Día de los Muertos Closure

Here’s your word for the day: triduum. A triduum is the official term for special religious observances or festivals that take place over a three-day period (like Día de los muertos, which actually takes place between October 31 and November 2).

In honor of Día de los muertos, let’s take a look at just a few of the Mexican writers who deserve your reading time this week. And while there is literature on this list dating to before the Spaniards showed their faces in Central America, the arrival of the Spanish language blended into Mexican storytelling as seamlessly as Spanish religion blended into indigenous tradition to create Día de los muertos itself.

The poeta: Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz was born in 1651, in Nepantla de Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, a town that now bears her name in her honor. She was the illegitimate daughter of a criolla woman and a captain in the Spanish army. She learned how to read and write by the age of three, could keep accounts by the age of five, wrote her first poem at the age of eight, and was teaching Latin by the age of thirteen. At the age of sixteen, she got her mother’s permission to disguise herself as a male and attempt to attend university in Mexico City; although she was found out, she continued her studies in private. Abruptly, at the age of twenty—after five years of living at court as the Vicereine’s protégée—she became a Heironymite nun. Her poetry formed the base of both Mexican literature and Golden Age Spanish literature, but after writing a letter to defend women’s right to education, she was condemned by the archbishop and forced to undergo penance for her “wayward” practices, including writing, reading, and scientific study. Various collections of her poetry and letters now exist.

The Nobel Prize for Literature winner: Octavio Paz was born in Mexico City in 1914, in the midst of the Mexican Revolution. His grandfather was a liberally-minded novelist and publisher, so Paz had access to literature from an early age. He discovered the European poets of the 1920s, and at the age of seventeen published his first book of poems. Two years later he published another book of poems, and in 1932 started a literary review magazine. In 1937 he left law school to teach, and continued to write. He traveled extensively, taught at Harvard, and won numerous prizes for his poetry. He was awarded the 1990 Nobel Prize for Literature, the only Mexican writer to win the prize to date.

The love story writer: Laura Esquivel was born in Mexico City in 1950. Her most famous novel, Como agua para chocolate (Like Water for Chocolate), is set during the Mexican Revolution and is built around magical realism and an episode in her own family history. The book was adapted into a movie in 1992, and more than twenty years later is still the 8th highest-grossing foreign film in the United States. Her newest novel, released in 2006, is Malinche, a retelling of the near-legend of the woman who served as Cortez’s interpreter and mistress.

The autobiógrafo: Francisco Jiménez was born in Tlaquepaque, and was moved to the United States at an early age. Cajas de carton (The Circuit), his first autobiography, focused on his elementary years as the child of migrant workers in the United States: his struggles with the language barrier, changing schools every few months, and the reality of life in the migrant camps. Senderos fronterizos (Breaking Through), his second autobiography, begins when he is fourteen years old and is deported from California. The family struggles to remain together while facing extreme poverty and the prejudice of the late 50s and early 60s. His third autobiography, Más allá de mí (Reaching Out), focuses on his efforts to continue his education and earn a college degree. Jiménez received his master’s and doctorate from Columbia University, and is now the chairman of the Modern Language and Literature department at Santa Clara University.


The Shannon & Elm offices will be closed from Thursday, October 30th through Monday, November 3rd in observation of Día de los muertos. While our offices are closed, we may not respond to inquiries, but please follow us on Twitter and Facebook to receive any news or updates.

Do You Accept Our Challenge?

“So,” you might be saying, “I am dying to submit some novels to Shannon & Elm, but I just can’t find the time to write lately.”

Or you might be thinking to yourself, “Boy, October sure was fun, but November is coming up, and I want to do something memorable.”

Or maybe your little brother just told you he can write a better chapter in an hour than you can write in a week, and you want to prove him wrong.

Or maybe you are a nonstop writing fiend, and you just want a rockin’ awesome certificate to hang up on your wall.

News flash: You can do all these things and more with NaNoWriMo.

What is NaNoWriMo, you ask? And how in the world does one pronounce that word? (It is pronounced / næ no ‘raɪ moʊ /.)

Here, we’ll link you: http://nanowrimo.org/

This is not a shameless plug, since NaNoWriMo is a nonprofit dedicated to helping writers become more awesome (well, and also to the spirit of rollicking competition). This distinguished title stands for National Novel Writing Month, and, much as the title suggests, the goal is to write a novel (50,000 words or more) in exactly one month. This works out to a minimum of 1,667 words a day, which starts out as a fairly manageable concept, but quickly morphs into something requiring great mounds of dedication and willpower. Still, if that word count seems too easy for you, there are groups within NaNo that can take you a little further: the 100K group, or the 50K in 5 Days challenge (egads!).

You can keep track of your progress, challenge your friends, distract and enlighten yourself on the forums, get writing tips galore, find some plot ninjas, and meet many other writers in your region for activities and write-ins. Many regions host a kickoff writing session on Halloween at midnight, so you can start the month with your first sugar-fueled 1,667 words already on the page.

And NaNo is not over once you have your rockin’ awesome certificate of completion: December is revisions month, and you can also participate in Camp NaNoWriMo, 30 Covers 30 Days, and other events throughout the year that keep you writing and help you finish what you have written. The community support is huge.

And lest you think this article might be entirely un-S&E-related, there are numerous forums which could be of great help to you regardless of the genre or subgenre you happen to be writing: the Literary Fiction forum, the Historical Fiction forum, the Mainstream & Realistic Fiction forum, the Satire, Humor, and Parody forum, and — of course — the Other Genres forum.

We, your fearless editors, have a terrible confession to make: we have not yet won a NaNoWriMo certificate of completion. But we will be trying again this year, and will do so every year until we can wallpaper our office with the things. And then we’ll just keep on writing.

Challenge yourself. Believe in your writing.

As the NaNoWriMo tagline states, “The world needs your novel.”

What are you writing this November?

Spotlight: Dervishes

Dervishes_front cover

November marks the one-year anniversary of the publication of Neal Starkman’s Dervishes, and we are more excited than ever to give you a sneak peek of it.

Dervishes is the story of physicist Carolyn Anderson, who moved on a whim to New York City after being let go from her job. Too young to have a midlife crisis and too old for teenage angst, Carolyn begins a diary in an attempt to diagnose her mental state…

Starkman wrote the book because he “wanted to explore individuality, specifically from the point of view of a woman undergoing a change from the heterosexual world to the homosexual world. I know something about that (secondhand, of course), and I also know something about the academic world. So it made sense to portray an academic making the transition and coping with the attendant pressures.”

Here’s a peek into Dervishes:

Masturbation turned me into a New Yorker. Or talking about it did. So my career is being sacrificed on the altar of departmental tightwadness. Okay. A slash to my academic innards, a cut to my prime. Five, six years ago, I would have been anxious. Today, I don’t have anxiety. I have angst. Just like all those existentially morose New Yorkers you read about. It’s like the flu or measles, with raging introspection instead of fever and tics instead of spots. My God, I write this, and my pen skips along the page as if eluding some phantom pen-rapist. Why is this so difficult?

All right, Carolyn, it’s time to control these notes. Diarizing is the closest good Minnesota girls are supposed to come to therapy, after all, and while self-examination still isn’t acceptable by family standards, Diary, it will have to do.

Hm. Is the diary an entity to be addressed, or rather my own private vehicle to inner peace and oneness? Vaguely philosophical, Carolyn. If I’d majored in philosophy—or maybe English literature—instead of physics, then I could say that thought was, oh, Descartesian. Or is it Cartesian? Maybe it’s Descartesian only before sundown.

Okay, cut the bad jokes; this is serious stuff. My lover watches the Seattle something-or-others play—yes, it must be football, they’re wearing helmets. The helmets let Stephanie enjoy the game without receiving continual visual reminders that only men play football on TV. It would never work with basketball or baseball. It’s mystifying how she can appreciate what to me is an interminable series of time-rationed melees, but, Diary, Steph would probably find you mystifying as well. We’re such compatible lovers that way. Tolerating our incompatibilities, that is. Ah, a maxim: “Compatibility is the toleration of incompatibilities.” This diarizing is powerful stuff. Reader’s Digest power.

You can read other excerpts here—and then head over to Starkman’s page to learn more about the author.

And, of course, Dervishes is for sale on Amazon or in the Zharmae bookstore, just a few clicks away.

Discover a New Book or Pick Up an Old Favorite, and Celebrate Columbus Day With Zharmae This Year

The Zharmae Publishing Press will be closing our office doors on Monday, October 13th to celebrate the Columbus Day holiday. While our offices are closed and we may not respond to inquiries, please don’t let that stop you from following us on Twitter and Facebook to receive any news and company updates.

Granted, it’s not very practical these days to hop on a ship and take sail for undiscovered lands, but that shouldn’t stop you from uncovering new territory this Columbus Day. Take a cue from the crew here at Zharmae, and enjoy the time off to do a bit of reading, dive into a brand new adventure, and invest in a little between-the-pages exploration wherever you might be.

There’s a good chance you can catch an informative Columbus documentary on television nestled in between episodes of duck hunting and pawn shop shows, or even track down interesting articles online, but we recommend stepping away from technology and giving a good book some love instead. Browse through your local library’s history section, and you’re bound to dig up a rich biography of the explorer, why we celebrate Columbus Day, and more facts than you could ever need to know about the discovery of America. Not wanting cut-and-dry dates and details? Here are a few interesting fiction and nonfiction titles suggested by our staff!


Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus, by Orson Scott Card

Card interweaves a compelling portrait of Christopher Columbus with the story of a future scientist who believes she can alter human history from a tragedy of bloodshed and brutality to a world filled with hope and healing.

1491, by Charles C. Mann

In this groundbreaking work of science, history, and archaeology, Charles C. Mann radically alters our understanding of the Americas before the arrival of Columbus in 1492.

The Columbus Affair, by Steve Berry

A family’s secret, a ruthless fanatic, and a covert arm of the American government—all are linked by a single puzzling possibility: What if everything we know about the discovery of America was a lie? What if that lie was designed to hide the secret of why Columbus sailed in 1492? And what if that 500-year-old secret could violently reshape the modern political world?


Like we said, while practical exploration might not be a possibility, there’s plenty of prose paradise out there just waiting to be discovered. Do a little searching, uncover something new, and enjoy the Columbus Day holiday this year!

6 Tips for Finishing Your First Book

Getting your book published might not be the most difficult part of the writing process. Usually, having the motivation and the dedication to finish your first book is the real challenge. Here are a couple of tips to keep in mind as you are struggling to finish your book. We hope these tips will encourage you to continue, no matter how difficult it may be.

1. Write, write, write.

Don’t be discouraged if you feel like what you are writing isn’t at its finest quite yet. Writing is a skill that cannot be learned overnight. It takes a lot of writing and, eventually, the right words will come. The key is to stay focused and stay motivated to continue to write even when it feels like there is nothing more to be said. Revision and editing come later; the first step is getting the words on the page.

2. When you feel like giving up, don’t.

And when you feel like giving up (after you feel like you have nothing else to write), keep writing. Do not give up, especially if you have committed to writing a book. As writers, we all have good days and bad days. The key is pushing through the frustrating, discouraging days with more reading and more writing.

3. Celebrate little accomplishments.

Take the time to celebrate the little accomplishments you’ve made in your book. Celebrate with your favorite bottle of wine after finishing a chapter. Celebrate with a cup of tea after thinking of the perfect word. Give yourself the credit you deserve for creating such a lovely character. It’s the everyday accomplishments that make it more possible for you to finish your book.

4. Give yourself deadlines.

If you are having trouble with time management, give yourself something to finish every day. Whether it is committing to writing a certain number of words each day, or giving yourself a certain amount of time to do research, make sure to assign something to accomplish. There is nothing worse than feeling like you have wasted time in your writing process.

5. Embrace failure.

And, there are certain days where you won’t get anything done, where the words aren’t flowing—days you aren’t inspired and moments that are completely discouraging. You need to give yourself some grace in these times. Take a break, go for a walk, or do something you love outside of the piece you are working on. Don’t see this as a failure, but embrace those times when you aren’t completely successful. Sleep on it and come back to it the next day, with a completely fresh start.

6. Keep an online presence.

This tip goes toward getting your first book published once it’s done. In this day and age, it is important to keep some kind of online presence in order to gain credibility in the publishing world. Plus, if you are keeping a blog, the extra writing will improve your skill and give you an opportunity to produce a readership before your book is even published. Building a platform in this way is something that publishers look for; some publishers won’t even consider new authors who don’t already have an online following. It doesn’t have to be something you spend a lot of time doing. Just take an hour out of each day to write a short blog post. You can never write too much!

Dictionaries Out of Order

DOOO front jpg

Shannon & Elm is excited to offer you a sneak peek into Dictionaries Out of Order, a book of short stories by David Michael Slater. The cover art is thanks to the talented Eleanor Bennett.

Dictionaries Out of Order’s stories, which intersect at Portland’s “City of Books,” range from the silly to the sublime, veering expertly from philosophy to farce. At its heart, the book is a love letter to the awesome and mysterious power of words.

Slater wrote the collection of stories because “these pieces reflect the way I see the world: as endlessly fascinating, frightening—and funny. They also reflect my obsession with books and words.”

Here’s a sneak peek into Dictionaries, from the story “Gulbakov”:

The autumn rain came from all directions as the winds whipped and whirled and howled. Mud was flung against the sides of the sorry little shack even as the filthy smears it left were washed away. Inside, under the faltering light from a sputtering oil lamp, Gulbakov stared at the faded gray keys on his typewriter. Suddenly, though unsteadily, he got to his feet, liberated a page from the machine, then set it on the pile of the day’s work. He was done. The writer regarded his indifferent device with an enigmatic eye for a long moment. Finally, he winked at it and whispered, “Yes, yes indeed.”

Gulbakov rolled his head around his neck before gathering up the pages. A glance over his shoulder confirmed that Tamara was still sleeping against the wall on their rickety cot. It was three in the morning.

Out into the downpour he went—a hunched figure shambling though the weeds. The rotting outhouse door hinged open, and then the pages that had been protected from the rain were flung into the filthy hole.

“Straight to press,” Gulbakov whispered into the dark.

He turned and headed back into the house where he sat down clumsily on the cot next to his wife. He closed his eyes. He trembled. Tamara sat up behind her husband. Her thumbs turned tiny circles at his temples. Her breasts, pressing through her threadbare nightgown, rested lightly on his back. Gulbakov lowered his head, shuddered, and sighed.

You can read further excerpts here—and then head over to Slater’s page to learn more about the author.

Are you as excited as we are? You’re in luck: Dictionaries Out of Order is now available for purchase on Amazon or in the Zharmae bookstore.

The Fundamentals of Creative Nonfiction Writing, Part 1: What It Should Do

You may know what creative nonfiction is or what it consists of, but we would like to talk about what creative nonfiction should do. We hope that these tips will help you along in your process of understanding and writing your next creative nonfiction piece.

According to a definition of creative nonfiction we found through the UVM Writing Center, creative nonfiction should:

(1) include accurate and well-researched information, (2) hold the interest of the reader, and (3) potentially blur the realms of fact and fiction in a pleasing, literary style (while remaining grounded in fact).

Let’s take a closer look at these three purposes of creative nonfiction:

 1. “Include accurate and well-researched information”

In any type of writing, whether nonfiction, fiction, memoir, fantasy, or so on, you have to know your stuff. And especially when it comes to nonfiction writing, research is the first step in a long process. You should do so much research about the subject you are writing about that you are almost sick of it by the end of your project. The topic should become second nature to you. You are now the expert of this subject; tell this story like no else can or ever has.

2. “Hold the interest of the reader”

Nonfiction should not be boring. If you research a topic and write about it plainly, you have not written a creative nonfiction piece. This goes back to the basics of writing; we need to know our audiences. If you are writing to those who are interested in sustainable living, do you research and know what your readers are looking for. You should know what is already written about in your field. Be creative with it.

3. “Blur the realms of fact and fiction in a pleasing literary style (while remaining grounded in fact)”

This may be the most difficult part of writing creative nonfiction. We can all research until our hair falls out, we can all be passionate about a specific subject, and we can all know our audience inside and out. But how do we successfully stay grounded in fact while dabbling in fiction for literary style?

A successful creative nonfiction novel is able to stick to the facts, while creating an almost dramatic narrative through scene and story. There is still an attempt to build characters, paint the scenery, and build conflict. Real life is laced with conflict. For example, what are some of the complications with building a house, or living in an “eco-friendly” home? What are some of the ups and downs of dating, religion, or politics?

The key is still structuring your nonfiction writing around the prose of narrative. We always want to read stories that move up and down, build relationships, and have conflict. The truth is, no matter what you are writing, you can never get away from the story.

In summary, know your subject better than anyone else out there, understand your readers, and make sure you’re writing a compelling story—and your creative nonfiction will do all that it’s meant to do. Good luck!