Thursday, October 24, 2013

End of the line - beginning of a new chapter


Pen Parentis has a new website - check us out at !!

You will find exciting stuff like:
this blog!

from now on, our blog posts will appear directly on our website. You can still sign up for an RSS feed or you can bookmark the site and just notice when the homepage alerts you to new content.

Thanks for being so great about reading all our social media in four different locations - the new website will pull them all together--now if only someone would do that for my laundry, soccer practice, violin lessons, my newest chapter, the book I'm editing for a client, publicity for the December Salon, and the rest of my crazy life...!

c'mon over to the new Pen Parentis website.

I think you'll like it.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

On Family-Friendly Fundraisers

There is a special sort of anxiousness that accompanies adult events to which kids are welcome. First you go all-out making sure there is something for the kids to do (we invited the unparalleled Church Street School for Music and Art to do an all-ages bookmaking craft) then you have to make sure the adults will be amply entertained (no worries, we are great at that part!) Then you make sure there is enough wine and that the food will be appropriate for all. (We did a rather carnivorous spread - sorry vegans.) And finally, you cross your fingers, pray the weather holds, and hope it will be fun.

All while knowing that a kid's idea of fun is often very different from yours.

I recall growing up and feeling so privileged when I was allowed to attend an adult-event. A wedding reception. A concert. As a kid, I worried about looking babyish and hoped that the adults didn't find me annoying. I did my best to sit still and took my cue from people older than me. And if I ran around amid the legs of the adults at the end of the night, well, it was only because by then it was hours past my bedtime and I had been fed cake because "the kids are looking sleepy: some sugar should give them a second wind!"

I don't think we needed to worry. At all.

Our rooftop event was well planned and very well received. The kids gathered around the art table as they arrived, and the good folks at Church Street School helped them get to know each other.

Meanwhile, the adults mingled over wine. As the long September rays painted skyscrapers in hues of orange and peach sherbet, a Brazilian jazz guitarist who has played Carnegie Hall (and loves kids!) got up on the stage. His fingers danced across the frets and Hector Vila Lobos tangled across our conversations. Some children sat to listen. Most spun and danced and ran. The sun set further.

Wine was refilled, and the kids grew frenzied. By the time our new curator, Brian Gresko, took the stage to read a hilarious and poignant essay about the changing nature of New York and parenthood, there were two groups in the audience: the adults leaning forward to listen and the packs of thrilled kids streaking madly across the roof from one end to the next.

Thing is: both groups were having fun. Our Fellow of a few years past, Frank Haberle, said some lovely words about the community that Pen Parentis builds and then, as fleets of kids wildly rushed the stage, then off again, he read a great short story--to wild applause, both for the prose and for the Olympic feat of maintaining focus to deliver the piece.

It was such a great night - everyone had fun: the parents, the kids, those of us who had the hilarity of trying to present to a very mobile audience -- and I think more than any other fundraiser I have attended in the past year, ours was purely a celebration of the two organizations' work - the great young musicians that Concert Artist Guild mentors and the amazing community that Pen Parentis, Ltd, is striving to build. Neither executive director showed a pie chart or talked about budgets or needs. We were too busy laughing at the way my daughter decided to upstage me by changing her shoes in the middle of my welcome speech. It was life. It was real. It was hilarious - the whole night - it was delightful and mad and I think it really embodied how honestly difficult it is to balance a serious life in the arts with the tugs and hugs that children demand and require.  But we did it. We threw a family-friendly fundraiser. We did it with the generosity of Church Street School, the graciousness of our host and Board Member Allison Scollar, we did it with a small friendly dog and copious tiny hamburgers and three shades of wine. With live jazz and juice boxes. With tag and a barefoot dance party. And your generous donations. We did it. We threw a big party and when it was done, each of our organizations were more than a thousand dollars richer. And that was fantastic, and we thank everyone who came out to support us - and those who just spread the word, or gave online, we salute you, too!

In the end, it was the little happy faces thanking us for including them in their grown-up party that showed us our true riches.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Sarah Gerkensmeyer to John Jodzio, one Pen Parentis Fellow to another

Today is the day of the changeover - we give a $1000 check to a new Pen Parentis Fellow at the season opener for our Salons. Ten seasons - it's astonishing. We are so thrilled and gratified at the wonderful response that we get from our audiences.  Our 2013-2014 Writing Fellow is John Jodzio, who flew in from Minnesota to read for us.  On the occasion of John's inauguration into our hall of Fellows, last year's Fellow, Sarah Gerkensmeyer, wrote him a letter. I reproduce it here for you...


Dear John,

Congratulations on being selected as the 2013-2014 Pen Parentis Fellow!  I wish I could be there at the first salon of the season to welcome you to the family in person.  This letter will have to do.  I thought it would be most helpful for me to take a practical approach and let you know exactly how I have spent my $1,000 award.  While I hope the following budget breakdown is helpful for you, I also apologize because this is a selfish act on my part—as these notes will help me think through some of the things I am so good at avoiding (e.g. keeping close track of expenditures for tax purposes).

$457.98………………………travel to promote my new book, attend residencies, etc. (including  
                                                 airfare, lodging, food)
$50.27……………………….several pats-on-the-back of confidence and motivation
$29.34……………………….an astounding sense of community
$49.58………………………..a few late-night delirious moments of: “I am not a strange alien.  I  
                                                 am not completely in this on my own.”
$138.92………………………my first REAL pair of leather boots, for giving readings and talks,
                                                 feeling author-y, etc.
$34.26………………………..the reassurance that this talk of balancing parenting and writing is
                                                 not taboo or strange or petty or inconsequential;  
$99.99………………………..access to a built-in audience of folks who love literature (and
                                                 swanky hangout spots)
$60.88……………………….about two dozen doses of good humor, perspective, and humility
$56.74……………………….networking—I MET KELLY LINK
$22.05……………………….an entire year of stellar publicity for my work
$priceless……………………the amazing, invigorating, bold, inventive, spectacular,
                                                 kind, and imaginative work that Pen Parentis does to support the
 literary arts, and to invite someone like little old me into this wild,   
 wonderful world

I hope all of that adds up correctly, John.  But I’m a fiction writer, not a mathematician.  And even if the figures are slightly off, I hope this budget is enough to show you how amazing the honor of being a Pen Parentis Fellow truly is.  You are in for one beautiful year (and beyond).  So sharpen those pencils and wipe the smudges off the computer screen and get ready to spend big.

Best, Sarah Gerkensmeyer


You can buy Sarah's book on Amazon through this link: 

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Downtown Literary Salon Turns 10

We are very excited to share this terrific article from Downtown Express:

Downtown Literary Salon Turns 10

please send it around to your friends!

Our September Salon marks the opening of our Tenth Season of programming. Join us Tuesday, September 10th at Andaz Wall Street at 7pm!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Welcome Brian Gresko!

We are delighted to welcome a new curator to the Pen Parentis Literary Salons!

Brian Gresko is the editor of the anthology When I First Held You: 22 Critically Acclaimed Writers on Fatherhood, forthcoming from Berkley Books/Penguin on Father's Day, 2014. He has contributed to The Huffington Post, and written about books and culture for Salon,, The Daily Beast, The Paris Review Daily, The LA Review of Books, The Rumpus, and numerous other publications. Brian keeps a daily column on parenting and gender politics for Babble, where he often writes about balancing his writing life with caring for his son. In print, Brian's work has appeared in Glimmer Train Stories and Slice Literary Magazine. He received his MFA in Creative Writing from The New School, and studied film and literary theory at Oberlin College. Please visit his website for links and more information.

Brian will join us in September as we bid a fond farewell to our fantastic first curator, Arlaina Tibensky – who will still attend Salons as a regular, whenever she can fit it into her busy schedule. We are so honored to have Brian join our ranks!

So if you are an author with kids – or know an author who is also a parent who writes fiction that knocks your socks off, please email Brian at - now booking Spring 2014!

Snazzy Brian.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Guest Blog - On a Book Tour with a Teen

Hello everyone! We are excited to welcome Brooklynite writer and filmmaker Peter von Ziegesar who wrote his entry while on a recent Reading Tour to Kansas City with his kids. Nostalgic...informative...take it away Peter: 

July 7-14th

This week I fly to Kansas City to do a reading of my book The Looking Glass Brother: A Memoir (St. Martin’s Press, June, 2013) at the Boulevard Brewing Company. Why a brewery? Because it has a beautiful space that overlooks downtown Kansas City. I have a reasonable expectation of a large turnout, since The Kansas City Star has run a full-page article written by Donna Seaman of Booklist. Also, a children’s bookstore called The Reading Reptile has agreed to sell my books there. This is going to be a typical exuberant, cobbled-together Kansas City event. My only fear is a stampede when word gets out to my fellow Kansas City Art Institute graduates that free beer is going to be served!

I have a lot of good memories of Kansas City. Here is where I more or less came of age (at 35 or so), where I first started writing – for The Kansas City Star – where I went to art school, and where I met my wife, Hali. We stay with an old college friend, Kathy Marchant. Kathy is an artist, contractor, restaurateur, beekeeper, gardener and urban developer. The block of Madison Street in which she lives with Michael now contains most of my oldest friends. Called Billy Goat Hill, it’s an ancient shabby brownstone neighborhood overlooking downtown, just a walk bridge over I-80 from the somewhat scary concrete-slab FBI headquarters and near a life-sized plastic statue of a Hereford steer on a tall column whose testicles, liver and spleen light up from within, thanks to the miracle of the incandescent bulb. 

Years ago, Kathy started The Bluebird CafĂ© on the nearby corner of 17th and Summit, and now the intersection is hopping with restaurants and cafes. Everyone has watched each other’s kids grow up on this block and there is a strong feeling of group child-rearing. My old friend John McDonald, who started the Boulevard Brewing Company, is next door with his wife Anne, and two kids, Piper and Jake, and we spend much of our time wallowing in his unusual elongated urban swimming pool. Down the street are Allen Winkler and his wife Leslie and their two kids, Eli and Emma, Scott and Barbara with their son Oscar, Susie and her son Nicky, and around the corner are Howard and Kirby and Adam and Noori. Several sets of grandparents have moved into the street to be near their kids and grandkids. Sometime I want to do an ethnographic study of this block from the point of view of how people move their entrances according to how they are getting along with their particular neighbors. 

I’m finding it’s good to travel with two kids as they keep each other exercised like puppies. On the flight my daughter Maya, 15, and son, Magnus, 12, watch TV serials with conjoined headphones and formed a happy, sometimes impenetrable bubble around themselves. Kansas City turns out to be a culinary tour for them. The first thing Magnus does on arrival is google the ten most expensive restaurants in Kansas City. That does worry me a bit. 

The first morning we eat bright orange eggs from Kathy’s backyard hens and amazing fruity orchard bread from a bakery located down the street. Even though Magnus is allegedly into haute cuisine, we are also on a hunt for the best mac and cheese in Kansas City. Kathy may have already won with her gluten-free version, which we devour our first night, but we try Anna’s Oven, owned by the mother of a boy who graciously agrees to play a round of tennis with Magnus in the afternoon. Anna makes mac and cheese with radiatore, pronounced not like the cast-iron heat-spreaders you find in New York apartment buildings, but ROD-i-ah-TOR-aye. Maya and I are vegetarians so we later go to Succotash, a midtown eatery that serves truly mammoth breakfasts, such as “Vegan Sink,” an indescribable scramble of lima bean hummus and succotash (limas and corn stew), roasted peppers, portabella mushrooms and home fries. Like most places in KC we wrap much of it up and take it home

Everyone in Kansas City is connected to everyone else, and the best restaurant we try is French, owned by (how shall I say this succinctly?) the husband of the stepdaughter of an old poetry teacher of mine. There Magnus indulges himself in the prix-fixe menu of steak a la Bourgogne while Maya and I gorge ourselves on salads and pasta.

On Friday night David Byrne is playing with St. Vincent at an open-air place called Grinders, owned by a fellow ex-KCAI sculpture student known only as Stretch. Stretch somehow managed to buy up half of downtown Kansas City before city real estate moguls caught on. The kids and I head over in an open-topped Swiss Army surplus vehicle owned by one of Kathy’s neighbors and arrive just in time for the show. Maya and Magnus have been complaining that they’d rather stay home and that I’m beastly old and strange, but they perk up when they get there, especially when door guards magic marker huge X’s on their hands to mark them as non-drinkers. 

This is how I remember Kansas City, hundreds of scruffy but happy cowtowners standing around in the cooling evening air under a talismanic sky, chomping on slices of pizza, sipping beer as the red neon Tension Envelope sign blinks on and off, and listening to great unconventional music and enjoying the deepening sunset. Maya and Magnus of course know the Talking Head songs and start to jump up and down in imitation of David Byrne’s stilted marching and mysterious hand motions, inspired by the brass ensemble he’s assembled. As the set breaks with “You’re on the Road to Nowhere,” we demobilize and walk home, myself proud to have been able to show the kids something of what’s great about KC. 

“Father, thou art ancient, but it was good,” is my daughter’s final verdict. David Byrne’s onstage music partner, St. Vincent, confessed that she was four-years-old when she first heard a David Byrne song in the movie, Revenge of the Nerds. Well, shoot, I was 25, but I feel like a grizzled castaway from of Game of Thrones.

The reading’s on Sunday at the brewery. On Thursday I sit down at KCUR public radio for an interview supposedly about my book, but the conversation drifts off course to the Kansas City art scene and never gets back. Ah, well, a worthy topic. The kids are still sleeping when I return to Kathy’s at noon.

On Sunday morning I go to the brewery early to set up the reading, but there’s no need; the staff has put up chairs and audio-visual and has three sturdy bartenders ready to serve beer. Kathy and Michael bring Maya and Magnus over from their house, which is only a few blocks away, and I send them downstairs to provide enigmatic hand signals to entering audience members. True to predictions the place fills up fast with an interesting mixture of Kansas City’s Bohemian-restaurant-carpenter-Art-Institute-urban pioneer-drug-culture underground, combined with scattered literati and mental health professionals. Many old friends are here. 

My book is not a confess-all, but there are some seriously gamy parts. I have had the heroin talk with my kids weeks before, so I feel able to answer questions honestly without fear of causing sudden childhood trauma, but some of my old friends are hearing about certain parts of my life for the first time. As I read from the opening chapter, I am halting at first, but look over and see Maya and Magnus listening raptly, and encouraged, I stop being nervous. Eventually my voice catches the rhythm of the words and I’m off. 

Steve Paul, my old editor at The Star, keeps the ball rolling by asking incisive questions and pulling in a few from the audience. Many people here have dealt with a schizophrenic relative – a central theme in my book – and others are just returning from a NAMI conference. The talk is brisk. Some want to hear more about Peacock Point – the faded Gilded-Age Long Island estate where I spent my summers, and others about childrearing and family life. I get a laugh quoting Mary Karr: “The definition of a dysfunctional family is a family with more than one member.” Steve seems to know exactly what he’s doing and the time never drags. We cut off exactly at the hour.

“What did you think?” I ask the kids afterwards.
Bueno, bueno,” says Maya. “The first five minutes, you messed up a few times, but it was fine. The last part was better.” 
“Oh, okay.”
“And you know that time when you stopped to tell everyone that it was a metaphorical glass ball you were talking about? Everyone already knew it was a metaphorical glass ball.”
“Got it.”
 “You do realize, Dad, that we can use some of this stuff against you,” says Magnus.
“Yeah, I know.”


Writer and filmmaker Peter von Ziegesar lives in Brooklyn with his wife and family. He started his memoir, The Looking Glass Brother, (St. Martin's Press, 2013, Picador Paperback, 2014) after his long-lost stepbrother, "Little Peter," a homeless former violin prodigy, appeared in the streets outside his Greenwich Village home just when the author and his wife were preparing to start a family. Booklist and Publisher’s Weekly gave The Looking Glass Brother starred reviews, with Donna Seaman, Senior Editor at Booklist, calling it, "a piercing, thought-provoking portrait of a many-branched American family." Kirkus Reviews praised the book as a “vivid, frequently elegiac memory piece," and added, "It’s as if characters wandered out of an Auchincloss novel to encounter Kerouac’s bunch."
 - find his book on Facebook or Amazon

Thursday, August 1, 2013

We interrupt this blog with an important Fellowship announcement!

I promised you Brooklyn's Peter von Ziegesar, and you shall have him -- next week.

This week we are delighted to announce that the winner of the 2013-2014 Pen Parentis Writing Fellowship for New Parents is JOHN JODZIO from Minneapolis, MN.  His story grabs you right up front and never lets you go - it is funny, yes, but funny in the way that real life is. You can't believe it. You refuse to believe it. And ultimately you must believe it--and then you have to laugh so you don't cry.

It's a terrific story and we are looking forward to presenting him with his $1000 check on September 10th at our Salon at the Andaz Wall Street. He will be reading alongside Liz Rosenberg and Will Allison.  Do join us at 7pm at the Andaz Wall Street in Lower Manhattan. Admission is free. Drinks are at happy hour pricing.

Can't make the Salon? Don't worry! For the first time this year, the unparalleled literary magazine Brain, Child is going to be publishing the winning story.

The stories this year were amazing. Check these two cool info-graphics to see where the entries were from and how many kids the entrants have.

CLICK HERE for the complete winners list.

And come back next week for Peter von Ziegesar's description of a book tour with his teenaged daughter to the midwest...

Monday, July 22, 2013

How to Make Money as a Writer (and feed your kids).

I'm reluctant to post this, because it is about making money. It is not about art. It will not feed your soul. (It might feed your family, however.) But here goes:

As the parent of two kids, I'm always worried about college and other extremely high-cost future ticket items (not to mention the expensive current charges like summer camp, piano lessons, soccer cleats, etc...) -- so while I write for myself, and I write literary fiction (i.e. The Stuff that Can Not Be Marketed) I am hyper-aware that at some point I would actually like to earn some money doing this writing stuff that I do.

I do not suck as a writer. At the moment, I have a musical going up this weekend in New York (I co-wrote it with a friend who is a composer and professor at Tisch School of the Arts) and I also was just informed that the St. Petersburg Review is going to be publishing a short story of mine in its next issue. But placing one story per year and having a musical off-Broadway results in an annual income of about $800. That's not enough to send a kid to plumbing school, much less to anyplace that might connect him to an air-conditioned office. And that's a darn good year. So okay, what to do?

Many writers I know who self-publish tout the benefits of self-publishing. The New Wave! The Way of the Future! Money for Authors! This may be true, but I suspect that, just as in traditional publishing, you still have to write a book that sells.

Self publishing has this going for it: the author makes much more per book than in traditional publishing. That is a fact.

So the only variable is -- how many books can you sell?

Here is a jaw-dropping article about self-publishing that my husband found. It is all about producing a book that can turn into a best seller. And what is amazing is that IT DOESN'T MATTER what the book is about, so long as it is tolerably well written (in the comments, someone wrote, "I bought your book and was going to demand a refund, but found it was reasonably worth the $5 that you charge for it." -- and that is the truth of the matter.)  Money is made from people *buying* your book - not people reading your book and loving it.

Reader expectations are low. Fifty Shades of Gray was badly written--there is a global consensus that this is a fact. But who cares? People bought it out of curiosity. And bought it. And bought it. And anything like it. And anything with a similar title. Etc. Etc. Etc.

We know this and yet we do not take advantage of it.

But this article speaks to non-fiction writers. What do they have that fiction writers don't? A built-in market. Business people go to conferences. They go to networking breakfasts. They blog. They usually have an entire floor worth of co-workers who will happily buy their book (and probably never read it). They have networks.

What fiction writers have that?

Lots of us.

Anyone who has already written a book that sold over 4,000 copies. (That's why traditional publishers beg you to have a blog, a Twitter following, and a Facebook feed--they want every single person who liked your first book to also buy your second; and then some.)

All the genre writers (lucky stiffs) have a built-in network. There are dozens of conferences to attend to mingle with others of your genre. Write mysteries? Every secretary in Manhattan would happily give your first book a try, all you have to do is get it in front of her when she has just finished the last book of the last series she was reading. Write sci-fi? There are more pro-paying markets for science-fiction short stories than almost any other genre--and they treat writers professionally. A two-week response time is considered painfully long and unconscionably rude.

But brand-new novelists interested in literary writing? Nearly all of the short-story markets are unpaid, with 6-8 week turnaround (if they are good). Advances are now usually under 10,000 and more often than not, under 5,000. And you are expected to repay the portion you fail to earn.

Are they kidding?

Nearly all of the novels published sell under 2,000 copies. And why?

Because there's this "thing" that literary writers believe. That we have to be isolated. That we should be like Thomas Pynchon, hidden away from the horrors of publicity. I know that I'm preaching to the choir - all of you at the very least had a kid, so you can't be utterly isolated 100% of the time. And our Salons obviously offer an opportunity to network with writers and readers. All great stuff.

So why not take advantage of this? Start to build a network. Get that Twitter feed going, guest-blog on other people's sites. Goodreads seems to do good networking. And there are other places to build your network of colleagues, too. Attend readings and meet people there. Go to workshops (or teach them!) strive to exchange information with everyone you meet.

It's a business. As soon as you have a following of more than 5,000--you have "a following"...and while they are not guaranteed to read your next book, there's a pretty good chance they might buy it if it has a catchy title and a nice cover.

Read that article... Here, I'll repost the link:

How To Self-Publish A Bestseller: Publishing 3.0

Next week, we have a new guest-blogger -- Peter von Ziegesar just came back from a book tour with his 15-yr old daughter in tow....eager to hear another voice on the subject of book tours with kids!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Scott Elliott guest blogs on BOOK TOURS WITH KIDS – part 3

Here is the last of a three-part guest blog by Scott Elliott, who lives and teaches in Walla Walla, Washington.  Scott is the father of two boys and two books, Coiled in the Heart and Temple Grove: A Novel.  Click here for his bio.

Okay,  Scott – We are about to hear about the one reading the boys were going to be invited to see. Do go on….

On the day leading up to the reading, we hiked down to Teddy Bear Beach, where we caught shore crabs, threw rocks, and looked at purple sea stars. Time in the sun out on the beach, and the hike back up the trail tired them out. Both of them napped briefly in the car on the way back to the house we were renting, but too briefly. In our attempts to get them to rest or nap, Jenna and I bet heavily on that the reward of getting to see daddy read that night with its added bonus of a later bedtime would give us enough leverage to get them to rest or nap. But they flipped this leverage on us and began alternately saying they did and did not want to attend the reading, sensing, in the expert way kids develop so early, that to say they didn’t want to see daddy read carried power, a sting. 

At first it did sting a little bit; I wanted them to be there at the reading’s close, to build that memory for them, to let them share in the symbolism of celebrating the years of work that go into brining a literary novel into the world and perhaps also so I could make even more exquisite the strange pleasure of switching from author to daddy in seconds, being both at the same time in the eyes of the crowd.

It wasn’t to be. As the time when we’d need to leave for the reading approached and they hit a low point at dinner, refusing to eat and throwing food, getting wilder-eyed by the minute in that reckless spiral parents recognize. Like boxing referees deciding whether to call a fight, Jenna and I realized at the same time that they were in a potentially event ruining frame of mind and it was best they didn’t go. Itching to morph personae and feeling bad for Jenna, when the time came I let the door shut on the madness behind me to feel the quiet and the night’s breeze. Full of guilt and relief, I walked to the event, leaving the car keys in case there was a miraculous reversal and she thought they could make it.

Someday we’ll show them pictures of the trip, or I’ll bring it up if they ever decide to read the novel on their own. “You know, you were with us on the tour for that book. Do you remember that?” And they’ll say, “No, but I do remember being really close to a grizzly bear.” 

Perhaps the fact of the reading will click into place later, become for them one of those shadow awarenesses they’ll remember sensing in the background at the time as they were experiencing the bright and fleeting immediacy of their own lives.


Thanks, Scott! Everyone: you can buy Scott’s newest book, TEMPLE GROVE through this link.  Please stay tuned for more exciting guest-blogs from the trenches about BOOK TOURS WITH KIDS!
Summer, with its long days and extra Vitamin D, is a great time to tie up loose ends on half-finished projects. Get working!