August Submissions are Just Around the Corner

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Submissions open August 1st

It’s that time of year again. On August 1st, submissions open for Little Patuxent Review’s themed Winter 2017 issue. This year’s theme is prisons. The theme is open to interpretation and we highly encourage participants to think outside the box. After all, imprisonment has inspired many groundbreaking works of fiction and nonfiction.

The first book that comes to mind when I think about prisons is Elie Wiesel’s Night. The book has stuck in my mind ever since I read it in middle school, and is probably more present after Wiesel’s passing. It has stayed with me because the book is not simply about a single story of confinement, but of a time of horror that must not be forgotten. George Orwell’s 1984, Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son, and Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings use imprisonment to ponder deeply on the human condition. Orwell presents his fears of an impending bleak future, Johnson attempts to understand one of the most mysterious countries in the world, and Angelou describes the yearning of the soul after trauma.

Prisons dominate our mainstream culture and news. Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow is a New York Times bookseller and highlights the racial bias built into our criminal system. Netflix’s acclaimed Orange is the New Black (based on Piper Kerman’s memoir) centers on a cast of incarcerated women, each from a different background and history. The growing popularity of Young Adult dystopian fiction enacts a desire to escape oppressive systems. In the abstract, there have always been prisons of the mind or prisons built into our social order from class, race, or gendered discrimination. Charlotte Woods’s The Natural Way of Things proves misogyny is the cruel and inhumane prison for women of all ages, as the female characters are incarcerated for sexual crimes.

The list can go on and on, and you can be a part of it. LPR accepts submissions of poetry, fiction, non-fiction, photography, and art. Participants are encouraged to think broadly and creatively about the theme. Guidelines can be found here. Submit work through our Submittable page.

For a sense of Little Patuxent Review’s quality, please take a look at our excerpt archive and past issues available for purchase on our website. Listen and watch past readings on our youtube channel.

Little Patuxent Review Reading at The Writer’s Center

WCSqPlease join contributors, editors, and staff of the Little Patuxent Review (LPR) for a reading at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland on Sunday, August 21st from 2:00 PM – 4:00 PM. Readers will include Steven Leyva, Emily Rich, Lisa Lynn Biggar, Jen Grow, Joseph Ross, and Desirée Magney. The reading will be followed by a reception to celebrate LPR’s 10th Anniversary.

Steven Leyva is editor of Little Patuxent Review. He is the co-creator of the poetry reading series, Kick Assonance, which was named a “critic’s pick” by Time Out New York in 2011. His poems have appeared in Welter, The Light Ekphrastic, and The Cobalt Review, and his first collection, Low Parish, was published earlier this year. His poem “Rare in the East” won the 2012 Cobalt Review Poetry Prize. He holds an MFA from the University of Baltimore, where he teaches in the undergraduate writing program.

Emily Rich is the current deputy editor and former non-fiction editor of Little Patuxent Review and an Editorial Advisor at Delmarva Review. She writes mainly memoir and essay. Her work has been published in a number of small presses including Little Patuxent Review, r.kv.r.y, Delmarva Review and the Pinch. Her essays have been listed as notables in Best American Essays 2014 and 2015. Her story “Black Market Pall Malls” won the Biostories 2015 War and Peace essay contest.

Jen Grow’s debut collection, My Life as a Mermaid, was the winner of the 2012 Dzanc Books Short Story Collection Competition. She is the Fiction Editor of Little Patuxent Review. Her short fiction and nonfiction have appeared in The Writer’s Chronicle, Other Voices, The Sun Magazine, The GSU Review, Hunger Mountain, Indiana Review and many others including the anthology City Sages: Baltimore (City Lit Press, 2010). She’s received a Rubys Award for the project “My Father’s House” from the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance; two Individual Artist Awards from the Maryland State Arts Council; and her stories have earned nominations for Best New American Voices and a Pushcart Prize. She lives in Baltimore. You can reach her on Twitter @Jen_Grow or through her website: www.jengrow.com.

Joseph Ross is the author of three books of poetry, Ache (forthcoming 2017), Gospel of Dust (2013), and Meeting Bone Man (2012). His poetry has appeared in a wide variety of publications including The Los Angeles Times, Poet Lore, Tidal Basin Review, Beltway Poetry Quarterly, and Sojourners. His work appears in many anthologies including Collective Brightness, Poetic Voices without Borders 1 and 2, Full Moon on K Street, and Come Together: Imagine Peace. He recently served as the 23rd Poet-in-Residence for the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society, just outside Washington DC. He is a six-time Pushcart Prize nominee and his poem “If Mamie Till was the Mother of God” won the 2012 Pratt Library/Little Patuxent Review poetry prize.

Desirée Magney is a former practicing attorney who writes narrative nonfiction and poetry.  Her nonfiction work has been published in bioStoriesBethesda Magazine, The Washington Post Magazine, Washingtonian Magazine (Washington Voices column), and The Writer’s Center – Art Begins with a Story. Another nonfiction piece will be published in the upcoming issue of The Delmarva Review. Her poetry has appeared in Jellyfish Whispers and was included in the anthology, Storm Cycle 2015:  The Best of Kind of a Hurricane Press. She was honored with a “Best in Workshop” reading at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland. She is a Board member for Little Patuxent Review, contributes to their blog, and has been one of their fiction readers. She has two adult children, Daniel and Nicole, and lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland with her husband, John, and their dog, Tucker.

Lisa Lynn Biggar is pleased to be the new fiction editor for LPR. She received her MFA in Fiction from Vermont College and is currently working on a short story collection set on the eastern shore of Maryland. Her short fiction has appeared in numerous literary journals including Little Patuxent Review, Main Street Rag, Bluestem Magazine, The Minnesota Review, Kentucky Review and Newfound. She currently teaches English at Chesapeake College and co-owns and operates a cut flower farm on the eastern shore of Maryland with her husband and four cats.

The Writer’s Center is located at:

4508 Walsh Street, Bethesda, MD 20815

 

Enoch Pratt + LPR = a winning contest

When Shaileen Beyer of the Enoch Pratt Free Library contacted Little Patuxent Review to inquire if we’d be interested in partnering on a statewide poetry contest for a fourth year, we jumped at the opportunity.

By the time the contest concluded on March 1, 300 entries from 93 cities and towns, representing 22 counties plus Baltimore City, were submitted in the blind contest. Little Patuxent Review editor Steven Leyva and LPR poetry editor Evan Lasavoy judged the poems. Although they chose three finalists, all of whom appeared in our Summer 2016 issue, “Charlotte Darling” by Saundra Rose Maley was the winning poem.

Enoch Pratt-LPR contest

Contest winner Saundra Rose Maley has had poems in Dryad, Beltway Poetry Quarterly, Full Moon on K Street: Poems about Washington D.C., and D.C. Perspectives. Her first book of poems, Disappearing Act, was published in 2015, by Dryad Press. She co-edited A Wild Perfection: The Selected Letters of James Wright with Anne Wright and is currently working again with Anne on a book about Wright and translation, tentatively titled Where the Treasure Lies. She also published Solitary Apprenticeship: James Wright and German Poetry. She teaches Composition and Research at Montgomery College in Takoma Park, Maryland.

Join poets Le Hinton and Laura Shovan on Wednesday, July 20, from 6:30-8 pm at the Central Branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library as they read in the company of the 2016 Pratt Library Poetry Contest winner and finalists—Saundra Rose Maley, Maggie Rosen, and Sheri Allen. The host is Steven Leyva, editor of Little Patuxent Review, which is celebrating its 10-year anniversary.

The Lightning Bug versus the Lightning: Thoughts on Word Choice

The “Concerning Craft” series introduces Little Patuxent Review contributors, showcases their work and draws back the curtain to reveal a little of what went into producing it.

Author Matt Tompkins. Photo credit: Kori Tompkins.

Author Matt Tompkins. Photo credit: Kori Tompkins.

Please meet author Matt Tompkins, whose story “The World on Fire” appeared in Little Patuxent Review’s Summer 2015 unthemed issue. The ebook version of Souvenirs and Other Stories (Conium Press) goes on sale today. He works in a library and lives in upstate New York with his wife (who kindly reads his first drafts), his daughter (who prefers picture books) and his cat (who is illiterate). And now, Matt Tompkins:

“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter–’tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” – Mark Twain, in a letter to George Bainton, 1888

I think the sentiment is as applicable to our daily communications as it is to literature: word choice matters; precision and specificity of meaning are important (if frequently overlooked). In a text-heavy culture, words are often all we have to connect with one another. But it also begs the question: how do we select the right word, rather than the almost-right? I don’t claim to succeed every time, but there are some things I keep in mind, while writing and revising, to increase my odds. Here’s a sampling:

Deny the existence of synonyms

No two words are the same. No two words are interchangeable. Whether the difference is one of denotation, or connotation, or simply one of syllables or sounds, no two words are equal. This point is fundamental in recognizing the importance of mindful word choice.

Determine your prime directive

In attempting to choose the right word, I find it especially helpful to consider my primary goal–the one thing I most hope to accomplish with a piece of writing. Ask yourself: Do you intend, above all, to create sweet music for your readers’ ears? Do you want to evoke the richest possible multisensory landscape? Are you trying to compose a picture of your narrator by an accumulation of consistent (or inconsistent, or idiosyncratic, or regional) diction and dialect? Do you want to tell your story in the fewest (and perhaps shortest) words possible, or do you want to pack as much detail as possible into each passage? Chances are, you’re trying to do more than one thing. But being clear about your primary purpose can be especially helpful in breaking ties–in choosing between two otherwise seemingly equivalent words.

Assonance, consonance, and alliteration

Consider this sentence:

The reluctant child shuffled her feet.

This example displays assonance in the short “u” sounds of “reluctant” and “shuffle.” But to what end? These guttural u’s might be better used in a sentence like this: “The glutton gulped down the mussels with gusto.” You can hear (and feel, if you read aloud) the repeated, fulsome dropping of the throat muscles. While this example may be overdone, I think it illustrates the point.

How about this instead:

The shy child shuffled her feet.

With “shy” and “shuffle” working in tandem, alliteration draws the reader’s attention to the soft gliding of the “sh-” sound, and to the onomatopoeic effect that’s heightened in the sound’s redoubling.

Onomatopoeia and “mouth-feel”

You might have guessed from the examples above: I like onomatopoeia. It makes my heart thump and my toes tingle. I can’t get over how it manages to transcend the adage “show, don’t tell” by simultaneously doing both–by performing its own linguistic content. A good, albeit common, example is “whisper.” There are other choices that get at the same effect: “susurrate” or simply “speak softly.” But I’d argue you’re working at cross purposes if, in describing murmurs, you choose instead to use the sharp angles and hard consonants of “talking quietly.”

Another, related quality is something I like to call “mouth-feel.” It’s a term borrowed from the culinary world, but I think it serves nicely as a writing concept. For an illustration, imagine you’re describing a piece of a broken plate. You could call it a “fragment,” which, to my mind, places emphasis on angularity (I chalk the effect up to the strongly opposed stresses on the two syllables). You could use “shard,” which foregrounds sharpness (in the same way that Schick is an evocative name for a razor). Of course, you could use “portion” or “piece.” Either of those would be accurate, but I personally find them ill-suited, as they feel significantly softer. Consider the qualities you wish to highlight, and choose a word that fits–a word that feels right.

Scansion, syllables, and stresses

I wouldn’t advocate for using formal meter extensively, or rigidly, in prose. But I do find it useful, when applied sparingly, in matching the cadence of a sentence to the activity it describes. Consider an example:

The little dog cavorted down the hill.

This is good old iambic pentameter. It’s bouncy: you can feel yourself rollicking along. If you chose instead, “The small dog frolicked down the hillside,” the basic meaning of the words would be retained but the effect would be lost. Here’s another:

The old woman tip-toed along the care-worn garden path.

In this sentence, the stresses are irregular and frequently opposed, which gives the line a mincing, hesitant feel–almost forcing the reader herself to tiptoe through it. Again, choosing words with different stresses or syllable counts would alter the effect, if not the basic meaning.

Considering diction

Perhaps most important of all, context is key. I find it helpful to consider not just who is speaking, but to whom, and when, and for what purpose. Some questions I ask myself:

      • Does the occasion call for a flashier word (like “syncopation”) or something more understated (like “rhythm”)?
      • Is the speaker steeped in, or an authority on, a certain subject? Maybe there’s reason to use medical terminology or industry jargon.

What is the time period? If it’s not contemporary, it’s probably wise to avoid slang and modern vernacular. I realize this advice, to be mindful of time period and modes of speech, may seem to some too obvious to mention, but I’m mentioning it anyway so as not to be held responsible when someone, somewhere, writes a piece of historical fiction that contains a line of dialogue such as “Verily, bro, I shall join you anon.” Or, “Prithee, what is, like, her problem?”

If you know who’s speaking and why, you can be more intentional about how that person speaks, and more successful in capturing and conveying nuances of character.

And finally

I’ll close with a disclaimer: This list is by no means exhaustive, or authoritative. These are simply some things I think about while writing. I’d be glad to hear, by way of the comments section below, what factors others consider when trying to choose the right word–when attempting to bottle lightning, rather than just catching bugs.

Souvenirs and Other Stories | Matt Tompkins | Conium Review | SBN 978-1942387060 | June, 2016 | 79 pages

Souvenirs and Other Stories | Matt Tompkins | Conium Review | SBN 978-1942387060 | June, 2016 | 79 pages

Online Editor’s Note: You can read Matt Tompkins’ in Little Patuxent Review’s Summer 2015 unthemed issue. In addition to Souvenirs and Other Stories, he authored Studies in Hybrid Morphology (tNY Press, 2016). Matt’s stories have also appeared in New Haven Review, Post Road, and other journals. 

LPR’s fiction editor, Jen Grow says “In Souvenirs and Other Stories, Matt Tompkins creates a compelling universe that normalizes the bizarre . . . Souvenirs is thoroughly entertaining, a smart and funny collection from a wildly imaginative writer.”

You can follow Matt Tompkins on Tumbler: http://needsrevision.com/.

Unveiling summer: LPR’s 20th edition

Summer 2016 cover

Summer 2016 cover. Photography by Lynn Silverman.

Raise the banners, strike up the up the band, call down the (purple) rain, rejoice and be glad, because in this issue Little Patuxent Review celebrates ten years of publishing literature and art. What a milestone for a labor of love, born from the attentive care of Mike Clark and Tim Singleton along with a host of others committed to supporting literary and visual arts in Maryland. While many journals have chosen to move to a solely online presence, LPR’s perseverance in publishing a high-quality, knock-your-socks-off, run-and-tell-your-mama print journal speaks to the ethos that runs deep in the consciousness of the editors, staff, board, and volunteers. It’s a part of our “Inscape,” to borrow a phrase from Gerard Manley Hopkins and something I recognized years ago when I was grad student looking for literary journals that might publish my poems. LPR had a good reputation, albeit a quiet one, and no one could deny that the physical, printed journal lived as an art object in the world. Little may be a part of the name, but there is nothing small about what this journal accomplishes twice a year.

I am humbled to be the editor during this tenth anniversary, and I am equally humbled by the stories, essays, and poems that have found a home in the following pages. Perhaps with a bit of unintended irony, since LPR is named after a river, readers will find that many of the pieces circle around the presence of water, not unlike the way Maryland envelopes its portion of the Chesapeake Bay. Origins have a way of insisting, it seems. Many of the pieces here call back to various themed issues LPR has published in the past. There are stories of doubt and audacity, poems that evoke social justice and childhood. Nature has its way even on the tongues of a “Roustabout.” And above all there is fine, fine music in the language and lines. Lynn Silverman’s art work is such a fine capstone to that fine music, with its hints at transcendence.

I want to personally thank Laura Shovan, Jen Grow, Michael Salcman, Deb Dulin, Lynn Weber, Debby Kevin, Evan Lesavoy, and Emily Rich who have all been a part of the editorial staff. If I were Lorca, I’d say they have so much duende. If I was Stevie Wonder, I’d say they create in the Key of Life. They make LPR shine. I would also like to thank the board members, new and old, who have never let go of that initial vision of lifting up the arts. They have been a lighthouse on the edge of troubled sea. I am beyond grateful. Lastly all thanks to the contributors, readers, and community who have trusted me with their work, time, and attention. Let’s celebrate turning what Billy Collins calls the first big number. Here’s to ten glorious years and a hundred more if the fates be kind.

~Steven Leyva, Editor

Interview with Naomi Thiers

Naomi Theirs

Naomi Thiers

I met Naomi Thiers at The Nora School last February when we both participated in a reading. Naomi’s poetry spoke powerfully as she read her stories about women and girls who are marginalized and forgotten, as well as her poems about her grandparents. Her gift lies in getting beneath the surface to reveal and then polish the tales that so many people never get to tell.

Naomi is one of the featured poets in a new anthology, Veils, Halos, and Shackles (Kasva Press) edited by Charles Ades Fishman and Smita Sahay,  which features the works of international poets addressing the topics of  women and sexual abuse. I spoke with Naomi recently about the anthology, her work, and her hopes for abused women.

 Ann Bracken: How do you see the collection of poems in Veils, Halos, and Shackles being used in creating a dialog and awareness about rape and the many other forms of oppression and violence women confront?

Veils, Halos & Shackles (Kasva Press)

Veils, Halos & Shackles (Kasva Press)

Naomi Thiers: The editors of this anthology began collecting poems about the oppression of women, especially sexual assault, after the gang rape on a bus in New Delhi of 25-year-old Jyoti Singh Pandey—a rape that led to her death. When you read about details of this assault—it’s just a gut punch. This rape launched huge protests around India and elsewhere and led to some changes in the Indian laws about sexual assault. The editors—and I and everyone involved in the anthology—hope it will lift awareness of how widespread oppression against women (of many kinds) and assault are–and how deeply that violence damages all of us.

Just as important, we hope the book brings the voices of women who’ve experienced assault into the light in a concentrated way—so their voices, their experiences, can be heard, respected. So they can hear each other and understand viscerally they’re not alone. Many of the poets are survivors of rape or other gender-related crimes that affect women and girls daily. And I think it’s key how international the anthology is, that the editors took time to collect poems from so many countries. This book is part of a global effort to confront gender-based violence.

Just the act of speaking up as a survivor of sexual assault, pushing past that sense that the victim should feel shame or embarrassment—which I certainly grew up with and is still with us—is powerful. Indian laws don’t allow newspapers to publish a rape victim’s name, so Jyoti Singh Pandey’s name originally wasn’t used when the crime was reported on and discussed. People in India began referring to her as Nirbhaya (meaning “fearless”) or Jagruti (“awareness”). Then her parents said that because they—and she—had nothing to be ashamed of, they gave permission to disclose her name. Reading that brings tears to my eyes every time.

AB: If you could give a copy of this collection to any political figure, who would you give it to–and why?

NT: I can’t think of one person I’d give it to. If any one leader read all these poems about women’s pain and fighting back, it wouldn’t hit that person instantly, like a thunderclap, and make them change the course of their policies–the way the writer of “Amazing Grace” turned his slave ship around. I think the deeper awareness, anger, and a commitment to work to stop violence against females would infuse gradually into a person–or more likely many people—making significant change slowly, person by person. I guess I’d like to have many young men–particularly in societies where men and women are kept very separate and there’s a lot of mutual misconceptions—see the collection.

AB: The editors of the anthology, Charles Ades Fishman and Smita Sahay, said, “In editing Veils, Halos, & Shackles, our focus has been on finding poems that tell the truth about the violence and oppression women are subjected to. . . poems that ask us to protect and nurture women through intelligent laws and the transformation of cultures.” Can you think of one law you’d like to see changed that could significantly improve the lives of women?

NT: Not any one law. I think the second part of what the editors say “the transformation of cultures” is much more important. But I think the most important overall policy to change is the many laws and customs that prevent women from getting a formal education. When all women are allowed to be educated, many, many other things will change.

AB: What sparked your interest in writing about women who are oppressed? What would you like readers to know about the women you write about?

NT: I never set out to write about women and oppression, or even poems about women. But something must’ve sparked my interest because—like most people—I write about what I’m interested in whether I mean to or not! When my daughter was about 8, we were just walking one day and I guess I was telling some story, and she suddenly said, “Geez, Mom—you just like women, don’t you?”

Last time I put a manuscript together, I wanted to gather poems focused on some theme and I had on hand enough for a manuscript in which every poem focused on an individual woman— a friend, someone in the news, or just someone I noticed in passing. So that became She Was a Cathedral. The title is the last line of a poem by Denise Levertov. In that poem, Levertov is feeling raw and discouraged and she remembers the indomitable spirit of her late friend, poet Muriel Ruykeyser. She commands herself “Remember her now/She was a Cathedral.”

My idea was to honor each individual in these poems as someone complex, sacred, able to lift up our vision–as a cathedral does. There’s also a specific woman the title refers to—my friend and fellow poet Patty Bertheaud Summerhays, who died six years ago, very young. She was an immensely generous and spiritual person. You felt lifted after being with her! The book honors Patty.

I’ve often noticed and thought people who are kept down or outsiders in some way—they get under my skin. I sometimes feel beckoned to write about a person who is marginal to bring that person into focus, to make a portrait. That’s the start of coming out of being oppressed–being fully seen.

Women are still, in so many places, kept from exercising their rights and abilities as humans, or even from having decent lives—they aren’t seen or taken seriously. I’d like readers to really see each woman I write about in all her complexity. And if there’s one quality I hope readers see in every woman I write about in Cathedral and elsewhere—it would definitely be: resilience.

AB: In your poem “Little Sister” that’s in the anthology, I was particularly moved by the way the speaker in the poem identifies with the young high school girl who was raped.

NT: I wrote that poem after hearing on the news about a rape of a young girl in the DC neighborhood where I lived at the time, Mt. Pleasant. I couldn’t stop thinking about it; I walked to where it happened, near the old Lincoln Middle School on Irving Street and on Park Road, and I began getting lines in my head, and it became a monologue from a Salvadoran woman living in the neighborhood. The details in the poem about the attack are from the news report. The visual details are what you’d see walking those streets in 1990.

AB: It seems the speaker is talking about dissociation—a form of detachment from a physical or emotional experience—when she says, “I know that ceiling she had to look at/ how the black cement swells in and out/ against your face while he moves on you/ and when he gets up, the cement/ comes down and touches you.”

NT: That’s interesting. Sexual assault is so hard to speak about. What I was trying to express there is that when you’re feeling overwhelming pain, assault, and fear—especially fear—everything compresses, sensation gets distorted, perception shrinks to a wall of fear.

The poem seems grim, but I think there’s resilience in it–in the fact that the Salvadoran woman, when she hears of a girl being attacked in her neighborhood, instead of just closing up, thinks about reaching out to that girl. She goes to the school and thinks about talking to her; she wants to somehow connect and say “I’ve been there, too. I know how this is.” So in “Little Sister” there’s a seed of hope for the thing Veils, Halos, and Shackles is all about—women across cultures speaking up, reaching out to say “You’re not alone. You don’t have to feel ashamed. We are all resilient.”

AB: What do you wish to send out to the readers with this anthology?

NT: That women who are being oppressed aren’t primarily victims. We are primarily survivors with something to say.

Online Editor: Naomi Thiers has published three books of poetry, Only the Raw Hands Are Heaven(WWPH)In Yolo County, and She Was a Cathedral (Finishing Line Press). Her poems have received many awards, including an Evangelical Writers Association award.  She has had a go at many art forms, but poetry is the one that stuck, the one she’d never be without in a cell or on a desert island. Poets whose work she’d want on that desert island include Hopkins, Maxine Kumin, Denise Levertov, Phillip Levine, and Pablo Neruda.  She is a mom, a yoga and music lover, a magazine editor, and a member of Langley Hill Friends Meeting.

 

 

Editing for Publication: Detours on the Way

Leaving Shangrila

Leaving Shangrila

Online Editor’s Note: I first met Isabelle Gecils, an October 2014 graduate of the Stanford Writing Program, when she read an excerpt of her upcoming book Leaving Shangrila at San Francisco’s premier annual event, LitQuake. She so impressed me during her reading that I requested her card after our graduation luncheon and saved it, knowing there would be a chance to introduce her to others when her book came out. Gecils’ was born in Brazil but her immediate family hailed from six different countries: her father from France; her mother and grandmother from Egypt; one grandfather from Turkey; another grandfather from Lithuania; and a second grandmother from Poland. She grew up belonging nowhere and everywhere. She says, “There is a certain amount of freedom in that.” 

Kirkus Review declares Leaving Shangrila: The True Story of a Girl, Her Transformation and Her Eventual Escape, “The poignant life story of a woman who escaped a restrictive past to embrace an independent future.” Although it publishes on May 10, 2016, the book is available for pre-order now.

Gecils graciously agreed to share her journey to publication with Little Patuxent Review readers. 

I handed over my final manuscript of my memoir, Leaving Shangrila, to Otis, my book advisor, with a sigh of relief. A feeling of pride swept over me.

“This is great!” Otis said.

I beamed.

“You’ve built a great foundation,” he said. “Now all you have to do is build the house.”

After I’d spent ten years getting to this point how could he think that I’d only built a foundation? “The house is already built. It even has a roof.” I felt a mix of frustration and panic that three full revisions of my manuscript had not resulted in a complete structure in his mind.

“Then after you congratulate yourself for getting this far, turn on your computer, get back to your writing, and make it better,” he said.

Here’s the truth: Despite having traveled from San Francisco months earlier to ask my Portland-based advisor to guide me, I had only reluctantly accepted the advice I professed earlier that I had wanted. After his proclamation, I labored over my manuscript for the next six months under the nightly glow of my computer screen. I deleted entire sections, expanded on dialogue and scene, added complexity and depth to characters, and filled in plot holes.

Heeding Otis’ advice improved my manuscript, and I felt confident that my fourth draft was as good as I could make it. I registered for the San Francisco Writers Conference, the premier writer’s conference on the west coast which last four days.The event is packed with 100+ sessions for writers — from the craft of writing to the business of publishing.Thus, armed with multiple printed copies of a 107,000-word manuscript and a book proposal — drafted with guidance I obtained from a Google search on how to write proposals — I arrived with a singular purpose. My goal? Find an agent and a publishing deal for Leaving Shangrila.

To achieve this goal, I registered for speed-dating sessions with agents. Ironically, these sessions fell on Valentines’ Day. To prepare, I first attended a panel where the agents introduced themselves and talked about the genre in which they were interested but, most importantly, their criteria for showing interest in an author and her work.

“You have one chance – and only one chance – to impress me,” said one agent.

My palms felt sweaty.

Another agent added, “Your book must have a hook from the very first paragraph. If it doesn’t, your manuscript will get its 10 seconds of fame before I place it in my discard pile.”

The agents fed off one another as if scaring aspiring authors was some kind of sport.

“This must be your very best work – no typos, no grammatical errors, no half-developed characters, no holes in the plot,” the next one said.

The stakes were high. Despite my bravado, I didn’t feel ready. I spent the following two days preparing for my speed-dating event, honing the pitch for Leaving Shangrila, my deeply personal memoir which I was sharing with strangers for the first time.

Isabelle Gecils

Isabelle Gecils

Then what I had longed for came true. A publisher, not an agent, said he was intrigued. He asked for a copy of the manuscript and the book proposal that I had been lugging around on my shoulder for the previous three days just in case someone would want a copy.

But I told him no.

Why? Because as I listened to what the panelists said they wanted, I recognized that my manuscript still wasn’t ready. My hook needed work. In fact, my entire book still needed revision! Despite all the efforts I had put forth to get to that point, my manuscript was not yet ready for prime time.

I spent the next month incorporating what I learned during the conference. I purchased How to Sell Your Memoir: 12 Steps to a Perfect Book Proposal,” by Brooke Warner, and wrote a brand new proposal.

Only after this latest revision was complete did I send the newly polished manuscript and the book proposal to the two publishers I met at the conference. I also wrote query letters to agents who had shown some interest, and to a few who had not, feeling confident that now that I had refined my pitch, they might reconsider their previous lack of interest. And within a little over a month, Leaving Shangrila had not one, but two offers!

I still wasn’t finished: the publishers said that they would publish my book, provided that it was professionally edited first.Recognizing that I had done the best I could, I hired a professional. After another two months, I held the sixth iteration of Leaving Shangrila on my hand.

Transforming the manuscript into a book is a wonderful, but lengthy process. After a few months had gone by, I received the beautifully designed interior proof that showed me what my book would look like. Feeling such excitement, I randomly opened the interior proof pages, took a picture of it, and immediately posted it on Facebook, happily sharing about this huge milestone.

Within minutes, I received comments from my many friends. “This is great.” “This is awesome.” “You are an inspiration.” Feelings of pride and more than a couple of tears of happiness fell.

While basking in my glory, one message arrived that knocked me off my perch.

“You used a word incorrectly,” she said, pointing it out, not just to me, but all my friends, how I mistakenly used the work “bellied.”

While pondering how could we have missed this error during the editing process, things got worse. I received another message within an hour, pointing out an obvious typo. No one seemed to believe that this book had been edited six times.

Here we were one day away from sending the final proof to the printer. I read the manuscript to find more errors. Unable to see them, I hired a proofreader.

She found 100 errors!

Naturally, I complained to my editor.

“We’re all humans, after all,” she said. “One hundred errors in a 107,000-word manuscript is a 1% error rate. It’s to be expected.”

But I couldn’t accept it. I instinctively knew that this many mistakes would end my writing career before it even started.

In sharing my despair with a friend, she generously offered to do an additional proofread. I was already behind schedule, but I felt this was the right direction to take. My friend found an additional 160 corrections!

I painstakingly fixed them all. Rather than resubmit the manuscript at this point, I followed the advice I heard (yet ignored) so often: I read the book aloud – to catch what no one could by simply reading the manuscript. Apparently, the eye places words where it expects them to be. I read every single word of my book before feeling that indeed this was the best version it could be.

I had called my book “finished” so many times only to be proven wrong, having to do more work. I felt humbled by this experience and grateful for surrounding myself with people who were willing to help make Leaving Shangrila better.

Here are the  lessons I learned:

  • Edit your manuscript, multiple times
  • When you think you’re done editing, edit it one more time, start-to-finish
  • Have other people (whom you trust to give you good advice) read your work – during and when you think it’s finished. Take their advice, and then edit your work again
  • Hire a proofreader and check her work
  • Read the book aloud to yourself, start-to-finish

And only when you checked off all these milestones can you confidently say that you have reached the finish line. Of book production, that is. Celebrate getting here. And then get ready for the next step – publishing!

Leaving Shangrila: The True Story of A Girl, Her Transformation, and Her Eventual Escape, by Isabelle Gecils, is the captivating memoir of a charmingly complex heroine. Isabelle paints a colorful world as she tells the tale of how she forged her own path in the midst of turmoil.
The story, set in Brazil where she grew up, is populated with fascinating characters, both good and bad. From a narcissistic mother to her perpetually flawed lovers to three resilient sisters, Leaving Shangrila’s motley crew make for an endlessly intriguing storyline. Leaving Shangrila begins with young Isabelle, trapped in a hellish world. Surrounded by lies, manipulation, and abuse, Isabelle is desperate to escape the adversity of this place. Filled with tremendous strength and an unyielding drive to survive, she begins her journey toward freedom and self-realization. Through the trials and obstacles along the way, Isabelle goes back and forth to balance who she is with what she must do to survive.
With themes of perseverance, self-reliance, and the resilience of the human spirit, Leaving Shangrila: The True Story Of A Girl, Her Transformation, and Her Eventual Escape highlights the important character traits one discovers on the path to finding their self. Truly empowering and inspirational, readers everywhere will relate to this coming of age story.