We Will Miss You, Sondra

sondrasolomonOur friend and fellow writer Sondra Solomon passed away Sunday, September 13th after a battle with cancer. Sondra opened our eyes every time she opened her mouth in our Wednesday workshops. She was honest and direct; her insights were on point and constructive. While making her comments she often reminded us that growing up in the Bronx had made her tough but fair, and our workshops were better because of her contributions.

I met Sondra at the annual meeting of the League of Vermont Writers in early 2014. We happened to be seated at the same table. Shortly thereafter, Sondra started attending BWW meetings. I’m glad she did. Though she never submitted her work to the group—at least not while I was leading regular sessions—she was always present. She always read her fellow writers’ work and responded thoughtfully to it.

She was remembered fondly by her students at UVM in this recent article in the The Vermont Cynic.

Sondra was an academic and she also wrote fiction and volunteered to read fiction submissions for Mud Season Review. She was proud of her academic achievements and brought to at least one Wednesday workshop I attended her newest scholarly publication. In addition, she was the generous sponsor of Megan Mayhew Bergman’s visit to Hotel Vermont in May of 2014.

I’ve been told by Sondra’s close friend that she fought with dignity until the very end, and that we can all take comfort in our memories of her.

A memorial service for Sondra will be held on Monday, October 19, 2015 from 3:30 – 4:30 p.m. at Ira Allen Chapel (26 University Place in Burlington). You can read her obituary in the Burlington Free Press here.

Opportunities and Announcements: Week of October 5, 2015

Hotel Vermont Lobby

Fireside at Hotel Vermont

I am very excited to open the call for submissions for the Burlington Writers Workshop’s first-ever public oral storytelling events.

“It Happened One December: Stories by the Fire, a Hotel Vermont and Burlington Writers Workshop storytelling series” will take place on Saturday, December 5th and Saturday, December 19th beginning at 4:00 pm. We hope these will be just the first 2 events of an ongoing series. The deadline for storytelling proposals is October 31, 2015. Get the full details >

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A Call for Oral Storytelling Proposals

Submit your oral storytelling proposal by October 31st for:
It Happened One December
Stories by the Fire, a Hotel Vermont and Burlington Writers Workshop storytelling series

Saturday, December 5th and 19th, 2015
4:00 pm at Hotel Vermont

—An invitation from Deena Frankel, BWW Oral Storytelling Workshop leader

Hotel Vermont Lobby

Fireside at Hotel Vermont

Nobody wants to think about December just yet, but we all know it’s coming. So think about sitting by the fire in the lounge at Hotel Vermont, with snow falling on St. Paul Street, listening to tales of winter. Or better, yet, telling your own!

This December the BWW has two storytelling collaborations on tap with the Hotel Vermont to share true tales told live by BWW storytellers—our first-ever oral storytelling public events. With your help, we’ll enjoy great success and continue this as a regular series in the new year.

These will be curated events with an editorial panel of seasoned storytellers, led by our own Oral Storytelling Workshop leader Deena Frankel, choosing a well-balanced line-up from proposals by BWW story makers. Noted area storytellers will host each evening.

Here’s how it works:

Submit a brief, one-paragraph written proposal for a 7- to 8-minute story that connects, at least loosely, to the themes of winter, December, or a December holiday. The panel will pick 6 or 7 stories for each of the 2 evenings. (Let us know if you can make one but not the other.)

Stories guidelines are similar to the popular Moth series: a true story that happened to you (at least 94% true), rehearsed but not memorized, told without notes.

If your story idea is selected, we’ll invite you to “workshop” your story either at a BWW Oral Storytelling Workshop or at a mutually workable time with the panelists, sometime before the event.

The deadline for proposals is October 31, 2015.

Submit your oral storytelling proposal >

New to oral storytelling? That’s okay!

If you already tell stories out loud, you know how connected it feels to tell a well-crafted slice of your own life to an eager audience hanging on your every word. If you’re a writer, and haven’t tried this version of storytelling yet, here are some great reasons to give it a try:

  • Telling our stories out loud and in person connects us to a deeply ancient and primal human experience.
  • Crafting an oral story in a limited timeframe demands disciplined editing and choices that will help you as a writer.
  • Oral storytelling reveals what a story is REALLY about—why you care, and why we should care—more surely and quickly than you can imagine.

At the BWW’s September Oral Storytelling workshop, a writer attending her very first BWW workshop listened to the first story and then asked if she could tell her own. And, with no rehearsal and no real discussion of the form, she knocked our socks off with a story about coming to understand her tough, immigrant grandmother. Wow, writers make good tellers!

So please consider making a story proposal and helping the BWW make our inaugural public storytelling events at Hotel Vermont a hit this December.

Here’s an example of a storytelling proposal to stimulate your thinking. This was a successful pitch for a curated event on the theme of “summer”:

When I was 11, my very cool New York cousin got a job waiting tables at a resort in near my suburban home and he came to stay with us for the summer between high school and college. He brought all his cool with him: his red Fu Manchu mustache, his Buick Roadmaster convertible, and his love of folk music. I helped him work on the Buick, he introduced me to Bob Dylan, and he treated me like a pal instead of an annoying little kid cousin. After that summer a feud between our mothers separated us for more than 30 years, but rediscovering my very first record album—Blonde on Blonde—made me want to find my cousin again, hoping for a nostalgic reconnection. With the help of the internet, I found him, but the reality of my reunion with a self-absorbed slob couldn’t possibly match up to my memory of that cool, 1960s New York cat. Sometimes memory is better than reality and listening to old vinyl is a better tribute than an actual reunion.

Submit your oral storytelling proposal or come check out an upcoming oral storytelling workshop: Thursday, October 29th and Thursday, November 19th


A Commentary on ‘The Secret’ by Charles Bukowski

By Jimmy Tee, BWW member

photo by Jimmy Tee from the documentary ‘Bukowski’

photo by Jimmy Tee from the documentary ‘Bukowski’

The Secret
          by Charles Bukowski 

don’t worry, nobody has the
beautiful lady, not really, and 

nobody has the strange and
hidden power, nobody is
exceptional or wonderful or
magic, they only seem to be
it’s all a trick, an in, a con,
don’t buy it, don’t believe it.
the world is packed with
billions of people whose lives
and deaths are useless and
when one of these jumps up
and the light of history shines
upon them, forget it, it’s not
what it seems, it’s just
another act to fool the fools

there are no strong men, there
are no beautiful women.
at least, you can die knowing
and you will have
the only possible victory

What a sense of comfort Bukowski offers us in these lines, as if he had comfort to spare, sharing his view through simple words and phrases from a beat-up Southern California apartment overflowing with empty beer cans. To know his life through his poetry sends the reader past the drudgery of the bottom rung of society to visit his straightforward version of the truths that govern existence.

Charles Bukowski suffered the pain of abuse from a father who beat him as regularly as daily Mass. The strap found hanging prominently in the hallway, the welts that never had time to heal. A father who, despite losing his job, still prepared and left for work daily, so strong was the need for pretense, until the day came when both father and son knew the abuse was over and the young man escaped to the street and all it has to offer. These acts witnessed by his mother who silently allowed the assaults to occur.

If great art has its source in great pain, (and who’s to argue against that fact), his childhood would have been sufficient, but shortly after the beatings ended he was afflicted with painful boils on his face and neck, the aptly named acne vulgaris. Emotionally devastated and horribly scarred, he turned to his typewriter, gallons of fortified wine, and a string of flop houses. He delivered mail and drifted from one woman to another. He suffered inane Post Office efficiency games, followed by rotgut bars glowing in neon in the Los Angeles rains, ending spread-eagle on soiled sheets, only to be interrupted by the sameness of the rising sun.

When you read Bukowski, you leave the common area of our fat lives and enter thinness. Truly, the human soul is unbreakable, but oh how it can bend.

Bukowski, by mentioning history, seems to aim the poem at ‘famous’ men or women whom we allow to commit the horrible crimes present in our nature, crimes of a grand scale that repeat themselves despite our enlightenment. The final lines can also be seen as a barb against the tabloid description of the celebrity worship that is a part of our popular culture. The profusion of hairstyled, airbrushed, pancaked skin as a goal we can all achieve is foolish since we all share the same fate and no team of publicists can change that.

Bukowski writes with a mandate that should appear in every poet’s work. It is very tough to agree with Bukowski’s outlook on life just as it is tough to agree with any author. His words contain authority, an accounting of his personal discovery. He mistrusted the fame that found him in his later years, unapologetic as he chugged wine before the audiences at his readings. ‘The Secret’ contains the look behind his eyes.

He is sharing his discovery by keeping his ego in suspect check and allowing his view of a very large subject in a matter-of-fact, almost condescending manner. He writes how my father spoke to me as he taught me the ropes as best he could and left the final education to others. Dont let yourself be fooled by anyone and you are most suspect.

I have lived a fat life. I bet you could say the same thing. Thinness is unappealing in this modern age. Thank heaven for poets. Poetry is concerned with significance and its absence. Analyze ‘The Secret’ as you would a fellow workshop member’s work and it would fail most of the guidelines that we are forced to follow. But his message is clear, important and instructive, for meaning trumps structure and truth contains its own evidence.

Opportunities and Announcements: Week of September 28, 2015

Neil Shepard reading for Burlington Writers Workshop

Neil Shepard reads during the Burlington Writers Workshop’s Writers-in-the-Round event at Hotel Vermont, an event featured as part of the 2015 Burlington Book Festival.

What an amazing evening for the BWW and Mud Season Review at Hotel Vermont on Saturday! The literary editors panel—featuring editors from AGNIGreen Mountains ReviewMud Season Review, and New England Review—was informative and inspiring for both the writers and editors in attendance, and the Writers-in-the-Round event that followed brought a fun and thoughtful twist to literary readings. As one audience member noted, “The fact that each poet had to find a connection within his or her work to the previous poet’s reading really made me listen to and consider the poems’ meaning and language in a much closer way.”

Thank you again to our literary editor panelists and Writers-in-the-Round participants: Lizzy Fox, Karin GottshallCarolyn Kuebler, Chris LaMay-WestAskold MelnyczukNeil Shepard, and Rebecca Starks.

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The World Needs Carnival Barkers, Too

At the risk of giving too much attention to a certain Huffington Post article, I really must comment on a few ideas its author shares.

The premise of the article is that you must not, under any circumstances, publish several books in a single year—that you must take your time and publish less frequently, because that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you create art.

It’s directed at self-published authors, who are allegedly being told that publishing often (up to four times a year) is a good idea.

Frankly, I don’t know if publishing so often is a good idea for you. Maybe it is. Maybe it isn’t. It’s not a good idea for me personally because I simply don’t feel comfortable writing that quickly. It ain’t my style. (Also, I have a full-time job.) But depending on your goals and your abilities as a writer, it could be a perfect approach for you. I don’t know you, my dear writer friend, so I won’t presume to know what’s good for you.

That’s why I object to the author’s blanket prohibition on publishing often as a legitimate career path. She writes:

“No matter what experts tell you, no matter what trends, conventional wisdom, social media chatter or your friends in the Facebook writers group insist upon, do NOT write four books a year. I mean it. Don’t.”

I don’t dispute that writing quickly could result in crappy prose or poetry, as the author maintains. In fact, I agree that writing too quickly is likely (though not guaranteed) to make your writing suck.

But I object to the author’s assumption that self-published authors don’t care about quality. Every single self-published author I’ve met—even the ones who choose to publish multiple titles in a year—has cared deeply about quality. The author of the article assumes that the self-published author prioritizes quantity over quality because quantity is mentioned first in Bowker’s advice to them. Based on my knowledge of self-published authors, I can only assume that quantity is mentioned first because the need to write high-quality stuff is such an obvious given that it need not be mentioned.

(For what it’s worth, Bowker sells ISBNs, so they have an incentive to tell self-published writers to publish often. It’s unclear to me how prevalent the “publish often” approach truly is, and the article does not shed light on it any meaningful, data-driven way.)

So to the author of this article, I say: Perhaps tending to your own garden would be the best approach.

Here’s why:

If you throw out edicts like, “Don’t publish four times a year,” you’re telling those writers who want to publish frequently that their approach is wrong, and there is no possible way you could know that it’s wrong if you don’t know what a given writer wants to achieve.

In your “clarification,” you write that your article isn’t a suggestion that there’s just “one way” to do things. You may believe that there are many ways to be a writer, but you are saying pretty clearly that this particular way is wrong. And that’s where you’re wrong.

Maybe it’s because I’m now living in the “Live Free or Die” state, but I feel like writers should be left to write and publish or not publish as they please, without unwarranted criticism from other members of the writing community. Such criticism creates an atmosphere of self-doubt, and self-doubt can crush a writer’s productivity. The article is the opposite of supportive, and writers need support from their peers to thrive, even if that support comes by creating an atmosphere that welcomes all comers.

So if you disapprove of someone publishing four times annually, here’s what you can and should do about it:


Nothing—because it doesn’t affect you if someone puts four lousy books on Amazon in a given year or over the course of a decade. Maybe those prolific and hasty folks will further damage the bad reputation that self-published books have. But maybe not. I believe discerning readers will know the difference between well- and poorly-written books and ignore the word on the street about self-publishing as a practice.

On The Bookshelf at New Hampshire Public Radio, I give self-published books and traditionally published books equal consideration. I can see through the nonsense. The quantity of books in the marketplace doesn’t make my job harder, nor does it diminish me as a writer. So it’s not for me, or anyone, to say how often self-published authors should release new work.

The truth is that not many years ago some people at elite institutions and in the publishing world issued similar commands about self-publishing in general. They argued that self-published authors wouldn’t have access to the same editorial guidance, savvy marketing professionals, or design specialists who know how to make a book a thing of beauty. And they were wrong—both in their assessment of the self-publishing world and their decision to issue “advice” when they had no authority to do so.

There are lots of different kinds of writers out there. There are writers like Donna Tartt and Anthony Doerr who each take about a decade to write their novels. There are writers like Stephen King who write at least one each year. And there are some who pump them out every three months. It’s how they work. And there’s not a damned thing wrong with that.

The author of the article writes: “You are a professional author working [on] your book your way. Be an artist, don’t be a carnival barker. Be a wordsmith, not a bean-counter. Be patient, not hysterical. Transact wisely, but don’t lose your soul in the process.” (Italics original, but I added the “on” because, well, it seems like someone was writing/editing too quickly.)

I really don’t understand what “your way” means in this context. After all, the article is slamming the very people who make it their way to write and publish often. “Your way” must mean the slower pace the author herself prefers, though I hesitate to say for sure what it means. But I digress.

Carnival Barker at the Vermont State Fair, 1941

Carnival Barker at the Vermont State Fair, 1941

In my view, it takes all kinds of writers to serve the diverse reading public. Some readers like the work of the so-called “artists.” Others like the work of “carnival barkers.” Some like both. In fact, lots of readers devour the carnival barker books while waiting for the artists to get around to publishing their latest opus. One could argue that carnival barkers keep readers in the habit of reading while they wait for their favorite “artist” to produce something new.

So carnival barkers should keep barking at their own pace, and ignore the call from artist-types to slow down. Such calls are reminiscent of that especially wonderful kind of vegetarian—the kind that has chosen not to eat meat and tells everyone else at the dinner table that they too should go veg. What’s more annoying than that?

So hurry hurry hurry, step right up, ladies and gents, because there’s something fun underneath that circus tent, and fortunately for you, there are lots and lots of tents.

Opportunities and Announcements: Week of September 21, 2015

By all accounts, my good friend Tony Whedon led an excellent writing retreat this past weekend. Tony is an excellent teacher and he’s given me comments on my work a few times over the years, and each time he identified the problem and let me figure out the solution. I’m grateful for him. He’s a real Vermont treasure.

Retreats like these are so important, and not only because carving out time to write is essential to developing your skills. These free retreats level the playing field, so that writers with and without disposable income have an equal chance of attending. As far as I know, the BWW is the only organization in the country that admits people to retreats like this, and I’m glad we’re leading the way.

There’s quite a bit happening this week, so please do check out this week’s opportunities and announcements. Continue reading

Opportunities and Announcements: Week of September 14th


We hope you’ll consider coming out this Thursday, September 17th, to support your fellow BWW membersand hear some excellent poetryon the next stop of The Best of The Burlington Writers Workshop 2015 book tour.

The reading will be held at the Darkroom Gallery at 12 Main Street in Essex Junction and will begin at 7:00 pm. Featured poets include Anne Ayert, Catherine Bodnar, Daniel Chadwick, Meg Stout, and Darlene Witte-Townsend. The poets will read both from their Best Of work as well as new pieces.

RSVP for the event >

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Opportunities and Announcements: Week of September 7, 2015

Image of Terry Cleveland's property

Home of BWW member Terry Cleveland, site of the 2015 October Guided Retreat

The lottery for our final writing retreat of the year is now open! This is a small-group retreat, designed to offer lots of free time for working on your own projects as well as the chance to come together with the group for targeted discussions on the craft of writing. The retreat will be led by Peter Biello, BWW founder and board chairman.

As with all of our retreats, a lottery system will ensure an equal chance for all active BWW members. The lottery opens today and closes at midnight, Monday, September 14th. If you’re an active member, sign up for the lottery now >

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Opportunities and Announcements: Week of August 31, 2015

Burlington Writers Workshop

Vermont writers gather for a recent meeting of the Burlington Writers Workshop

The Burlington Writers Workshop’s October schedule is now posted on Meetup. We have a lot of great workshops next month, including our new songwriting workshop and the start of our 2015 Fall Literature Reading Series, in which participants will be reading and discussing Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend as chosen by a member poll.

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Opportunities and Announcements: Week of August 24, 2015

Well, we could not have asked for a better day—or location—for the 2015 BWW August Free Writing Retreat. Camp Abnaki proved to be a beautiful spot for relaxed writing and creative inspiration as well as a chance for members to connect over shared meals and activities. Thank you to our Retreat Committee and to everyone who participated for making it such an amazing day. The group unanimously voted that this should become an annual BWW tradition so look for more Camp Abnaki retreat information in 2016!

BWW August Retreat 2015 Collage

Read on for the results of our September Poetry Series poll, info on the next stop of the Best Of the Burlington Writers Workshop 2015 book tour, and more.

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Opportunities and Announcements: Week of August 17, 2015

September is fast approaching, and it’s going to be a great month for getting involved in the Burlington Writers Workshop and the Burlington Book Festival. Keep reading to learn more about these and other opportunities for Vermont writers.


Opportunities to be part of the Burlington Book Festival


September 25-27, 2015

Represent the BWW at the Burlington Book Festival. We’re looking for BWW members to help staff our table at this year’s Burlington Book Festival, September 25-27. This is a nice opportunity to help spread the word about the BWW while also meeting other writers and editors at the festival. If you’re interested in taking a shift at the table, please contact us >

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Opportunities and Announcements: Week of August 10

Get involved in your writing community!We have several opportunities for BWW members to get involved this week in ways both big and small. You can help us pick our poet for study in our September Poetry Workshop series, volunteer for a shift to help keep the BWW space at 22 Church Street open, join the staff of Mud Season Review, or submit your work to be considered for the BWW’s “Writers-in-the-Round” panel at this year’s Burlington Book Festival.

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Opportunities and Announcements: August 3, 2015

Elena Ferrante's My Brilliant Friend

Member choice for the BWW’s Fall Literature Reading Series

And the winner is…My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante. Thank you to everyone who voted in the member poll to choose the book we’ll read for the 2015 BWW Fall Literature Reading Series. Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend emerged as the winner with 53% of the vote. Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice took 2nd with 26% and Herman Mellville’s Moby Dick came in 3rd with 21%.

The literature reading series will begin in October—look for the schedule of Tuesday evening workshops on Meetup beginning next month.

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Opportunities and Announcements: Week of July 27, 2015

Tony Whedon

Tony Whedon, instructor of the 2015 Burlington Writers Workshop Guided Creative Nonfiction Retreat

We have 2 exciting opportunities for member involvement this week.

First, the lottery for our September 19th Guided Creative Nonfiction Retreat is now open! This retreat will be held at the beautiful Adamant Music School and will be guided by celebrated poet, essayist, and professor Tony Whedon. Check out the retreat page to see if you’re eligible and to enter the lottery. Enter the lottery now >

Second, given the popularity of our Infinite Summer workshop, in which participants are reading and discussing David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest over the course of 13 weeks, we’ve decided to hold another literature reading series this fall. Because really, what better way is there to become a stronger writer than to learn to read more critically? We’d like your help in choosing the book we’ll study for the Fall 2015 BWW Literature Reading Series. Please take a moment to vote in our quick, 1-question survey. Vote now > 

Voting will be open until Sunday, August 2nd and I’ll share the results in new week’s Opportunities & Announcements.
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