How I Got That Story: Kate Lebo, poetry

Kate Lebo is living the dream. No "sad pie" for her!

Kate Lebo has had a helluva year. In addition to winning residencies at Soapstone and Shotpouch Creek, her recent grant from 4Culture will allow her to take the summer to write before beginning her MFA at The University of Washington. Kate:

  • is an associate poetry editor for Filter, a literary journal made entirely by hand. Cooool!
  • has poems forthcoming from Poetry Northwest and have appeared in Crab Creek Review, Smartish Pace, and A River and Sound Review.
  • is obsessed with pie.

Given your current success, what would you say was your tipping point?

My tipping point came just two months ago when, in a single week, I learned that I had been awarded a teaching assistantship through UW’s MFA in Poetry program (a position that will support me while I pursue my MFA) and that I received a grant from 4Culture to help with living expenses while I complete of my first book of poems. This promise of funding allowed me to leave my job at Hugo House and spend the summer writing. For the rest of the summer, I’m going to live the dream.

Since that week, I’ve had a passel of good rejections and exciting acceptances: my chapbook was a semi-finalist for the Tupelo Press Snowbound Chapbook Award; I was interviewed by KUOW about food and literature (that will air Saturday, July 24 between noon and 2pm); a poem was accepted by Poetry Northwest (one of my favorite lit mags); I was awarded a collaborative residency at Shotpouch Creek’ and I received a few “please submit again” rejections from literary magazines. All this along with all the usual outright rejections, of course. What I’m trying to say is that if I have reached a “tipping point,” it’s because I’ve been applying and submitting constantly and in high volume for the past two years. I’ve been getting a ton of rejections too. That’s part of the game.

When you started writing, what were your top three DREAM PUBLICATIONS? How has the list changed?

You know, I’ve never been super-concerned with having my poems in specific publications. I just want them in magazines that I like to read. There is little that is more depressing to a writer than imagining your poem squashed against the closed page of another and left on the shelf, in the dark, unread. Nothing worse than getting your contributor’s copy and realizing you don’t care to read it because you don’t particularly like the magazine. I’ve had that experience only once and once was enough. It caused me to reconsider why I publish. Do I publish just for the sake of publishing? No. If I did, I’d be thrilled to be published, period, in any old rag that would take my poem. I think I publish because it feels like part of the life cycle of the poem. Create, edit, get rejected, edit some more, then eventually get published and read. If you’ll allow me to mix metaphors, it’s like making a pie–you can put hours of love and craft into your confection, but if you don’t share it with other people it will rot on the counter. Or worse, in your stomach. That’s some sad pie. I refuse to make sad pie.

My dream publications aren’t with a specific publisher or magazine. My dream is to find a publisher suits this idea I have of how I want my poems to physically appear. I’m talking about the feel of the book, the art, the graphic design, the weight of the paper. I like magazines like Filter Literary Journal (a handmade journal I now help edit) that are as thoughtfully constructed and carefully wrought as the poems they contain. I like online journals like, that exploit the DIY and social networking abilities of the internet to create interactive and associative space for poems. My dream publication is a space–maybe I’ll have to make it myself–where readers interact with poems in new and exciting ways.

I’m working on a collection of prose poems and recipes about pie called A Commonplace Book of Pie. In my imagination, it has full color illustrations and recipes, quizzes and quotes, maybe some natural history thrown in for fun. I don’t know if there is a publisher out there that would invest in a cross-genre, illustrated manuscript. If there is, then that’s my dream publisher.

What did you learn most, in the process of building toward your current success?

About a year ago I began to understand that when an editor rejects my work, it isn’t because the work is bad. I mean, it might be (I hope not!), but more likely poems are rejected because of the personal preference of the people reading them. Rejection isn’t a black and white, acceptance=good poem, rejection=bad poem sort of situation. It’s a matter of what the editor has read already that day, what she had for breakfast; if she’s sleepy or excited or stressed out and just looking for a poem that speaks to her particular mood. That it is entirely beyond my control makes rejection so much easier to take. All I can do is send my best work, keep sending it, and understand that most rejection isn’t personal.

RE: short work, how many do you have out for consideration at any given time?

I tend to have five to seven poetry submissions, two or three chapbook submissions, one or two grant or award submissions, and one or two writing contest submissions out at a given time. When I get news, good or bad, I send out another submission as soon as possible, to keep my writing in circulation. That way the mailman might bring me good news at any time.

For more about Kate (and her tasty homemade pies) visit her blog,

How I Got That Story: Laura Fraser, memoir and journalism

Laura is a fantastic date. She writes about food for more major magazines than I read, so the meal is usually comped. Also, she lives half the time in Mexico and half in San Francisco, doubling my ability to crash on her couch.

My complaint about Laura is not that she a gracious host, nor that she has the most glamorous life imaginable; no. My only complaint is that she doesn’t work very hard. The New York Times, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Bon Appetit,, Vogue, Glamour, Self, Marie Claire, Mother Jones, the Daily Beast, San Francisco Examiner Magazine, O: the Oprah Magazine, etc. Is or has been a contributing editor at Health, Good Housekeeping, and More. Her memoir, An Italian Affair, was a NY Times best-seller. For heaven’s sake, when is this girl going to get serious about her career?

On Wednesday, June 9, Laura will be reading from her follow-up  memoir, All Over the Map:

Bellevue, WA Regional Library
1111 110th Avenue NE, Bellevue
7 pm

Ladies and germs, give it up for Laura Fraser!

What did you learn most, in the process of building toward then publishing your first book?

My first book was an investigation of the diet industry called Losing It: America’s Obsession with Weight and the Industry that Feeds on It. Prior to that book I had mainly written magazine articles, so aside from learning more than I ever wanted to know about dieting, I learned that a book is not a collection of magazine articles.

Given your current success, what would you say was your tipping point?

My second book, An Italian Affair, was an NYT bestseller and gave me a brief taste of success, if not a lot of money.

When you started writing, what were your top three DREAM PUBLICATIONS? How has the list changed?

Mother Jones, Gourmet, the New Yorker. I’ve still never written for the New Yorker, but a girl’s got to dream.

Can you talk a little about the transition from short pieces to books?

It’s important to think of creating a structure that is sustainable for an entire book and will keep the readers interested. While chapters need to have cohesion unto themselves, they need to all fit together into a larger framework. That said, to write a long book you have to break it up into short pieces.

RE: short work, how many do you have out for consideration at any given time?

I usually have 5-6 pieces in the works, from ideas to rewrites.

How I Got That Story: Kij Johsnson, science fiction

Our subject; not shy.

Kij Johnson is a sci-fi rockstar: 2010 Nebula Award winner, 2010 Hugo Award Nominee, and 2010 Locus Award Finalist. She doesn’t know me from Eve; my God, she started publishing while I was still in high school. (Only ten years ago?)  Nevertheless, she graciously agreed to be interviewed.

Can you talk a little about the transition from short story writer to novelist?

Initially I had no idea I would ever write a novel. I wrote short stories because that was about all the attention-span I had, and I had always heard that short stories were an easier sell than novels because there were more tiers you could get in at: unpaid, semi-pro, pro, and then the elevated heights of The Big Ones, Playboy and the like.

The first novel, THE FOX WOMAN, was really an enormous short story: very tightly crafted without a lot of events, which is both its strength and its weakness. Since then I have gotten a lot more comfortable with novels, which have breathing room for subplots and even loose ends.

How does your poetry factor in?

I wrote poetry before I wrote fiction which, combined with a linguistics-heavy undergrad degree, made me obsessive about language. I haven’t written poetry for many years and am coming back to it now, after some decades. We’ll see how returning to poetry changes things!

What did you learn most, in the process of building toward then publishing your first book?

100,000 words is a lot of words, and 125,000 is more. Story arcs need to be bigger in novels.

Given your current success, what would you say was your tipping point?

It’s always a series of tipping points, each of which feeds into the next. Going to Clarion West? Working in publishing? The Sturgeon Award, or the Crawford Award? Attending and then assisting at Jim Gunn’s workshops? The first Year’s Best reprint? Being nominated for one of the big awards? Winning? Maybe for other people there’s a big Tadaa! but it’s been incremental for me. My first story was published in 1987; my first pro sale was 1988.

When you were more focused on short stories, how many pieces do you have out for consideration at any given time?

I’m very focused on short stories at the moment! Right now I have one that’s recently been bought; three more out there somewhere or other; a couple that are teetering on done but have never gelled, and one I promised to an anthology that I haven’t finished.

When you started writing, what were your top three DREAM PUBLICATIONS? How has the list changed?

Playboy, Asimov’s, Omni. I’ve been in Asimov’s several times, but Playboy’s a tougher nut than I will ever crack; and Omni is gone, alas. I love breaking into new magazines. Right now I have something out to The New Yorker on the “Hey, why not?” principle.

So say we all. Thank you, Kij.

Tune in Monday for another “How I Got That Story,” featuring NY Times best-selling author Laura Fraser. Oooooo!

Fraser's second travel/food/love memoir

How I Got That Story: Michael Czyzniejewski, literary fiction.

Debut short story collection
  • Pronounced  something like “Chews-news-ki”;
  • Former Editor in Chief, current Fiction Editor at Mid-American Review;
  • Recently published his debut collection of short fiction, Elephants in Our Bedroom.

I met Mike when he spoke at The Richard Hugo House InPrint Series. A generous spirit with a slicing intellect, Mike answered the question so many of us have: what do editors want?

“Something I haven’t read before.”

I read some of his short fiction and knew precisely which of mine to send. I would love to say the piece was accepted. However, he turned it around quickly and sent a note alongside. Nice guy. Do your best to meet him (He’s at AWP regularly). In addition to the above, MC’s work appears in StoryQuarterly, Quarterly West, Another Chicago Magazine, American Short Fiction, Other Voices, and Quick Fiction.

What did you learn most, in the process of building toward the publication your first book?

I’ve learned that you’re never finished. I revised my book seven times in the year leading up to its release—that means seven times all the way through, every story, every page. Now that I have a copy, I keep seeing things I would add, edit, take away. But at some point, you just have to move forward, tell yourself you’ll make the next book better. Otherwise, you’d never finish anything. You’ll go crazy.

Given your current success, what would you say was your tipping point?

There was a point, a year or two after I finished my MFA, that I realized my writing wasn’t emulating my personality, and it wasn’t employing my strengths. I tried to write serious, “important” stories for years, but I was like 22, 23, and I was not at all serious and the furthest thing from important. One day, after reading Aimee Bender’s “Girl in the Flammable Skirt” for the umpteenth time, I decided I would write a different type of story and so I did. I tossed everything out, started writing things I thought were fun, stories I thought reflected who I was. The first story from this new approach was published, my first publication, and I went from there. That story is in my book. It’s nice to see it come full circle.

How many pieces do you have out for consideration at any given time?

Before the Table of Contents was settled for the book, I was writing new stories, even when I had a contract. At some point in 08, I was still circulating around ten stories, many for the book, some that had been cut, and then some new work that will (hopefully)  be in my second collection. Now, it’s down to two, as the book is out and I had to give up on some pieces getting in journals. Plus, I’ve had a few more acceptances, recently. In short, I need to write more stories. Get back on the horse.

When you started writing, what were your top three DREAM PUBLICATIONS?

I wanted to be in Story more than any other journal. I read every issue cover to cover, and as everyone who sent to them knows, they gave a personal little note on each and every rejection slip, so they just felt warm and fuzzy. I wish they stuck around, at least long enough for me to get better at this. I really wonder if my current work would have gotten in. I’ll never know.

List your current DREAM PUBS.

I don’t ever think of the slicks, but I’ll say my #1 is Harper’s because I subscribed and read most of every issue. I haven’t sent in years, though, which makes it less likely I’ll get it in. And that’s a lesson to us all.

Then there’s probably a dozen or so lit journals I want to be in and will keep trying. McSweeney’s is probably at the top, as they print a lot of writers I like and it seems like we might be a match. I really want to be in Kenyon Review because of their prestige, and because they also publish great work. Ploughshares is up there, too, for similar reasons, and because it’s very hard to have something taken off their pile, harder than anywhere else, or so I’m told. But just as easily, I’d stick mags like Virginia Quarterly Review, Missouri Review, and Tin House at the peak of my list. So many. So, so many.

Next on How I Got That Story: Kij Johnson, queen of the below swear-word-swear-word.


How I Got That Story: Corbin Lewars, memoir

In this special issue, How I Got That Story presents, un-edited and unstoppable, the ‘zinster, blogger, writing mentor, and now memoirist, Seattle’s own … Corbin Lewars!!!

Ms. Lewars reads Tuesday, May 5, 7:00pm at Richard Hugo House as part of  David Schamder’s She Said: Women’s Lives in Poetry and Prose. And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming. Corbin:

  • Authored Creating a Life: The Memoir of a Writer and Mom in the Making;
  • Blogs at Reality Mom;
  • Four times a year, publishes a ‘zine of the same name.
  • Other work published in Hip Mama, Midwifery Today, and Mamaphonic

What did you learn most, in the process of building toward then publishing your first book?

Writing books and/or articles is usually the easy part for me. I rarely suffer from writer’s block, so the main barrier to writing has always been time. So once I have something complete, it is agonizing for me to have to wait to hear from other people. And becoming published has been years of me waiting to feel validated as a writer by finding an agent and having articles published. And even once I had an agent and an editor for my book and several pieces published, I thought I could relax and finally stop waiting because I had “made it.” But then I started another memoir and the waiting process started all over again. Becoming a writer has taught me more about patience than years of meditation ever could.

The other big lesson occurred when I agreed to publish my book with a small press rather than hold out for a larger press. Again, this probably has a lot to do with I was tired of waiting, but Ariel Gore, my mentor at the time, told me that her experiences with small presses were usually far better and less riddled with bullshit that with larger presses. She also said that as a new author, the hand-holding and attention I would receive with a small press would be more worthwhile than the advance a larger press could offer. So I let go of the dream of the 6 figure advance and signed a contract with Catalyst Book Press.


Given your current success, what would you say was your tipping point?

Ever since I was a little girl I dreamed about being a writer. But dreaming about writing is relatively easy compared to taking the leap of faith to actually being one. Several tipping points occurred along the way. In 2001, I quit my steady, benefits and vacations paid, yet extremely boring job and started freelancing as an editor and writer. I taught writing, was the editor of Verve (folded a year later, but was fabulous while it lasted), and basically took any paying job that involved writing so I could have the time and energy for my own writing. Two years later, I hired Waverly Fitzgerald as my coach to help me complete a book proposal. Every time I met Waverly at Victrola she called me a writer and I started to believe it myself.

In October of 2005, on the day my daughter was born, I  signed a contract with my agent and thought, “Ahh, now I can relax because my book will be on the shelves of Barnes and Noble any day now.”

Three years later and two books later, I am still nowhere near the shelves of Barnes and Noble. Ariel, once again offered her sage advice and said, “You’ve fulfilled your side of the contract by writing the books, your agent didn’t fulfill her side by selling them, you need to find a new agent.” I followed her advice, but rather than looking for another agent, I started submitting my memoir to various small presses. Catalyst responded immediately and I signed a contract with them a couple of weeks later.

A  week later I arranged a literary event with 11 other writers at Hugo House and performed my first reading to a large audience without barfing. The following week I was interviewed on the radio and am finally able to relax into the knowledge that yes, this will continue to be difficult, but yes I will survive as a writer and no, I won’t have to ever sling cocktails again.

How many pieces do you have out for consideration at any given time?

While querying agents, I tend to do them in batches of 5 or so. Articles I only submit to one place at a time. When submitting my books to large presses, my agent would submit 5 or so at a time; but I would only query one small press at a time.

When you started writing, what were your top three DREAM PUBLICATIONS?

I always imagined that Creating a Life would be published by Seal Press. (Brooke emailed me they are out of the momoir business, so that didn’t happen)
My fiction, Swings, and current memoir, My Year of Pleasures, I want to be published by any large press because I guess I never did give up the dream of the big advance and a publicist to help with promotion. For my essays I wanted to be published in Hip Mama and Mothering (which I have been) and the ultimate, The Sun.

List your current DREAM PUBS.

Anyone who pays. :)

Tell me about your writing life, and where applicable, your life-life.

For six years, I was forced to be a naptime writer. I have two young children and I’ve written three books and many essays all during those blissful, but short moments. Or I write on Sundays, while they chase each other with scissors, or every once in a while late at night, but it’s hard to come down from that.

Last year, my daughter entered preschool and I separated from my husband, so I was able to luxuriate in weekends to myself to write (and play), and a couple of six hour intervals of uninterrupted time to work, which has helped my writing improve and be less scattered.

The biggest hurdle I hear my clients complain about is, “I don’t have time to write” Being a stay at home mom and trying to run my own editing business while also trying to publish books allows me the authority to say, “B*##$%!+.” Make the time.

How I Got That Story: Michelle Goodman, nonfiction

Michelle fled the cube in 1992, never to look back, We met n the early aughts. She flattered me beyond belief with an invitation to participate in a NW Bookfest panel about writing for anthologies. Not so long after, she e-mailed saying she was forming a group for freelancers to meet monthly, shoot a few beers—I had tea—and provide the water-cooler element lacking in our pajama-wearing, rejection-rife, always-hunting-the-next-gig lives. Michelle has an easy-seeming gift for community made all the more genuine by her grounding in the financial realities of making a living as a writer. She proves daily her axiom, “You don’t need a trust fund to do this.” In less than a decade, Michelle has:

  • scored a weekly career column for;
  • become a paid blogger for The Seattle Times/ Nine to Thrive;
  • won a 2006 Residency to Hedgebrook;
  • Other publications:,, Salon,Entrepreneur, AOL, BUST, B*tch, The Bark, Yahoo! HotJobs, PayScale, and several anthologies, including P.S. What I Didn’t Say: Unsent Letters to Our Female Friends (Seal Press, 2009).

Make the commitment

What did you learn most, in the process of building toward then publishing your first book?

Platform is everything. If you work toward building an audience for your published short work (fiction or non) or by blogging, teaching, or speaking, you’ll have a far easier time convincing a book publisher to give you a contract, especially in this ever-tightening market. You’ll also have an easier time selling copies to readers. Also, it kind of makes you feel like a superhero to know you can write, edit, and polish 70K words in a matter of months. It makes going back and tackling your short pieces after the fact that much easier.

Given your current success, what was your tipping point?

This changes every couple years. I felt like I was onto something when I got my first big clip in 2000 or 2001, in Salon. I felt the same way a year or so later when I got my first contribution to an anthology published, and again in another year or so when I got my first feature story in a national magazine I’d long admired. Ditto for landing a book deal and writing residency in 2006. And another book and a national column in 2007. And a NY Times clip in 2008.

I’m not trying to brag. It feels like I still have a ways to go to get my writing career to where I want it to be. I’m trying to do what makes me happy (and not always succeeding). Each year I set new goals, always factoring in what I can afford financially, which often limits how much time I have to do the Writing I Really Want To Do. Some years I meet my goals, some years I don’t. But I’m still striving for a lot and don’t think that will ever stop. It’s what keeps me reaching.

I suspect the conventional answer to your question is that coming out with my first book opened a lot of doors for me: more invites to speak at events (some even paid), more national assignments, a couple of columns, more steady freelance gigs, more experience to share with students/classes I’ve taught, more people knowing who I am (though I’m not the sort who gets off on this). The book wasa big resume boost, and a big writing-confidence boost.

One thing I would like to note is that doing these two books has not brought me more time or money or serenity, and that has been a big challenge. I knew what I was signing up for (people don’t write books to boost their income. If you had a decent income before, signing up to be an author is almost always a big pay cut, unless you write your books on top of doing other paid work, as I did). But the juggling act has all but burned me out. So when people say, What book are you writing this year? I tell them that I’m not. Just writing short pieces. And thrilled to not have any 70K word deadlines hanging over my head.

How many pieces do you have out for consideration at any given time?

Since I started The Anti 9-to-5 Guide in 06, it’s been one to none. One, if I’d had a piece out to anthology editor I knew (which did pay off in 07, with Single State of the Union). The books I wrote during 06, 07, and 08 took up much of my writing time. The book promotion and article assignments/copywriting work to pay for it all took up the rest. I’d like to spend 09 getting back to a place where I can write new short creative nonfiction to submit, though my schedule looks bleak till March. Sometimes, though, when you already have an editor’s ear, all that’s required to land an essay slot is a story pitch. So I suspect this year will be a combo of pitches and submissions. And my regular column/client gigs, which already keep me busy busy. {Ed note: this interview took place early in 2009.}

When you started writing, what were your top three DREAM PUBLICATIONS?

I think when I first started writing and dreaming of being a writer I was in the sixth grade. I’m kind of a late bloomer. Not sure I had a publication in mind, other than A Book. When I first started taking my freelancing and writing career seriously in my late 20s (oh so many years ago), my list was probably Salon, New York Times, and Story magazine. So I did Salon, which is something I’d like to do again now that I don’t have a book deadline (or Nerve or Slate or some such). I recently wrote a fun piece about freelancing for the New York Times online edition (given the way newspapers are going and the way people read them — online only—I count that as a credit, though I now have my sights set on a couple more clips from them). Sadly, Story magazine folded before I hit 30.

Next on “How I Got That Story”: Michael Czyzniejewski, Editor-in-Chief of Mid-American Review and author of:

Pronounced: Chews-news-ki

How I Got That Story: Anglea Jane Fountas, Literary Fiction

When I met Angela, probably seven years ago, she was wrestling with turning her 70-page novella into a novel. Soon after, she discovered that she was not, as she said, “a long distance runner. I’m a sprinter.” She delved into literary fiction, the short-short, and took off, winning in head-spinning succession:

  • Artist Trust/Washington State Arts Commission Fellowship, 2009
  • Writer-in-Residence, Richard Hugo House, Seattle, 2008–2009
  • Arts Special Projects Grant, 4Culture, King County, Seattle, 2006
  • CityArtist Projects Grant, Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs, Seattle, 2006
  • Jack Straw Writer, 2006
  • Alumni Fiction Award, University of Alabama, 2000
  • Research and Travel Grant, University of Alabama, 1999
  • Teaching Writing Fellowship, University of Alabama, 1999
  • Alumni Fiction Award, University of Alabama, 1999

When you started writing, what were your top three DREAM PUBLICATIONS?

The New Yorker
The Paris Review
The Atlantic Monthly

Has that changed? If so, how.

Yes, that has changed because I’ve been reading all of these regularly and have gotten to know them better; these were my first dream pubs because they were “the” places to publish. My big dream pubs now are: Zoetrope: All Story, McSweeney’s. One Story.

Some of my other recent dream pubs (more realistic targets) were Quick Fiction and Sentence, and both of those came true. (Mind you, I’ve been reading these regularly for quite a while now so the work I submitted was along the lines of what they publish. Read: I did my research!)

Given your current success, what would you say was your tipping point?

My tipping point was advice I received from Carole Glickfeld, whom I paid to read my novella (which I’d been working on since grad school). She asked me why I didn’t just stick with my strength, which was shorter stories (in the 2-8 page range) and then branch out into longer works. Well, I did that and wrote mainly short-short stories for a couple of years and got many of those published. Then I returned to longer stories after I received those two grants. (Ed. note: this interview was contucted in 2009.}

How many pieces do you have out for consideration at any given time?

As many as are ready. Right now I have 6 individual stories circulating, and some of those have been simultaneously submitted. And my short story collection is out to four book awards and being prepared for three more.

When not writing, teaching at Richard Hugo House, or winning awards, Angela runs  the website Write Habit.

Next on “How I Got That Story”: Michelle Goodman, Freelancer Extraordinaire. She wrote the book; literally.

Also check out Goodman's "The Anti-9 to 5 Guide"