Monday, January 11, 2010

Joy and Gratitude

I flew to Indianapolis over the weekend — my first visit to a beautiful, vibrant city made more beautiful but no less vibrant by a blanket of snow.

I was there for a party thrown by my publisher, Luminis Books, celebrating the release of its first three titles and previewing a fourth.

The party took place within the charming confines of Big Hat Books, where I got to see Precarious displayed in a store window instead of a web browser for the first time.

Excited? Me? You better believe it.

A steady stream of people came to wish us all well, and near the end of our time there, the upstairs was packed with people sipping wine, munching crackers and cheese and olives and tiny desserts.

Everyone was talking about books. Our books.

That's when I got the question: "How many of your stories are based on your own life?"

"Three," I said.

Which three, I wasn't saying.

I had never talked so much with so many people about myself and my writing. It was fun, because the good people of Indianapolis seemed genuinely interested.

Twelve people bought my book and asked me to sign it — and I did, with joy and gratitude.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

What Copy Editors Know

Highlights from an article I put together years ago, when I was part of the crack copy-editing team at San Francisco Focus ...
  • "Whenever writers say, 'Not to quibble,' they're about to quibble."
  • "There's no comma in 'Louie Louie,' no period in Dr Pepper, and no apostrophe in Grants Pass. There should be but there isn't."
  • "'Not to mention' is a mention."
  • "It's okay to end a sentence with a preposition. Always has been. I don't care what English teacher told you. That's the sort of bogus rule up with which I will not put."
  • "The word very is supposed to be an intensifier, but it's used so much that most statements are stronger without it."
  • "Isn't it weird how many exceptions there are to the rule: i before e except after c?"
  • "Never begin a story with 'Yes, Virginia,' 'According to Webster's,' or 'What do ____, _____, and _____ have in common?'"
  • "Most stories can be improved if you shorten them by about a third."
  • "I believe it was Rene J. Cappon, the veteran Associated Press editor, who said: 'Call a spade a spade and you evoke a picture. Call it an agricultural implement and you might be talking about a plow, a rake, or an air-conditioned tractor."
  • "Quotes are doctored all the time in the name of clarity and grammar. Q&A interviews look like transcripts, but they're not. You wouldn't want to read them if they were."
  • "Never use an exclamation point!"

Friday, January 1, 2010

Sex and the Short Story

The latest issue of 34th Parallel — Issue 9 — is now available, and it contains a real first for me.

Over the years I've interviewed a lot of people for newspapers, magazines, and websites, but this marks the first time someone has interviewed me.

Just check out the cover headline:

Gretchen Clark Interviews Al Riske

Gretchen is a widely published essayist — I'm particularly fond of "This Is a Woman" — who teaches creative nonfiction at She also happens to be my sister-in-law and the first person I turn to for feedback on my own writing.

It was a fun interview and really made me think. I hope you'll check it out.