Archive for the ‘Resources’ Category

Presented annually by the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program, the Writers Studio brings together a community of writing students to workshop with some of Southern California’s most esteemed professional writers and teachers.

Participants select one of ten intensive four-day workshops in creative writing and screenwriting planned for the 2014 Writers Studio, including Courage and Craft: A Writing Workshop to Jumpstart Your Creativity, Writing the First Novel, Writing the Young Adult Novel, Novel Revision Techniques, and Writing Memoir and Personal Essay.  Enrollment is on a first come, first served basis, and each class is limited to fifteen students.  Early registration is strongly advised.

The Writers Studio fee of $895 ($815 through January 6, 2014) includes enrollment in one four-day workshop February 6-9, a continental breakfast on Thursday, a special Saturday guest speaker event, and a Sunday reception.

For more information and to register, visit the website at http://blogs.uclaextension.edu/writers/programs-services/writers-studio.



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With the 1st of November just a few days away, writers everywhere are stockpiling food and saying farewell to their family and friends as they prepare to hole up in their writing caves until December 1.  November is National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo, an annual internet-based creative writing event that challenges participants to write a new 50,000-word novel in thirty days.

The project was founded by Chris Baty in 1999 with 21 participants, and the official NaNoWriMo website was launched the following year.  The number of registered participants has grown steadily every year, and the affiliate Young Writers Program and official podcast were developed in 2005.  In 2010, over 200,000 writers registered for the challenge, and nearly three billion new words were written.  A summer version of NaNoWriMo (Camp NaNoWriMo) was launched in 2011 and was held in April and July this year.

Many of us in Chapman University’s MFA program have impending thesis deadlines, and the NaNoWriMo challenge gives us the perfect opportunity and support to complete this critical component of our degree requirements, particularly if we have decided to start a new project for the thesis or complete a novel rather than a collection of short stories.

The novel can be on any theme and in any genre.  However, it cannot be a project already in progress.  Writing of the new novel cannot have commenced prior to midnight on November 1, and the 50,000-word mark must be reached by 11:59 p.m. on November 30.

For a comprehensive list of FAQs and guidelines, visit the website at www.nanowrimo.org.

Have fun, and good luck!



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In perusing the application requirements of local Ph.D. programs in English and Comparative Literature ever so nonchalantly two years ago, it came to my attention that one (note the indefinite pronoun) must be proficient in at least one foreign language (typically French, German, or Latin) and have an adequate competence in another to even be considered for candidacy.  Is this true? I wondered, feeling instantly defeated.  As it turns out, it is true for nearly all literature programs and is certainly required early in the English program at most universities.

It would seem, therefore, that, in addition to completing the course work for the Master of Arts in English program (check), passing the university’s comprehensive English exam (check), writing the book-length MFA thesis (um…working on this still), scoring well on both the General GRE and the GRE Literature in English Subject Test (yes, some programs require scores for both exams), obtaining three letters of recommendation, and submitting a truly superior writing sample, a master’s student would have to pick up French or Latin and, say, Russian (how else would “one” get to wallow in Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, and Nabokov for months on end?) at some point between graduation and selecting a target Ph.D. program.  Какая сумасшедшая идея!  Or, in English, it is madness!

While reading the dual-language edition of Crime and Punishment provides its own measure of reward, it’s not going to suffice if fluency in Russian is the objective.  And there is the required Latin or French to be learned, as well.  My writer friend Ian Prichard has recommended the Michel Thomas Method for learning to speak a foreign language; however, it doesn’t provide training in reading and writing.  One Chapman professor has suggested Duolingo, which offers extensive writing lessons and dictation, and I’ve read favorable reviews about the widely known Rosetta Stone Version 4 TOTALe for serious language students.  I plan to research them all and report back with my own experience.

Most would argue, of course, that the best and possibly only way to truly learn a language is to immerse oneself in the culture and dialects of a country by exploring its regions in person.  Alas, I may therefore have to schedule trips to St. Petersburg and Paris for crash courses in their language and literature.  Well, if “one” must…


Anichkov Palace Library in St. Petersburg, 1869

Anichkov Palace Library in St. Petersburg, 1869

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Betsy-Amster-jpg-e1360621744716-150x150The Pen on Fire Writers Salon is pleased to present an evening with literary agent Betsy Amster for a discussion on “How to Catch an Agent’s Attention with a Great Query Letter” on Tuesday, April 23, at 7:00 p.m.  This monthly salon is hosted by Barbara DeMarco-Barrett and features authors, literary agents, and others involved in the field of writing.  The events take place in the atmospheric Scape Gallery in Corona del Mar and entail readings, literary discussions, and book signings.

Amster is president of Betsy Amster Literary Enterprises, a full-service literary agency located in Los Angeles and Portland.  Before opening her agency in 1992, she spent ten years as an editor at Pantheon and Vintage, two divisions of Random House, and two years as editorial director of The Globe Pequot Press.  Her clients include bestselling novelists María Amparo Escandón and Joy Nicholson and authors Will Allen, Kim Boyce, Linda Venis, and many others.

Amster specializes in literary fiction, voice-driven mysteries and thrillers, narrative nonfiction, memoirs, and a wide array of practical nonfiction.  Her agency works with both first-time and established writers with expert attention to every aspect of the publishing process.

Advance tickets are required to guarantee a seat at this event, which typically sells out fast.  To read more about the speakers or the Pen on Fire Writers Salon and to purchase tickets, visit www.barbarademarcobarrett.com.



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Yesterday I received my prize for winning first place in the Fiction Writing Contest at the recent Orange County Christian Writers Conference: a detailed critique of my query letter and fifty pages of my manuscript-in-progress, Time of Death, by Andy Meisenheimer and Beth Jusino of The Editorial Department, an industry leader in book editing and manuscript development.

I’ll admit I’ve been nervous these past two weeks, knowing that every line of the chapters I submitted was being reviewed and evaluated by an actual editor.  What a thrill to read in the critique that I’ve employed “a poetic/narrative third-person technique” that “works wonderfully” and a “gentle, foreboding tone” I should engage more consistently.  I’ve been criticized in other forums for this narrative voice (also referred to as my intruding or interloping narrator), whose portentous tenor and omniscience I’ve come to depend on and appreciate.

While I confess to honing in first on the sections of the critique in which passages of my novel were deemed “excellent” and “beautifully constructed,” particularly as they tended to be the same passages with which I am most pleased as the author, I am sincerely grateful for the obvious close reading of my submission by the editors and their insightful and relevant feedback.  Their comments and suggestions make perfect sense, and I now know exactly what I need to do to elevate this project to the next level.  Further, I have a better understanding of the Christian fiction market and how to pitch this manuscript when the time comes.

I’m encouraged to hear that I have a solid story and a seeming aptitude for the craft.  There is still much work to be done, and classes at Chapman resume in two months, but for now, at least, it appears I’m on the right track.


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The UCLA Extension Writers’ Program is hosting the 2011 Writers Faire on Sunday, August 28.  This event features twenty-four mini-classes and panel discussions about creative writing and screenwriting, as well as the opportunity to network with more than sixty-five writers, instructors, and graduate program advisors.  

The Writers Faire will be held in the Young Hall Courtyard on the UCLA campus from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.  Exhibitors at this year’s event include Antioch University; California State University, Northridge; Final Draft; Independent Writers of Southern California; The Greater Los Angeles Writers Society; University of Southern California; West Hollywood Book Fair; and Writers Guild Foundation.  Admission is free and open to all levels of creative writers and screenwriters. 

For more information, visit the website at http://www2.uclaextension.edu/writers/events.php.


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RUMINATE Magazine is now offering personalized writing critique and feedback on pieces previously submitted to the journal or new work.  Workshop options include a single critique, which entails working one-on-one with a RUMINATE editor for one week on a fiction or nonfiction piece up to 8,000 words or 120 lines of poetry; a single three-week workshop, which includes three customized critiques of a single work; a five-week double workshop, during which two fiction or nonfiction pieces up to 16,000 words or 240 lines of poetry are critiqued; and an eight-week classic workshop, during which three fiction or nonfiction pieces up to 24,000 words or 360 lines of poetry are critiqued. 

RUMINATE is a quarterly magazine of short stories, poetry, creative nonfiction, and visual art that “speaks to the existence of our daily lives while nudging us toward a greater hope.”  Workshop registration is open year-round.  To learn more about the magazine, obtain details about upcoming RUMINATE contests and deadlines, or register for a workshop, visit the website at http://www.ruminatemagazine.org

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Writers Ask

“I see it in my students – this idea that I have spent all these hours, days, even weeks, on these pages, on this story, they must be good.  Well, the truth is that it is quite possible that they aren’t.  It doesn’t matter that you spent all this time on it.  It still might not work.” ~ Sigrid Nunez (author of The Last of Her Kind), interviewed by Robert Birnbaum, Writers Ask (Issue 49)

The 49th issue of Glimmer Train’s quarterly newsletter, Writers Ask, is chockfull of the perspectives of dozens of esteemed authors and creative writing teachers and their advice on writing for the screen, place and setting, editing and revising, and writing programs.  Each issue of Writers Ask includes a special Focus section, which addresses one topic in depth.  The fall issue features two focus pieces: “Creating the Fictional Family” by Yelizaveta P. Renfro and “That Night by the Pool” by Justin Kramon.  

Each issue of the newsletter is $6, and a one-year subscription is $20.  For more information or to subscribe, visit www.glimmertrain.com.

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“I dislike modern memoirs.  They are generally written by people who have either entirely lost their memories, or have never done anything worth remembering.” ~ Oscar Wilde, “The Critic as Artist” 

The current literary landscape is lush with memoir.  Contrary to autobiography, which tends to span the entire life of the author and is expected to be historically factual, the memoir deals with an aspect of the writer’s life from his or her memory and perspective.  The idea of finding and articulating the important messages in our own personal narratives has widespread appeal for both writers and readers.  “We watch the memoirist make sense of her life and no matter how different our circumstances, we find some commonality with her and feel a little less alone in the world” (Judith Barrington, Writing the Memoir).  In Your Life as Story, Tristine Rainer hails the restorative powers of the autobiographic process: “You replace old stories of powerlessness with stories of consciousness and revelation in which you are the protagonist.” 

For those interested in writing a memoir, there are plenty of print and online resources.  How-to books (many of which I have purchased and devoured in my own quest to determine once and for all the genre by which Time of Death will ultimately be best served) compel would-be memoirists, particularly those who have in any way been or perceive to have been marginalized, to speak personally and honestly about their lives to expunge years of invisibility and misinterpretation by others (Barrington).  In Writing About Your Life: A Journey into the Past, William Zinsser (On Writing Well) sums up his advice to the memoirist in two words: think small.  The focus of the memoir, according to Zinsser, should remain on small, self-contained episodes with universal truths. 

Print and online journals such as Granta and SMITH Magazine (home of the Six-Word Memoir and all forms of storytelling) champion realistic fiction and the memoir, and the July/August issue of Writer’s Digest is devoted to writing and selling contemporary memoirs.  Memoir (and) is a nonprofit literary journal that seeks to publish both traditional and nontraditional forms of nonfiction allied with memoir.  This includes but is not limited to autobiography, diary, personal essay, and narrative poetry. 

Memoir (and) is currently welcoming submissions to its Memoir in Prose or Poetry contest through August 16, 2010.  Prizes are awarded to the most outstanding prose or poetry memoirs drawn from the reading period, which began on May 1.  To review the submission guidelines, visit www.memoirjournal.squarespace.com.

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Last night I attended An Evening with Literary Agents, part of Barbara DeMarco-Barrett’s Pen on Fire Speaker Series held at the Scape Gallery in Corona del Mar.  The sold-out event was an intimate gathering of Orange County writers and literary agents Jamie Weiss Chilton (fiction for children and young adults), Sally van Haitsma (commercial and literary fiction, narrative nonfiction, pop culture, education, business, and current affairs), and Jill Marr (women’s, multi-cultural, and historic fiction; mysteries; thrillers; and nonfiction).  

Attendees had the opportunity to submit a one-page query letter for a book project or the first page from their novel or memoir in advance of the event.  Twelve submissions were selected randomly for the agents to read and provide the audience with their initial reactions.  I took copious notes, with special attention given to Ms. Chilton’s recommendations and advice for young adult query letters and novels.  Some of the query guidelines shared below are widely known; however, hearing how an agent interprets and processes a letter from the onset of reading it was fascinating.  

~ Address agent by name in the query letter and know his or her market. 

~ Be detailed with the story idea.  Do not be vague or coy about the hook; reveal it in the letter. 

~ Know what you are pitching and into what genre it fits. 

~ Demonstrate knowledge of and proficiency in the craft of writing. 

~ Include biographical information about yourself as the author and your writing life; list all relevant education and recognition for previous work, even finalist recognition. 

~ Do not solicit an agent if you are still revising the project; they are not interested in drafts. 

~ While details about the story idea and pay-off are crucial to getting an agent’s attention, too many facts and details about the story are unnecessary. 

~ Don’t feel the need to state that you are querying the agent exclusively.  It’s neither practical nor expected. 

~ Indicate in the letter that you have done your research and read all the books available that are similar to yours.  Explain how yours compares with what has already been written on the same subject.  

For more information about query letters, visit www.queryshark.blogspot.com or click on the link under Resources for Writers in the Archetype sidebar.  The July/August edition of Poets & Writers also includes an exceptional article on the role of the literary agent.  To read it, click on the link below.  


Jamie Weiss Chilton

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