on Passionate Radio's "Crazy Tuesdays" show, the timing was great.

Follow the link to see what I had to say about doing a phone interview, or to listen to the podcast of my most recent outing.

Buy This Book: Your Voice in My Head, A Memoir by Emma Forrest

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Living is a haphazard sometimes painful, sometimes joy-shot experience. There’s the uncertainty, there are setbacks, pressures and bouts with loss of confidence. That’s under normal conditions, whatever “normal” is, but what happens when conditions aren’t normal, when behavior exceeds even the least confining definition of that word? In her compelling memoir, Your Voice in My Head, screenwriter and novelist, Emma Forrest, opens a writerly vein to show what it’s like to live in your own personal little house of horrors. Her story is heart rending and brilliant. It is difficult and uplifting. She was troubled in her teens. Most teens are, but her trouble overlooked a sharper edge, a seemingly never ending, black abyss. She was in constant danger of falling, of losing herself. She battled with her will to live treating it to a smorgasbord of self destructive acts and then, finally, in her twenties, while healing from the effects of yet another near fatal suicide attempt, she experienced …

Your Brain Stores Words. But, Like, Seriously...

I'm taking English Grammar this summer and have come to the conclusion that our language is entirely too confusing, but I love it.

Today we were discussing the functions of verbs and nouns and my professor told us that we actually house them in our brain. The front, left side of the brain is its language center and it is subdivided even further. When observing brain activity during conversations with stroke patients, doctors noticed that different spots within the language centerr would light up when people used verbs bersus nouns. We biologically separate them. How freakin' cool is that? It transcends languages and dialect. It goes in the face of the idea that language is something that we learn. The interaction of our brains with language is so incredible.

Other cool things about brains and language development I've learned from random English classes:

No matter how many languages you speak or how long you've spoken them, when you are in an extremely heightened state…

"But Am I A Real Writer?" The Number One Most Self-Defeating Question a Writer Can Ask

I don't know where she is or what's happened to her, but I'll never forget my first fiction writing professor, Mary Milgram. It was the last semester of my senior year, and I was anxiously waiting to hear back from the creative writing programs I'd applied to. I'd taken Ms. Milgram's fiction class sort of as an afterthought--at that point, I wanted to be a playwright, and was hoping to get an MFA in Theatre. But I'd always had an interest in writing fiction, and in some ways felt it was my first calling, so I enrolled in Ms. Milgram's class. About halfway though the semester, I started hearing back from the programs to which I'd applied, most of which did not have good news. Then came the heartbreaker, a glowing letter from Ohio University, saying I was one of two students they were admitting into their playwriting program that year, but that, because of budget restrictions, there would be little financial aid available.

I'm not exactly sure…