15.11.08

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About My Novels

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Redux: A Literary Journal (editor)

Email: lesliepietrzyk AT gmail DOT com

[information updated, February 2015]

7.11.08

BRIEF BIO

Leslie Pietrzyk is the author of two novels, Pears on a Willow Tree (Avon Books) and A Year and a Day (William Morrow). Her collection of unconventionally-linked short fiction, This Angel on My Chest, won the Drue Heinz Literature Prize and is forthcoming from University of Pittsburgh Press in the fall of 2015.  

Her short fiction and essays have appeared in more than fifty journals and magazines, including The Iowa Review, New England Review, Washington Post Magazine, The Sun, Gettysburg Review, River Styx, TriQuarterly, and Shenandoah. She has received fellowships from the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, the Sewanee Writers' Conference, Virginia Center for Creative Arts, Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for Arts, and the Hambidge Center. She teaches in the graduate writing program at Johns Hopkins in Washington, DC, and is a member of the core faculty at the low-residency MFA program at Converse College.  She lives in Alexandria, Virginia. (See links to the right for information on additional publications and awards.)

Email address: lesliepietrzyk AT gmail DOT com

Literary blog: Work in Progress
Literary journal: Redux (founder/editor)
Facebook author page.
Twitter: @lesliepwriter


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ABOUT MY NOVELS


Pears on a Willow Tree (Avon Books)
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Pears on a Willow Tree is a multigenerational roadmap of love and hate, distance and closeness, and the lure of roots that both bind and sustain us all.

The Marchewka women are inseparable. They relish the joys of family gatherings; from preparing traditional holiday meals to organizing a wedding in which each of them is given a specific task -- whether it's sewing the bridal gown or preserving pickles as a gift to the newlyweds. Bound together by recipes, reminiscences and tangled relationships, these women are the foundation of a dignified, compassionate family--one that has learned to survive the hardships of emigration and assimilation in twentieth-century America.

But as the century evolves, so does each succeeding generation. As the older women keep a tight hold on the family traditions passed from mother to daughter, the younger women are dealing with more modern problems, wounds not easily healed by the advice of a local priest or a kind word from mother.

Amy is separated by four generations from her great-grandmother Rose, who emigrated from Poland. Rose's daughter Helen adjusted to the family's new home in a way her mother never could, while at the same time accepting the importance of Old Country ways. But Helen's daughter Ginger finds herself suffocating within the close-knit family, the first Marchewka woman to leave Detroit for the adventure of life beyond the reach of her mother and grandmother.

It's in the American West that Ginger raises her daughter Amy, uprooted from the safety of kitchens perfumed by the aroma of freshly baked poppy seed cake and pierogi made by hand by generations of women. But Amy is about to realize that there may be room in her heart for both the Old World and the New.

Read more here: http://www.lesliepietrzyk.com/POAWTRevised.htm


A Year and a Day (William Morrow)
Buy





Fifteen-year-old Alice dreams of her first kiss, has sleepovers, makes prank calls, auditions for "Our Town," and tries to pass high school biology. It's 1975, and at first look, her life would seem to be normal and unexceptional. But in the world that Leslie Pietrzyk paints, every moment she chronicles is revealed through the kaleidoscope of loss, stained by the fact that Alice's mother, without warning, without apology, explanation, or note, deliberately parks her car onto the railroad tracks, into the path of an oncoming train.

In the emotional year that follows, Alice and her older brother find themselves in the care of their great aunt, forced to cope and move forward after their catastrophic loss. Lonely and confused, Alice absorbs herself in her mother Annette's familiar rituals, trying to recapture their connection -- only to be stunned by the sound of her mother's voice speaking to her clear as day as she flips Sunday morning pancakes. Driven to understand who her mother was, Alice distances herself from her girlfriends and brother as she engages in "conversations" with Annette. As she works through her grief, Alice slowly begins to see Annette as an individual, separate from simply "my mother" -- and ultimately embraces the bittersweet knowledge that the lives to which we are most intimately connected often remain the most mysterious of all.

Taking its title from the pop-psychology idea that it should only take a year to get over the death of a loved one, A Year and a Day is an intense and deeply affecting portrait of how the human heart counters tragedy and can spin hard won triumph out of the deepest despair. A redemptive, often humorous meditation on growing up and growing into oneself, this is an intimate and heart warming novel to curl up with and to savor.

UPCOMING EVENTS

~2015~




April 10, 2015
AWP Reading
Sponsored by The Sun Magazine
Open to the public
Minneapolis, MN

Details to be announced.


***

Class
Wednesday, January 21, 1 – 3:30 p.m.
Right Brain Writing
Politics and Prose, Washington, DC

Explore your creative side at this afternoon of guided writing exercises designed to get your subconscious flowing.  No writing experience necessary!  This is a great class for beginners and also for those fiction writers and/or memoirists with more experience who might be stuck in their current project, looking for a jolt of inspiration.  The goal is to have fun in a supportive, nurturing environment and to go home with several promising pieces to work on further.  Please bring lots of paper and pen/pencil or a fully charged computer. For more information.


***

January 1 – January 10, 2015
Converse College Low-Residency MFA
Public reading: Monday, January 5, 2015
8PM
Spartanburg Marriott, Conference Center
Panel, moderator: Thursday, January 8, 2015
“Social Media for Writers”
7PM
Spartanburg Public Library | Sponsored by Hub City Books.
Join us for a casual, talk-show format panel on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads and more with these featured panelists:
Marybeth Whalen, Charlotte novelist and co-founder of She Reads.
Anna Sutton, marketing assistant at John Blair, Publisher.
Marlanda Dekine of Spoken Word Spartanburg.
Meg ReidHub City Writers Project Assistant Director.

Moderator: novelist and blogger Leslie Pietrzyk, a member of the Converse MFA faculty.

More information.




*** 
See previous events after the jump.


READ MY WORK ONLINE

From "I Am the Widow," short fiction, r.kv.r.y.*


"Just like at any movie or TV funeral, his casket gets put up front, set under specially focused lighting, parenthesized by yardstick-high sprays of white gladiolus. Plump velvet kneeler in front of him, velvet curtains behind. Top half of the box open, so we can see his face. If we want to see him dead, that is, if we want to look right at death. There are plenty ducking their heads, twisting necks around and staring up high into the ceiling or deep down through the carpeted floor. Not me. Right off, I grab hold of his hand, entwine my fingers around his, not because that feels so great but because it unnerves the people circling me. Hell yeah. I’m grabbing a dead man’s hand. I’m grabbing my dead husband’s hand. Maybe I won’t let go. Maybe I’m going crazy."
*Included in the forthcoming story collection, THIS ANGEL ON MY CHEST.
*** 


From Hobart, “What I Could Buy,” a short story:*

“What I could buy with the insurance money they gave me when you died: “One Ferrari, red or black, assuming V-8 instead of V-12, assuming premium gas, assuming insurance, assuming no major breakdowns or repairs, assuming no super-long driving trips, assuming street parking, assuming ironic fuzzy dice to dangle off rear view mirror.  Or: “Four separate world cruises, assuming 107 days at sea, assuming Queen Mary 2 on the Cunard Line, assuming supplement for a single room, assuming balcony, assuming one glass of wine per night, assuming no more than twelve land excursions as arranged by the cruise ship personnel, assuming winning at the casino, assuming internet access, assuming laundry service.   Or: …”
*Included in the forthcoming story collection, THIS ANGEL ON MY CHEST.
*** 



From "Acquiescence," flash fiction published in Shenandoah:*



“The body flew on a different plane, arriving in Detroit two days ago, at 7:37AM.  She tracked its arrival online.  Not a soldier or a famous politician, just her husband, age thirty, suddenly dead.
*Included in the forthcoming story collection, THIS ANGEL ON MY CHEST.

***

“Ten Things,” short story, The Sun magazine:*

"He once compared you to an avocado. He was never good at saying what he meant in fancy ways. (You had a boyfriend in college who dedicated poems to you, one of which won a contest in the student literary magazine, but that boyfriend never compared you to anything as simple and real as an avocado.)"
*Included in the forthcoming story collection, THIS ANGEL ON MY CHEST.
***

"Death Notice," essay, The Washington Post Sunday Magazine:

"No one likes to hear about such a loss. Euphemisms help: a loss. Passed on. I refuse those words because they're soft, hiding the reality that this could happen to you; someone you love could drop dead one Sunday morning while eating cornflakes. (Or that someone could be you.)"

***



From “Ghost, 1899”, Camera Obscura:





            You stand at the edge of the river.
You’re not sure how it happened. It could have been that rigid knot growing inside your chest that you ignored. It could have been staring blankly into emptiness or shooting deep into darkness.  It could have been stepping into the street at the wrong moment when the streetcar rattled by. It could have been bad drink at the hotel, or too many, and wandering here, to the edge of the river, and walking forward into the splash, the cold, the black. It could have been your baby. It could have been anything. When you were alive, you thought these details of dying would matter, and now you discover that they don’t. You’re dead. You must now find a way to believe that.




***


From The Crab Orchard Review, PDF or link to archive


“The Chicago Brother”

Chicago, 1899
Sitting on the cold stoop as snow flurried around him, Jozef felt as useless as a third boot.   Upstairs, his wife was huddled deep in Ludwika’s bed, in the front room where the window was.  When any of them were sick, that’s where they lay to get better or to die:  little Janka with the fever was the last one, and she had passed on after a long, terrible week; mass was being said at St. Casimir’s in two Sundays.  Now his wife, Krystyna—not sick, but with a baby that had been coming for too many hours, so it was her turn in Ludwika’s bed, her turn to lie in the front room. 

 
He had resisted, wanting her to stay in the back bedroom; yes, it was on the airshaft, dark and dank, crowded with the bedding for the little girls, but wasn’t it better for Krystyna to be in a place she knew—the faded wallpaper with the roses, the cracks in the ceiling zigzagging like summer lightning?—“she’ll be fine back here,” he had said, but the women ignored him, lifting Krystyna, pulling her, prodding her into the front, into the bed where people died.  How Ludwika could sleep with those ghosts, but she did. 
***

“The Lady of the House," a novel excerpt published in The Drum Literary Magazine

[NOTE: The Drum is an audio journal, which means that I’ll be reading this chapter. There is a slight fee to access it. You may listen to it on your computer or as a download. The chapter is about 45 minutes long.]


“Lucy sat at the breakfast table with her sister, Nettie, lingering over a pot of tea and toast with marmalade. Patches of wintery sunlight edged through the large windows that overlooked the garden, now layered with several inches of new snow. Dozens of sparrows twittered and fluttered in the holly bush, rising up then circling back to the branches again and again, as if they couldn’t decide what to do and planned to use the whole day to settle on their course of action. The toast was burned, and, rudely, Nettie used her knife to scrape a shower of blackened crumbs onto a small plate. Lucy was the married sister, though Nettie was two years older. After their father had suddenly passed away, their mother had panicked, needing to feel that something—anything!—was settled and in place, so it seemed to make sense for Lucy to get married and fully established in society since she was the prettier of the two. There had been uncomfortable moments, but no one questioned the decision.”


  ***
From “Sophomore Outing,” a live storytelling event in Washington, DC, on May 5, 2011. Hosted by Story League. This is a YouTube video.*

*Included in the forthcoming story collection, THIS ANGEL ON MY CHEST.


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Redux: A Literary Journal ~ Work Worth a Second Run (editor)
Reading Guide, A Year and a Day
An essay about writing Pears on a Willow Tree and the first chapter (scroll down)

For fun: my adventures learning how to can, The Washington Post:

"When novelist Leslie Pietrzyk told me that home canning is one of the 50 things she wants to do before she dies, I had to wonder what else is on the list. What's so exciting about putting up a couple jars of peaches?"


Updated: February 2015


PHOTOGRAPH

Leslie Pietrzyk
photo by Keith Barraclough