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Are you trying to give me feedback?

Hi Friends!

Getting feedback as an aspiring author can either make or break you. I remember two different workshop leaders (well known, published authors) who treated me like they were Catholic nuns rapping my fingers. I felt like saying, are you trying to give me helpful feedback? Cuz you're making me not want to write anymore.

Then I met Joni Cole with whom I worked for several years on Poetic License. Joni is one of the best feedback givers of all the editors I've ever known — clear and specific, and empathic. She made me want to write more. To get better. We do harden our skin as we evolve into an author—now I can take it straight—but it's still incumbent on any book coach, teacher, or author to understand how this can work much better for the writer.

Grab her newly reissued (May 25th) classic Toxic Feedback from the University of New Mexico Press.

Congrats Joni Cole!

And if you're looking for a great writing weekend, check out her November 3-5 class at

And if you're in the Upper Valley, head over to Norwich Bookstore on May 6 at 3 pm to hear Annie Chappell talk about her new memoir Away Up the North Fork. A young girl's search for home in the wilderness, smitten by a true mountain man. Great story and wish I could be there.


Writers Musing on Writing and Life

“Writing is one form of social activism.”

Joni Cole





Far into the future we'll be reading books set in Covid. Here are two I read at the same time. One a prize-winning author's beautiful elegy to life in older age sheltering in a sweet coastal town in Maine. The other a memoir in poems about his parents, both with Covid, one of whom dies in the ICU.

Elizabeth Strout

Lucy by the Sea

I'll likely get pushback on my comments about Lucy by the Sea by Elizabeth Strout. There was so much good about it for me and some things not good. Strout is fabulous at "animating the ordinary" as The New Yorker wrote of her, and this is true, in a good way. Hardly anyone of a certain region, age, class, race, will identify with her characters and stories. She's a fabulous writer, but for me she's a little sappy or cozy or simple in her telling. Not because her prose seems effortless (that's hard!) but I guess what I struggled with was how privileged and white the experience was. As if those who could buy up properties to protect their children or themselves, or move their children across three states to to a safer place are the ones we should be reading about. All that said, I gulped it down in a two sittings.

Nicholas Montemarano

If There Are Any Heavens

Far more emotionally generous and mesmerizing for this reader, is Nicholas Montemarano's beautiful memoir in poem, If There Are Any Heavens. Beth Kephart had recommended it as an example of memoir in a different form. I read this book in the same two sittings and lingered on every line. Cumulatively, the poems rise and fall, rise and fall, moving us beautifully through time and anguish over older parents in two hospitals on their own during Covid. I would give this book to anyone interested in immersing themselves in the final weeks of their parents' lives, specifically during Covid, but really I'd give it to anyone who wants a short, concise, beautiful rendering of the horrors of Covid. While Montemarano had the resources to travel to his parents' hospitals he comes across as ordinary in the best of ways. I highly recommend this book.

That's it for this one! Counting down to June 6th while enjoying every sprinkle, budding tulip, flowering tree, and migrating birds I can. Hope you are too —


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