Sunday, March 4, 2012

New Book Recommendations

I can't stop talking about this book: The Wilderness by Samantha Harvey. It is so lovely and thoughtful, I hope you pick it up. You're in for a treat. Another book I am loving is The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. What are all of you reading these days? I am always taking suggestions!

XOXO + 84 degree hugs from LA today,

Monday, December 5, 2011

Goodreads Giveaway!

Hi everyone! I didn't want any of you to miss out on this lovely giveaway! 24 copies of The Bird Sisters are up for grabs over at Goodreads. Thank you Crown/Broadway!

XO Rebecca

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Guest Post by Doreen Mcgettigan

It was about this time of the year.  I sat on the front porch with my bonus daughter Heather
and rubbed her eight months pregnant belly.
I created one thousand reasons in my mind why the baby boy
was not kicking like a little football player.
Kyle Christopher was born on a warm, early fall day.
 He was transferred to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
My daughter, Joan and, frantically searched for a christening outfit. 
Kyle was baptized and dedicated that day.  One minister forgot his oil.
The skinny, tiny boy was connected to monitors and a feeding tube.
 It was difficult with all the apparatus, I had to hold him.  To me he was perfect. 
He was diagnosed with Smith-Lemli-Opitz Syndrome.  Yeah, we never heard of it either.
It is extremely rare.  Rare like less than 200 diagnosed.
The doctors were not optimistic.  We learned everything we could about the syndrome. 
We learned CPR and feeding tube care.
It was likely Kyle would never walk or talk. Four families and countless friends came together
to offer their support for these young parents.

 Matt and Heather were simply amazing.  I will never forget the first smile Kyle blessed me with.
 Against all odds Kyle grew, slowly.
He attended Easter Seals.  I could write a book on the love I have for this organization and the extra
 ordinary love the teachers have for our worlds
most precious angles.  They taught Kyle sign language. We learned to sign. 
We taught Kyle’s baby brother and his cousins to sign.
 His feeding tube was finally removed; he was able to eat real food.  I will never forget the time
 I was feeding Kyle spagettios.  I thought he was finished.
I reached for the napkin to wipe his face and he tapped his little pointer fingers together. [the sign for more.]
 His first word for me was more.
I cried.  On September 15th we will celebrate fourteen years with Kyle. 
The baby boy that wasn’t supposed to live for 72 hours.  There must have been some magic in
 the Wesson oil that minister used.

Doreen Mcgettigan is the author of the bittersweet book BRISTOL bOYZ STOMP, which will make its debut in just a few short days! You can find her and the book at  

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Paperback!

Hello friends,
I am finally coming out of the hardcover cloud that I was in (and the moving across the country cloud, too) and just in time...

The Bird Sisters is arriving in paperback on November 22nd, with a lovely new cover! It's been chosen at a Target Emerging Authors pick, too! Here is a preview for all of you:

As always, thank you so much for your support! XOXO, Rebecca

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Guest Post!

     In the Palms of Angels
by Terri Kirby Erickson

     Several months before the release of my new collection, In the Palms of Angels, I didn’t have a venue for the launch party.  Every place I thought about having it was too expensive.  An art museum I enjoy visiting actually wanted a thousand dollars for one evening’s rental! 

     I was to the point of having the party in my own backyard when Chaplain Joanne Henley of the Derrick L. Davis Forsyth Regional Cancer Center, suggested I have it there.  I’ve been volunteering at the Cancer Center for some time now, and she thought it would be perfect for me to have my party in their large “conference” room, (which really is huge!), not to mention the fact that it sports its own kitchen!  I was thrilled with this idea, although a few people later suggested it might be depressing to have a celebration in a medical facility.

     In my view, however, the DLDFR Cancer Center is a place of hope and healing, so after receiving permission from Executive Director Sharon Murphy, we forged ahead with our plans to create a magical evening for everyone who attended.  Chaplain Henley, GI Oncology Nurse Navigator, Julie Pope and others, were wonderful in helping us achieve the perfect “look” for the room, transforming an already engaging facility into a gorgeous showplace! 

     My publisher, Kevin Morgan Watson of Press 53, voiced an idea that had already occurred to me—that I donate 10% of book sales for the evening, to the Cancer Center to thank them for this kind and supportive gesture.  It turned out that I was able to donate even more than this amount with one of my long-time friends, Tim Plowman, writing a check for his copy of In the Palms of Angels that included an extra hundred dollars!  I decided to match his generosity and donated a hundred dollars over the ten percent I had promised.

     At Chaplain Henley’s suggestion, the money went to the Center’s Simstein Fund, which was set up by the family of the late Dr. Lee Simstein, to offer financial assistance to patients who cannot afford the costs associated with cancer treatment.  I was so honored that Mrs. Simstein, her daughter and grandchild were among the 150 plus guests who attended the party on April 7.  It was an evening I’ll never forget!

     As I stood at the podium that night, I felt very grateful and blessed.  Beside me was the exquisite painting (that is on the book cover) entitled, “Frances,” that my uncle, artist Stephen White, dedicated to our dear family friend, 91 year old Frances Y. Dunn (the person I want to be when I grow up!).  In front of me were so many people they were literally spilling into the lobby.   A few folks were scrambling to bring in extra chairs until there wasn’t room for another human being in that space.  Among the audience members were people I love including my husband, daughter, parents, publisher, other relatives, friends, neighbors, fellow writers and even my fifth grade teacher; some faces I recalled from other readings; and many others I’d never seen before.

     One face I didn’t expect is an icon of American literature, John Ehle, and I can tell you, I was thrilled to see him there!  I was later told that one of his favorites of the poems I read from In the Palms of Angels is called, “Making the Biscuits,” so I was very glad I chose that particular poem. 

      I just want to briefly mention two friends who couldn’t be there that evening, but I know were there in spirit—Ron Powers, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of Mark Twain, A Life and co-author of Flags of Our Fathers, who wrote a brilliant Introduction to my book, and beloved syndicated columnist, Sharon Randall, who I’m honored to say, wrote a lovely paragraph for the back cover.  I am very grateful to both of them for their glowing endorsements.

     All in all, April 7 turned out to be a perfect evening, and truly a triumph for all poets and poetry that so many people would come to the launch party for a book of poems.  What no one knew, however, was that my husband, Leonard, would be undergoing a biopsy in another week or so—and we were waiting to find out if he had cancer, himself.  It felt at once ironic and surreal, but we were and are determined to think positively.

     It turns out that he does, indeed, have prostate cancer and his surgery is scheduled for June 29.  We are optimistic for a full recovery, and appreciate the prayers and support of so many caring friends, including readers who have been so kind with help and advice. 

     It has been nothing but a pure blessing from the time I decided to write poetry for publication until this moment, when I am busily promoting my third book and getting ready for this challenging medical journey that my husband and I are facing together.  My poetry writing has been a solace and balm for me, and I’m very grateful for all the wonderful people I’ve met along the way.  I love the title of this new book because I have long felt that we live our lives in the palms of angels—those benevolent and beloved beings who protect and guide us.  And I hope if you decide to get a copy of your own, that you will enjoy reading In the Palms of Angels as much as I enjoyed writing it!

Peace and love,
Terri Kirby Erickson
June, 2011

Topsail Island
Excerpt from In the Palms of Angels,
© 2011

We knelt near
the shoreline

gathering shells,
pieces of sea glass,

stones.  Wind
salted our faces,

sent a kite circling,
filled a red sail.

Curtains danced
in cottage windows;

a flock of gulls
wheeled.  Joy,

joyjoy, they cried—
flying far out

to sea, becoming
pinpoints of light.

Terri Kirby Erickson is the award-winning author of three books of poetry, including her latest, In the Palms of Angels (Press 53).  Her work has been published in numerous literary journals, anthologies and other publications, including The Christian Science Monitor, JAMA, Verse Daily and the North Carolina Literary Review.  She was recently one of eleven winners of the international Nazim Hikmet Poetry award.  For more information about her work, please see her website at:  You can also order the book on Amazon at: fine bookstores or other Internet venues.


Monday, June 13, 2011

Keep Writing, Even When It Hurts by Kathryn A. Brackett

Keep Writing, Even When It Hurts by Kathryn A. Brackett

When I was born, I was small enough to fit into an adult’s palm. My father was afraid to hold me as he peered at my premature shell, hooked to machines. I’d made my entrance into the world a month earlier than I should have. My brother, ten years old at the time, kept saying my face looked like a crumpled, red dishcloth.

My debut left quite a physical and emotional impression on my mother. She lay in a room somewhere, struggling through toxemia, a condition that caused blood pressure spikes and hazy vision that made it hard to see the baby she’d tried to hold inside her womb to full term. Doctors predicted we wouldn’t leave the hospital alive, but my mother and I did, eleven days later. She took me home, along with a long scar embedded in her skin. Her Cesarean mark carries a story to this day, a story she conveniently rebirths in her mind each time I THINK I’m too grown to listen to her, or one she shares with me when I feel like crawling into the ground after a large disappointment has beaten me nearly unconscious. As the baby of the family, you can imagine how many times I’ve heard the Caesarian story against my will. As a writer, you can imagine how many times I’ve needed to hear it to keep going in this profession.

It took eight years to publish a short story from my collection. Before then, I’d sent stories out to more publishers than I care to remember. The form letter rejections became snakes in my mailbox, waiting to bite me as soon as I pulled open the lid. The electronic ones waited boldly in my email inbox, while the notes of encouragement from editors were bitter-sweet gifts. Some of my work received recognition in fiction contests but all of them were rejected for publication over and over again in literary magazines. For a long time, I walked around with a hunchback of disappointment poking out from the back of my neck. Yet, despite the frustrations, I kept reworking the stories. I kept putting my work out there until my first acceptance came from an editor who wanted to publish the piece in an anthology. Another story was picked up in a print literary magazine a year later. This year I’ve placed work in my second national writing contest, published in an online journal, and received an honorable mention in an international magazine.

A woman in my writing group shared a quote with me from Winston Churchill that summed up my journey to publication: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

Despite the physical and mental beating my characters have given me over the years, I couldn’t, and still can’t, let go of them until they are ready to sustain themselves. They have driven me to several degrees of insanity since I first ‘met’ them. I’ve worked entire days without moving from my desk, I’ve wrestled in bed with visions of their faces bubbling up in my head, I’ve soothed Ganglion cysts near my wrists from all the typing. Like any writer, I’ve loved my characters, I’ve hated them, I’ve even been afraid of them, not of who they are but of who they want to become and what it will take of my life, my soul, to fulfill their needs that have become my own.

Family members or friends who aren’t writers will often say, “I don’t get it. I thought writing was just putting ideas on paper. How hard is that?”

I tell them what Red Smith believed, “Writing is easy. You just sit down at the typewriter and open a vein.”

And then they stare at me as if I’ve spouted out a mathematical equation in a foreign language. See, non-writers don’t understand that writing is an endless fight of passion, sometimes painful, sometimes completely enrapturing. They don’t comprehend why we cry when a character dies. They don’t get why we have post-it-notes all over the house or little notebooks in our purses/back pockets.

“You’re weird,” they say. “Why care about someone who isn’t real?”

“But they are,” I declare. “They are!”

And still, I get that confused look. Maybe some things should remain a mystery, like how I can’t figure out why anyone would eat beef that’s still bleeding on the inside, or interpret half the slang in my teenage cousin’s text messages when I have a master’s degree in writing. Her messages are an enigma, just as a writer’s way of thinking puzzles people who don’t compose stories on paper from their imaginations.

Writers are a special breed. We love our characters as much as we love people we can touch. We think it’s “normal” to talk to ourselves a little more than we should, and when people say we’re eccentric, we think of ways to put them stories without their permission. Writers embrace the oddities, the celebrations and the disappointments of their craft.

I can’t help but ponder what Dorothy Parker said about writing: “If you're going to write, don't pretend to write down. It's going to be the best you can do, and it's the fact that it's the best you can do that kills you."

Or Norman Mailerv: "Being a real writer means being able to do the work on a bad day."

And Jessamyn West: "Talent is helpful in writing, but guts are absolutely essential."

As a writer, you have to accept the pain as much as you accept the pleasure. You have to listen to your characters as you listen to your mother’s stories of your birth. Being a writer is hard work, and if you’re fully embracing your talent, then you know how easy it is to think about giving up when nothing in the future looks promising, but you also know how hard it is to turn your back on a dream that’s kept you company from the moment you opened your eyes in the world. Though the process of writing can be a struggle at times, you keep fighting, you carry on, because you can’t imagine doing anything else that makes you this crazy while giving you such pleasure at the same time.

Kathryn A. Brackett earned her MFA in Fiction from the University of Pittsburgh. Her work is published in or forthcoming from Waccamaw Journal, Mythium: The Journal of Contemporary Literature, and Expecting Goodness & Other Stories, an anthology of fiction chosen by C. Michael Curtis, senior editor of The Atlantic magazine, and runner-up in the Independent Publisher IPPY Awards for the top collection of short fiction in North America in 2009. Her stories have received national and international recognition in WordHustler’s Page to Screen Short Story Contest, judged by Sara Gruen; the Carrie McCray Memorial Literary Awards, the Stony Brook Short Fiction Prize, and the Carpe Articulum Literary Review, among others. You can find her and her blog at

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Introducing Paul Elwork and Michelle Reale

SSM 2011: Conversation between Paul Elwork and Michelle Reale, 5.20.11

In honor of Short Story Month 2011, I thought it would be fun to chat a bit with a short-story writer I know, Michelle Reale, about her work. Michelle has published many short pieces, largely flash fiction, in a variety of journals. She has also published a chapbook of her work entitled Natural Habitat (Burning River Press); her second story collection, Like Lungfish Getting through the Dry Season, is forthcoming from Thunderclap Press in 2011, as well as another short fiction collection, If All They Had Were Their Bodies, from Burning River. Michelle’s fiction has a compressed power and clarity of language that is both arresting and often deeply unsettling. She gives us engaging characters that suggest haunted pasts and troubled futures, all with warmth that never gets sentimental and a brutal honesty that avoids cynicism.

I asked Michelle to send me several links to her work and she replied with the following stories: “What Passes for Normal,” “Shells,” “Current,” “Frantic City,” “We, the Women,” and “Three Stories": Honeymoon, Local Custom, and Bone in the Throat.” Sample through them and see for yourself the qualities I’ve listed above. And now, let’s pick Michelle’s brain a bit…

Paul Elwork: These stories are so well-rendered, reading them is a bit like paging through a book of illustrations full of shadows and striking details. Dysfunctional family dynamics run through these selections. The mother in “What Passes for Normal” is absolutely frightening in her sociopathology and ability to put a good face on things for people outside her family. Can you put your finger on what draws you to this subject matter?

Michelle Reale: I will say that if there is a flaw, I will see it before most people will. I am very shy and I have been all my life. Being shy often means that you “participate” from the sidelines. In school, people thought I was mute! But I watched very closely, always. And I listened, and still do listen, very carefully when people talk. Even in conversation there is a “text” and a “subtext,” if you will. We are all schizophrenic in so many ways. Living in polite society often means sublimating what we are really thinking and feeling. We compartmentalize our feelings, what we will say and to whom and in what context. But I can see the underside of nearly everything. And I also know that people are not always what they seem: the good aren’t always so good, and the bad aren’t always so bad. Some of my fiction will really exploit that dark side of human nature. “What Passes for Normal” was hard to write in some respects. Our society does not like flaws. We abhor what isn’t “pretty” and we shun those who fall out of the strict parameters of “normal.” I don’t even really know what normal is!

Families, too, fascinate me. What an absolutely complex relationship system. I like to explore what happens there. We can live with people our whole lives and not really know them—we are all unknowable in that way, so when I write about people and families and relationships, I am really trying to figure things out. I realize that this is not very original—I think most writers are after the same exact thing—we are writing to make sense of things. My characters are flawed, indeed. They suffer. They are not pretty. They hurt inside and then they hurt others. My job is to make them live on the page to regret it. And if I get a reaction from a reader, I suppose I have done my job!

PE: Nobody really knows what normal is. It’s one of those myths of polite society. And I like the notion of discovery you proceed with. Does anyone write really good fiction if he or she goes in with it all figured out and ends with absolutely unchanged notions?
I agree that family dynamics are an endless resource for inspiration. What informs your fiction more: Your own family dynamics, past and present, or your outside observations? Or is that too difficult to tease apart?

MR: I have to say that I am not a person who sits down and outlines or any such thing. For myself, I simply don’t see the value, most especially because for me writing is an exercise not only in creativity, but in discovery. Often, I may have an idea in my head, the way I think a piece may go, but then it goes in the opposite direction. I don’t think the writing mind is rigid—at least not for fiction. I have written an academic book in my field—now that book I most definitely had a game plan for—and I laid the groundwork very carefully. Fiction, however, is a whole different ball game, requiring more heart than mind. I don’t want to think when I write fiction—does that sound strange? But I really don’t. I want to hit bedrock of truth somehow and I can’t do that with my brain. Brain turns fiction into formula. As a reader I am turned off by that right away. As I writer, it frightens me.

My fiction is informed not so much by real incidents either in my life or the lives of others, but from impressions of incidents. How something made me feel, how it might have made others feel. I think about the fallout from messy emotional situations. Things like that. I was recently buying coffee in a Dunkin Donuts where they also have Baskin Robbins ice cream. I watched in horror as a mother practically bullied her daughter who looked to be about 10 or 11 to me into getting two scoops (“might as well,” she kept saying) instead of just one on her cone. When she relented (she had her arms crossed over her chest—a very defensive position) the mother proceeded to make fun of the fact that she’d never get a boyfriend with all of that belly fat she had around. I stood there with my mouth open. I felt an instant stab in a vulnerable place inside of me. How awful.

PE: Such a staggering, loaded moment. It’s definitely one where your guts kind of clench from the emotional impact, even as part of your mind recognizes something that applies straight to fiction. It also sounds like a moment right out of one of your stories.

MR: I went home and wrote about it. It hasn’t made its way into a story—yet, but it will surely surface somewhere. Think of all the strange (and sad) dynamics going on there. There is a truth there somewhere. And my fictional truth may not be that family’s truth, of course, but it is fiction, after all.

PE: What are your thoughts on writing in longer forms? I find it fascinating how writers are drawn to different forms, like visual artists using certain materials, or singers working in different keys. Do you have any plans for longer works or any in progress?

MR: I hear this debate a lot with writers: whether to write in longer form or not, especially if they’ve been writing short, short prose. No one ever asks a poet that question! I have long considered myself a miniaturist—even when I was writing (awful) stories that were 10–12 pages long. What I was trying, all that time (I now realize) was to get to the shorter form.

PE: Sure, that makes sense—and it isn’t a matter of right or wrong, but one of personal inclination. I remember Joyce Carol Oates writing somewhere that any literary idea can be expressed in a poem, a short story, or a novel—it’s just a question of how you want to feature it stylistically, what kind of effect you’re going for, etc. I completely agree. You’ve got to go where your interest takes you and trust that.

MR: I am more and more interested in distillation, how to use fewer words. I use Virginia Woolf as my guide and concentrate on those “moments of being”—when I can see and feel an entire world in a gesture, or the look on a face. I also work in themes. Right now I am pursuing a certificate in Peace Studies because I am interested in all of the conflicts and revolutions in the world. As a result, I am writing prose poems about my experiences abroad and my encounters with immigrant populations, fleeing turmoil in inhospitable places. I was in Sicily twice in April and witnessed the not-so-ambivalent feelings the Italian government has toward those fleeing their countries (especially North Africa) to its shores. I am Italian-American and this moved me profoundly. I had the opportunity to speak with men from various countries that have been stripped of dignity, trying to make a new life there. I saw with my own eyes the confiscated boats where they seize these people (mostly men) and detain them or make their lives miserable enough until they leave for somewhere else, other places that also don’t want them. I cannot, for instance, write a novel about something like this, because I do not have the interest in a sustained narrative about a certain number of characters. What I do have is an interest in writing many, many prose poems that I feel will be more powerful for their “staccato” succinctness and that represent a wide variety of encounters, impressions, and especially strong images. I could change some day and decide to challenge myself and write a novel, but I am not sure that I even have the capability, to tell you the truth. The intersection of prose and poetry is where I really like to be right now. In fact, I have felt more comfortable in this form than in any other. I plant my feet firmly in this place, write, and get better and better. I still have so much to learn, but I am nothing if not a very patient person!

Michelle Reale is an academic librarian on faculty at Arcadia University in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Her work has been published in a wide variety of venues, including Eyeshot, elimae, Pank, JMWW, Gargoyle, Word Riot, Monkeybicycle, Moon Milk Review, and many others. Her work was included in Dzanc’s Best of the Web 2010. She has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

Paul Elwork lives on the outskirts of Philadelphia and is the father of two sons. His work has appeared in a variety of journals, including Philadelphia Stories, Short Story America, SmokeLong Quarterly, and Word Riot. His novel The Girl Who Would Speak for the Dead (Amy Einhorn Books/Penguin Group) is available online and in bookstores everywhere. For more information and links to short fiction and other content, please visit

"These are the days when Birds come back/a very few/a Bird or two/to take a backward look."

"These are the days when Birds come back/a very few/a Bird or two/to take a backward look."