Category: writers

What would you agree to for a writer’s residency?

Image of Denver Platform and Amtrak  Train

Denver Platform View, copyright Kathleen Crislip

There is a lot of chatter around the Amtrak Residency Program for writers. Free long-distance train ride with a sleeper car equipped with a bed, a desk and outlets. Countryside views unattainable from any other type of trip. Inspiration.

Writers flooded Amtrak with applications—8,500 in just the first week. Twitter is ablaze with the hashtag, #AmtrakResidency. This tells me that for many this opportunity is worth the cost. By cost, I don’t mean an application fee because there is none. The cost is giving up all rights to application materials, which includes a writing sample of up to 10 pages.

In legal-speak, the Official Terms of the program include provision 6, “Grant of Rights,” as quoted below.

In submitting an Application, Applicant hereby grants Sponsor the absolute, worldwide, and irrevocable right to use, modify, publish, publicly display, distribute, and copy Applicant’s Application, in whole or in part, for any purpose, including, but not limited to, advertising and marketing, and to sublicense such rights to any third parties. . . . Applicant grants Sponsor the absolute, worldwide, and irrevocable right to use, modify, publish, publicly display, distribute, and copy the name, image, and/or likeness of Applicant and the names of any such persons identified in the Application for any purpose, including, but not limited to, advertising and marketing. For the avoidance of doubt, one’s Application will NOT be kept confidential (and, for this reason, it is recommended that the writing sample and answers to questions not contain any personally identifiable information – e.g., name or e-mail address – of Applicant.)

Critics have come out against the program for this reason. Dan Zak calls it a sham in his Washington Post article. Mr. Zak points out the media coup this is for Amtrak, now getting crazy publicity for their long-distance trips, which are reportedly operating in the red by millions. Ben Cosman, writing for The Wire, shares parts of an email from Julia Quinn, Amtrak’s Social Media Director, written to The Wire, clarifying Amtrak’s intentions: Read more »

What Would You Ask a Panel about Paths to Publication?

GetLit14I’m reaching out to the esteemed readers of Bark for much needed help. During this year’s world famous Get Lit! festival, I’m moderating a panel on the many publication options today’s market offers.

A Brave New World: Finding Your Path to Publication in Today’s Market with Rebecca Zanetti, Danica Winters, and Shoshanna Evers. 

Never before have authors had as many options to get their prose into the hands of readers as they do in today’s market. But how do you know which publishing model is right for you and your writing? Join authors Rebecca ZanettiDanica Winters, and Shoshanna Evers for a frank and honest discussion of the benefits and disadvantages of current publishing options. Together, these three successful and multi-published writers bring expertise on just about every path to publication you can imagine, including small presses, digital firsts, traditional big 5 houses, self-publishing, and hybrid models. Bring your questions! Moderated by Åsa Maria Bradley. 

Time:  12:00-1:30 p.m.
Venue: Spokane Convention Center
Room: 205

If you were to go this panel, what would be the questions you’d like answered?

It would be great to see you at the panel, so you could get your questions answered. However, if you can’t make it, I’ll see if the authors would visit Bark for an extended discussion.


Hostel Lessons



10 Things I Learned By Staying in a Hostel During AWP

  1. Not only do I talk in my sleep, but I also yelp, so there goes any sense of moral superiority I might have had about not snoring.
  2. That new guy from Austin may seem nice, but when he asks for a favor, it’s OK to say no, especially when he says, “Can we go out into the hallway so I can ask you?” At that point, it’s a relief when he only asks to use my laptop.
  3. Next time I forget my key card, I should check inside my boot before paying $10 for a replacement.
  4. Stashing the replacement key card inside my laminated AWP ID badge is easy and convenient. Inadvertently displaying my room number to thousands of AWP attendees in no way makes it look like I’m trying to lure men back to the hostel.
  5. Some people go to AWP and wake up next to strange men. I wake up next to strange phones. It was not because I had sleepwalked my way down the ladder and stolen someone’s phone. Nope, I’m too busy yelping in my sleep for that. Instead, the sweet girl in Bunk E heard a phone going off on the floor next to the bunk and assumed it was mine. I appreciated her thoughtfulness, even if I did glance at the phone while half-asleep and wonder exactly when I had switched to Verizon.
  6. Fitted sheets will always hate me, regardless of if I’m making a full-size bed in Spokane or a twin bed in Seattle.
  7. That guy in Bunk D with the hipster mustache? He’s not here for AWP. He’s “just hanging out.”
  8. Creepy hallway requests aside, people possess a remarkable ability to be nice to strangers who just happen to be sleeping in the same room. Yes, even writers have this strange and mysterious power.
  9. Always leave the window open. Sure, the view is nice, but not waking up in a puddle of sweat is even nicer.
  10. Rooming with fellow writers means thoughtful, reasoned discussions on the nature of writing, grad school, and funny euphemisms for, you know, sex stuff.

Hateship Loveship

The trailer is out for Hateship Loveship, the movie based on Alice Munro’s story “Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage.” The film stars Kristen Wiig, Nick Nolte, Guy Pearce, and others.

YouTube Preview Image


Trying to fit in can be hard sometimes

Trying to fit in can be hard sometimes.


I was embarrassed of my skinny legs. Starting in first, maybe second, grade I started wearing black leggings to school. Almost daily. It’s okay, I had multiple pairs, so it wasn’t like I was wearing the same pair every day to school and I figured everyone else knew that. In my childhood mind those black leggings hid my skinniness from the world. It didn’t occur to me until years later that leggings cling to your body. Reveal every bone. I imagine my legs looked like stilts.
My leggings were a little loose on me. Maybe I got by.

- – -

Since graduating from my MFA program with a degree in creative writing I have felt lost. I found what I wanted to do in the world. I loved it. I felt full. Since drifting from my community of like-minded people and program-established friendships I can feel myself emptying. Curling up like a flower touched by evening frost I am allowing myself to believe I am defined by bills, by a need to be responsible, by acting my age, figuring it out. I feel unsteady. Like I’m learning to walk again. And I’m doing a terrible job remembering my determination and my ability to adapt. Sometimes I worry I’m falling on purpose.

- – -

My sister was taller than me. Stretched. She was thinner. More shy. When I was a little older it started to sink in what my mom meant when she said my sister was teased. Would come home crying. People were mean to her. She had braces on her teeth, headgear for a while, so did I, but then again, people didn’t tease me. Or if they did I don’t remember.  As a younger sibling I never assumed the role of protector. But now, as an adult, I find myself feeling fiercely protective over her and how the people around her are treating her.

- – -

When I go on job interviews, for jobs I’m uncertain I’m qualified to do well, I’m often asked about my personal and professional goals. For me, they are the same. I want to write. I want to find time to write. I want to be engaged with the world, to learn and educate myself, to explore and grow and have a lot of time for silence and stillness. But I always feel weird saying this in an interview, like I should be more driven. Or more defined. Or more or more or more or more.
I want to make sure I’m growing, pushing myself to do more.
I want to “be successful.”
I want to make my family proud.
When interviewing for jobs I often feel like a round peg trying to fit in to a square hole. Read more »

The Making of Good Writers

WriterLeslie Jamison thoughtful and smart essay “Which Creates Better Writers: An MFA Program or New York City? examines the issues brought up in MFA vs. NYC, an essay collection edited by Chad Harbach. The collection is an extension of the questions Hardbach asked in his 2010 essay by the same title, which was written in response to Mark McGurl’s  2009 book The Program Era.

I remember some of the arguments debates that heated up the internet four years ago, and it seems like the collection continues those discussions.

The Los Angeles Times thinks the book ‘ponders whether getting a master of fine arts degree in creative writing is a good idea.’ Though in the article that follows this headline, reviewer Carolyn Kellogg broadens the issue: ‘The larger question is whether institutionalizing a creative endeavor benefits our culture.’ In the New York Times, Dwight Garner calls it a ‘volume that asks whether fiction writing can, or should, be taught.’

Jamison expands these questions in her essay and clarifies why the debate will probably never be settled.

“Not so much whether writers can be taught but what it means that they are getting taught, and what it means that we keep asking this question about the legitimacy of the discipline; what our anxieties about the institutionalization of writing might teach us. The volume asks who pays the bills, and how; and also how these flows of money—the pressures they generate and the institutional affiliations they produce—affect the work itself.”

Reading this article right after AWP resonated with me. It’s been four years since I last attended the conference and yet many of the panels this year discussed the same issues as the talks I attended then, including “…the legitimacy of the discipline; what our anxieties about the institutionalization of writing might teach us.” And many of the students in the audience again  brought up variations of “who pays the bills, and how; and also how these flows of money—the pressures they generate and the institutional affiliations they produce—affect the work itself.”

I’m not sure we’ll ever get concrete answers. I kind of hope we don’t, because I like the landscape of the writing market to be as fluid and diverse as I hope new writers (and writing programs) will continue to be.  And so, I’m quite happy to debate these issues, now and in the future.

Editing Life

MyLifeAt a an author reading at Auntie Bookstore’s last year, Craig Johnson talked about how much he liked Robert Taylor’s audition for the role of Sheriff Walt Longmire in the A&E TV series based on Johnson’s novels (Viking). That is, he liked it until a breathy “Oh, my” escaped from his wife’s lips when she saw Taylor saunter across the screen. She quickly defended her reaction by describing Taylor as a taller and slightly better looking, “TV version” of her husband. (Nice save, Mrs. Johnson.)

This made me wonder what the TV/film version of me would be like. I pictured a polished, skinnier Asa, with better skin, thicker more lustrous hair, wearing expensive designer clothes and shoes. She would know how to walk in high heels, have an infectious tinkling laugh, and use a clever repertoire of insightful comments during conversations. And she would look good in hats.

Later that night, I uploaded some pictures from the author event to social media and realized the edited version of my life already exists: Facebook.

Here are some of the director choices I’ve made for the Facebook version of my life:

Major Milestones:
My husband and friend arrange an amazing 40th birthday party—show pictures of guests, especially cute children of friends playing with dog. 

Turning 40 means spending an alarming amount of time in front of a magnifying mirror tweezing coarse hairs that sprout on my chin—CUT!

Ziplining in Costa Rica—post photos of posting with hubby in matching helmets, include video of me whizzing down a very high line at fast speeds.

Spending hours on the toilet, purging from both ends due to Costa Rican amoeba entering gastrointestinal system—Are you crazy?! Nobody wants to see that. CUT! Read more »

The Sound of Your Voice, and Other Forms of Torture

I'm not really sure what's going on here. But I like it.

I’m not really sure what’s going on here. But I like it.

An online literary journal recently asked me if I was willing to record myself reading my forthcoming poem, and I said yes of course because that’s what you say when a literary journal asks you to do anything. And then I immediately regretted my decision.

There are people who exist who love the sound of their own voice, but I am not one of them. I have mixed feelings about reading out loud – I’m anxious for days leading up to it, I realize it’s not that bad and kind of enjoy the rush for the five minutes I’m onstage, and then I’m relieved it’s over and I want waffles. But I fully believe it’s necessary to read your work out loud and I’m always glad that I did it.

What I like most about giving a poetry reading is watching your words connect with someone in the audience. A stranger. A friend. They laugh, they smile, they roll their eyes, they cover their man parts because they think you’re a little frightening – it doesn’t matter what the reaction is, the fact that someone in front of you is reacting to something you wrote is amazing. On a good night, in a good venue, you can feel the energy in the crowd adjust to each poem and I eat that shit up.

But none of that exists in a voice recording.

It’s like trying to record your voicemail message. For like two minutes. I would get a few words out, be appalled by the sound of my own voice, press the stop button and start over. Read more »

Does Geography Determine Creativity?

MapEyeAs a teenager, I thought I had to move to a big city to be a writer. Growing up in a small Swedish town (3000 people), I had my sights set on London, Amsterdam, or in a pinch, Copenhagen. Berlin seemed pretty cool too, but when it came time to pick a third language in seventh grade and my school offered German and French, I for some reason picked the Romance language. When after three years I still hadn’t mastered the French vocabulary, I scratched Paris off the fourth place position on my list.

At seventeen, I moved to the US to study and learned quickly that in this country, the only place to become a successful writer was New York City. Young creative people still flock to this vibrant metropolis, but according to Candy Washington, sometimes they need a vacation from the “hustle-and-bustle of the NYC grind.” In her recent article for PolicyMic, she writes:

New York can be a great environment for the creative 20-something — but only if you’ve got endless funds, patience or both. And as the city continues to price us out, it’s important for young artists to consider other equally exciting and inspiring places to call home.

Ms. Washington suggests the following five cities for creative living:

1. Wilmington, NC: The new film and television hub
2. Little Five Points, GA: Boho-chic in the South
3. Providence, RI: The new ‘Creative Capital’
4. New Orleans, LA: More than Mardi Gras
5. Portland, OR: Stay weird

I would add San Francisco, CA to this list because of the video games influenced increase in creative jobs such as graphic art and game story writing. I’d also add Seattle, WA because I read somewhere that it has more published authors per capita than any other US city. And I’d add Austin, TX because it’s the city that first coined a marketing term that included the word “weird” (Keep Austin Weird) and because it offers live music of any genre any day of the week.

None of these cities were on my radar by the time I arrived in America and I didn’t pay much attention to New York either. Science had taken over as my main focus. I still did some writing, but not with my previous fervor. Being immersed in a second language also did weird stuff to my brain. Paragraphs would end up half Swedish, half English, and sometimes wholly in a new language I named Swenglish. Writing was hard and when I wasn’t studying, I was more interested in spending time with my new American friends and my new American boyfriend. None of them were interested in writing or any other type of art. Read more »

How a Life Travels or The Life and Blues of Amiri Baraka

Amiri-Baraka-Quotes-2Amiri Baraka was the self-chosen name of the poet, playwright, story writer, activist, and father who died last Thursday. Like most men who live 79 years, he wasn’t just one person in all that time, but unlike most men, Baraka seemed to accept and celebrate his plurality. He was born in New Jersey in 1934 as Everett LeRoi Jones just after the Harlem Renaissance; across the river from his cradle, folks were quoting DuBois and Hughes, surely singing their souls into his. William Carlos Williams and Walt Whitman drank his water first. When he was learning to love words, modernism was alive in America, surrealism in France. The stock market had just crashed five years prior to his birth, Civil Rights wouldn’t come to town for decades, and by the time LeRoi hit puberty, WWII had ended, opening the road to the Beat generation, where he would find Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac and live their bohemian lifestyle. He was a lover and a father. He was a soldier and a scholar and a fighter. He used words as his sword. And for a short time, he was the Poet Laureate of New Jersey until his sword grew too brave and the politicians stripped him of his title. From all that I’ve read of his work and about his life, the one thing I can be sure of is that he did not live in the shadow of fear. He lived in the light of his convictions, and whether we all hold those same convictions or not, that is a life worth celebrating.

Want to hear him read the poem that got him kicked out of the Poet Laureate seat in New Jersey?

YouTube Preview Image 

Want to hear or read his interview with Terry Gross? Click here.

And this is an insightful, personal story in The New Yorker told by someone who new Baraka’s first family.

Rest in peace, Mr. Baraka, or if you’d rather, raise hell, wherever you are.

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