Come on, America

Filed under: News — marcia at 9:53 pm on Wednesday, August 22, 2007

One in four Americans polled by the Associated Press-Ispos said they didn’t read any books at all last year. Not even one?

“I just get sleepy when I read,” said Richard Bustos of Dallas, Texas, a habit with which millions of Americans can doubtless identify. Bustos, a 34-year-old project manager for a telecommunications company, said he had not read any books in the last year and would rather spend time in his backyard pool. – via CNN

So read a book already! And if a whole book makes you sleepy, there’s always DailyLit – a service that will e-mail you small chunks of public domain books each day.

Literati smackdown!

Filed under: News — marcia at 12:25 pm on Tuesday, July 31, 2007

So, we* knew we’d be sorry that we didn’t go to the “Literary Death Match” recently held in San Francisco.

I usually get something out of the readings and literary panels that I go to – sometimes inspiration, sometimes a good laugh that I have to hold in until I’m a polite distance from the event. But I have never been to one that erupted into multigenerational violence.

One of the judges, Howard Junker of Zyzzyva, said that Stephen Elliott of McSweeney’s “had no literary merit” as a writer. Later, Elliott threw beer on Junker! Yowza.

Elliott’s response:

“I don’t understand why Junker left last night,” said Elliott the next day. “I had a shirt in my bag he could have borrowed.”

You can read the sordid details here. And you can read about the time Howard Junker threw a book at my head here.

Update: Junker blogs his side of the story here.

*Self-conscious footnote: We = Joy and me; I do not use the royal we to refer to myself

Balderdash & Piffle

Filed under: News — marcia at 9:25 pm on Thursday, July 19, 2007

So, here’s a British TV show that America is unlikely to steal adapt: Balderdash & Piffle. (I love that name)

It’s a show about people updating the Oxford English dictionary. Viewers are given a wordhunt in which they are supposed to research the etymology of words and phrases to see if they can find an earlier usage than the one listed in the OED. And people do! So, basically this is a reality show about the dictionary that asks the public to be word detectives. I love it.

Here’s an example of one that is still unsolved:

Does duh brain belong in the dictionary? If you can provide enough compelling evidence for this playground taunt the OED might be convinced to create a new entry. The oldest duh brain they’ve found so far is from 1997, lurking within the pages of J-17 magazine. Do your school books, letters, or diaries prove it was around before that?

I’ve never heard of “duh brain,” but some of the solved wordhunts include common phrases and words such as “bananas” referring to being crazy and “sick puppy” referring to a person who behaves unusually.


July meetings update

Filed under: News — marcia at 1:47 pm on Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Here is the somewhat overdue update on the fabulous Word Pirates writing group.  Thanks to the potential new members who came to check out the group. We hope to see you again. If you have any questions, please feel free ask.

1. As mentioned before, the regularly scheduled July 5 meeting is canceled. Instead, we will be meeting on July 12. Steve has generously offered to hold this meeting at his house as a cookout. Directions to his house and a sign-up list of things to bring to follow. We agreed to start the meeting at 6:30 since eating is involved. (But if you can’t make it until 7, we understand and will make sure you still get to eat some, too) Please tell us if you plan to attend this meeting so we can plan accordingly.

2. There will be no second meeting in July. However! The rest of July will not be devoid of Word Piratey goodness. We have planned the August 2 meeting as a critique meeting. We decided the piece to be critiqued shall be an essay (on any topic). Feel free to work on one from one of the prompts, one from a contest you may have found, or one of your own design that you’ve been itching to get feedback on. Please send your essay to the Word Pirates by July 23, no matter what state it is in. Feel free to ask us all questions to get our thoughts on your essay before the critique meeting. We will send another e-mail closer to the due date with an e-mail list and thoughts about what we have found makes for a good critique session.

3. Last meeting, we met new potential members Ross, Jennifer and Diane. After a round of introductions, we read some pieces from previous meetings and dove into the new prompt. For those of you who weren’t there, the prompt was to write a travel piece — fiction or non-fiction, about a real or imagined place. The room was split about 50/50 between real travel experiences and fictional ones. Next meeting we will bring these to read. Feel free to bring along something else to read if you weren’t there for the prompt.

See you soon!

Rockin’ Writers

Filed under: News — marcia at 4:23 pm on Monday, June 4, 2007

There are musicians who take their turn at being bad writers. (I’m talking to you Madonna!) Apparently, there are also writers who take their turn at being (presumably bad) musicians.

The Rock Bottom Remainders is a band that includes Amy Tan, Stephen King and Dave Barry, among other well-known writers. The article about them in the New York Times wouldn’t go so far as to say they suck, but I’d be terribly surprised if they didn’t. I mean, do we really need to hear Frank McCourt sing “It’s my party, and I’ll cry if I want to”?

I’d like to think this is some elaborate statement about people using their fame in one field to create a vanity project in another field they would otherwise be too unskilled to break into. But I sometimes make things too complicated.
Then again, maybe they would blow my mind. Maybe I need to hear Maya Angelou  cover “Smoke on the Water.”

Save the adorable baby book reviews

Filed under: News — marcia at 2:54 pm on Wednesday, May 2, 2007

OK, so the “adorable baby” part may have been a ploy to get your attention. But there is a campaign to save book reviews, led by the National Book Critics Circle.

Over the past five years, one by one, newspapers have begun to forsake books and their readers. … Not long ago, the San Francisco Chronicle Book Review, which has readership levels in excess of fifty percent, was folded into another part of the paper. The community protested, it was restored, but just recently the section was cut in half in order to make space for an advertisement.

Elsewhere at the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, Newsday, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Memphis Commercial Appeal, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Dallas Morning News, the Sun Sentinel, the New Mexican, the Village Voice, Boston Phoenix, the Atlanta Journal Constitution and dozens upon dozens of other papers book coverage has been cut back or slashed all together, moved, winnowed, filled with more wire copy, or generally been treated as expendable.

And we’re getting tired of it. We’re tired of watching individual voices from local communities passed over for wire copy. … We’re tired of hearing newspapers fret and worry over the future of print while they dismantle the section of the paper which deals most closely with the two things which have kept them alive since the dawn of printing presses: the public’s hunger for knowledge and the written word.

The blog posts by concerned writers, opinion pieces and petitions the organization is publicizing are a great effort that I hope makes a difference. However, I am not too optimistic.


Memoirs are tricky

Filed under: News — marcia at 10:56 am on Tuesday, March 27, 2007

This week is memoir week at Slate. The online magazine frequently has week-long themes about books or genres.

Over the next three days, our critics will be weighing in on new memoirs. What has been most striking to us at Slate is how many memoirs these days are anything but coming-of-age stories; instead, they tackle issues and subjects larger than the self. We’ll also offer a series of short essays by memoirists on the experience of publishing a book about their lives.

Today’s installment delves into an issue that I have already been worried about in my brief, barely published phase: the other people who aren’t you but are in your story. Alison Bechdel, author of “Fun Home,” talks about breaking the news that she was writing a memoir to her mother. Mary Karr, author of “The Liar’s Club,” discusses her friends’ reactions to the fact that she was writing a memoir about her childhood.

To date, I have published one story that was non-journalistic but based on reality. It involved me and a bunch of strangers I will never see again who are unlikely to read the story. But I have many stories about my family that, when finished, I would like to publish. I am worried about it. And these are humorous stories. I can’t imagine what writers who delve into abuse or dysfunction have to deal with when they publish true, ugly stories.

I think it’s ethical to tell people you plan to write about them, but what if they tell you they don’t want you to? What do you do?


Napkins: not just for wiping your mouth, cleaning up spills

Filed under: News — marcia at 1:47 pm on Sunday, March 18, 2007

Esquire magazine did something totally awesome. I wish I had thought of it. Then again, I am not a famous old magazine, so my attempt would not have been as successful. Here’s what Esquire did:

We put 250 napkins in the mail to writers from all over the country — some with a half dozen books to their name, others just finishing their first. In return, we got nearly a hundred stories.

Esquire got napkins back from the likes of ZZ Packer, Aimee Bender, Rick Moody,Madison Smartt Bell, A.M Homes, and more! Some wrote short stories. Some wrote silly little things that may be inside jokes or stray ideas. Some wrote letters. But a lot of different kinds of writers sent napkins back to Esquire.
A couple of the writers used the napkin concept as a “prompt” such as Jack Livings’ letter of complaint about a waiter to the restaurant management or Christopher Sorrentino’s letter to a bartender from a paper-products salesman.

Check out the project here.


Marcia Publishes!

Filed under: News — joy at 10:57 am on Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Check it out, Word Pirates: Marcia published an essay on Common Ties about her adventures in speed dating called Bless Their Ugly Little Hearts. Very funny stuff. Give it a read.

And congratulations, Marcia.

Attention: Renegade writing group hosts a reading…

Filed under: News — joy at 1:16 pm on Tuesday, January 23, 2007

… that won’t bore you 

Up-and-coming writers put on free reading and arts event at the historic Phoenix Theater

Petaluma, Calif., Jan. 23, 2007 – Word Pirates, a professional writing group, will host its first public reading on February 8. True to their name, the Word Pirates will be storming the Phoenix Theater and turning it into a showcase for some serious talent. Along with the reading, the show will feature work from photographers, artists, local literary journals and more!

Doors will open at 7:30 p.m., with a casual mingling among displays by Bay Area artists, pirate-themed appetizers and surprise live entertainment. At 8 p.m., seven Word Pirates members will read original pieces ranging from 5 to 7 minutes in length. This event is free to the public, and all are welcome. Peg legs and parrots must be checked at the door.

  • Word Pirates Reading and Art Show Date: Thursday, Feb. 8
  • Time: 7:30 – 9 p.m.
  • Place: The Phoenix Theater – 201 Washington St., Petaluma
  • Cost: Free (donations appreciated)

Reading at the Event: Joy Lanzendorfer, Morgan Elliott, Robin Cadogan, Noelani Price, Marcia Simmons, Steve Reid and Lindsay Riddell. For more information about the readers, visit or e-mail [email protected]

Also featuring visual artists Deanna Leiphart, Josh Martinez and Adam Mone, literary journal en fuego magazine and fine art book binders The Key Printing and Binding. Plus! Special guest star Stephanie Soleil.

For more information about the Word Pirates or this event, please contact Marcia Simmons at 707-782-0971 or e-mail [email protected]


About the Group: Word Pirates is an independent writing group dedicated to the development and publication of creative writing. Co-founders Joy Lanzendorfer and Marcia Simmons chose the group’s name to reflect that while the group takes writing seriously, they don’t take themselves too seriously. You can visit the Word Pirates online at or

Joy Lanzendorfer is a freelance writer living in Petaluma. Her work has been published in Salon, Bust, Bitch, Writer’s Digest, Imbibe, Paste, Bay Nature, San Francisco Chronicle, Pacific Sun and the North Bay Bohemian, among others. In addition, she has an MA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University, where she sat on the editorial board for Fourteen Hills Literary Journal.

Marcia Simmons is an editor and writer at the North Bay Business Journal, a New York Times publication in Santa Rosa. She was an editor and contributor for Project Censored’s annual book of censored stories and produced radio and TV programs for the organization. Her blog can be found at

« Previous PageNext Page »