Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Resolving to Remain Resolute with Regards to Writing Resolutions

by Nathan Norton

Aside from completely redundant and over-alliterated titles, there are a few things I’m actually pretty good at. One of those things is procrastinating. Another is being lazy. I’m also a rather talented stone mason, but that’s neither here nor there.*

These talents of mine are bothersome things. Like the P90X discs sitting on my coffee table, they’re a pestering reminder that I’m particularly bad at keeping promises I’ve made to myself. Right around this time of year is when we make all those promises that we intend on keeping the whole year through and actually keep for approximately ten to twenty minutes, give or take ten to twenty minutes. It’s New Year’s resolution time, boys and girls, and as writers, we ought to be making some resolutions aside from “stop eating like an Ethipoian tribesman with a thyroid condition.”

Writerly resolutions are important. If you’re anything like me, you have a problem motivating yourself to write. There can be a lot of reasons for this. I’ll lay my soul bare a second and admit something to all ya’ll. Writing scares me. It legitimately frightens me. The ideas in my head always feel beyond my own skill as a wordsmith, so approaching a new story idea is intimidating. I with my problems, like you with yours, need to get over it.

Maybe you don’t share that particular hazard, but we all have our own. Sometimes it takes some real forceful decisions to make writing happen.

To keep your inner writer sharp and on its toes, you’ve got to treat it like a five month old Labradoodle. Put on your stupid bedazzled 2011 glasses and resolve to do three things for your inner writer: 1) Feed it. 2) Give it exercise. 3) Listen to its whining even in inconvenient times when you’d rather not, lest you have a mess on your hands.

Feed It

According to science, stuff dies if you don’t give it food. People, Japanese peace lilies, kangaroos, and most definitely you as a writer are all things that will one day stop thriving without some good victuals. Without nourishing yourself with mass amounts of other quality writers’ fiction, you’re going to dry up. Your mind won’t be working like a writer. It won’t be viewing the world through a writer’s lens. You won’t notice the details that make life worth noticing, and subsequently, you won’t have anything worthwhile to write about.

Make a resolution to read all the time. I’ll say it again, for those of you in the back: READ ALL THE TIME. Perhaps more specifically, make a resolution that works in your schedule, but is still going to involve a tidbit of sacrifice. Maybe one story a day. Maybe one story collection bi-weekly. Whatever. Just set a goal, and strive for it. And if you fail, try again. And if you keep failing, keep trying.

As for what to read, my suggestion is to consume the kind of writing you want to write. Short fiction and novels are two very different things. My thinking is that if you’re in short story mode you should get yourself a few collections from some top shelf writers and read every day, as much as you possibly can. Nowadays, you can get some used short story collections for pennies at places like or, so it won’t even cost you all that much.

Alternately, if you have a novel you’re working on, grab a few books like the kind you want to work on and feed your creative side with them. Saturate yourself in the taste of the novels. Take it in and soak in a bath of words. Somewhat unlike a double order of cheese fries with bacon and ranch dressing, it’s okay to gorge yourself here.

A writer has to read to write properly, because words are a writer’s bread and butter. Writing without reading is like dry heaving after forty-eight hours of fasting. Since you haven’t taken anything in, there isn’t anything with any substance to come out.

Give it Exercise

Here is where the big resolutions come into play. You have to write. Often. And without regard for quality. One of the resolutions you need to make as a writer this New Year is to set a word or page limit per day and stick to it. There’s a writer who churns out at least a single page a day, even (perhaps especially) on days when he doesn’t feel like he has any inspiration to work with or any desire to write. Many days, all he writes is nothing but one sentence over and over again. The point isn’t to construct a masterpiece every day. It’s to form a habit.

So what happens after you create the habit? In order to scratch that itch, sometimes home is the wrong place to do it. You’ve got to change things up more often than not. Very, very, very few writers get anything accomplished sitting on their couch. It’s too comfortable. It’s too usual. Home is where you go to relax and unwind, not where you go to be productive. Of course there are surely plenty of exceptions, but by and large, this is why you see so many open laptops at Starbucks.

In addition to a word or page limit a day, make the resolution to give your inner writer some exercise by at least getting off the couch and sitting at a desk in your room. This’ll help. Better than that, though, you’ve got to get out. Go somewhere out of the ordinary. When you displace yourself from the everyday with the express purpose of honing in on a single goal, you’re motivated to follow through with that self-made obligation. When you’re a little out of your element, you’re more likely to tune out your surroundings and focus only on the writing, on what you left the house to do. There simply aren’t as many distractions out-of-home as there are in-home. It doesn’t matter if the place is as loud as a Metallica concert during the first annual performance of the London Jackhammer Symphony Orchestra. You came here to write, and by the beard of Zeus, write you shall.

Listen to it

Ideas are like ninjas, only stealthier. They sneak up on you, strike, and vanish just as quickly. If you don’t take advantage of that fleeting moment of inspiration, you’ll lose it, nine times out of ten. Your third writerly resolution for 2011 should be to carry around an apparatus to record the random day-to-day ninja lightning strikes of awesome.

Many writers do it many different ways. One novelist I read about said he bought an old answering machine and a land line to call when ideas came up. He’d call the answering machine and record the idea the moment it struck him. Another writer carried a handheld tape recorder. Another kept a pocket-sized notebook in his back pocket. Personally, I stick to trendy pieces of tech. I use an iPod Touch.

While driving the freeway other day, I saw a man in a pristinely nice pin-striped suit driving a rust-raped ozone-disintegrating tow truck with a clearly broken crane. It was a beautiful image that struck a chord with me. Against advisable safety precautions, I whipped out my iPod and jotted down the image so I could incorporate it into a piece later on. This happens all the time.

If you don’t listen to your inner writer whining, “Hey! Hey look at that! That’s something! That could be something fantastic!” you’ll be left with a memory of something nifty you saw and precisely no more detail than that; a mess of half-remembered ideas with no option for advancement. The first and foremost job of a writer is to notice. To notice and disregard is a sin punishable by death of evocative writing.

In 2011, Resolve to remain resolute in your writerly resolutions and see where you are in 2012. I’m willing to bet your inner writer will be in better shape than it was last year.

*That’s a lie. I am not a talented stone mason, but I can cook a mean pork loin.**

** That’s a lie too. I can barely make a bowl of cereal without burning the house down.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Poetry Daily Feature

Poetry Daily's recently posted prose feature is a reprint of Mark Halliday's contribution to our Fall 2010 Symposium on Writing and the Midwest. The piece is titled "Kenneth Koch of Cincinnati" and can be read in the current issue or online in full at Poetry Daily.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Best New Poets 2010

Originally published in the Fall 2009 issue of Third Coast, Luke Johnson's poem "Remembering the Old Testament While Walking the Dog," is featured in Best New Poets 2010, release just last month.

Congratulations Luke!  We're very excited to have been the first home for this poem.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Thoughts from the Editors: What is one of your favorite short stories or novels?

Brandon says...

Patrick McCabe wrote a book called The Butcher Boy. There are a lot of great things to be said about the novel, but here are a few specifics I hope to find in every story I read.

Tension is present at all moments of the story, and Francie Brady is written in such a way that the tension becomes more powerful as the story moves forward; I care about him.

There are real consequences for Francis when his mother dies. There are real consequences for Francis when he gets into fights with other characters. I repeat: there are real consequences.

The town has a history and that history plays a role in the present. This is achieved without a hundred pages of back story that read like a history book instead of a novel.

McCabe uses voice to capture Francie Brady's Ireland and does so without forgetting that he was telling a story. The voice doesn't get carried away and talk simply out of admiration for itself.

Although this is a realist novel, realism is not required in order for a writer to create characters whom a reader can connect to. And that's something I want desperately.

Characters in quirky situations that are created by writers who are so smart that they forget their first job is to tell a story bore me more than anything. In fiction I prefer a failed attempt at honesty to a successful attempt at wit every time I read.

If you want a perfect example of what I'm looking for, The Butcher Boy is it.

Third Coast on the Web

From Sandy Longhorn, a lovely review of the Midwest Symposium in the Fall 2010 issue of Third Coast: Myself the only Kangaroo among the Beauty: What I'm Reading: Third Coast Fall 2010.

Monday, December 6, 2010

A Case for Contests

In January 2009, I read an article in Poets &Writers titled "A Case for Contests." And Jacob M. Appel's succinct points and optimistic attitude have stuck with me.

In the article Appel makes his stand for literary contests.  Pointing out rightly that contests are a great equalizer.  Any above board contest is reviewed anonymously, and gives "each contestant an assessment of the work by a judge who does not know the author’s identity." No publishing credits? No problem. At Third Coast, a staff member removes all cover letters along with any other identifying information that may arrive with the submission. (I should know; I sorted out several hundred submissions last year while I was Managing Editor.) From there the submission is given a number and sent along to editorial readers. "In the submissions pool at a literary contest," Appel writes, "nobody knows you’re not Alice Munro or Joyce Carol Oates. Contest participants can’t hide behind a laundry list of previous publishing credits, or an MFA from Iowa, or their good fortune in having once escorted one of the journal’s senior editors to the high school prom."

Appel also points out that the pool is smaller in the contest--dropping from competing with several thousand entries to several hundred in the case of a modestly sized magazine--and the best writing quickly rises to the top. "The other significant benefit of entering writing contests, if you are fortunate enough to win or even to rank highly, is that a strong performance often provides far more exposure than publication through the traditional submission channels."

In the full article, Appel lays out some math for when a contest reading fee is reasonable and when it's too much: as long as the fee is 20% of the offered prize or less, then the fee is reasonable. (At least I'm attributing it to Appel though it might have been another P&W article.) What he doesn't say is that many contests offer single issue or year-long subscriptions when you pay the fee. As a writer, these are the only contests I enter because I always know I'll get something for my money. (BTW I make a lousy gambler, I'm never willing to go for the risky bet.)

Appel reasons:
While a single contest fee is not going to drive even the poorest writer into bankruptcy, once one starts sending out ten- and twenty-dollar checks by the handful, the sacrifices entailed may seem prohibitive. Yet I urge my students to submit their fees anyway. Find a way! If they were studying to be physicians or attorneys, I remind them, they would pay far greater sums for multiple years of schooling—banking on a future payoff. To my mind, creative writing is as much a career as medicine or law, even if the odds of meaningful financial payoff are considerably lower (especially if you’re a poet). I also remind my students that many of them have already spent small fortunes in pursuit of graduate education in writing. Now that they are ready to tackle the literary marketplace, contests are not the place to begin nickel-and-diming. If one is willing to expend months or even years polishing a manuscript, one should be willing to spend a reasonable sum to give it a fair shake in the world. (I also point out that it takes only one contest win of five hundred or a thousand dollars to earn back their outlay and then some.)
Appel ends his article with the notion that the contest's greatest appeal is that somebody has to win. As last year's winner of the fiction contest John Matthew Fox told can attest, it only takes one submission: the Third Coast fiction and poetry contest was the the first place he submitted his story "Fatu Ma Futi" to.

Eileen Wiedbrauk is currently Third Coast's creative nonfiction editor. 2010 fiction contest winner "Fatu Ma Futi" by John Matthew Fox and the poetry contest winner "Before Knowing Remembers" by Jake Adam York, can be found in the Fall 2010 issue, out now! Look for an interview with contest winner Fox on the blog in the near future.  Contest guidelines for the 2011 Third Coast Fiction & Poetry Contest can be found here.  Appel's article can be found in the January 2009 print issue of Poets & Writers or online elsewhere.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Extended Deadline for 2011 Fiction and Poetry Contests

We're EXTENDING the deadline for our 2011 Fiction and Poetry Contests. The new deadline is: JANUARY 15, 2011. $1000 prize and publication for the winner in each genre. Visit our Contests page for complete guidelines.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Fiction and Poetry Contest Reminder

Time's running out for the 2011 Third Coast Fiction and Poetry Contests! Don't forget to submit your work. $1000 prize and publication for the winner in each genre. Judges: Brad Watson (Fiction) and Natasha Trethewey (Poetry). Postmark Deadline: Dec. 1, 2010. For complete guidelines, please visit:

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Jaimy Gordon Wins National Book Award

Congratulations to WMU Professor Jaimy Gordon
for her National Book Award win!

We're so proud!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Paul Muldoon's Advice to Young Poets

Pulitzer Prize winning poet Paul Muldoon delivers his thoughts and advice to young poets and all those who choose to write poetry.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Fall 2010 issue of Third Coast is now available! The issue includes work by Jake Adam York, John Matthew Fox, David Wagoner, Patty Seyburn, Keith Ratzlaff, Jennifer Fawcett and many others. There's also an interview with Alicia Ostriker AND a Symposium on Writing and the Midwest (with contributions from Eula Biss, Mark Halliday, Patricia Henley, Bonnie Jo Campbell, and our own Bill Olsen, Nancy Eimers and Stuart Dybek, among others). It's a cornucopia of literary delights. Order your copy or subscribe today.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

On Titling, Titles, and the Process Whereby We Condemn or Bless Works of Literature to be Forever Branded

by Nathan Norton

The title of a story is more than the act of picking the central image of the work and regurgitating it in front of all the other words you spewed onto the page. That’s just plain lazy. Your title is the first thing about your story the reader reads, people. Have some pride. Or, conversely, have absolutely no pride and then title it. But whatever you do, don’t use adequate amounts of pride while titling.

The title is the awning that stretches across the entirety of your story and casts its shadow on every syllable therein, coloring a reader’s perception of the prose. It’s important.

Perhaps that sounds a bit dramatic. It probably is. But it’s also true.  When a reader consumes the title of a story, then moves on to the meat of the thing, that title is always looming somewhere under the surface, altering how one perceives the tale being spun. If a story is labeled: Vixens, Foxes, and a Couple of Field Mice, a reader is going to be on the lookout for vixens, foxes, and some field mice. This could be literal, metaphorical, analogical, whatever, but even if they aren’t aware they’re doing it, they’ll look for it. This could dramatically alter how someone reads a piece of fiction. Keep this in mind while you construct your titles.

If you’ve never read Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal, I’m about to ruin it for you. It’s a fantastic satirical essay (here being cited for fiction, since sarcasm is the writer’s tongue of choice here and his approach is from a narrator with entirely fictional ideals from Swift’s own, in the literal sense) about how the impoverished Irish of 1729 could ease their financial troubles by selling children as edible delicacies to rich folk.

While we read, we are on the lookout for this titular proposal. When we realize what exactly it is, we are, for your understatement of the day, surprised. He’s modestly proposing the eating of babies. Like, with a fork and stuff. For a treat. Swift goes as far as to present possible ways to prepare the children as if they’re not small human people, but inanimate delicious blobs of tasty. He argues his point with actual monetary advantages they would be actual good ideas if it wasn’t for the whole cannibalism of small children, send your soul directly to Hell, do not pass go, do not collect $200 thing. The sarcasm and absurdity is so extreme throughout, we realize it was in play even in the title.

A title’s primary job is to subtly temper every element of a story, regardless of length, into a fun-size Halloween pumpkin-shaped bucket bite. It needs to be a whisper of the oratory to follow. Think of it as a Jeopardy-style giving of the answer to the question your story answers before the question is asked.

Consider a story by Donald Barthelme called Some of Us Had Been Threatening Our Friend Colby. Barthelme took this title straight from the first nine words of the story. This method is unique (and, I’ll point out, entirely more appropriate and satisfying than naming the story Colby—don’t name your story after the primary character. Just don’t). It immediately sets tone. Can you feel how the language is constructed to communicate nonchalance and a general disposition to think lightly? There’s an audible shrug in this title that can’t be ignored—a stroke of brilliance

It’s eternally important to remember that titles are not trifles. You’re not labeling a filing cabinet. Don’t just tell us what’s in this story, declare your confidence in your writing and tell us what is the story, but through subtlety and cleverness.

My last blog was about the importance of first lines. Well, a title is the line before the first line. It introduces your story and gives it character before it has characters. It gives voice before a voice is heard, establishes tone before its established, because, sayeth Dickens, it is the keynote. It’s the precursor to everything your work contains.

It’s nearly impossible to teach titling, so I’m not trying to do that. What I’d rather do is showcase some things that good titles are comprised of and a thing or two to keep in mind while trying to do it. Whatever you choose as your title, there’s a single thing that will always leave you with a more satisfying moniker than merely slapping the primary image or theme as a header.

Always enter into character as you write your title. Never write your title as you-the-author—write it in the voice and tone that your story carries throughout. It is your responsibility to enter into character in the title of the piece, to immediately declare your intentions to the reader. Never approach your title as an objective observer. Always have tonal and character-charged biases that shape your perception of the label. How you construct your title will either bless your story with a permanently memorable calling card, or condemn it to be instantly forgettable. Do you really want your story to be remembered as “that one story with the eccentric homeless guy apparently dressing himself with things he finds out of dumpsters in preparation for a party who’s also planning to steal away the woman of his dreams there” or Fresh or Also, Not? If for nobody else’s sake, do it in the name of brevity.

Nathan Norton serves as intern to the Third Coast fiction editors.

Monday, October 25, 2010

New Poet Laureate W.S. Merwin

Today W.S. Merwin takes over the duties of US Poet Laureate.  (Read more about Merwin.)

On July 1, 2010, the Library of Congress announced the appointment of Merwin as the Library's seventeenth Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry. (Read NYTimes article and interview from this summer.)

Merwin was previously interviewed by Anne Moore Odell and Pablo Peschiera for issue seven of Third Coast, Fall 1998. Back copies of the issue are available for $6.  Contact the managing editor for details or click here.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Francine Prose on "Writers as Readers"

Novelist, nonfiction writer, and writing teacher, Francine Prose speaks on what she reads, what writers read and whether or not you should read while working on your own writing.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

National Book Award Finalists Announced

Congratulations to Jaimy Gordon, our colleague, friend, and teacher, whose novel--Lord of Misrule--was selected as a finalist for the 2010 National Book Award.

Jaimy Gordon
’s previous novel, Bogeywoman, made the Los Angeles Times’ list of the Best Fiction of 2000. Her second novel, She Drove Without Stopping, was an American Library Association Notable Book in 1990. Gordon was born and raised in Baltimore and holds degrees from Antioch College and Brown University. She currently teaches at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo and in the Prague Summer Program for Writers.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

It's Our 15th Anniversary

Mark your calendars! Third Coast Magazine is holding a 15th Anniversary Celebration/Fall Issue Release Party on Saturday, Nov. 6, from 7-9pm, at the Kalamazoo Book Arts Center (located in the Park Trades Center, 326 W. Kalamazoo Avenue).

The celebration will include readings, refreshments and live music. It's free and open to the public! (Tell your students! Tell your friends!).

Featured readers include Nancy Eimers, William Olsen, and Monica Berlin, who are part of the Fall 2010 issue's Symposium on Writing and the Midwest. There will also be a performance by Austin Bunn of his one act play "Basement Story," from the Spring 2010 issue.

Live music will be provided by the always wonderful Joe Gross.

More details to follow.... For now, save the date and plan to help celebrate a decade and a half of Third Coast, WMU's own national literary magazine.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

What We're Reading

We read all the time. When it comes to submissions to the magazine, we only read certain months of the year (see website), but on a day to day basis, the editors are constantly reading published work. Some of it's new, some of it's classic, some fiction, some theory, some poetry and some of it blogs.

Here's what we're currently reading:

The Name of the Nearest River by Alex Taylor
Stories by Flannery O'Connor
Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad
Aliens in the Prime of Their Lives by Brad Watson
Out of the Girls' Room and Into the Night by Thisbe Nissen
Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link
The Lice by W.S. Merwin
The Apple Trees at Olema by Robert Hass
The Will to Change by Adrienne Rich

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Anne Lamott "On Being a 'Tough' Writer"

Known by many writers for her wonderful book on writing, Bird by Bird, author Anne Lamott speaks about what makes a writer tough and how to keep writing until you get there.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Thoughts From The Editors: What's your dream fiction submission?

Brandon says...

My dream submission would be Catch-22/Blood Meridian/Slaughterhouse Five sprinkled with Kate Braverman, Patrick McCabe and Flann O'Brien. This changes daily. Mainly it should be a story, and not just a bunch of words mashed together because they sound good.

Lately I'm seeing way too much unjustified first-person and quirkiness for the sake of quirk. Perhaps it's time for some third person, past tense stories that take advantage of retrospection and happen in a world I believe? There can be quirkiness, weirdness and insanity. Just make sure I believe the narrator.

Brevity is your friend. Taking endless pages to describe pointless interactions that lead to the result hinted at on page one does not help your cause. Get in there and tell me a story. Make it intense and make it matter. This doesn't mean bombs and gun shots in the first sentence. It means tell me a story that compels me to read on. Don't make me search for a reason to care.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Thoughts From The Editors: What's your dream nonfiction submission?

Eileen says...

I love braided narratives, and I'm not seeing a lot of them in the in-box lately.  If you don't know what I mean by braided essay, there's a great article/essay on it called "A Braided heart: Shaping the Lyric Essay," by Brenda Miller, in the book Writing Creative Nonfiction put out by the AWP in 2001.

Even if it's written in a more traditional narrative form than braided sections, my dream submission would weave together the writer's experience with history or statistics related to the subject.  And if you can teach me something in the process, all the better!  It's rare that I can be taught something about childhood by an essay--after all, that's something I've done, something we've all done--so the weirder topics or niche topics tend to fair better.

When I was asked to write this post, I was also asked what I had been seeing a lot of lately.  The answer is sex and dead babies.  Teenage sex, married sex, masturbation, prostitution, production of porn, rape, child molestation and abuse ... the list goes on.  If this is what you're writing about, I'm glad you've come to a point where you can talk (write) about it openly.  But unless you're doing something interesting with the narrative form, sex in literature is old hat.  There was one essay that crossed my desk about rape and the aftermath, and the only reason it stuck out was that the write had experimented with form in a way that was both engaging and fresh.

Then there's the dead babies.  Miscarriages and shaken baby syndrome.  I'm seeing a lot of them lately.  I'm okay with essays on grief; I'm am publishing an essay on grief this spring--and I cried the first two times I read it--but it's not about a dead baby.  As far as essays on grief go, these have the least sense of redemption and a tendency to be written before the author has gained enough distance.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Fiction and Poetry Contest Announced

The 2011 Third Coast Fiction & Poetry Contests are now OPEN for submissions. Postmark Deadline: December 1, 2010. Fiction and Poetry winners will receive $1000 and publication in the Fall 2011 issue. Final judges are Brad Watson (Fiction) and Natasha Trethewey (Poetry).

Please visit our Contests page for complete guidelines.

About the Judges:

Brad Watson won the Sue Kauffman Award for First Fiction from the American Academy of Arts & Letters for his first collection, Last Days of the Dog-Men. His first novel, The Heaven of Mercury, was a finalist for the 2002 National Book Award. Watson’s most recent collection of stories is Aliens in the Prime of Their Lives (2010).

Natasha Trethewey is the winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for her book Native Guard. Her first poetry collection, Domestic Work, won the Cave Canem Poetry Prize, and her second collection, Bellocq’s Ophelia, was named a Notable Book for 2003. Trethewey’s most recent work is a book of creative non-fiction, titled Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf (2010).

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Open to Submissions

Third Coast is currently accepting submissions! Our reading period opened August 1, 2010 and will close April 30, 2011. Third Coast only accepts online submissions through our online submissions manager. Please see our submission guidelines.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Closed to Submissions

Third Coast is now closed to submissions until August 1, 2010.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Closing to Submissions

On May 1, Third Coast will be closed to new submissions until August 1. So get those manuscripts in now!

If you've previously submitted to Third Coast and have not heard back, our editors will continue to reply over the summer. All manuscripts submitted before April 30, 2010 will hopefully have received a response by Labor Day of this year. If you have not received a response by that date, feel free to query the Managing Editor at

Note Bene: only submissions received through our online submission manager will be considered for publication. Any manuscripts received by snail mail, as email attachments, or in the body of an email, will be rejected without being read.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Welcome to the new blog!

The Third Coast blog is now located at

Please update any bookmarks and feed subscribers you might have.

For feed subscribers, please update your feed subscriptions to

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

AWP Bookfair: Promotional Materials

If you've ever attended the AWP Conference Bookfair, you know that all tables, be they for journals, presses or writing programs, have fliers, postcards, bookmarks or other paper with their info on it.  Some even have pins or magnets.  Then there are the pen-giver-outers.  Next you have the candy tins or cookie trays.  The guy hocking his book of fire/arson/burning related poetry collection handed out customized matchbooks (which was great but I don't have any because I doubted the TSA was gonna be thrilled to have me bring them through security). 

Often you'll see a combination of several of the above.  But none of these people win my award for best at-table promotion.

One word: mimosas.

Early Saturday morning, right after I'd finished my giant coffee and still felt weak and sleep-deprived, someone offered me a mimosa at bookfair, and I was glad to take it. I bought her book of poetry, too.

Best. Promotion. Period.

Even if the guy that came after me thought it was just OJ and got a little upset to find the alcohol present.

I don't know if Third Coast will be going in for alcohol-related promotions at the next AWP bookfair, but our editors have absolutely no reservations about anyone else doing so -- just be sure to tell us when and where ahead of time.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Spring Issue 2010 / AWP Conference

This blog is moving soon! Check back for details!

The 2010 Spring Issue of Third Coast is hot off the press and already arriving in mailboxes everywhere -- as well as walking off in the hands of many an AWP Conference attendee!

Check out the table of contents and fabulous front/back cover art.

Thank you and congratulations to all our contributors!

Another great big thanks (and hello!) to everyone who stopped by the Third Coast table at the AWP Conference Bookfair. It was great to get to meet you and answer your questions, to chat about the magazine and the kind of writing you do -- and to everyone who gave me names of authors/blogs to read or traded tips about what anthologies you teach: I really appreciate the advice!

Keep an eye on the blog for more recap (and photos) from the conference.

Friday, March 26, 2010

TC @ AWP 2010!

Third Coast will be attending the AWP Conference and Bookfair April 8-10 in Denver.

Editorial staff will be on hand at the Bookfair to meet, greet, and answer your questions. Stop by our table and say hi as well as pick up a copy of the magazine!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Literary Fiction is Alive and Well Linkbucket

by guest blogger Erin Fitzgerald

There's much more to revolution and innovation in literature than the Kindle. To find some, all you have to do is open your browser.

Duotrope is the Google of online literary magazines. Print ones have listings as well. Over 2800 listings are here overall, all searchable, and each includes tons of writer-reported information. If you register with Duotrope, you can contribute to the data collection -- and take advantage of Duotrope's very robust Submissions Tracker. The "What's New" page is a great place to watch for new publications, and to see which publications are currently making decisions. Litlist is a newer kid on the litmag indexing block, and one where editors and writers both can participate.

NewPages is a great stop for more traditional browsing of new media. There's lots of other things going at NewPages, too -- reviews of print and online litmags and books, regularly updated calls for submission and contest entries, bookstore listings, and plenty more. If you only have time for a little bit each day, there's also the NewPages blog.

If you like the blog approach, Emerging Writers Network is definitely one to bookmark, as is PANKblog. Both have merit of their own -- the former is affiliated with Dzanc Books and the latter with PANK magazine. Both have strong fingers on the pulse of independent online literature.

If you appreciate awards, then visits to the Million Writers Award and the Wigleaf 50 are in order. Both projects celebrate online fiction in the previous calendar year, as does Dzanc Books' Best of the Web in a print edition. These are all great places to find exciting work.

Once you've read some of what's out there, it's time to read the commentary. HTMLGiant and BIG OTHER both offer it many times daily, each with their own aesthetic, priorities, and sets of contributors. Comments sections are always open, and often fascinating. Lurk a little, and decide which place is for you. (I like them both, for different reasons.)

Fictionaut is where the Internet does things for writers that the meatspace world really never could. Fictionaut users can post their work online -- privately, to groups, or publicly -- and receive feedback. The front page shows you the most recent additions, and the current favorites. It's a great place for writers to see or be seen. Everyone can read, and participation is by invitation from a member. Fictionaut also has its share of interviews and updates. That includes Luna Digest, a regular news feature put together by yet another favorite site, Luna Park.

Twitter and Facebook are as ubiquitous in the online literature world as they are everywhere else. Friending and following writers and publications is a great way to find out about the next big things, and to be part of a vibrant community.

These links are just the beginning. The Internet is full of hard-working, talented writers and readers who are changing the world. Jump in, and don't look back.

Guest blogger Erin Fitzgerald is a writer and the editor of the Northville Review. She blogs at Rarely Likable: a litblog for dilettantes the home of frequent literary linkbuckets -- a great source for those attempting to keep up with the conversation about literature and writing that is happening on the web. See recent posts for a brief review of some of her short fiction available online.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

What We're Reading: Erin Fitzgerald

Review by Eileen Wiedbrauk

The short-short and flash fiction of Erin Fitzgerald, writer, editor and blogger, can be found among some of the most respected online journals (full listing here). And we -- the bloggers and editors of Third Coast -- have been reading it all.

Fitzgerald's stories are the kind of the little treasures I love to come across when reading on the web. She has a way of turning the common place, the frustrating, or the ubiquitous aspects of contemporary American life into interesting and surprising narratives. Picking the kids up from school, identity theft, and the teeny-bopper jewelry boutique become occasions for horror, humor, and the start of an interplanetary war respectively.

In spite of the brevity of much of her work -- or perhaps because of it -- Fitgerald is able to believably adopt the voices of wildly different characters. The mesmerizing voice of the narrator in "This Morning Will Be Different" tells us "I am ready," but not for what. The narrator lays out all the things she will do and in the end leaves us with only an echo -- a sense of yearning easily understood by many a daydreamer. The narrator of "There Are Always Children" speaks in a much more visceral manner: "A thought crawls into my skull through my sinuses." But for this unnamed narrator thoughts arrive too late. "That should be a warning," Fitzgerald tells the reader.

The hushed but workable terror that pervades "There Are Always Children" snakes through her other works, even those cloaked in the trappings of sensible suburban adulthood. It's there in a subtle way that leaves the reader unsettled but intrigued in "Where Did It All Go Wrong?" "Waiting Room" and even in "Trumpet Voluntary."

Perhaps that should be a warning is a good means of describe Erin Fitzgerald's stories -- not a warning to stay away, but to stick around for the twist.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Third Coast Contest Winners Announced!

Congratulations to the 2010 contest winners in fiction and poetry! A listing of the winners, runners up and finalists can be viewed on the Third Coast website. The winning entries themselves will appear in the Fall 2010 issue of Third Coast.

Thank you to everyone who entered! The 2011 contest will open in September. More details to be posted this summer.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

First Impression, Last Chance

by Nathan Norton

Certain things in life are kind-hearted enough to extend to you a second chance. Your story’s initial impact on editors is not one of those kind-hearted things.

You get one little lonesome chance. A chance. Not chances . . . chance. One. That’s it. One chance to hook the editor, assistant editor, reading intern, or whatever other English-savvy entity that might be holding your publishing future in the palm of their usually rather opinionated hand.

As a reader for Third Coast, I can say with a certain degree of experience that this is resoundingly and inescapably true. If you don’t believe me, talk to some editors or other lit mag readers. They’ll tell you the same thing. Page one—often sentence one—is where you need to start shining, or else you’ll be discarded like Hillary Duff’s musical relevance.

The first line of a story has a hefty workload. Raise questions, introduce conflict, establish tone and voice, and many times introduce your primary player(s). It doesn’t have to do them all, but it has to do a handful of them. Without most of these elements in the first one or two lines, your reader is already asking, “Why am I reading this?”

The hairy and entirely realistic nature of the beast is that editors don’t have time to sift through your story looking for potential. Fluff is for pillows. Fat is for Albert. Cut them both. Be interesting and direct immediately.

Most editors I’ve spoken with and read advice columns from will give a short story one page to get them interested. The most generous among them ventured as far as three. The cruelest among them said if the first sentence isn’t unique and intriguing, they toss the piece immediately. That means that no matter how amazing your story might get on page twelve when your ninja-wizard detective launches a Montana-shaped fireball out of his Mysterious Trench Coat of Mystery and disintegrates the Dreaded Duck of Doom, the editor didn’t get that far. There wasn’t enough spice in the first page to keep him wanting more.

It really is quite a tall order. And if it crushes your soul just a little to know that many editors may be reading nothing more than a few paragraphs of that masterpiece you’ve been working on . . . well, it should. You have to be at the top of your craft at the top of your product. Evocative language, original voice, conflictive first sentences, they’re all early attention grabbers that seize readers by their easily distracted haunches and demand “I’M WORTH READING!”

Consider some of the following first sentences:

The Zamboni had to go around Joey Cooper, the man thinking about omelets. – Misha Angrist, “So Much the Better”

It was half-past love on New Day in Zenith and the clocks were striking Heaven. – J.G. Ballard, “Passport to Eternity”

A man without hands came to the door to sell me a photograph of my house. – Raymond Carver, “Viewfinder”

During these last decades the interest in professional fasting has markedly diminished. – Franz Kafka, “A Hunger Artist”

I stood in my filthy overalls and boots serving deviled eggs to a woman who had lost her rabbit. – Peyton Marshall, “Bunnymoon”

I know, right? Don’t you just want to read all of those stories right this very moment to find out what in G. Gordon Liddy’s name is going on? These are great examples of mere sentences—not paragraphs, but sentences—that capture attention quicker than Tiger Woods’ personal infidelity captured frenzied media coverage. This is the kind of effect you want to have on your readers. You want a reader to say, “Tell me more, Master Storyteller!” not “Who cares, ya hack?”

Polish that first page. Read it over and over again. If you don’t find yourself grinning just a little at your accomplishments in the preliminary sentences every time the words pass your eyeballs, re-write them until you do. Then re-write them again until your friends and family do. Then re-write them again until complete strangers do. Be sure to make it sparkle. Your first impression could be your last chance.

Nathan Norton serves as intern to the Third Coast fiction editors.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

What is your process of creating a poem?

Big Think has a series of videos available online from an interview with Edward Hirsch, Poet and President Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.

The one above discusses the process of creating a poem. Other videos discuss the space and survival of poetry, whether the MFA hurts of helps poetry, if we are generating more poets than the system can absorb, as well as Hirsch's emphatic belief that what you really need to be a poet is to read poetry and read deeply. That you need not read everything but that you find that which you care about.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

What the Editors Are Reading

We read all the time. When it comes to submissions to the magazine, we only read certain months of the year (see website), but on a day to day basis, the editors are constantly reading published work. Some of it's new, some of it's classic, some fiction, some theory, some poetry and some of it blogs.

Here's what we're reading in this month:
  • Emily Hamilton and other writings by Sukey Vickery, with an introduction and notes by Scott Slawinski -- a recovered 1803 epistolary novel by an early American author
  • Werewolves in Their Youth, short stories by Michael Chabon
  • Patricia Hampl's memoir The Florist's Daughter
  • Wallace Stegner's collection of essays Where the Bluebird Sings to the Lemonade Springs
  • Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
  • The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel
Blogs of note:
  • Ward Six -- always thoughtful; the February 1 post "Throwing in the Towel" approaches an issue similar to intern Nathan Norton's blog post here about revisions and knowing when you're done, only on Ward Six, we approach the discussion of when to give up.
  • Rarely Likable -- a particular favorite are the "linkbucket" posts on this blog. The linkbuckets provide readers with direct access to more interesting material than could possibly be read in one sitting ... but that won't stop you from wanting to try.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Fanatical Fans: The Novel as a Franchise

by Candace Pine

It’s no secret that recently many novels or (even more popular) series, are being made into films. With books like Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and Twilight becoming their own cultural phenomenons, it’s sometimes hard to believe kids are all sitting at home staring at the TV or playing video games all day. Seeing massive crowds of fans dressed up and screaming to see their favorite stars from the movies that bring their beloved books to life is quite a fascinating sight. Some people disparage fanaticism in readers, especially since these books seem to attract younger and teen audiences, but there are also older readers (for example “Twilight Moms”) who can be just as obsessed.

So what is it about such novels that make readers fall in love with them?

Perhaps it feels like an escape from regular life. After all, many of these popular novels fall into the realm of fantasy. Or maybe readers like to imagine what it would be like to go on such adventures since nothing like that would happen in their own lives. Or it could be that people just find them exciting.

Despite the reasons for why these books are so loved, it’s the way they’re turned into full-blown franchises that really fascinates me.

Marketing types find a series that has a large fan base and exploit it, drawing in these fans first to the movies and then to the other large range of products that go along with it. There are the books and movies, of course, then the games, toys, trading cards, calendars, CDs, posters, backpacks, clothes, and anything else under the sun advertisers can think of to sell. The fact is, these books are turned into vast money making franchises.

In my opinion, that is the negative side of a really appealing book: The franchise takes something people love and vamps it up into a fanatic level because fans will pay money to surround themselves with commercial objects that go beyond reading. Plus, it draws negative opinions from outsiders who distrust it on the basis of popularity. The way people buy into these franchises just makes the opinion outsiders have about fanatical fans, and the books they read, sink even lower.

There is a tendency to look down on franchised books such as Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and Twilight, and claim that they’re not good literature and therefore people shouldn’t waste their time on them. However, the love of reading fostered by such series could led to more advanced levels of reading and a taste for higher literature. What some people may consider "meager beginnings" could turn into a greater love for literature and a higher standard of quality.

What people should be careful of is being too negative about criticizing readers for being devoted fans because we don’t want to chase them off from reading. As long as people are reading and enjoying it and that feeling stays with them for the rest of their lives, then what does it matter what they’re reading?

Not everyone is going to agree on what’s “good.” The classic canon of literature has been in constant flux over the past three decades as scholars rediscover minority and women writers and fight against New Criticism’s notion of “aesthetics only.” No one should be discouraged from reading something they like, and if they want to buy into the franchise side of it too, that’s their decision. As long as they’re still able to make the distinction between fantasy and reality in their own lives, then people should just be able to read whatever they want without being judged for it. The world needs as many readers as it can get, not other condescending readers passing judgment on their choices.

Candace Pine serves as intern for Third Coast's managing editors.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Just a few more revisions and it’ll be finished…

by Nathan Norton

Yeah, all us writers have said it once or twice or thrice or umpteen million times about one piece or another. Who can blame you, though? You want it to be good. You want it to be moving, to inspire, to make readers set your story down afterwards and say, “My dear sweet God. I’m so very glad I consumed that nugget of literary brilliance.”

So the rest of us can’t blame you. Mostly because we’ve all been there. We revise, revise, revise, revise, only to look up from the computer screen to realize a year’s worth of suns has set on a fourteen page story. This is not the fast track to the writerly production train. In fact, it’s just downright unproductive. Don’t get me wrong, revision is important. Ridiculous amounts of important. But the danger of the revision process is that it’s comfortable. Nestled safely under the awning of the “finishing touches,” a writer never has to hear criticism not his own, never has to experience rejection, and never has to settle into the reality that yes, the story is done and it’s not getting any better. But what if that’s not good enough? Well, then your story is about as useful as mustard-flavored ketchup and you ought to try your hand at writing up another.

A finished story is a scary thing. Is it good enough? Is it, like the Army man, all that it can be? Annoyingly, a writer’s work is never finished in his own eyes. In every read through there’s something sticking out, be it a humdrum verb, a particularly and especially redundant adverb choice, a character name you suddenly wish was Jake instead of Jack, whatever. There’s always something. The rub of it is that there will never not be something. You, as your story’s creator, will never be finished. Get over it.

There comes a time when you have to let go of your story. A time when you have to say, “I suppose I’m pleased with this” and just set the thing down. Many times, a story is actually pretty good, but the author may think quite the opposite. This is an excellent, effective way of becoming completely obsessed with your piece. Don’t turn into the mentally creative equivalent of a petrified birchwood tree trying to make a single story your Magnum Opus. You’ll stalemate yourself and more than likely end up churning out pounds of useless verbiage because you want so very very bad for your piece to doted upon by literature buffs everywhere.

Revisions are absolutely necessary. Fill in those plot holes, make clear those blurry sentences, tighten loose paragraphs. But if you strive too hard for perfection, you may find that revision has become a crutch.

Writers can’t rely on revision. Many do, but they shouldn’t. Let trusted peer critics read your piece. Let your mom read it, let your significant other read it, let your mentally unstable Grandpa Jack read it and mention how “back in his day, revisions were done with some white paint and a piece of charcoal” and take their advice to heart. Make the necessary changes, but know this: run away if you find yourself continually revising. Beating the dead horse will just get you covered in flies, so freshen yourself up a bit by exercising your head on a new story. When you’re creative slate is clean, go ahead and read through that first story and see if you still feel the same about it.

It’s important that writers realize that revision ought to be done only as much as it needs and precisely no further. Fixating yourself on a story will often do it more harm than good. So after your first few revisions, stop and take a brain break. Remove yourself from a piece, and see what it looks like with fresh eyes.

Nathan Norton serves as intern to the Third Coast fiction editors.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Blogging Series: From the T.C. Interns

Every fall, Third Coast takes on a handful of talented interns to aid in the production of the magazine. These interns learn valuable skills for working both in publishing and other real world occupations. Our interns are culled from the general undergraduate population here at Western Michigan University through a two stage process of both application and interview before the work even begins. They may have wrapped up the majority of their internship projects, but we are pleased to say they are still around and still working hard through the spring.

And so we are pleased to bring you thoughts directly from several of our talented interns. Their posts on topics such as revision, and the novel as a franchise will grace our blog in the days and weeks to come.

WMU students interested in the opportunity to intern should look for information to be posted in September of each year.