CLMP Firecracker Awards

The Council of Literary Magazines and Presses has announced the shortlist for the 2014 Firecracker Awards, which celebrates small press and independently published books. Here are the finalists in fiction and creative nonfiction:

CREATIVE NONFICTION

The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison (Graywolf Press)
Loitering by Charles D’Ambrosio (Tin House Books)
The Other Side by Lacy M. Johnson (Tin House Books)
Self-Portrait in Green by Marie NDiaye (Two Lines Press)
Surrendering Oz by Bonnie Friedman (Etruscan Press)

FICTION

Hum by Michelle Richmond (FC2, an imprint of University of Alabama Press)
List by Matthew Roberson (FC2, an imprint of University of Alabama Press)
Search for Heinrich Schlögel by Martha Baillie (Tin House Books)
Sister Golden Hair by Darcey Steinke (Tin House Books)
Song of the Shank by Jeffery Renard Allen (Graywolf Press)
Songs for the Deaf by John Henry Fleming (Burrow Press)
Street of Thieves by Mathias Énard (Open Letter)
The Family Cannon by Halina Duraj (Augury Books)
The Good Life Elsewhere by Vladimir Lorchenkov (New Vessel Press)
Us Conductors by Sean Michaels (Tin House Books)

I’m delighted that Hum received a nod, along with another FC2 title, Matthew Roberson’s List. View the complete shortlist for the Firecracker Awards here.

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The Muse: Gray Cat on Gray Chair

Wherein Phoebe commits an admirable act of camouflage, while lounging. Truth be told, she is no muse. When she hears the laptop come on, or hears me settle into my desk chair, she quits whatever she is doing (which is to say she quits sitting around looking impervious) and stages an intervention. She likes to climb on the keyboard, as she clearly feels that she has a great deal more to contribute on any subject than I do.

Gray cat on gray chair on sunny day #cats

A photo posted by Michelle Richmond (@michellerichmondsf) on

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5 Truths About Writing I Wish I’d Known 20 Years Ago

Last week, I visited California College of the Arts to talk to the current crop of MFA candidates about writing and publishing. I taught at CCA for several years, several years ago, but somewhere along the line I quit teaching in order to spend more time writing. I always enjoyed teaching, though, and it was good to be back there, talking to students who are at the stage I was almost twenty years ago, and who have most of the same concerns that I had at that age.

I hadn’t really prepared anything for my talk, because when you’ve been writing for as long as I have, there’s nothing easier to talk about than writing. It’s like asking a chef to talk about food. Somewhere along the line, it comes naturally. More naturally, probably, than even the writing itself, which has its good days and its bad days. Some days, writing is like drinking water; it feels completely natural. Some days, it’s like drinking lighter fluid; it feels not only unnatural, but also painful.

I asked the students what they wanted to hear about. Were they interested in the publishing world? They were. I talked a bit about that—how it was when I was coming up, and how it’s changed, and why it’s still important to have both a trusted agent and a trusted reader. The conversation veered a bit, and I find myself sounding something like an old-timer, giving the “what I wish I’d known back then” talk. It wasn’t a talk I’d given before, but it just sort of started to roll off of my tongue, because what the students really wanted to know about was the writing life: how to do it, and how to sustain it, and if it was possible, and how.

The why, they didn’t really need to know, because if they did, they wouldn’t be pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing. The why for any writer comes down to this: if you’re not writing, you’re not happy. Therefore, you write. Of course, that reasoning implies that writing will always make you happy. For many people, that’s not true at all. What I should say is: when you’re not writing, you’re not fulfilled. That’s better. Want to know if you are really and truly a writer? When you go long periods without writing, you feel a bit empty. When you write well, or at least productively, you feel fulfilled, and often, if you’re lucky, even happy.

Thank you for bearing with me. It’s been, I realize, a long and meandering path so far. But that’s what the writing life is like, and that’s why we’re lucky, and that’s the first thing I wish I’d known about writing twenty years ago: (click Read More to continue to WRITING TRUTH NUMBER 1) (more…)

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golden state

Structuring a Novel – Where Stories Begin

Caroline Leavitt, bestselling author of the wonderful novels Pictures of You and Is This Tomorrow, among others, recently interviewed me about my new novel, GOLDEN STATE (Feb. 4). Here, we talk about structuring a novel–how much you know of the structure before you begin, and the challenges of writing a novel that takes place in a single day.

CL:  Golden State takes place across one day, and yet in that day, whole lives are really lead. I deeply admired the masterful way you played with time, breaking it apart, in order to give us pieces of different stories before we got to the whole. Did you always know this was the structure? How difficult was it to write?

MR: The story began, really, with the idea of the main character, Julie, making her way across town on a broken ankle over the course of a single day. I wanted to use this structure to allow Julie, who is about to turn forty, to reflect on how she got to this point in her life–the mistakes she’s made, the people she has loved, the path she has taken. While I’ve never written a novel set in a single day before, I tend to write in a similar pattern–of present action interspersed with reflection–in all of my novels. It’s just the most natural-feeling way for me to write a story, perhaps because I am always so interested (not just in novels, but also in life) about where people came from, what made them who they are.

With Golden State, however, an extra wrinkle was added–a hostage situation that’s taking place at the hospital where Julie works. It was quite challenging to figure out where the pieces fit. Writing a novel, as you know, is like putting together a huge puzzle. I actually laid the chapters out on my dining room floor for weeks at a time, during various phases of the process, to figure out where things went.

Read Caroline’s interview here.   Read an excerpt from Golden State.

Buy the book:  Indiebound    Amazon 

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