QWW: A word from Site Captain Kelly Jean Fitzsimmons

Kelly Jean is Site Captain for the Sip-N-Scribe: QED event taking place on Saturday, May 14 at 2:00 p.m

queens writes and sipnscribeRecently, I joined creative forces with Jenn Wehrung, who teaches the Young Writers Workshop at The Astoria Bookshop, to co-host a monthly Sip-N-Scribe at QED: A Place To Show & Tell. We are thrilled to be holding a bonus Sip-N-Scribe this Saturday, May 14, at 2:00 p.m. as part of Queens Writes Weekend.

Sip-N-Scribe is a chance to push away from your keyboard, put pen to paper, and mingle with other writers in person. While writing is primarily a solitary act, there are also times when you need to shake things up a bit and draw inspiration from fellow scribes.
Here’s how it works!

  • Round 1: Sippers-N-Scribers are given the first half of a creative writing prompt and start writing.
  • Round 2: Everyone trades papers with a partner and, inspired by the second half of the writing prompt, continues working on the piece the first person started.
  • Intermission: Drinking is not required, but beer, wine, and non-alcoholic beverages will be available for purchase along with light snacks and pastries.
  • Round 3: One last trade, plus a TWIST to finish the piece with style.

At the end of the session, people are encouraged to share the writing they co-created. The first two brave souls to share win a cookie! The goal is to experiment with something new on the page in an informal, relaxed way, all while hanging out with your friends and hopefully making new ones.

No one is here to write the next Great American novel. But hey, if that happens, please include us in the special thanks!

Thanks, Kelly Jean.  Readers, we hope to see you there!

Be sure to check out the other Queens Writes Weekend events.


QWW: A word from Site Captain Jennifer Harmon

Jennifer is Site Captain for the Writing about Family event taking place on Sunday, May 15 at 1:00 p.m. 

I’m looking forward to seeing familiar faces and meeting new people at my Writing About Family meetup on Sunday, May 15. I’ll be holding it in my apartment in Astoria from 1:00-3:00 p.m. It feels powerful to bring writers into my home and connect with one another in person.

I plan on reading a piece by my mom called “Mothering” since she is my creative writing inspiration and favorite poet. I remember reading this particular poem she wrote about my grandmother, which showed me it was okay to express honest, uncomfortable questions and emotions about family members and specific feelings/situations. I would also like to share one or two poems I’ve written about my mother and father to kick off the event. It’s going to be a delightful afternoon of experimenting with some writing prompts, sharing our work with one another, and expressing ourselves in a creative, supportive environment.

English: Verrazano-Narrows Bridge
English: Verrazano-Narrows Bridge (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The topic of writing about family has always been an important part of my artistic expression. I began filling pages of journals back in elementary school and poetry soon became an invaluable tool to cope with life changes dealing with family issues like blindness, diabetes, divorce, and the physical loss of a loved one. It’s also been a fun, fabulous way to capture magical moments and celebrate the beauty of family traditions (traveling, shopping, sharing clothes and jewelry, cooking, fishing), unique bonds, and gratitude for where I come from and who I am today. The other night on the subway, I found myself jotting down lines on the back of a receipt for a new poem about my mother-in-law Carmela and our bike riding adventure over the Verrazano Bridge.

Since August of last year, my husband and I have been holding a monthly private open mic for comedy, poetry, music, and storytelling in our living room. It’s pretty magical to see what happens in our home on a regular basis. We have three cats who normally hide, but lately Jupiter, the black and white cat, has been coming out to join the party.

Can’t wait to celebrate Queens Writes with everyone during the weekend of May 13-15th! It’s amazing to be a part of such a wonderful artist community in Queens!

Thanks, Jennifer.  Readers, we hope to see you there!

Be sure to check out the other Queens Writes Weekend events.

QWW: A word from Site Captain Joan Becht Willette

1873 Beers Map of Astoria, Queens, New York City - Geographicus - Astoria-beers-1873
By http://www.geographicus.com/mm5/cartographers/beers.txt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Joan is Site Captain for the Prompted Writing: Astor Bakeshop event taking place on Saturday, May 14 at 4:00 p.m

It is exciting to be a Site Captain for Newtown Literary for the third year! My event is held at The Astor Bakeshop, along with my monthly “The Enchanted Goddess Writing Workshop!”

This is a “writing prompt” meet, eat, and write group. It is wonderful to gather in community and write together, break bread together, and share with our neighbors in Astoria! A lively exchange of stories and laughter always ensues!

The Astor Bakeshop is a cool neighborhood venue with great food! Newtown Literary provides such a valuable literary resource for writers to be seen and published! I was honored to be a contributor in the Fall/Winter 2014 issue! Come out and join the fun!!!

Thanks, Joan.  Readers, we hope to see you there!

Be sure to check out the other Queens Writes Weekend events.

QWW: A word from Site Captain Craig Schwab

Craig is Site Captain for the Saturday in the Park: Forest Park Band Shell event taking place on Saturday, May 14 at 1:00 p.m. 

By Jim.henderson (Own work) [CC0 or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The location for this site will be the iconic space in Forest Park, Glendale, known throughout the neighborhood as The Band Shell. I will be asking those who attend to write something many people no longer do these days. The idea stems from the concept that writing can be informative and also expressive in nature. In my novel, Something in the Neighborhood of Real, the characters interact through several decades by way of letters they send to one another.

The best reaction I had about my novel came by way of a letter from The Louis Armstrong House Museum in Corona, Queens – informing me my novel was made a permanent part of the museum archives. Armstrong plays a key role in my novel as both a mentor and inspirational character.

I intend to have those who show up write a letter to anyone they wish to communicate with in their lives. I will ask they share something on paper that details how they are truly feeling.  I will invite anyone who wishes to read aloud from their letter. My hope is they then mail their letters creating what I believe is a formula for sharing our words in a way that lives and breathes beyond the computer screens we have become accustomed to using today.

Thanks, Craig.  Readers, we hope to see you there!

Be sure to check out the other Queens Writes Weekend events.

Queens Literary Community Gears Up for Book Trivia Night

RichardQUEENS, NY—Queens literature lovers are gearing up for the second annual Book Trivia Night in Astoria. Scheduled for November 2 at Break Bar and Billiards, the event will test teams’ knowledge of categories such as “Books You Should Have Read in High School,” film adaptations, translations, and mysteries. Proceeds will benefit Newtown Literary, the nonprofit journal that publishes Queens writers and poets.

Newtown Literary Event Organizer Valerie Keane sees the event as an opportunity for readers and writers across the borough to come together for a night of fun.

“The unique thing about our event is that most Queens literary groups will be participating,” Keane said. “This is not only a fundraiser to keep their own Queens literary journal going, but also
an opportunity to show their community what unique, literary riches each group has to offer and attract people to their own events.”

First Tuesdays Reading Series host Richard Jeffrey Newman will return to emcee the five rounds of trivia. Prizes will be awarded to trivia champions and raffle winners, including a bottle of Veuve Clicquot champagne; gift certificates for Restaurants.comYoga Agora, “PR in a Pinch for Writers”, and Good Fortune Design Studio; two tickets to a show by the First String Players theater company; and a tote bag full of books from Astoria Bookshop.

bookshop“Newtown Literary’s mission to support literary culture here in Queens aligns perfectly with my goals for the Astoria Bookshop,” store owner Lexi Beach said. “I’m proud to carry the journal on my shelves, and delighted to participate in the Book Trivia Night by offering some prizes.”

Jackson Heights-based creative writing workshop leader Nancy Agabian formed her own Heightening Stories trivia team for last year’s event.

“The trivia night gives us a chance to step into the literary scene in Queens in a slightly different way,” Agabian said. “Instead of workshopping or reading to each other, we can have a beer with our peers and feel a part of the open community of writers that is Newtown.”

Funds raised from admissions, raffle tickets, and mulligans will go directly toward printing the seventh issue of Newtown Literary, slated for release this December. Last year’s event exceeded the organizers’ expectations and, as the top fundraiser in the nonprofit’s history, enabled the journal to publish its fifth edition: the Speculative Poetry and Prose issue.

Doors open at 7:00 p.m., with trivia beginning at 7:30. Advance tickets are available on Eventbrite for $8, and teams of 4‐6 players that register in advance are eligible for a free mulligan. Individuals orgroups smaller than four will be placed with additional teammates when they check in at the event. Tickets will also be sold at the door for $10.

Attendees are encouraged to Tweet about the event using the Twitter hashtag #NewtownTrivia.

For more information, visit newtownliterary.org/trivia-night/ or contact Event Organizer Valerie Keane at events@newtownliterary.org.

Book Trivia Night a Smash Success

Last Monday night at Break Billiards & Bar in Astoria, the Newtown Literary staff pulled off its first trivia night fundraiser. With 60 trivia participants in teams of four to six, it was an even greater turnout than we had imagined possible.

When we began brainstorming how to “Save Newtown” a couple months ago, the journal’s coffers were nearly empty. We needed to come up with a fundraiser that would enable us to print the upcoming Speculative Poetry & Prose issue—or else resign ourselves to publishing Issue #5 as an eBook only. Our hope was to raise at least $500, with the limitation that we could not pay anything up front to book space.

The idea for a trivia night was brought up as an opportunity to allow us to raise much-needed funds and to engage the community with a fun event. Melanie Sooter (now the journal’s official Events Coordinator) offered to take the reigns in organizing, with assistance from nonprofit board members Karyn Slutsky and Aida Zilelian, Blog Editor Laura Grow-Nyberg, Editorial Review Board member Linda Fisher, Prose Editor Jeff Brandt (hey, that’s me!), and of course Tim Fredrick, the journal’s founder and Editor.

We packed Break Billiards & Bar.

Fast-forward to November 10. Trivia participants began filling the room even before the posted 7 p.m. time, and by the 7:30 p.m. start time, with tables packed from front to back, it was clear we had a great night ahead of us. After playing four rounds of trivia on the topics of Classics, Young Adult Fiction, Film Adaptations, and Sci-Fi/Fantasy, we had a four-way tie. It took the fifth round on Banned Books to narrow the field to two teams.

“Mulligans” and raffle tickets

After the winner of the raffle prize (two tickets to any show at the Secret Theatre in LIC) was announced, we proceeded to the Lightning Round between the two final teams, with no mulligans (i.e., stickers teams could buy to undo incorrect answers) allowed. The theme was “After Dark,” and host Richard Jeffrey Newman entertained a full house in reading questions with an erotic bent, including one where participants had to guess whether a line of dialogue had come from Christian Grey or Pepe Le Pew.

Host Richard Jeffrey Newman.

When the dust cleared, the Boundless Tales team was the last standing. While splitting up the assorted prizes valued at more than $350, the team graciously offered the $100 AMEX gift card back to the journal.

All said and done, the event was a huge success. With roughly $750 raised, we ended up making 50 percent more than our goal, officially making trivia night Newtown Literary’s top fundraising event in its history. But more than that, it was a chance for dozens of people to get together, drink brews, and talk books on a Monday night.

Don’t be too surprised if we organize more of these in the years to come!

Astoria Bookshop, one of our generous sponsors.

In addition to thanking Break Bar & Billiards for giving us the space, and Richard Jeffrey Newman for being an entertaining host, we’d like to once again thank our sponsors: The Astoria Bookshop, Astoria Coffee, Lockwood, Enigma Bookstore, Wine Stop NYC, Karyn Slutsky, and Queens Paideia School.

Many thanks to Jeff Brandt for writing this excellent recap.

Newtown Literary Contributor: John Gorman

Writer John Gorman’s story “A Private Language” was featured in Issue #4 of Newtown Literary]. We interviewed him about his writing, and his answers are below. Check out his blog and GoodReads page for more great writing, and follow him on Twitter!

Thanks for taking a moment to share your inspiration behind your piece “A Private Language.” Is this a story about your childhood?

Yes, and no. There is a short story by Jack Driscoll called “Wanting Only to be Heard” that I really love, wished, in fact, that I’d written. I was blown away by the urgency of his characters, how on the surface they are these awkward pre-teen boys, but beneath the surface, a dangerous curiosity is lurking. I wanted to try and emulate that.

What kind of danger did the boys in that story encounter?

The young Michiganders are ice-fishing at a shanty and they are telling stories. One of the stories really gets their juices going. It’s about an Irish Terrier that was said to have dove twelve feet down the spearing hole in the freezing water and swam another fifty yards and rose up into another shanty. The boys share their various views as to the accuracy of this and Ashelby Judge (the Rebel without a Cause) decides he can do it himself.

So “A Private Language” appears to be more of an homage to Driscoll’s story than an account of your youth?

As far as the impetus behind writing this story, yes, but there are many seeds from my childhood that I peppered into the story. For example, The Amazing Spider-man #11. A couple of my buddies were itching to get that very issue. It was the oldest comic we’d seen, that we had an outside chance of getting, if we scrounged up enough nickels and dimes. We did a lemonade stand, recycled cans, and begged for advances on our allowance. We didn’t, however, shake down folks by pretending to collect for the poor kids in Africa. That’s just my evil imagination at work. Really.

Part of our Journal’s mission statement is to have stories that reflect the accent of Queens.  Do you believe your story is an accurate reflection of the borough?

I believe so. Specifically, it’s an accurate reflection of the surrounding neighborhoods where I grew up, in the 1980s. I call my neighborhood Rego Park, which technically is a couple of R-train stops away from where I used to live in Forest Hills. I describe the middle school yard, Russell Sage, the way I recalled it, which was behind the 112th precinct. Also, where the meat of the story takes place, Deepdene, is in Forest Hills Gardens. We used to sleigh ride there in the winter and skateboard down those hills in the summer. I remember taking some pretty wicked spills coming down those slopes, skinned my knees really badly a bunch of times, but nobody ever ended up in a hospital.

The scene where Steven’s mom has the narrator dressing in her dead son’s clothes is really freaky, and yet he seems to go out of his way to indulge her.

It’s so tragic what has happened to Steven and my storyteller has witnessed it, but Steven’s mom obviously hasn’t accepted her son’s death. I wanted to go beyond the closing of the coffin because death doesn’t end at death. Survivors have to come to terms with the loss of a loved one the way that works for them. If I ended the story with the funeral there’d be a few awkward hugs, kisses, and whatnot, but it would’ve been stilted. Steven’s dad could’ve wobbled in drunkenly, but that would’ve been clichéd. I wanted to come up with something fresh and really weird. I come from a hand-me-down household. My mom always gave my clothes (when I grew out of them) away to cousins, and sometimes I got hand-me-downs in return. We had a neighbor who was once a nanny and she used to give my mom these laundry bags full of freshly-laundered hand-me-downs from the boys she used to take care of.

There seems to be an underlying spiritual leitmotif in this piece.

I’d like to blame my Catholic School upbringing on that. Fortunately, I went to public university. My awakening. Anyway, there is a kind of spirituality to the piece that goes beyond the usually corny Hail Mary stuff. I did pigeon-toe Steven into a philosopher for that very reason. I tend to equate philosophy with spirituality, I’m thinking more like Unitarian, which I’ve actually, as a so-called adult, attended a few “masses”. They discuss Plato, Seneca, Einstein, and Bart Simpson. I can get into a “religion” like that. As a theme, I considered Leibniz’s desire to create a universal language as parallel to the desire for my young characters to connect with each other, but also the bigger pond they are about to inhabit. Steven is not a ringleader; he just wants find deeper meaning for himself. He’s smart and the boys respect him, but really, my narrator is the only one who gets him or thinks he does.

I feel as if I’m right in the heart of the story, as it is unfolding, but there’s this tinge distance as if the narrator is looking back.

The voice of the narrative is accessible, youthful enough to still be connected to the white fleshy orange skin of their boyhood past, yet wizened up. This is my attempt again to emulate Driscoll’s chill in “Wanting Only to Be Heard”, before his boys get to the spearing hole. In my earlier drafts, it was a breezy kind of anecdotal story. Actually, an editor from another journal really liked the story and wanted me to revise it. That editor said the story was good, but came off a little too anecdotal. I worked really hard to push the boundaries, less about trying to buy a comic book and more about the pain of youth. I guess I took this a little over the edge by killing off Steven, but I also wanted his beautiful mind to not have to suffer the pain of adulthood. Is that macabre? Maybe this is my “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” story more so than “Wanting Only to be Heard”.

Thanks for contributing to issue 4.

It’s been my absolute pleasure. I am honored to have been chosen by a journal in my hometown.

Thanks, John! 

We have a lot of events coming up! Mark your calendars for REZ Readings on October 9 and November 6; Boundless Tales Readings on October 9, November 13, December 11, and January 8; and of course the First Tuesday and Third Friday series have started up again for the season.

Also, if you’d like to support Newtown Literary and enjoy a night out in the process, tickets are now on sale for Trivia Night on November 10. Show off your knowledge, win some prizes, and support the writers of Queens!

Queens Wrote Weekend 2014

Our fundraising event, Queens Writes Weekend 2014, this past weekend was a great success. All over the borough, writers congregated at local bars, cafes, parks, and homes to . . . write! Thanks to all our site captains and community partners for their assistance in making this weekend’s events one of the biggest literary events Queens has ever seen!

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Queens Literary Events: Queens Writes Weekend 2014

Love writing?

Love Queens?

Then volunteer as a Site Captain for Queens Writes Weekend 2014!


What is QWW? It’s a lot of things, but mostly, it’s…

  • An annual event that connects Queens writers of all ages and interests.
  • An opportunity to go to a local venue and write—whether you are new to writing or working on the next great American novel.
  • A way to show Manhattan and Brooklyn that yeah, Queens has writers too.
  • A fundraiser for Newtown Literary Alliance, a nonprofit supporting the writers of our beloved borough.

The fundraiser part is simple: writers who come to QWW are asked (or begged, or pleaded with) to make a suggested $5 donation to Newtown Literary. It’s important because Newtown Literary is a labor of love, which is an embellished way of saying we don’t financially profit from the journal we publish or the writing programs we offer. We just love writing and sharing that love with our Queens literary community. But love can’t pay for things like printers and workshop teachers, so we do need money.

That’s where Site Captains come in!

Site Captains line up the venues and organize the writing sessions for QWW. You can host anywhere—a bar, café, library, park—and do any writing-related activity you dream up—themed writing prompts, an open mic, or a quiet time of caffeine-buzzed writing.

Site Captains’ responsibilities are pretty straightforward.

Before the Weekend

  • Arrange the location and time for your site.
  • Recruit friends and family to participate.

Before and During the Weekend

  • Arrive early and set up the space.
  • Print out writing prompts, which will be provided, for those who might need them.
  • Bring a bowl for the donations, make a sign stating that there is a suggested donation of $5, and collect donations.
  • Pass around a “For more info …” sheet to collect contact information. (Participants do not have to give information.)
  • Introduce yourself and Newtown Literary. (Information will be provided.)
  • Set easy ground rules for the writing time and remind participants to follow them (e.g. turn off cell phones, feel free to take a break, etc.).
  • Take pictures of the event and send them to Newtown Literary Alliance. (Contact information will be provided.)

After the Weekend

  • Hand the donations and contact sheet to Newtown Literary Alliance. (There will be easily available drop-off locations over the weekend and into the following week).
  • Send a thank-you note to participants. (We will provide you with a template.)
  • Write a blog post about the experience at your site (optional).

To volunteer as a Site Captain, email events@newtownliterary.org.

Join us, and show Queens writers the love.

Thank you to Melanie Sooter for this great write-up. We hope to see all of you at QWW!

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