Flash Story Up

I’m proud to say that my flash piece, Papa’s Handkerchief, is live in the Stories feature at Digging through the Fat ripping the heart out, a great online venue to discover some tight, leave-‘em-wanting-more fiction. I share the front page today with a great piece by London author, Adrian George Nicolae, Nightmare Drill.

Thank you to Digging through the Fat’s Founding Editor, Gessy Alvarez for the opportunity to share a snippet from my novel.


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Cancer or Depression? Are they siblings?

We all know that October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. If you’re a regular reader here,  you also know how I feel about the whole pinkifying of our world. (If you are unaware, or would like a reminder, please visit my essay, The End of Pinktober, on Wisconsin Public Radio – um, it did win first place in the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association awards, so it might be pretty decent. :-) )

But, did you know that October is also home to Mental Illness Awareness Week, Depression Screening Day and – depending on what link you check, some sources also call it Depression Awareness Month. For me, depression and the cancer experience were definitely linked. I had clearly suffered seasonal affective disorder for most of my adult life and I’d had bouts of depression that I’d managed in college by excessive drinking, but I didn’t descend into the black curtain of clinical depression until about 9 months after my cancer diagnosis. I remember going to my internist and saying, “I shouldn’t feel this sad. I know it. I should be glad. I’m one of the lucky ones. They caught mine early.” (sniffle, sniffle, embarrassed nose-blowing) And he looked at me with warmth and caring – zero “what the hell’s the matter with you, lady?” – and said, “Didn’t anyone tell you that many people become depressed after a cancer experience?” Um, no. No one had.

It makes sense though, that it affects some people that way. Not all, to be sure. But some have the experience I did which was to mourn my life before the diagnosis. I wanted that life back. I didn’t want the scar, the radiation burn, the follow-up meds. I didn’t want the awareness that for the rest of my breathing days, I had another label. I had joined the big C club, and the big D club.


The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) offers some thoughts on their website about the link between cancer (all, not just the pink one) and depression:

Depression is not regularly linked with cancer, and there is no proof that one disease causes the other.2,3 However, when faced with a diagnosis of cancer, you may feel extreme stress, anger, sadness, or a number of other strong emotions. While these feelings usually lessen over time, they can develop into depression.

So, why go here again? Because October has rolled around again and where we live, we’re over the hump of the beautiful part of the season and definitely on the downslide into the bleak November. It’s a tough time to keep the smiles up, even if you’re not a person prone to depression. And, if you happen to be a breast cancer patient or survivor, you can’t escape the pink-ribboned world.  This October though, my focus is shifting to Done Darkness, the anthology Kathy Lanzarotti and I are compiling. We’ve received some phenomenal writing about life during and beyond sadness for the book (s) and we are excited as we begin the final selection process. We both dread having to send rejection letters; it seems the ultimate cruelty to have to decline someone’s work that they’ve submitted about depression, but we know, we will have send those “we’re sorry” letters.

Seems wrong to say #happywriting, but that’s my usual sign-off, so, if not happy, at least #writing.

May your day be as bright as possible.

May you be strong and healthy.

May you smile whenever you can.



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Self-Evaluating #9,458

Just kidding on the 9,458 in the title. Sometimes when the fifth of the month comes and goes – my intended time to self-evaluate – I seem to delay it even longer. But, this month I was intentionally delaying it to finish a revision of my novel.

Last month, on September 8th, I posted another round of Facing Facts — my monthly public self-flogging. :-) No, not really. It’s my way of sharing what I’ve committed to working on, my progress, my self-evaluations and my goal adjustments, if needed. My focus points last month were as follows and my self-evaluation for each point follows in italics:

1. Novel

– Finish the final touches on the novel. Bring it to the Washington Island conference to re-read and decide if it is ready to got to the agent.

The novel was not quite finished by the conference, but is now. I am printing it out today for one more read through and expect to send it to the agent within the next couple of days. She is waiting.    A+, go me. :-)

2. Done Darkness      dreamstime_m_34926106

– Continue evaluating pieces for selection. Draft rejection letter(s). :-(   Review marketing plan with Kathy.  Set up schedule of publishers to contact.

I did continue with evaluating some pieces. We did extend the deadline for fiction and non-fiction submissions. Kathy and I did not sit down for the two last points above, but will meet this week.

3. Deadlines

– calendar deadlines for novel, D.D., blog, travel course online and Scotland to do list.           Um, not so much.


My focus areas from now through November 5th will be:

1. Novel

Let the novel rest in the hands of agent and meet with other prospective agents at Mount Mary University’s Publishing Institute on November 15th.

2.  Done Darkness

Time to select, winnow, send acceptances and rejections. Prepare for agent meeting at Mount Mary.

3. PamWrites

Give this space more attention and time. Invite some guest posts.


I hope you are being kind to yourself in any areas you are striving to move forward in. These monthly self-evaluations should not be torture – if you are honest, you will identify areas of forward progress as well as areas that you may be avoiding. I hope the days are crisp and lovely where you are and that your creative pursuits are gratifying, satisfying and moving onward.


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Contest Surprises

Last Saturday I attended the Wisconsin Writers’ Association fall conference in Wisconsin Rapids. The whole experience had a bit of a high school tournament feel to it. I don’t mean the conference, but the getting out the door. First, I was picked up at 5:30 a.m. on a Saturday — in the dark, before I’d had coffee. Bruce Campbell driver and friend from Red Oak Writing, drove us a half hour to a park ‘n ride lot to pick up Kim Suhr. Off we went, admiring the sunrise behind us as the amber waves of corn stalks waved alongside us.

I’ve been in a heavy duty push for my novel, as some of you know, and needed to use some of the Saturday workshop times to keep writing. I did attend a couple of sessions, but they were geared more for beginners. Not the end of the world, but not exciting. Saturday night, at the awards banquet I was so pleased for two of my fellow Wednesday morning group writers. In the essay category, my friends Joel Habush (on right below) and Bruce Campbell (left) took second and first places respectively. Yours truly was surprised by a third place in children’s writing — not a category I’ve done much work in — yet. A certificate, a small check and some validation. Was it worth entering? You bet. We looked pretty happy after the fact, eh?


Photo by Kim Suhr

Photo by Kim Suhr

I hope September found you often at the keyboard. It’s my favorite time of year in Wisconsin. Hoping it’s colorful and wonderful where you are too.

#happy writing


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Facing Facts (on the 8th)

The resurrection of Facing Facts on the Fifth is not exactly off to the smoothest of starts. I completely forgot about updating last week! Yikes.

My goals for life/writing life from August 5 to September 5 were:

1. Making Money

Complete and submit application for substitute teaching by the end of this week.       I have my first two days subbing scheduled for next week. :-)

Complete more online travel writing class assignments — one by end of next week.       Not done.

2. Novel

Block minimum one hour a day next 10 days and see where that gets you. Then re-evaluate time – can you give it more from the 16th through Labor Day?                   Um, not a total fail, but….not done – however – touched base with an agent I’ve previously had contact with who is interested once I’m ready to send it.  Still at it.

3. Done Darkness

Write to publisher had preliminary conversations with – update regarding number and quality of submissions in hand. Begin discussing next steps. Meet with Kathy re other publishers too?      Done.

Continue to read and rank submissions and pass work on to review board.      Ongoing – and going well! Had to close to poetry on August 31st. The final deadline will come before the next Facing Facts.

4. Deadlines

 Wisconsin Writers Association contest deadline = August 15           Done.

 Black Warrior Review contest = September 1               Decided not to, but entered StoryQuarterly’s contest.


Some other opportunities came up in that time period and I have registered for some low cost educational events:  a local, free one hour presentation on the Foibles of Publishing; the Wisconsin Writers’ Association fall conference in WI Rapids; the 2nd Annual Washington Island Literary Conference and a one-day Publishing Institute at Mt. Mary University, where I have signed up to speak with two agents.

My areas of concentration for now through October 5th have not changed significantly, although our upcoming move to Scotland is occupying time in planning and preparations. So, focus areas will be:

1. Novel

– Finish the final touches on the novel. Bring it to the Washington Island conference to re-read and decide if it is ready to got to the agent.

2. Done Darkness      dreamstime_m_34926106

– Continue evaluating pieces for selection. Draft rejection letter(s). :-(   Review marketing plan with Kathy.  Set up schedule of publishers to contact.

3. Deadlines

– calendar deadlines for novel, D.D., blog, travel course online and Scotland to do list.

In the midst of all of the above, I will take a trip to Massachusetts to celebrate the swearing in of my brother-in-law as an associate judge in western Mass. So, so happy for him! He’s a great guy and will be a wonderful judge.

I do hope whatever you are working on, in writing or other areas of your life, you are continuing to move forward, whether its by leaps or baby steps.


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Smitten by Brooklyn

When I was growing up in Southampton, MA, we didn’t have house numbers. I lived on Strong Road and that was that. When I moved to Milwaukee, I was terrified by the numbers and directional letters in addresses. It took me an insane amount of time to understand the perfectly sensible grid. Suffice it to say that I have been and always will be directionally challenged.

I’ve visited NYC several times, but never enough to even attempt to internalize the geography and landmarks. That may change in the next couple of years while my son is in grad school at Columbia. I’ve spent the weekend with a writer friend in Brooklyn, NY and have been smitten with Brooklyn love. I could live here.

I think.

Manhattan? Probably not. I’m overwhelmed there by noise and people — I like hopping on the subway (which I have managed to do by myself a few times this weekend – and for me , that’s a big fricking deal!) and climbing the stairs and joining the streams of side walking folks. I’ve LOVED hearing languages I recognize — French, Spanish, German and many I don’t — was that Polish? Russian? Hungarian? I’ve loved the chance celebrity/semi-celebrity sightings. My son and I sat near Andres Serrano in a coffee shop. Don’t get me wrong — in short doses, I love the constant motion, energy and creative pulse of the city that never sleeps, but truly, for my writing, the sensory overload there is too much. Brooklyn – at least the small part of it I’ve been in – has a quieter, calmer feel. I appreciate the ability to more easily retreat from the hubbub here.

Don’t think for a second that I dislike Manhattan — just am fairly certain I couldn’t be easily happy residing there. Will try to post a few pix later – naturally many will contain flowers, birds and trees, because a country girl needs to see nature wherever she wanders.




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Robin Williams: how creativity can kill





Robin Williams killed himself and we want to understand. How could someone so gifted with the ability to touch our hearts, to make us laugh and cry, not treasure his own gift enough to continue to share it? How could he – of all people – been so sad that he couldn’t fathom living another day? How could Robin Williams possibly have been lonely? He could have everything he wanted, right? Um, wrong. He couldn’t buy the ability to conquer depression.

Severe depression is given as the cause. Don’t think you can understand it if you’ve never felt that curtain fall on your heart. Don’t think it’s a question of will power to push the curtain back and see the light of hope.

Many creative types – artists, writers, musicians, actors – are prone to depression as highly sensitive people. In addition, many people with depression turn to alcohol and other drugs first to self-medicate their sadness. We’ve seen it before in many actors — the most recent case that comes to mind is Philip Seymour Hoffman. So, sometimes, when the depressed person seeks recovery from their addiction, the underlying depression that had been masked comes out in full force. For many, this simply leads to a rebound back to the drug of choice. For others, the lucky ones, they begin to seek and accept treatment for their depression.

Herein lies a tricky issue for creatives. I don’t know if this applied to Robin Williams or not, but I have known creatives who avoid medication for their depression because they fear they will “lose their edge” in their creativity. They will not touch the one thing — better living through chemistry, as I call it — that could truly increase the chances for them to stay out of the pit of sadness.

In my experience with depression, it is an ongoing effort to keep it at bay, even on medication. When I don’t keep up with exercising, it can easily slip back into play. In the winter, if I skip using my light box, it can slip back into play. If I eat poorly and don’t write for a few days, it can easily slip back into play. And those are daily issues for me. Add to that, as for anyone, the pushes and pulls of life that happen. Aches and pains. Heartaches — a death of a loved one or friend. Unexpected bills. Rejection letters. Poor communication due to stress with a loved one.  All of these things can factor in to the depressive’s heart – just like anyone – but in the case of a depressive, we have to also look at something else. Is the weight of these things beginning to throw us off balance? Do we need to consider tweaking or changing our medication or our routine? And let’s face it – how many of us — depressives or not will take the time to truly consider those factors? Won’t many of us simply march on until we face an obstacle that causes us to fall down?

We can’t understand the pain Robin Williams must have been in to end his own life. The one good thing that may well come out of this tragedy is a renewed interest and open discussion about mental health issues in general, and depression in particular. I am struck by the timing for me, personally, in relation to the call for the anthology I’m working on, Done Darkness. I hope it will add another layer to the discussion.

Lest I end without a chance for smiles and appreciating the amazing body of work Robin Williams left us with, please enjoy An obituary for Robin Williams in the form of his best scenes.


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Roxane Gay – Parachutes & Pedestals

I’m kind of a Roxane Gay groupie. I’ve never quite felt like anyone’s groupie. Even in my teen years, when I was in love with Elton John — well, actually I was in love with Bernie Taupin but I don’t think I understood then that it was the lyrics calling me more than the singer — even then I was most definitely not a groupie.

Before the literary world caught the bright flame we know as Roxane Gay, I had discovered her essays thanks to social media. She is a presence on Facebook and Twitter, among others, but those are the two where I catch her. Her essays have punched me over and over again, in the best possible way, bruising my brain so I have to think about things I might otherwise look away from.  Regular readers of Pamwrites might remember my post in April of 2012 when I wrote Roxane Gay We Nominate You. I began with:

The web is buzzing again with the righteous indignation of women about the infuriating discrepancies in publishing of men vs women. We had the American Society of Magazine Editors report and, as Alexander Nazaryan reports, “No, seriously. Many are up in arms about the complete lack of female writers nominated for the major categories of Reporting, Feature Writing, Profile Writing, Essays/Criticism and Columns/Commentary.” No females nominated in any of the major categories, despite some fine writing in those categories. Quite fine. Excellent, in fact. Read Nazaryan’s report and be angry.

Last February, I wrote about the VIDA count and the gender disparity in publishing. This February, another VIDA count, another round of frustrating, but not surprising news. Another year of same song, same story, but most often coming from people with penises.

And, I ended with a call to Roxane with one n and my readers:

But, this week also brought us the thoughtful, inspiring writing of Roxane Gay in Beyond the Measure of Men in The Rumpus. She plainly addresses the “here we go again” feeling I had when the buzz re-ignited this spring.

“The time for outrage over things we already know is over. The call and response of this debate has grown tightly choreographed and tedious. A woman dares to acknowledge the gender problem. Some people say, ‘Yes, you’re right,’ but do nothing to change the status quo. Some people say, ‘I’m not part of the problem,’ and offer up some tired example as to why this is all no big deal, why this is all being blown out of proportion. Some people offer up submission queue ratios and other excuses as if that absolves responsibility. Some people say, ‘Give me more proof,’or, ‘I want more numbers,’or,’Things are so much better’ or, ‘You are wrong.’ Some people say, ‘Stop complaining.’ Some people say, ‘Enough talking about the problem. Let’s talk about solutions.’Another woman dares to acknowledge this gender problem. Rinse. Repeat.”

She offers solutions to editors and publishers that are simple, stark and reasonable. Please, read her essay. Ponder it. Don’t miss her section on the label of “women’s fiction.” Then, let’s recruit Roxane Gay to be the Gloria Steinem of the Women’s Publishing Movement. She is brilliant. She is right. Follow her work.

“Change requires intent and effort. It really is that simple.” Roxane Gay

My imaginary effort didn’t take off, or maybe it did, but in a quieter, truer to R. Gay way.

I saw her in person at the AWP in Chicago in 2012 briefly at the PANK table and then again at the Literary Death Match of Roxane vs Jane Smiley. I went all shy literary groupie — couldn’t say much, couldn’t ask for a picture, just was awe-struck to be in her presence — as much as she would HATE that expression, that’s the truth of it.

She was in Milwaukee in May, touring for An Untamed State. I was in Cape Cod then, cranking away on my novel so I had to miss her reading at one of my all time favorite bookstores. I had received an  ARC, advance reader copy, of the book after replying to a Facebook post where she offered to send a few to the first five people who commented, or something like that. Remember? Groupie? I hadn’t read it yet as I’d been plowing away on other books and projects. I made the mistake of beginning it this week and was up until 3 a.m. – truly – the night before her second reading in Milwaukee this year — yesterday, August 8th. It was one of those rare, for me, cases of I had to finish it before I could sleep. The writing in this book is so true, so honest, so brutal at times that I can’t recommend it for everyone in my reader circles. There is nothing easy about scenes of a woman being brutalized, nor should there be. Be brave. Buy it and read it and have yourself one little, or huge, mental wrestling match about compromise, survival and love.

A friend of mine, Alexandra Rosas, got a better shot of Roxane during the Q & A then I was able to:

For her visit last night, touring now for her essay collection, Bad Feminist, she began by apologizing to anyone who had been at her May reading at Boswells because she was beginning with the same brief reading – a hysterical fantasy essay about Mister Rogers. It began something like this:

I played Scrabble Saturday and did pretty well. I won more games than I lost. I played a man who wears cardigans. It is strange when men wear cardigans and they aren’t Mr. Rogers. Mr. Rogers was able to pull that off because he’s smooth and awesome and teaches us important things. I miss Mr. Rogers. I would like to snuggle up next to Mr. Rogers while wearing his cardigan. I bet he smells like Brylcreem and Old Spice and pot roast. I would make Mr. Rogers a pot roast and I would do so while wearing a smart white apron with a lace hem I tied around my waist with a neat bow.

I found a link to this piece here. You’ll need to scroll down a bit, but the whole funny piece is there. Keep scrolling until you get below her tribute to  The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch And yes, in this piece from her blog, you will find references to a rejection from The Emerson Review, hurtful people, anger, Charlie Sheen, Lidia Yuknavitch and Mister Rogers. There is no subject she will flinch from. She is not one of those literary types who disdains popular culture, who would only get her news from The New York Times or NPR. I’m quite sure she checks them out, but they will not limit her experience. And I love her for that. Too many literary types are snooty types, IMHO. Not that I’m judging. Okay, yeah, I know, I am.

I was trying to take some notes at this reading. Trying to have a list of quotes to share, but like when I was reading An Untamed State the night before last, I was swept away by the marvelous Ms. Gay. She said she wrote this book of essays because she “used to call myself a bad feminist as a joke-” As she read to us from a few essays in the book, I found myself tracking along with her in the book, underlining, check-marking, exclamation pointing – doing all those things writers do in books they love. (I don’t keep reading or bother writing much in books I don’t love – that’s the sad truth. It’s a post-cancer thing – who has time to waste on books that aren’t speaking to them?)

In a question from the audience about the irony of possibly becoming a spokesperson for feminism, while claiming the title “bad feminist,” Roxane said, ” You can put me on all the pedestals you want and I’m going to keep parachuting off.” You see, she says she’s a bad feminist because she’s human, because she ‘s messy. Wait, let me give you her words, from the book:

….I’m not trying to be an example. I am not trying to be perfect. I am not trying to say I have all the answers. I am not trying to say I’m right. I am just trying — trying to support what I believe in, trying to do some good in this world, trying to make some noise with my writing while also being myself: a woman who loves pink and likes to get freaky and sometimes dances her ass off to music she knows,  she knows, is terrible for women and who sometimes plays dumb with repairmen because it’s just easier to let them feel macho than it is to stand on the moral high ground……

I didn’t ask any questions. I was third in line for the signing and I suggested to the first young woman, a high school girl who was working on a paper about women writers of color and who was overflowing with adoration of Roxane’s work, that I take a picture and email it to her. (Did I perhaps hope someone might offer to take my picture too? Um, maybe.) Then, the second woman in line, who I happen to know, asked for a shot and I got one. My turn. Number one and number two had boogied. And I’m not being snarky – I totally get it. The place was packed. It was a good idea to get out of the way.

Number four didn’t offer. I wouldn’t ask. Got my signatures, no pictures with me and RGay and know what? That’s really okay. This event was so not about me and I do get that.  But, I do have this:



If you have yet to discover Roxane Gay, do yourself a favor. Get on board the R.Gay train. You’re in for quite a ride.




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Facing Facts on the Fifth (+ 1)

Facing Facts on the Fifth is an effort to keep me on track with my writing goals and progress. But, I have learned from the first round of Facing Facts, that other writers seem to gain motivation and inspiration from my public reveals. In the reprise post, last month, my goals between July 5th and August 5th were:

1. Done Darkness -

this is an anthology project that Kathy Lanzarotti and I are working on…. Website is itching to go live!  So, expecting to get call out by August 5th (hopefully by July 15th — it’s those two slots holding us back!)

UPDATE on August 6th:  Success!!! The call for submissions is live and we are thrilled, truly thrilled, by the number and quality of submissions in already in about 48 hours! 

2.  Deadlines -

July 15 – Writing Menopause – an anthology looking for submissions has extended their deadline from June 30 to July 15, which means there’s no excuse for me not to finish an essay I’ve had kicking around and submit it!

UPDATE: Done. Also submitted to StoryQuarterly’s first essay contest by their deadline.

September 1 – Black Warrior Review  contest. Consider submitting to fiction and/or non-fiction.    UPDATE: Move forward

3. Novel -

….I should be able to finish those 30-50 pages between now and August 5th.

UPDATE: Oh dear. Did not get far on this one. Why? I’m not sure and need to consider my efforts seriously. Why am I holding this up?

4. Making Money??? -

*work on completing online travel writing assignments with eye to sending out queries where possible

*complete and submit application for substitute teaching in fall




So, as I examine these categories for my efforts between now and September 6th, I must consider where I’ve not met my goals and why. I think I had underestimated the amount of time – both real time and psychic energy – that the anthology project would require in its inception. Now that the site is active and the review board is in place, things will continue to click along for this month. I will have work to do for the project, but the website creation, Facebook page, promoting it, etc, was a very real drain on my brain. Now, goals for August 5 to September 5:

1. Making Money

Complete and submit application for substitute teaching by the end of this week.

Complete more online travel writing class assignments — one by end of next week.

2. Novel

Block minimum one hour a day next 10 days and see where that gets you. Then re-evaluate time – can you give it more from the 16th through Labor Day?

3. Done Darkness

Write to publisher had preliminary conversations with – update regarding number and quality of submissions in hand. Begin discussing next steps. Meet with Kathy re other publishers too?

Continue to read and rank submissions and pass work on to review board.

4. Deadlines

 Wisconsin Writers Association contest deadline = August 15

 Black Warrior Review contest = September 1


Those are my writing goals for the next month — in the meantime, life will roll on. I will visit my son in NYC. I have oodles of doctors’ appointments — nothing major, just lots falling in the next thirty days. I will plan meals to include corn-on-the-cob and yummy tomatoes and other veggies, because it is that time of year. Hoping wherever you are, on the planet and in your life, that the next thirty days will be fruitful and productive.



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Call for Submissions!

It’s really happening. A writer friend – Kathy Lanzarotti – and I have been working on a plan to compile an anthology of writings about life during and beyond depression. The title, Done Darkness, is a nod to one of our favorite poets, Gerard Manley Hopkins. It’s a phrase in the last line of his poem, “Carrion Comfort.” Here’s the call, which appears at donedarkness.com. Please consider submitting your work and share the call with others you think might be interested.

Many people experience the foggy darkness of melancholia.  We are seeking submissions for an anthology composed of writing devoted to the ups and downs of navigating life during and beyond sadness. We have a small press who has indicated interest, but if that should fall through, we are committed to seeing this project through to completion ourselves. While we expect many submissions to focus on characters coping with the many ranges of depression, this anthology will NOT venture into clinical territory. No “how-to’s,” or medical advice pieces, please. The title, “Done Darkness,” demonstrates our desire for pieces expressing hope and survival, though we will not flinch from the very real suffering when it’s conveyed well.


Poetry (up to three per author), flash, short stories, essays, book chapters, fiction and non-fiction will all be considered. Maximum length: 6000 words. Double-spaced, 1″ margins, doc or docx files. We are especially interested in previously published work, (including book excerpts), presuming the author provides proof of rights ownership. Of course, works not previously published are welcome as well. In lieu of payment, 100% of advance (if any) will be donated to a charity of the editors’ choosing. 50% of any royalties will be split among contributors for the first two years, annually. Contributors will receive one copy and a discount on future copies purchased. We will be arranging readings and hope to have as many contributors as possible participate in events. Submissions will only be accepted through our Submittable.com link here.

Deadline & Other Information

Submit by October 1. If necessary, we may extend the deadline one to two times. Watch the Facebook page for any updates/news.

For more about the project planners and editorial board, click here.


Please email donedarkanth@gmail.com.

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