Thursday, January 12, 2017

Write, Revise, Research, Submit Rinse, Repeat!

~By Kathryn Brown Ramsperger

So it’s the beginning of a new year and you’re itching to make progress on your novel. You’re meeting your daily writing goals! Congrats! However, if you want to get published, you’ll have to keep up a certain pace after January. I suggest resolving to set aside an hour or two every day to write, revise, research, and submit. Here’s how I wrote my forthcoming novel, The Shores of Our Souls, which will be published by Touchpoint Press later this year:

Write More: You may not believe me, but it’s perfectly achievable to write a full novel in 30 days, 60 days, or 90 days—if you write every day. Even if it takes you three months to get your first draft, that’s amazing progress!  Even once you have your first draft, though, you have to keep writing as often as possible.

Revise More:  I had a critique group, a book club, and two developmental editors read my work. Each time we met, I used their feedback to revise my novel. My writing strengths are dialogue, detail, and characterization, and my weakness used to be the plot. Notice I said, “used to be,” that’s because I learned more about constructing the plot each time I revised. The more your work is read, the more your weakness will become your strengths. The more your writing improves, the better your chances of securing an agent and/or publisher.

Research More:  There is a cornucopia of resources online, in print, and in the community that can advise you on writing fiction. Use them. Ask questions. Take a class. You can research a scene, a method or technique, or facts to solidify your writing. You can also research how to submit and market your book.

Submit More: Once I completed my third draft, I began submitting my manuscript to agents. I also submitted stories to 25-30 literary journals every quarter.  Many agents wrote lovely words about my manuscript, but I submitted to over 200 agents before I found the right fit.  In fact, it was a guest blog that I wrote that caught the attention of my now agent—an agent who subsequently submitted my work to 197 publishers before it was accepted by Touchpoint.  All along the way, I saw sparks of interest from agents. This made my heart sing because a) it meant the publisher read my pages; and b) they liked my work enough not to send a standard rejection form letter. 

Rinse and Repeat!  If you knock on 50 doors selling vacuums, you’ll sell less than if you knock on 500. Publishing (good enough) fiction is a numbers game. I call my “rejections” my “permission slips to proceed.”  Every time I got a rejection, I sent a query to another publication—either a journal, an online magazine, or an agent. Agents look for a portfolio of fiction to show that you are a serious professional.  

Never give up! Don’t stop writing, researching markets, or submitting! Today’s authors are lucky to be able to send simultaneous submissions. Take advantage of this opportunity, and don’t worry too much about rejections.  If you take these steps, you’ll soon have a home for your book baby.

Kathryn Brown Ramsperger’s debut novel will be published by Touchpoint Press in summer 2017. You can read more about it at, where you’ll also find information about Kathryn and her other writing, including her nonfiction, short stories, and blog. She’s also a creativity coach, and you can contact her at 301-503-5150.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Meet the Instructor: Marija Stajic

 ~ By Catherine Gregoire

            At the Writer’s Center, we love welcoming new members to our ever-expanding community of talented writers, authors, teachers, and literary enthusiasts. This is why we’re especially excited to welcome Marija Stajic, the newest TWC workshop leader!
            Marija comes to TWC with a long literary history. She is the winner of both The Writer’s Center 2014 Undiscovered Voices Fellowship, and the Neoverse Short Story Award (top 20 out of 4000). Her unpublished novel, Refugee and her book of secrets, was a Washington Writer’s and Publishing House 2015 competition finalist. Marija received a BA in Literature from the University of Nis in Serbia, and an MA in International Journalism from American University. She studied fiction at both The George Washington University and The Writer’s Center, and playwriting at HB Studios in New York City. Marija’s work has been published in the Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review, South 85, Gargoyle, Epiphany, Lunch Ticket, Inertia literary journals, and in the Defying Gravity and Threads anthologies. Marija is also the author of three collections of poetry in Serbian.
Born in the former Yugoslavia, Marija is no stranger to transcultural and transnational experiences. In fact, she says that her time spent living in various countries has made her a better writer. In fact, she plans to draw on her unique background to teach two upcoming Winter/Spring workshops: Multicultural Fiction and How to Build Complex Characters.

The Writer’s Center: Why are you teaching these particular topics? Why are they important to you?

Marija Stajic: “I'm teaching these particular topics because my brilliant former novel teacher, Amin Ahmad, thought that I would do a good job. It is/was something that TWC didn't offer until now. I believe diversity and options in education are always good.”

TWC: How would you say the concept of sharing culture and reaching beyond one’s culture through writing can impact both writer and audience?

MS: “I think people read fiction because it transfers them into different worlds—often ones they would never be able to experience in person. I know that I love to read about cultures I know nothing about. It's mysterious; it's exotic. I feel like I'm learning while I'm hovering over a scene a great writer created—like Junot Diaz of Dominican Republic, Jhumpa Lahiri of India, or Orhan Pamuk of Turkey. I also believe that people should write what only they can write. I happen to have a somewhat unique experience of growing up in the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia under Tito, then living in dictatorship of Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia, then surviving NATO bombardment of Serbia, and then immigrating to the United States five years later to start a whole new life. As I recently said to a Serbian journalist who is writing a story about my winning the Neoverse Short Story Writing Competition, I am bilingual, have two college degrees in two languages, and I have two driver's licenses. I had to take a test to become an American citizen. I had to do things twice that most people only do once. I believe these unique experiences make me the writer I am today, for better or worse. Why not share my experiences with people who are interested in hearing about them?” 

TWC: What are you up to next? What are your future plans and goals?

MS: “I will be teaching two TWC courses in January: Complex Characters and Multicultural Fiction. For more than 15 years, I have been teaching Serbo-Croatian and Bosnian languages and literature, but this will be a different kind of teaching. I am excited about it. I look forward to being a part of TWC's community of teachers and writers. I plan on immersing myself into my best teacher-self, and preparing for these courses with energy and enthusiasm. I'm also writing my second novel, The American Sorceress. I'm only at 55,000 words of the first draft, but I am hopeful that after some strenuous and diligent workshopping with my TWC peers, I will be able to find a legitimate publisher for it.” 

We’re excited to have Marija on board to teach these exciting new classes! We believe that just as it has for Marija, an exposure to multiculturalism will make us all more effective writers. We hope you can join her in January! Click here for course registration information.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Spotlight on Literary Events: December 2016

Friday, December 2nd, 7:30 pm
Folger Shakespeare Library
201 E Capitol St SE, Washington, DC 20003
Given since 1988 in honor of the late Bernard Malamud, this award recognizes a body of work demonstrating excellence in the art of short fiction. This year we will honor Joy Williams, a writer known for her crisp prose, grim wit, and unsparing explorations of the dark side of hope. Tickets are $25. Discounted tickets for students, seniors and military members are available.

Monday, December 5th, 6:30 pm
Busboys and Poets 14th and V
2021 14th St NW Washington, DC 20009
Join April Ryan, Joy-Ann Reid, Mary Frances Berry, Wes Moore, Cornell Belcher, and Avis Jones DeWeever for the fourth in an ongoing series of discussions focusing on race in America. Event is free.

Tuesday, December 6th, 12:00 pm-1:30 pm
Library of Congress-Whittall Pavilion, Thomas Jefferson Building
101 Independence Ave SE, Washington, DC 20540
Michael Signer will discuss and sign his new book Becoming Madison: The Extraordinary Origins of the Least Likely Founding Father (Public Affairs, 2015). Cosponsored with the Law Library.

Saturday, December 10th, 10:30 am-12:00 pm
The Writer’s Center
4508 Walsh St, Chevy Chase, MD 20815
Join us for a free information session on our Memoir Year Program. Starting February 2, serious memoirists who have completed a draft of their memoir or nonfiction will have the opportunity to workshop their entire manuscript over the course of a year. Event is free.

Sunday, December 11th, 2:00 pm-4:00 pm
The Writer’s Center
4508 Walsh St, Chevy Chase, MD 20815
Poets Walter Cybulski, author of Nothing to Say and Saying It, and Piotr Gwiazda, who reads from his recently published third collection, Aspects of Strangers, are joined by The Writer’s Center Undiscovered Voices Fellowship 2014 recipient, Caitlin Reid. She has earned several scholarships to continue her education, including The Gettysburg Review Writer’s Conference and a Murphy Writing Seminar in Wales. Event is free.

Monday, December 12th, 7:30 pm
Folger Shakespeare Library
201 E Capitol St SE, Washington, DC 20003
Co-sponsored with the Poetry Society of America
“The surfaces of a Tracy K. Smith poem are beautiful and serene, but underneath, there is always a sense of an unknown vastness. Her poems take the risk of inviting us to imagine, as the poet does, what it is to travel in another person’s shoes.”                                                                                                                                  —Toi Derricotte
Tickets are $15.

Tuesday, December 13th, 7:00 pm-9:00 pm
Upshur St. Books
827 Upshur St NW Washington, DC 20011
Paul Freedman (Ten Restaurants that Changed America) and Robert Simonson (A Proper Drink) are coming to Upshur Street Books for a moderated talk about the history of fine dining and fine drinking in America. $6 tickets include a cocktail, the perfect pairing for discussing fine fare and libations.

Wednesday, December 14th, 7:30 pm-9:30 pm
Busboys & Poets-Takoma
235 Carroll St NW, Washington, DC 20012
COME HEAR IT AT THE GRAPEVINE @ Busboys and Poets, Takoma SECOND WEDNESDAYS @ 7:30 PM! Tim Livengood and Noa Baum host The Grapevine Spoken Word Series. Celebrate the timeless Art of Storytelling, with Truths, Folktales, Rumors, and everything in between! $15 suggested Donation.

Thursday, December 15th, 7:00 pm-8:30 pm
Upshur St. Books
827 Upshur St NW Washington, DC 20011

Friday, December 16th, 6:00 pm-7:30 pm
Epicure Café
11104 Lee Highway Fairfax, VA 22030
Cathy Cruise received her MFA in creative writing from George Mason University and her BA in English from Radford University. Her fiction has appeared in American Fiction Volume 14, Blue Mesa Review, New Virginia Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, and Phoebe. Event is free.

Friday, December 16th, 6:15 pm
Shakespeare Theater Company @ Sidney Harman Hall
610 F St NW, Washington, DC 20004
Bring one (or more) of your beloved children's books and exchange them for new favorites. Light refreshments provided! This event is a part of Family Week, seven days of free and low-cost programming that celebrates The Secret Garden. Event is free with RSVP.

Saturday, December 17th, 12:00 pm-5:00 pm
The Writer’s Center
4508 Walsh St, Chevy Chase, MD 20815
On this day 40 years ago, The Writer’s Center first opened its doors, and has been inspiring and supporting an extraordinary community of writers ever since. Celebrate with a day of readings, speed dating with editors (members only), and a book fair. Workshop leaders and staff will be on hand to offer advice and help you select gifts for all of the readers in your life. Stay for birthday cake and a glass of holiday cheer! Event is free and open to all.

Sunday, December 18th, 2:00 pm-4:00 pm
The Writer’s Center
4508 Walsh St, Chevy Chase, MD 20815
Come share your writing at open mic! Sign-up for readers starts at 1:30 and the reading starts at 2:00. Event is free.

Sunday, December 18th, 2:00 pm-4:00 pm
The Writer’s Center
4508 Walsh St, Chevy Chase, MD 20815
Come share your writing at open mic! Sign-up for readers starts at 1:30 and the reading starts at 2:00. Event is free.
The Writer’s Center presents a reading and publication party for Martin Galvin’s A Way to Home: New and Selected Poems (Poet’s Choice Press). Poets Rod Jellema and Liz Hazen will read from the collection, and will be joined by two of Galvin’s grandsons, Davis Galvin Curry and James Joseph Curry.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Lessons from NaNoWriMo: You Have to Start Somewhere

- By Catherine Gregoire

As the Communications and Marketing Intern at The Writer’s Center, I spend most of my time writing social media posts and blog articles, and assisting with editing, emailing, and digital marketing. However, for National Novel Writing Month, I decided to branch out from my regular duties. That’s right; I decided to try my hand at writing 50,000 words in 30 days!

The novel I chose to work on tells the story of a young woman who discovers she has magical powers because she is left-handed. To date, I’ve written a little more than 7000 words, and I think that’s great! But, it became clear to me that I won’t be able write an additional 40,000+ words before the month’s out, so I’m adjusting my original goal accordingly. #NaNoWriMo Lesson #1: be flexible.

I decided to try out NaNoWriMo this year because it would be a new experience. Going in, I had an inkling that I wouldn’t be able to reach the magical 50,000 words. I knew that, with my busy lifestyle, the odds were stacked against me. But when it comes to writing, are we really racing to reach a goal? Some of us will pen those 50,000 words by November 30. Some of us won’t. But in the end, we all win. Why?  Because we wrote something. In fact, this was just the kind of push I needed to start working on my novel. That’s really what this is all about, giving writers a reason to start.

During my time as an intern, I’ve found that The Writer’s Center jumpstarts many a writing career. TWC instructors work to help their students unleash their creative storytelling potentials. As writer’s, that’s what we need most, people and opportunities to give us a reason to take that first step.

It’s productive to obsess about progress and push, push, push ourselves, but it’s also productive to say, “screw it!” and let our writing take its natural course.

Whatever NaNoWriMo stage that you’re at right now, be proud of it. Be satisfied, but don’t be complacent. Keep pushing #NaNoWriMo Warriors, you’ve come too far to give up now!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Novelist John DeDakis Talks Fostering Creativity

We just have to ask—how is NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) going? Are you making progress? Have you uncovered some hidden gems? Have you encountered some stumbling blocks? Have you awakened a part of your creative genius that you didn’t know existed?

NaNoWriMo has a unique effect on all of us. For some, it’s a period of unbridled inspiration when their minds gush with poetic prose. For others, it’s a season of strain and push—an agonizing, uphill climb to get just one good story out. Whatever it is that you’re experiencing during NaNoWriMo 2016, we want you to know that you’re not alone. The Writer’s Center is here to motivate you!

To prove our point, we’re sharing these encouraging words from John DeDakis, one of our talented workshop leaders. DeDakis is an acclaimed novelist and author of Fast Track, Bluff, Troubled Water, and Bullet in the Chamber. Building on his experience as a CNN journalist, DeDakis’ novels assume an entertaining journalistic motif as they follow one character, reporter Lark Chadwick, through a maze of conflicts and Fourth Estate adventures.


TWC: What inspired the story of your latest novel (and can you share a bit about the novel itself)?

JD: The idea for Bullet in the Chamber came to mind in the summer of 2011 when my son died of a heroin overdose. The bullet in a syringe image on the book cover underlines the Russian-roulette power of even one hit of heroin. His fictionalized story is a subplot for my latest Lark Chadwick mystery. In this story, it's Lark's first day as a White House Correspondent for the Associated Press. The Executive Mansion is attacked, the president is missing, the first lady's life is in danger, and Lark's personal life is falling apart when the man she loves disappears. It's a deadline-a-minute thriller about drugs, drones, and journalism.

TWC: How do you motivate yourself to keep writing?

JD: The motivation is hard-wired into me.  I must write.  I'm also an excellent procrastinator, but I've built that into my writing routine. When I'm ruminating, I'm still writing because I'm thinking about the story.  Eventually—inevitably—procrastination turns into progress at the keyboard.  Eventually.

TWC: What advice can you share with those participating in NaNoWriMo?

JD: Have fun with it.  And don't give up.

Need some ideas as your write your novel? Here’s a prompt and exercise by DeDakis to stir up the imagination and work your writer muscles:

SETTING: Midnight at an ATM
ACTION: Your protagonist is getting money out of the machine when he/she hears a noise from behind.

Now set your timer for fifteen minutes and write what happens next.

This is the 50/50 method for sparking creative ideas:  Fifty settings in which fifty things happen. It helps you get to know your characters and might even spark an entire novel.

No inspiring novelist will want to miss out on DeDakis’ next workshop, "From Novice to Novelist" at the Writer's Center in Bethesda on December 3. Click the link below to register:

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Retire the Colors: Veterans & Civilians on Iraq & Afghanistan

In honor of Veterans Day, Assistant Director Sunil Freeman asks Dario DiBattista about his newly published anthology, Retire the Colors: Veterans & Civilians on Iraq & Afghanistan, a collection of nonfiction accounts about service members returning to civilian life. DiBattista and authors will read from and discuss the anthology 3:00 p.m., Saturday, November 12 at The Writer's Center.

SF: First of all, congratulations on publication of this anthology. This includes a wide range of voices about the return to civilian life. It must have been an enormous effort. I’m interested in how this anthology came to exist. Did you propose it to a publisher? 

DD: Sue Petrie, publisher of Hudson Whitman / Excelsior College Press, did actually come to me with interest about putting together a book. This was my idea—something unique and timely as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were "winding down," though obviously we're still involved in combat in both locations.

SF: About how many submissions did you receive, and were there any particular surprises?

DD: We'd probably gotten about 75–90 in total, though, most of the pieces and writers I'd assigned or personally made come into fruition through my networks. Joseph R. Bawden's "It's Nothing (Singed)," whose piece I was able to select through the open call for submissions through Excelsior College, has stuck at as particularly unique in perspective and really been resonating with general audiences so far. We think about combat stress and PTSD in "a ticking time-bomb" sort of cliché, but for him, he's numb to life in many ways after his time overseas.

SF: I’m struck by how many different perspectives you were able to include. Veterans who served in the Army, Marines, Navy, and Air Force are all represented, and we see essays by veterans of both Iraq and Afghanistan. How much shaping of the selections did you do to create the overall collection?

DD: A diversity of perspectives was key to this collection. I work really closely with storytellers. Note the word "storytellers." Many of the writers in the collection don't have M.F.A.s or much formal instruction in writing, so I was able to cast a larger net. In a way, I was less concerned with the quality of craft tricks a writer could use for essays in this collection, than helping someone tell a true, honest, impactful story. We collaborate together in shaping their stories, though, of course, many of these essays were completed by very skilled and successful veteran writers who didn't need much editorial direction from me.

SF: The inclusion of an essay by the Iraqi Cultural Attaché added another dimension to the anthology. How did this come about?

DD: I reached out to both the Iraq and Afghanistan embassies. And even though both were interested, they weren't able to connect me with writer-representatives of their countries. So I asked Dr. Tahani Al-Sandook if she had a piece she'd want to write. And she said yes, obviously. My mentor Mary Collins taught that you will never know what will happen if you don't ask. I was so thankful to have some international perspective, as one of the biggest criticisms of art and storytelling related to these wars is that it's very American-centric. 

SF: A very small percentage of our overall population has served in the military over these last 15 years, and a large majority of Americans have no real understanding of the military. Essays by civilians who have not served are also included in the collection, creating a sort of bridge over that big divide. Would you like to comment on that?

DD: America has an empathy problem, which I think of as a personality disorder. Many of us can't, won't or don't consider the experiences of people who are different than ourselves. Just go to any social media thread or comments section of a controversial story for an example of this. I think this is because we don't read -- reading others’ stories forces us to intellectualize different experiences in a uniquely personal way. It's kind of an ultimate act of communication when you can get someone to sit down and listen to your story, even if it's just a 15-minute personal essay. Hopefully, through this collection, readers will understand the impact of war as being bigger than just the experiences of military men and women. 

SF: Much of the writing that has come out of the wars after 9/11 has focused on the actual wartime experience. What were some of your thoughts as you put together this anthology, focusing more on the return to civilian life?

DD: There are plenty of well-made being "over there" stories, and almost nothing about coming home, which for many of us is an even more challenging coda to our experience. I intentionally made it clear that I was only concerned with stories about "being back home."

SF: Could you suggest some authors you’d recommend to anybody who wants to learn more about the experiences of service members who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan?

DD: Colin Halloran's memoir-in-verse, Shortly Thereafter, is a tremendously accessible-yet-literary insight onto what combat can do to the soul. Kelly Kennedy takes you over there in a uniquely authoritative way with They Fought for Each Other. Also, oddly, I think Jen Percy's supernatural Demon Camp, about a young man who gets convinced that his PTSD is demonic possession, is maybe the best book I've ever read about Iraq or Afghanistan. 

SF: Finally, I know you’re involved with many editorial projects, including The Veterans Writing Project journal O-Dark-Thirty, JMWW, .Mic, and 20 Something Magazine.  Are there any projects on the horizon you’d like to mention?

DD: I've got a screenplay about a Marine coming home from war and his spiritual and physical journey in the form of an epic road-trip with his childhood best friend. Come at me, Hollywood. 

Dario DiBattista is the editor of the anthology Retire the Colors: Veterans & Civilians on Iraq & Afghanistan. His work has appeared in the Washingtonian, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Connecticut Review, [Pank],, and many other publications. Additionally, he's been profiled in the New York Times and has been a commentator on NPR and for the BBC. He served in the United States Marine Corps Reserve from 2001 to 2007, later becoming a distinguished graduate of the Johns Hopkins University M.A. in Writing Program.