Joni Mitchell’s Blues

Joni Mitchell’s Blues

I was at an Arists’ Residency, far from home, and things weren’t going well. There was lots of chatter about people you knew in New York, and I didn’t know anybody in New York unless you count my college roommate who lives in Harlem and my cousin who lives in New Jersey. The people I knew were “people I loved,” but they weren’t “people you knew in New York.” I mean, I don’t think they went to the same parties. So, over dinner, I stayed mute. People didn’t want to know about my small town friends, my cousins, my community organizing extravaganzas for towns of 1,500 people. My towns were not New York.

So, I was blue. Also, the writing wasn’t going well. I’d look out my window, watch antelope zoom like shape-shifters over the dry hills, and think, “Well, this is going nowhere.” My novel was so long, I couldn’t even remember what was in it. I had so many characters, I didn’t remember who they were. And I couldn’t find things.  Read more

Pen/Hemingway Recognition

Pen/Hemingway Recognition

Every writer has a dream award, the one that she knows would change life forever. Pen/Hemingway, an award for first fiction book, has always been one of those for me. It’s the kind of award that you can get only when you are starting out. Only first-time fiction writers are eligible. It’s a fairy tale award. A Cinderella story award. A happy ending for a first book, and a beginning for just one lucky writer a year–plus a powerful nod to finalists and honorable mentions.

Founded by Mary Hemingway in 1976 to honor her husband Ernest, and to recognize “distinguished first books of fiction,” the award is administered by the wonderful PEN organization for writers.

Some of my favorite writers have won this award, here are just a few:

1981 – Joan Silber for Household Words

1985 – Josephine Humphreys for Dreams of Sleep

1993 – Edward P. Jones for Lost in the City

The recognition that comes from this award starts careers, lets the world know you are writing something worth reading. Plus, how cool is it to have your name in the same paragraph with Hemingway’s?

Yesterday afternoon I got the confirmation that Accidental Birds of the Carolinas was selected for Honorable Mention for the Pen/Hemingway award.

I am still so excited that I’m not quite breathing right. Today I celebrate by calling friends, doing a little yoga, and taking the dog for a very long walk, a glass of wine with a friend. Tomorrow, it’s back to writing the next thing. But ahh, the sweetness will linger through my days. Thank you, Mr. Hemingway, and your lovely wife Mary.

To read about this year’s winner, finalists, and honorable mentions, see


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