Two Sides of The Slush Pile

While I was revising my second book, The Supper Club (update on that soon), I spent a lot of time last year reading and writing short stories and poetry. I wasn’t quite ready to delve into the next novel, and I wanted to sharpen some skills and exercise writerly muscles I hadn’t used in a while, so I wrote poems and short stories, flash fiction and prose poems.

In the second half of 2013, I began to submit work to literary magazines, something I haven’t really done since graduate school. My recent experience with literary journals was from the opposite side of the slush pile–with Conclave: A Journal of Character, the literary magazine I founded back in 2008.

You can read the Foreword from the first issue of Conclave on my tumblr account. But I wanted to quote one part of it here:

“When we decided to create Conclave: A Journal of Character, we knew that our focus would be on character-driven writing and photography, so we sought out a name for our literary magazine that would reflect the assembly of all those characters, as well as the artists and writers who dream them up. We chose conclave because it means a gathering, a private chamber, a room that may be locked. It has the Latin roots of com(meaning “with” or “together”) and clavis (meaning “key”).”

With a really wonderful volunteer staff of more than 20 people, we put out two issue before I came to the decision to sell the magazine. I was spending more time editing than writing, and I wanted to be writing. While I loved having a place to publish these great character-driven works, I didn’t really have the time to keep it going. Fortunately I sold the magazine to a brilliant writer who had been published in our first issue, Savannah Thorne.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Conclave recently because Electric Velocipede published its final issue this month. Founding editor John Klima published 27 issues of the award-winning journal for more than 12 years before he decided that it was time to cease publication. You can read John’s final editorial note here.


Magazines like Electric Velocipede and Sybil’s Garage inspired me to start Conclave in the first place. I understand the kind of sacrifice and dedication Matthew Kressel and John put into their issue, the same kind of energy that Savannah devotes to Conclave today. When it boils down to it, most of these journal and magazines, online and in print are labors of literary love.

Savannah has done an amazing job with Conclave, better than I could have done. With the help of many of the editors from our first issue (Tom Gill, Michael von Glahn, Rebecca Kyle, and others), she has built upon the idea of a literary magazine with a character focus, and Conclave continues to feature new and seasoned writers and terrific photographers. Their work is full of provocative, powerful, unforgettable characters. I’m so proud to be a part of its history, and I’m really excited to see where she takes Conclave into the future.

You can buy the current issue in electronic and print format on Amazon, and I encourage my writer-friends to check out their guidelines.

After submitting, I’ve finally started to receive notices of acceptance. This year, I’ll have work forthcoming in Abyss & Apex, Fickle Muses, Mythic Delirium, Scheherezade’s Bequest, and hopefully more to be announced soon!

This month, I have one poem, “Daughters of Melisseus” in Abyss & Apex, and two poems, “For collectors not children” and “Singing the Dirge” in Fickle Muses.

I’m excited to publish shorter writing as I get to work on book #3, and it’s nice to be able to point people to my work online. Plus poetry is a passion of mine–the evocative imagery, the music of the words, the rhythm of the lines. Reading poetry is such a joy; and writing it…is like being engulfed in a sensuous maelstrom of language.

Paris on the Prairie

My head is still spinning from last weekend’s events. I loved mulling about in such diverse creative pools of people, but that’s Chicago’s literary and art scenes—such a variety of styles and voices.

Valya Dudycz Lupescu & Scott Markwell, photo by 8 Eyes Photography

Friday’s release party for Conclave: A Journal of Character was a success! An enthusiastic and attentive crowd came out to support the magazine, have wine and cheese, share cake and coffee, and listen to local writers and performers read from the latest issue.

Don Evans, photo by 8 Eyes Photography

I feel protective and proud of each piece we select for publication in Conclave, so meeting their makers is always a thrill. I’m delighted when contributors travel to attend the party, and this year, Darci Schummer came in from Minneapolis to read and party with us.

Darci Schummer, photo by Rob Lambert

It was fun meeting Darci, and I hope to see her the next time we make it up to Minneapolis.

Deb Miller & Steve Simoncic, photo by Rob Lambert

After the last dramatic performance, sweetheart Molly Robison performed for an hour: some covers, some originals (including my favorite Patience Worth…there’s a good character!).

Molly Robison, photo by 8 Eyes Photography

Perhaps the most novel aspect of this year’s release party was a last-minute decision to broadcast the readings and performances live via Ustream.

Meg Fergus & Valya reading chat comments during broadcast, photo by Rob Lambert

Thanks to the assistance of dizzydarkhorse , an international audience popped in to see what was happening at the Book Cellar online. I hope that we can continue to find new ways to use technology to expand our audience and promote the work in Conclave.

Sanfilippo Estate, photo by Roberta Richardson

If Friday was about celebrating new voices and new media, Saturday was on the opposite end of the literary spectrum—honoring writers whose lifetime contributions and legacies have shaped the literary landscape of Chicago. Patrons and writers attended the benefit for the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame at the Sanfilippo Estate in Barrington Hills.

Music chamber in Sanfilippo, photo by Roberta Richardson

Hosted by the Chicago Writers Association, the event included a tour of the remarkable estate and a concert on the world’s largest Wurlitzer (8,000 pipes, percussions and sound effects), as well as appearances by local authors Elizabeth Berg, Joe Meno,  Sara Paretsky, Rosellen Brown, Bayo Ojikutu, Achy Obejas, Rob Duffer, and so many other great Chicago writers.

Marc Kelly Smith, photo by Roberta Richarson

Marc Kelly Smith, founder of the poetry slam movement, emceed with colorful enthusiasm and announced the six writers to be inducted into the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame: Gwendolyn Brooks, Studs Terkel, Nelson Algren, Lorraine Hansberry, Saul Bellow and Richard Wright. Information about the Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony will be announced soon!

A second night surrounded by creative people in this one-of-a-kind location was inspiring, and I came home eager to write, to add my voice to the others who have come before and continue to write in my beloved city by the lake, our so-called third coast, this fantastic city of big shoulders.

Meeting Neil

Conclave: A Journal of Character is printed and available on; the kitchen at Casa del Lobos is finished; I’ve finalized the plans for the Conclave Release Party (see next post); the kids performed in their first Ukrainian dancing performance; we found a mysterious hole in our basement that we thought was a crawlspace but is much deeper and has a ladder leading down into it, and I met Neil Gaiman.

I didn’t meet Neil in the hole in the basement, although wouldn’t that have been perfect in its own way?

I first “met” Neil thanks to the magic of twitter. Both of us are late-night writers online at the wee hours. This is one of the remarkable things about Twitter, that you can be in contact with other creative people whom you might otherwise not meet, and Neil is among a group of well-known writers, musicians, and artists who dip into twitter to communicate with fans and peers, and also to disseminate information. We had tried to orchestrate prior meetings, but tight schedules and other commitments made it impossible. The meet and greet at C2E2 was our only window this time. (Thank you, Cat and Lorraine.)

On Saturday, April 17, C2E2 hosted an Evening With Neil Gaiman at the Arie Crown Theater to benefit the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF). A colorful crowd for the Dream Experience held bags or stacks of Neil’s books, some toting small rolling suitcases filled with massive Absolute Sandman collections, waiting to be signed.

As we waited, we mingled; and my neighbors were the tall and cheeky Dr. Ross of Electrical Engineering at Purdue, the sweet and self-proclaimed shy Katie Barista from Terra Haute (see photo above), as well as a few others who floated in and out of our lively conversation that ranged from the need to supply scotch in waiting lines to coffee beans from Alabama to ex-lovers scarred by Billy Joel music.

Soon it was my turn, and after I introduced myself, Neil scooped me up in a hug that lifted me off the ground! (Those of you who know me well know that I am a hugger. I hug with ferocity the people dear to me, and I value a strong hug. This was a strong hug.)

He was sweet and sincere, and he made me feel as if we were old friends reunited. We spoke quickly about our tables by designed Kwak Chulan, the fascinating (albeit frustrating) phenomenon of the ashcloud, and how grand it would be to hear Gene Wolfe read again. Cat took a photo that she promised to send (I’ll post it when I get it), and I stepped aside to give the next person their opportunity.

After meeting Tony Harris, whose beautiful Art Nouveau-style artwork illustrates Neil’s poem about Sts. Oran and Columba, In Relig Oran, on a print that we were given at the event (signed by both men), I took my seat in the front row, next to Katie Barista and Dr. Ross.

We watched as the remaining fans had items signed and posed for photographs while engaging in surreal conversations with nearby folks about vampirism, the ability of human eggs to select their sperm, and the relative sex appeal of people in different professions.

Then Neil and Cat thanked everyone and went offstage to dine, while the rest of the ticket holders filed into the theater for the “Evening With…” event that began at 7pm.

Acclaimed comic book illustrator Jim Lee graciously introduced Neil, who then began reading: some new poems and stories, and some older pieces that he hadn’t read aloud in nearly ten years. He is a master storyteller, and his words come alive when spoken by the author himself.

From the beginning, Neil was conversational on the stage and seemed to genuinely enjoy himself, more freely sporting his puckish grin as the evening went on. After a brief intermission, he returned to answer questions collected from the crowd that included: how to get a publisher’s attention, subtle rebellion against a grammar school teacher, his upcoming Dr. Who episode, and his writing process. Walking around the stage, Neil would frequently look around and make eye contact with the audience. It’s one of his gifts, this ability to make people feel included.

The event ran late, much to the delight of his fans, and after sincere thanks for attending and supporting the CBLDF, Neil made a gracious exit.

Neil secured a special place in my family’s heart when he named one of his characters in The Graveyard Book Miss Lupescu (since that is the name of the family I married into. I go by Valya Dudycz Lupescu). My children adore his books and audiobooks, and they loved the film adaptation of Coraline. We have had lively family discussions about the differences between the two media. I treasure books and films that encourage a discourse between parents and children about things like making hard choices, fear, bravery, and fairies (my daughter missed the little fairy ghost girl from the book Coraline).

This is one of the things I admire about Neil’s writing—that it can bridge generations and entertain children, parents, and grandparents. He has books that would not be of interest to kids, but there are others that appeal to both. Certainly adults can appreciate allusions in them that may be lost on children, and kids can appreciate with a childlike wonder the absolute adventure of his words.

On Sunday morning, when I told my oldest daughter about the CBLDF event and showed her photographs on my phone, she was impressed. My photo with Neil gained me points in the cool-meter of my almost seven-year-old. This is no small feat and is probably my favorite part of the Dream Experience.

“Can he come to our house someday, Mama?” she asked. “So I can meet him and show him our Coraline door?”

Maybe. I have a lot of tea.

As Neil says, “Dream dangerously.”

***  Edited to add the link to Cat’s Chicago/Stillwater photographs: ***