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Pep Talk/2011 Pep Talks
The following is a list of Pep Talks in 2011.
Dear fellow writer,
Delivering a novel in a month must be the most extreme challenge in writing.
I can’t claim to have done it in a month, but I once drafted a novel in six weeks. That draft eventually became my first published book, Incendiary. There are three things you need to know about that. One, that the first draft was unpublishable. Two, that the obsession and the sleep deprivation drove me to a place of dubious mental stability which, in retrospect, we can all laugh about. And three, that I am more proud of those six weeks than of any other period in my life. It changed me. I was working in an attic room in Paris, living on coffee and nerves. I say “living” – in truth I was mutating. I crossed a Rubicon that they will have to drag my cold dead body back across.
That’s what you’re doing, if you’re doing NaNoWriMo. You could have chosen to write a short story this month. You could have redecorated. You could have lounged on your couch and absorbed reality TV, formulating opinions about which of the nice young people ought to be your nation’s brand new idol. Instead you have crossed a line of no return. You have chosen to engage – and in many cases reengage – with a dangerous process that changes you.
We live in an age when the war for hearts and minds is considered just as vital as the war for territory on the battlefield. In a world where ideas hold so much power, a writer is on civilization’s front line. To become a writer, therefore, is a serious business. It requires a commitment to move from passively absorbing your cultural tradition to informing it. That’s a significant transformation, and like all major works it won’t happen overnight. In your case, you’ve scheduled it for the month of November.
The good news is, if you’re committed, a month is enough time. Unless you have more natural talent than I do, then it’s not necessarily enough time to produce a perfected novel. But if you write out of your skin every day then it is enough time to learn your own mental geography and to make the jump to a new way of writing.
It doesn’t matter what genre you write in. All literature is transformative. To make people laugh; to tell a light-hearted romantic story; to let intelligent readers forget their troubles for an hour in the absence of the politicians and the money men who make our lives hell – these are some of the hardest feats to accomplish as a writer, and some of the most serious political acts you can perform. You don’t have to be a Serious Writer to be a serious writer. I once read a beautiful paragraph about teenage vampires – teenage vampires, for goodness’ sake – that moved me more than all of Hemingway. You don’t need to be trying to change the world in order to change someone’s world. What you need is to be seriously committed to your work.
That commitment comes from you and it isn’t my business to tell you what form it should take. I just wanted to use this opportunity to let you know how much I respect you for what you are doing, to wish you well, and to offer some practical suggestions from my experience.
To this end I asked my followers on Twitter if they were doing NaNoWriMo this year and, if so, whether they had any practical questions or concerns that they would like me to address in this pep talk. I got a lot of questions and found that they fell into three main categories, of which the following are representative:
@LizUK asked: How much do you think planning / structuring your #NaNoWriMo project counts towards completing it?
Not much, I think. A novel is a living thing and it resists containment within the structures we erect for it. Even worse, the novel has intelligence and it will inevitably turn against its creator. Think of it like the velociraptors in Jurassic Park. The problem is that a good character in a novel will reach a point of maturity where he or she is not necessarily biddable.
For example, I might plan that in Chapter 6, Samantha will succumb to the advances of the amorous Dave, thus neatly setting up Chapter 7, in which they build a delightful house together, in Minnesota, in the Prairie style. But it might turn out, once I get into the detail of the dialogue of Ch 6, that Dave turns out to be something of a pompous ass and that Samantha decides she’d rather be with Dave’s funnier younger brother Pete (even though she still can’t decide whether he’s strikingly handsome or slightly weird-looking).
So now I have a choice as a writer. Either I can make Chapter 6 conform to my original plan by forcing Samantha to be with Dave, somewhat against her will, or I can let Chapter 6 be what it needs to be – probably feeling more alive and real than it did in my original structure – and I can change my mind about what happens in Chapter 7. Maybe Samantha builds the house with Pete, and Dave comes and bangs against the windows on a cold, snowy night. Maybe they ignore him, and forget about it all through the drunken, passionate winter, only to find his perfectly-preserved body down by the brook, when the spring thaw comes and the first crocuses are breaking surface, on the morning when Samantha is starting to think that maybe she doesn’t want to be with Pete after all.
My point is that the job of a novelist is to explore human emotion and motivation. You learn more about your protagonists as you write them. If you are not very often forced by your characters to bin your masterplan, then you are a wooden and a formulaic writer indeed. So, better than having a planned structure is to begin with a character or two, and a theme you intend to explore, and an initial direction you plan to start exploring in. Don’t be alarmed when, on arriving at what you thought was your summit, you realise you’ve climbed up the wrong mountain. That’s why novelists go through drafts – because plans go brilliantly awry.
@vpeanuts asked: How do you remain motivated? #NaNoWriMo
The answer to this question is always changing for me. When I started writing as a child I just loved the work of making good sentences and paragraphs – of playing with language. Later I was motivated by provoking strong reactions in the people I showed my work to. Then there was a bad time of several years when I was motivated by a desire for a certain kind of glory or glamour, without thinking too hard about what that meant. I think you need to get through that stage pretty quickly.
After my first novel was published I was motivated to bring injustices to light with my work, and to help people concussed by bad TV to find real life interesting again. That had a kind of grandiosity to it, though, and I found that my writing improved when I learned a little bit more humility. Then, after my second novel did well, I was motivated for a long time by fear – the fear of not being able to do it again. What cured me of that was rediscovering my very first motivation – the love of working with language and character.
I’d say that is what motivates me now. I simply enjoy sitting down in front of my screen and exploring my characters. I like the mental work of solving the problems of plot and structure. I like exercising my freedom to write as I please, for readers who have the freedom to read as they please. I like not needing anyone’s permission. I try to remember how lucky we all are to live like this. I see it as a temporary state of grace and I find that very motivating.
@myplatypus asked: What to do when you want to abandon it and start again? How to keep going when you think you’ve just written a page of rubbish?
Something I’ve learned is that it’s very hard to tell, at the end of your writing day, whether you’ve done great work or bad work. The quality of the writing is hard to judge until you’ve had some sleep and got some perspective on it. Often sheer euphoria at your own brilliance will keep you writing late into the night, and you can hardly sleep because what you’ve written is so damned good. Then you wake up the next day and read it, and you realise it’s a pile of self-indulgent crap. This happens to me two days out of five. Then you get the opposite case, where you beat yourself up because the ideas are coming so slowly and all your dialogue seems timid and pedestrian. A week later you might look back on that day as a pretty solid performance, where your characters were honest with each other and maybe even created a couple of touching moments.
The more I learn about the writing process, the more I suspect that there is no such thing as a bad day at the keyboard. Sometimes you need slow days where you work through a dozen ideas that aren’t destined to fly. It creates a kind of intensity that eventually goads your brain into giving you a good day. Or sometimes, if you keep having slow days, then perhaps the novel really is asking you a deeper question about whether your plot, or your characterisation, or your theory about the human heart really is up to scratch. Experience is knowing when you’re having a slow day, versus when you’re having a slow novel.
The good days are when you perform; the slow days are when you learn to perform better. The only bad days as a writer are the ones when you are too cowardly or too lazy to sit down at the keyboard and give it everything you have.
If you can sit down at the keyboard every day in November and give it everything you have, then there is no writer on earth who is better than you. I hope that it will be an exciting, frightening, weird, joyful, unpredictable, transformative month for you, and I hope that you will produce fantastic work that you are proud of.
With all good wishes,
My advice is about doorways, windowsills, and entrances and exits generally, but also bathrooms, boxes of tissues, sinks full of dishes, ice trays that need refilling, and so forth.
You’ll find this kind of thing bunched up around your characters—just as a matter of absolute necessity, for instance, the better-left-unmentioned doors and windows have every room your characters inhabit completely surrounded, unless you’ve set your tale in a sarcophagus or generational spaceship or some other kind of sealed container—much as you discover such material lying at the edges of attention in your own everyday lives. The comings and goings, loosening and tightening of faucets, shittings and pissings and nose-blowings of everyday circumstances. Keep them at the periphery, in the subliminal range, unless you really want to try to make something of them, and then you’d better make it good. I’m trying to tell you to ignore transitions. Skip to the good stuff.
The sex and death, the monkey shines and money shots, the spit-takes, the epiphanies and pratfalls. The epiphanic pratfalls. What you’d remember when you forgot all the rest—forget the rest on your reader’s behalf.
Write like you’d read—and notice how much you customarily skip as you read. Raymond Chandler said that when he was at a loss for a plot development he’d have a man walk through a doorway with a gun in his hand. Good advice I’ve heeded a hundred times or more, but it wasn’t the doorway, it was the gun that might solve your problem.
Arrive without coming in, and leave without leave—leave before you leave, if you get my drift. End the scene with the glance at the door, if even the glance. And there’s probably no writer who ever paused in his commitment to realism to consider how often a nose blown or a bladder emptied didn’t quite rate mention.
Realism goes just so far. It’s sort of like Chandler’s gunman: unless you’re blowing blood out of your nose, don’t even reach for a tissue. A tissue full of nothing but snot is a dog-bites-man story. And so, having said his piece, the weary veteran wished the fresh novices good luck, and went out the door, shifting slightly to the left so as not to collide with the guy on his way in with a gun in his hand.
Dear brave, beautiful NaNoWriMo writer,
I feel a bit like I am writing this from the other side of the looking glass. I am more accustomed to being the participant and not the pep talker. Also, “pep” is a strange word. The Online Etymology Dictionary informs me that it dates from 1912 as a shortened form of “pepper” figuratively meaning spirit or energy. (“Pep talk” only dates back to 1926.) It sounds to me more like a soft drink or a nickname for a small dog. Feel free to think of this pep talk as a small dog full of spirit or energy.
I have been where you are. I suspect this might feel like someone yelling encouragement from a far dry shore, sipping a fancy-glassed drink with a little paper umbrella precariously perched atop it, waving with my free hand while you swim through icy, toe-numbing water. But I have been in that water, many times. My toes have been numb during those dismal days when even minimal wordage seems unattainable and that 50K beach is barely visible through the salt-spray surf. There are probably sharks involved in this analogy as well.
(True confession: I love analogies. I also love adverbs. There, I said it. I love adverbs so much I sometimes contemplate getting an –ly tattooed behind my ear to encourage the whispering of sweet, sweet adverbs. But I digress.)
I participated in my first NaNoWriMo in 2003, after years of thinking about writing and not actually putting words down on paper. I managed around 15K before I quit.
I’m not sure why—perhaps I am determined, perhaps I am simply stubborn—but I attempted again the next year and made it to 50k. And again the year after that, and the year after that, and so on and so forth, the most recent being 2009. I have a 6/1 winning record over 7 years. I think my personal best is in the range of 80k in 27 days or something like that. The pride that comes with that winner icon is still a joy. (I particularly liked the Viking-themed year, those were good icons.) And I do so love a progress bar, that gorgeous visual representation of word count progress. I’m a visual person, so that bar helps, it really does.
2010 marked the first NaNoWriMo that I haven’t participated since that first try, and I didn’t have the time mostly because I was in the midst of my final edits for The Night Circus, which began life as a surprise tangent in NaNovel ’05 and was very roughly, sprawlingly drafted during NaNo ’06 & ’07. I am aware that this is cheating. I’m sorry. In my defense, I’m not certain it had enough plot at that point to be considered the same novel.
The circus was my variation on the wise and ancient NaNo wisdom: when in doubt, just add ninjas. I had this plodding, Edward Gorey-esque thing with mysterious figures in fur coats being mysterious and doing very little else. I got tremendously bored with it because nothing was happening so I sent the otherwise boring characters to a circus. And it worked. I ended up tossing that beginning and focusing purely on the circus. An imaginary location I created out of desperation expanded and changed and became its own story over many non-November months of revisions and more revisions and now it is all grown-up and book-shaped and published and bestselling. And it all started with NaNoWriMo.
I like to think of NaNo-ing as excavating. You uncover different things at the 30K mark than you do at 10K. Things that felt like desperate, random nonsense on page 72 (the abandoned broken pocket watch, a partially obscured tattoo, that taxidermied marmot on the mantelpiece) are suddenly important and meaningful on page 187. Everything could hinge on the fate of that marmot. Or the marmot may be a red herring. Or perhaps the marmot is just a marmot. You have to keep writing to find out.
Even if you’re an outliner, leave room for the unexpected things to sneak in. Surprises are half the fun, the spontaneous road trips through tangents and subplots. They might end up being more important than you think. And if they’re not, you can always edit them out after November. No one has to know so for now, for this glorious November, you can do whatever you please. It’s your world to create and explore and even destroy if you want.
I wish I could think of cool, witty things to say. I want to mix you each the beverages of your choice, cocktails or sodas or tea or foam-topped espresso drinks that all magically maintain perfect drinking temperature. Bring you truffles or tira misu or chocolate-covered popcorn and give you wrist massages while whispering these encouraging, fortune-cookie bits of wisdom-esque whatnot garnered in my years of NaNo-ing:
Never delete anything. If you can’t stand to look at it, change the font to white and keep going.
If possible, get a running start. It gives you flexibility for later in the month when you desperately need to do something, anything that doesn’t involve writing once in a while.
Do something, anything that doesn’t involve writing once in a while. Take a walk, go to a museum, do yoga, paint your toenails, spin around in circles. Shake your brain up so the ideas can move around.
Backup. Frequently. Flash drives are your friends. Also, I hear you can store things on clouds now but I’m not sure how that works. It sounds very whimsical, though, and I am a fan of whimsy.
Take risks. (Microsoft Word wanted to autocorrect that to “Take care.” Clearly, Word does not understand NaNoWriMo. Also, this is why I normally write in Scrivener. Scrivener would never suggest such a thing.)
When in doubt, just add ninjas. (Ninjas do not need to be actual ninjas.) (But they can be.)
Let yourself be surprised.
I wish you happy, daring writing laced with surprises. Have fun. Bonne chance.
I am sitting at my desk, staring at my computer screen, contemplating National Novel Writing Month with admiration and horror. Admiration for those of you who threw yourselves into writing your novels with furious devotion and a passionate determination to write 1666.66 words per day, and horror at the thought of doing this myself.
I’m a very slow writer. Slow works for me. I have all the bad habits my fellow writers warn you not to fall into: I procrastinate. I write a bit and wander off to think it over and come back two weeks later. I have no schedule, no regular habits, no fetishes, no daily word quota. I incubate ideas for years and once I start to work on them I can spend more years happily researching esoteric bits and bobs that may not even end up in the novel. I am terribly caffeine dependent. I edit while I write.
Surely you don’t do any of that stuff, or you’d be doomed to slowness and would not excel at this National Novel Writing Month thing. My first novel took me four and a half years to write; the second took seven years, though that was because I fell so in love with the research (I was working as a volunteer tour guide at Highgate Cemetery in London) that I had a hard time stopping so I could finish the book. I once spent fourteen years working on a graphic novel.
Why do I let this happen? Because it’s fun. Now that you have created your fictional people and the world they live in, you have probably discovered that they are terrific company and that they are all living in your brain. Suddenly you have a party in your head (a la that old Talking Heads song) and it is hard to make that party happen any faster than it wants to happen. And when the party is finally over, you will feel bereft and alone. So why not slow down and have the maximum experience?
I once studied painting with Ed Paschke, who invited me and my classmates to visit his studio. He was working on six paintings simultaneously. We asked him why, and he replied that he could finish one painting a week or six paintings in six weeks. He preferred to take longer because more things might happen to him in those six weeks, he might have more ideas about any one of the six paintings. He liked to take it slow.
National Novel Writing Month was a chance to jolt your story onto the page, to use the magic of a deadline to whap out your novel. Now that it is December, I hope you will kick back, have a cup of coffee, reread your 50,000 words, ponder a bit, and then… go for a walk. And on that walk I hope your novel will unclench itself in your brain and let you begin the long, slow, delightful work of rewriting it.
With very best wishes for the health of your novel, Audrey Niffenegger
In the year 2002, Thanksgiving in the U.S. fell relatively late in the month of November. So it was that on November 30th, I found myself at my mother’s house, home from college for the weekend. I lay on the log bed in the guest room, my stomach full of turkey leftovers, furiously pounding at the last novel I would finish before landing a book deal the following year.
I’d done NaNoWriMo the previous year, and had found the experience to be wonderful. This year, my friends and I were holding a competition to see which of us could finish first, and it came down to the last day. I won. And I didn’t.
You see, while I’ve had a lot of fun with NaNoWriMo over the years, I think it’s time to come clean. Though I’ve participated seven times so far, and I’ve never actually won. Oh, I’ve completed the fifty thousand words. I commonly write 50k words in a given month these days, as writing is my profession. However, what I’ve never done is start a brand new project on the first of November, then keep writing straight through on it.
I have a good excuse. Each November, I’ve always already been in the middle of a book and it never felt right to stop and start something new. You could say that what I’ve done is still in the spirit of the competition, and I’ve always found NaNoWriMo to be more about the experience itself—and the people in the community—than “winning.” Still, truth be told, I don’t honestly feel that I’ve ever finished the competition in the way it was intended. Does that bother me? Not a bit.
This is a pep talk, you see. It’s my job to encourage you to keep going, to push toward that finish line. I want to do that by reinforcing a single truth: This competition (or whatever you want to call it) is a tool, and you should use it in the way that helps you the most.
Every writer uses different tools to write books, and none of those tools are right for every writer—or even for every project a given writer tries. Part of making that transition from apprentice writer to journeyman is learning how to apply the right tools in the right way. For example, outlines are a tool. Some writers hate them, others love them. Character dossiers, three-act format and other plotting formulas, even a given word processing program—these are all tools. Sometimes they’ll work, sometimes they won’t. Nobody can tell you if any specific one will help you on a given project. Only through practice and experience can you get a sense of what works for you as a writer.
As a writing tool, NaNoWriMo has its own specific limitations and advantages. My goal here is to list a few of the ways it can help, and by so doing, I hope to make you look at all of this in a new light. The only failure here is giving up, and perhaps using NaNo in a different way than you have in the past can help you get more out of the process.
NaNo Lesson One: Learning to Finish
The first and most important thing I believe that someone can learn from NaNoWriMo is to finish. On the path to becoming a professional writer, I’ve noticed that there are many drop-out points. These are points where I’ve noticed that a large number of aspiring writers tend to give up. The biggest one is finishing that first novel.
Many people claim they want to write one, but a mere fraction of those people will actually make it to the end. Some new writers spend years planning and preparing, but never get to the actual writing of the book. Others are “eternal rewriters” who habitually get three chapters into a book, then go back and revise over and over. Others get mired in the death zone: that most difficult part of a book between the one-third and two-third marks.
If you’ve never finished a book before, your goal in NaNoWriMo should be to hit that finish line. Don’t revise. Don’t stop and plan. Keep going, no matter what. The NaNo website talks a great deal about this goal, and I suspect other pep talks will cover the point in depth. So rather than belaboring the point, I’ll just reference my own personal experience.
The biggest jump in quality I made as a writer came in finishing my first book and starting my second. Writing an ending, then being able to look back and see the entire book, taught me more about the process than years of education, years of reading, and years of starting ever had. Finishing one book is more valuable than a dozen creative writing courses and a thousand books started. I’ve seen this time and time again in other writers I know.
Finish. That’s the first way to use this tool.
NaNo Lesson Two: Consistency vs. Burst Writing
Not all writers are what I’d call “consistent” writers. I write every day. I plug away at a novel, piece by piece, word by word. Slowly but surely, I creep toward the ending.
A good friend of mine (and an excellent writer) is very much a “burst” writer. She lets a story stew in her head, spends six months feeling that the story is terrible and that she shouldn’t write it, and then suddenly has a burst of insight, gets excited, and writes furiously for three or four months. At the end of it, she has a brilliant novel—and the process starts again.
Consistent writing and burst writing are both writing tools. The nice thing about NaNoWriMo is that it can help you practice either one. By its nature—write a book in a month—it’s a burst writing experience. However, I want to highlight its ability to teach you good writing habits as well. One way to use NaNo is to test different writing practices, trying to find those that will be sustainable over a long period.
Try writing on your lunch hour. Try getting up a few hours early each day. Try turning off the television or World of Warcraft and spending that time on your novel. Experiment. The goal is to show yourself that you can make room for writing in your life. Then, when the month is through, try to keep those habits up. When using NaNo as this type of tool, I’d suggest that finishing isn’t nearly as important as building habits. (Blasphemy, perhaps.)
It’s been shown time and time again that if human beings can keep up a certain pattern for a short time (usually a few weeks), they’ll make a habit of it and keep going. If you have trouble finding space for writing in your life, but really want to be a consistent writer, I suggest using NaNo as an excuse to create a repeatable writing habit in your life. Perhaps you’re already behind; perhaps you know you aren’t going to “win” this year. However, if you make this your goal and write every day—no matter how little—you may find this month a huge benefit even if you only write 10k words. After all, 10k words every month for a year is a novel.
Lesson Three: Thinking Like a Storyteller
If you truly immerse yourself in NaNo, you’re going to be eating, breathing, and drinking your story all month. One thing that non-writers don’t understand is that for most of us, we have a kind of “writing reservoir” inside of us. Consider it a creative well that can be tapped only so far in a given day. Once it runs dry, it’s often hard to create anything, even if we have the time to do so.
One of the lessons I learned as a storyteller was how to refill the creative well while doing other activities. You can do it while driving, exercising, eating . . . anything that doesn’t take your full attention. During these times, many writers I know run through plots in their heads, feel out character personalities, think about conflicts. They make connections, overcoming blocks.
Personally, I’ve found this practice to be essential in promoting healthy writing habits. As a full-time writer, it can actually be harder to refill my creative well, as I’m working on my writing all of the time. One of the ways NaNo could help a writer is by training them to use off moments to delve, mentally, into their stories. Instead of turning on the television as you wash dishes, turn on some music and think through character interactions. Plan out what you’re going to write the next day.
Even if you don’t have much time to write every day, you can supercharge that time by planning out for hours what you’ll do. Teach yourself to think like a writer. It’s a habit you’ll find very useful.
Lesson Four: Overcoming Writer’s Block
Writer’s block is a pernicious thing. It’s a slayer of writers, a destroyer of creativity. Like cancer, there seem to be as many varieties of writer’s block as there are days in the year.
NaNo and writer’s block basically cannot exist together. If you get blocked for a few days, that can mean the end of your NaNo attempt. It is vital, therefore, that you find tools to help you past writer’s block.
This one is tough because of how different every writer is. However, the one thing I’ve seen work best in overcoming writer’s block is to just keep going. Writer’s block should really be rendered “creativity block.” Nobody is forcing a writer to stop typing. The thing stopping us is more nebulous—some void of creativity caused by dissatisfaction with the writing, an uncertainty about where to go next, a lack of faith in the project. A writer might feel there is a flaw in their story, and doesn’t want to keep going and risk magnifying the problem, or they might have an image in their head of how the book should be going, and get frustrated that it’s not turning out right.
Soldiering on anyway can often solve each of these problems. I have a lot of personal experience with this. I often have to write something poorly before I can write it well. I go through a scene once, knowing that I’m doing it wrong—but searching for the answers, exploring the story, as I actually write. I don’t break momentum that way, and I find that once I’m done, nine times out of ten I’ve figured out how to fix the problem. I can toss aside that poorly written scene and try again, this time doing it right.
If that doesn’t work for you, here are a few other suggestions. Change the viewpoint character for the problem scene. Change the setting of the problem scene. Add a new character, and have them really make things messy in the conflict. Kill a character. Have a bomb go off. (Or have the ship sink, ninjas attack, etc. A big disaster. The goal is often not to keep the scene, but to explore how your characters would react so you can explore them more in depth.) Do a first-person character monologue for a character you haven’t fleshed out enough.
If you find yourself doing the scene over and over, however, stop and just move forward. You may not be able to fix the problem until you’ve worked out the next ten chapters. Don’t worry so much about magnifying the problem; worry about getting stopped and losing momentum. If this is an issue for you, try writing in longhand to keep yourself from revising too much. Or even try dictating a scene into a tape recorder, then typing it out—and doing a light revision—later on as you listen.
I never won NaNoWriMo, but NaNoWriMo certainly helped me become a better writer. That was because, in coming to understand myself as a writer, I began to learn how to use writing tools. NaNoWriMo trained me in habits I still rely upon today. Beyond that, the excellent community—working with friends, all trying to reach that marathon finish line—helped me build a local writing community that still supports me.
If we went back to that Thanksgiving weekend in 2002, you’d find me typing the very last words of an extremely long book. That book, The Way of Kings, finally came out last year—and it debuted at #7 on the New York Times hardcover fiction bestseller list.
It took me almost nine years—including a complete start-over from the beginning—to get the book to its final stage. It was worth it every step of the way. May you find even more success in your writing endeavors.
Deb Olin Unferth
Deb Olin Unferth is the author of the memoir Revolution: The Year I Fell in Love and Went to Join the War, the story collection Minor Robberies, and the novel Vacation. Her work has been published in Harper’s, McSweeney’s, The Believer, the New York Times, the Boston Review, and elsewhere. She has received two Pushcart Prizes, the Cabell First Novel Award, and a Creative Capital Grant for Innovative Literature. She teaches at Wesleyan University. (photo credit: Margaret Olin)