December 2020 Newsletter

Fred Fitzsimmons


I’m learning to grasp every element of positivity in my life to bolster my spirits against the onslaught of negative news that comes my way during these tough pandemic times. Exiting the month of November, I relished the relief I received from several things. The cessation of bombastic political advertising, the glorious seven days in a row of sunshine and mid-seventies weather we received—a welcomed weather record that allowed me to walk in bright sunlight and smell sweet, mild air. Then too, there were the back-to-back announcements of the stunning 95% effectiveness rate of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and the fact there will be sufficient supplies to inoculate the American population by mid-to-late-summer.

   Even having to make our crushing decision to shelter at home alone for Thanksgiving due to our compromised health conditions had its rainbow. The decision brought tears to our eyes, as it would be the first time in our 56 years of marriage that we would not be sharing our Thanksgiving table with family. But we still would be able to have the joy of sharing our thanks as husband and wife after all these years—different, yes, but in its way also wonderful.

   My thoughts shifted to December, one of my favorite months of the year. It has significant religious symbolism in which we actively participate. However, whether one has a religious affiliation and practices, there is additional significance to the month. It is a month that invites good cheer, charity, kindness toward one’s fellow human beings, festive decorating, and gift-giving. A time of comfort and happiness should one wish to participate.

    We have reconciled to the likelihood of our spending our Christmas alone without family in our home. We’re going to compensate with FaceTime, phone, and texting. It won’t be the same, but we’ll make do. We’ve also decided to extend and expand a practice we began last March when the pandemic hit hard for this December and beyond. We decided to turn pandemic disappointments into a different form of pleasure. We no longer moan about being deprived of enjoying many of the joys of our lives, like attending plays, movies, dining out, attending sporting events, hosting others in our home, and other such means of entertainment. Now, each time we miss out on one of those pleasures, we set aside the money we would have spent on the entertainment and send checks to some of our most regular charities—the Chicago Food Depository and the Salvation Army. We reap the joy of providing those less fortunate than us with the most basic needs, food, shelter, and care. The heartwarming feeling we receive in return replaces and outpaces all of the negative feelings we were harboring by missing out not being able to amuse ourselves with entertainment. Give it some thought and perhaps a try. You’d be amazed at the uplift you’ll receive.

   As we close out the year, may I wish you all a blessed December holiday season. Please stay sheltered, safe, and well, and enjoy our outstanding OCWW workshop programs throughout the month.

My very best to all of you,


Keep reading for more of life’s joys: news of member publications, the winners of the poetry contest, contest and manuscript critique deadlines, and an interview with upcoming speaker, Ignatius Valentine Aloysius.



Manuscript Critique and Contest Info and Deadlines 2020-2021

Manuscript Critiques and Contests are for 2020-2021 OCWW members only

Contests are Free to Enter!

For all Speakers, unless otherwise indicated. Manuscripts and Contest Submissions should be sent as an attachment to email: . Please make the email subject OCWW Manuscript. Manuscripts and Contest Submissions should be in Word, double spaced, Times New Roman 12 point font with one inch margins, pages numbered, and name on the front or in the header.  They should be received and paid for no later than 2 weeks before the workshop. Your manuscript critique will be returned by email the evening before or the day of the speaker’s session. Contest winners will be announced at the session (of the judge). 

PLEASE NOTE: Different speakers may have additional requirements or guidelines for manuscript submission. See the event description below for complete details.

3.  Mandatory $10 Speaker Session Fees for Critique and Contests:

In addition to the manuscript critique fee, a single $10 session fee is required to submit a manuscript for an OCWW speaker’s critique. This $10 fee pays for the attendance of the session; this fee is due even if the member does not attend the speaker’s session. 

4.  Speaker’s Critique Fee:

$3 per page, with a 20 page maximum. *Please note there is a $15 minimum (even if you submit less than 5 pages) *

5.  How to Pay for Your Critique:

Once your manuscript is received, you will be sent an invoice to allow for quick and easy online payment. Manuscripts cannot be passed on to the speaker without advance payment. Payment must be received at least two weeks before the workshop. contact if you haven't received your invoice. 

All OCWW Contests are member only and FREE to enter! 

December 16

Libby Fischer Hellman will be judging a Suspense Scene Contest.

5 page limit  (members only and free to enter)

- First prize:20-page critique by OCWW Speaker taking manuscripts

- Second Prize:10-page critique by OCWW Speaker taking manuscripts

 - Third Prize: 5-page critique by OCWW Speaker taking manuscripts.

January 14 2021

Mary Ruth Clarke will judge the Compelling Scene Contest

Maximum 6 pages, less is better. Winners will have their Scenes acted out by professional actors.

All submissions will receive written feedback

Submission criteria: Comedy, Drama, Dramedy

Plays, Screenplays, Teleplays
Aim for no more than 3 characters (but no worries if there are more)

How to format a play:  Here are the formatting criteria for the Dramatists Guild:

February 4

Nadine Kenney Johnstone will accept manuscripts for critique.

February 11

John McCarthy will accept poetry and prose for critique.

February 25

Ian Belknap will accept manuscripts for critique in fiction and nonfiction.

March 11

Kathleen Rooney will judge a 500-word Short Short Contest.

- First Prize: Subscription to Rose Metal Press

- Second Prize: Signed copy of Rose Metal Press Spring Book 

- Third Prize: Rose Metal Press Spring Book

April 29

Zach Martin will accept manuscripts for critique.

May 6

Jennifer Solheim will accept manuscripts for critique    

In honor of OCWW’s 75th Anniversary we are sponsoring four contests this year.

Jane Huffman judged our first Poetry contest, selecting Laurel Ross as our first place winner. Congratulations to Laurel!  She received a certificate for a 20-page critique from John McCarthy as her prize. Her poem is shared below.

The Dreamers: Marital Interlude

He reached over in the night

and pressed his palm

between my legs.

“No balls,” he muttered,

and rolled back to his side of the bed

leaving me wondering.

I did not take offense.

Later, sleeping,

I dreamed of snow balls.


Congratulations also to Marc Frazier, taking second place and receiving a certificate for a 10 page critique. Here is Marc’s poem:


…for everything flowers from within, of self-blessing;

though sometimes it is necessary

to reteach a thing its loveliness…

—Galway Kinnell

In the endless mall of Florida—a French patisserie run by French people. 

Birds flit for crumbs. 

Sherbet umbrellas beckon Town Cars of the aged to dock nearby. 

Scents of hibiscus, sunset-hued blossoms of tropical vines blend with that of yeast, humid asphalt, and Estée Lauder. 

There is no one left to love. 

Sometimes the evidence is overwhelming. 

Sometimes I wish a gull will miss landing on its piling. 

The real truth is that nothing mitigates. 

Lonely birds call through a pink dusk. 

If I could name the flora and fauna, I could cope with uncertainty.

I could walk outside to a gator in the pool. 

Surprising things happen. 

A double murderer was just arrested in Chicago where he’d lived as a poet for twenty years. 

I have to write so many words just to survive. 

How many will it take to endure?  To be happy? 

The many places I’ve been make me like every place less. 

I love the romantic excess of Spanish explorers: cities of gold, fountain of youth. 

Here the old grow younger or think they do. 

Who am I to shadow conquerors? 

Sometimes a clean, well-lighted place is fine. 

Sometimes nothing is enough. 

Always that restlessness in the stalls. 

The need to be touched. 

The need to be reminded of my loveliness. 

As if I am one of the few who are chosen. 

Carlos Fuentes described Frida Kahlo with her jangling jewelry and intensity as her own opera. 

At times I am so tame I wonder if even the trained can prepare me for a return to the wild. 

At times the Leo in me sees the world as collateral. 

A woman in a poem hopes in the growth of two dozen seeds. 

The man thinks she expects too much: “To grow her a whole new life.” 

What can I expect here beside the ocean?

I do not ponder the damage done—a cul de sac of regret. 


Not everything happens for a reason. 

I hear orchids grow in wet seclusion. 

Stones are silent by choice. 

Water builds only to lose itself. 

Blue calms my tendency to wander, to see other sides. 

Life, like anything, is a habit, can be found almost anywhere, can happen to anyone.


Congratulations also to Nancy Dimsdale, one of the founders of the new OCWW Poetry Critique Group. She received a 5-page critique for taking third place.

Don’t miss out on the chance to enter one of our remaining contests for Best Suspense Scene, Most Compelling Dramatic Scene, and Best Short Short. Please see the Manuscript section on the OCWW website (top tool bar) or scroll back up in the newsletter.

Hollie Smurthwaite: Soon to Be Famous Author Project Winner

Hollie Smurthwaite won the 2020 Soon to Be Famous Illinois Author Project, where libraries are helping connect local indie authors with readers. This exciting, library-driven initiative is entering its seventh year and is the genesis for the national Indie Author Project. The 2020 contest closed June 1, 2020 and the winners were announced earlier last month. 

Below is a link to the video announcement:

2020 Soon to Be Famous Illinois Author Project Adult Winner Hollie Smurthwaite

Jennifer Worrell: Edge of Sundown

Member Jennifer Worrell found success with her suspense manuscript, Edge of Sundown, her first novel published with Darkstroke Books on November 12. You can find it on Amazon or her Etsy page. Edge of Sundown is a provocative story that shows how the desperation of lost opportunity can lead to drastic and unexpected consequences.  Check Jennifer's landing page here.

Susan Winstead: Anthology Publication

Susan Winstead has a piece being published in Impact: Personal Portraits of Activism, an anthology soon to be released from MuseWrite Press. The work features personal essays, poems, drama, and short stories from 45 international writers to show how actions big and small can lead to some form of justice. She also was published in their last anthology, Shifts: An Anthology of Women’s Growth Through Change, which came out in 2015. The book is now available on Amazon - $9.99 for ebook / $20.00 for print. The book is also listed on Google Books.

Mary Hutchings Reed: BookLife Prize Quarter-Finalist

Mary Hutchings Reed reports that her collection of short stories, Kind Eyes, Gentle Reading for Troubled Times, was named a quarter-finalist for the BookLife Prize, which means it was a top 15 in the General Fiction category.  Available through  There were 800 entries in 5 categories for the BookLife Prize, and 59 total Quarter-Finalists. 

Laura Joyce-Hubbard: Poetry Prize

Laura Joyce-Hubbard was awarded the Third-Place Veteran Poetry Prize in Line of Advance literary journal's 2020 Darron L. Wright Award for her poem "Havoc 58.”

Her poem also appears in the anthology Our Best War Stories

Laura also is a finalist for the Creative Nonfiction contest at Hippocampus Magazine for her essay, “The Honey Bucket.” Link to the essay. .

Riva Lehrer: Golem Girl

New member Riva Lehrer has published Golem Girl, “a vivid gloriously illustrated memoir of an artist born with disabilities who searches for freedom and connection in a society afraid of strange bodies.” The memoir is published by Random House as a One World Hardcover. It received starred reviews by both Booklist and Kirkus. A longtime faculty member of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Riva is currently an instructor in medical humanities at Northwestern University.

Ronit Bezalel: Poems Publication

Ronit Bezalel announces that two of her poems, "Blue Lips" and "Monday Morning," will be published in the upcoming issue of Arc 28, the annual literary journal of the Israel Association of Writers in English (IAWE).

Marcia Pradzinski: Short Short Publication

Marcia Pradzinski announces that she has a short short prose piece posted on November 6th in On December 12, a poem of hers will be on

Marc Frazier: Poem Acceptance 

Marc Frazier, one of the winners of the first OCWW Poetry Contest, had a poem titled “last rites” accepted to New York Quarterly’s anthology, Without a Doubt: Poems about Faith.


We want to share your good news about publications and other honors.
Send them in to:

The deadline for each issue is the 20th of month before. Please keep your news short (less than 100 words if possible) and write them in the first person.

Please send a Word doc attachment
plus jpgs of you and of your oeuvre.

No PDFs please.

Membership Is a Bargain

An old saying states that guests, like fish, begin to smell after three day. While we’d never suggest that about any of our guests, what’s true is that at just three sessions, guests to Off Campus Writers’ workshops pay more than the sum cost of the $40 membership and the $10 member fees.

An old saying states that guests, like fish, begin to smell after three day. While we’d never suggest that about any of our guests, what’s true is that at just three sessions, guests to Off Campus Writers’ workshops pay more than the sum cost of the $40 membership and the $10 member fees.

Save money—join Off Campus Writers.

There are a lot more benefits to membership. In addition to the lower per-session fee of $10, OCWW membership entitles you to:

 Opportunities for manuscript critiques by speakers (using our manuscript submission guidelines)

 The chance to join an OCWW critique group.

 Opportunities to build your writing network

 Join a fun, interesting, skill-building committee

 Check out books from our extensive lending library when we return to live programming.

 Share information about your publications and speaking events with other members at sessions and through our monthly newsletter.

 Add your book cover to our Buy Member Books section on our OCWW website where it will be linked to purchase at Indiebound.

 Enter OCWW Writing Contests

Also new this year is a lower price for students to attend our sessions. We offer a free discounted student membership with discounted session fees at $5 per session. Students must send verification of their student status. Please contact Claudia Katz at for details.

Save money—join Off Campus for details.


Volunteer To Assist with Transactions using membership software. Computer skills needed. 1 - 2 hours per month. Contact:

Volunteer To Assist with Transactions using membership software. Computer skills needed. 1 - 2 hours per month. Contact:

Volunteer Coordinator to help us identify members willing to manage a variety of volunteer projects currently in need of help. Contact:
Paco Aramburu  

Volunteer to Help with the Tee Shirt/Sweatshirt Fundraiser. Computer skills needed. 1 - 2 hours per month. Contact:

Virtual Meetings Point Person to run some of the scheduled workshops. We have 38 sessions every year, and that’s too many for any one person to handle. Contact:
Susan Levi,

Camera Operators at Winnetka Community House for combined Zoom/Live sessions.
Paco Aramburu

Volunteer to Assist Treasurer and Membership Data using Excel software. Must have familiarity with Excel. 2 to 3 hours a month. Contact:


Born and raised in India, Ignatius Valentine Aloysius earned his MFA in Creative Writing from Northwestern University. He is a lecturer, designer, and musician, and author of the novel Fishhead. Republic of Want (Tortoise Books, 2020). Ignatius was selected as a 2020-21 Creative Writing Fellow by the Ludington Writers Board and the Ludington Area Center for the Arts in Michigan. He serves on the curatorial board at the Ragdale Foundation, and was a featured July 2020 author for Ragdale’s By-and-for-Artists Series. Ignatius is also co-curator of Sunday Salon Chicago, a bimonthly literary reading event series in Chicago. He is currently at work on his next novel and lives with his wife in Evanston.

Are you teaching now? Are you on campus or teaching remotely?

Ignatius: Yes, I’m teaching the 2020 fall quarter remotely on Zoom at two different institutions. I serve as adjunct lecturer at Northwestern University’s Cook Family Writing Program (Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences). My specialized skillset and coaching pedagogy is well-suited for individuals and teams involved in creative writing, experimentation, and other forms of technical communication. I also teach at Chicago Portfolio School and am able to maintain my ongoing conversations about design and the digital experience at this ad school. My background includes writing, art, and music.

How have the pandemic restrictions affected your own writing practice and other activities?

I wasn’t sure how the pandemic’s forced isolation would affect me initially. I’m talking about Feb/March when Covid-19 first hit us with a bang and our lives got turned upside down! The pandemic reset my expectations and made me think more deeply about my purpose while I had the good fortune to continue teaching remotely. Life came to a standstill, and I took time to think about what I wanted to do going forward. So I finished recording and mixing a doom/sludge metal album for my home studio project for WOOND, which got released in May on Mental Illness Recordings in Iowa City (, the same week that my novel Fishhead. Republic of Want was released on Tortoise Books (I say more of it in my recent Hypertext magazine interview I then started work on my second novel, doing research and carving out a visual plot map, writing spot-drafts from the map, and then plunging head first into the main draft of the full-length novel, which occupied my entire summer and fall.

What are you working on in your own work now?

I’m working on a historical novel, a full-length work about a Michigan lighthouse keeper in 1871 with a Chicago and Civil War connection. 

Where will you be speaking from?

I’ll use my small studio space at home. This is where I conduct all my Zoom sessions. I recently did a video bit for author James Finn Garner’s Inside for Indies series (YouTube), and you can get a glimpse of my indoor/outdoor space at this link:

How did you hear about Off Campus Writers’ Workshop?

I met Susan Levi at Sunday Salon Chicago (, the reading event series which I co-host and which has been running in Chicago’s Roscoe Village for over a decade now (Of course, we’ve had to stop everything this year because of the pandemic). As I recall, Susan attends nearly every SuSa event, and she mentioned OCWW last year when we spoke briefly before one of our reading events. I think it was in November. 

Who’s your favorite writer? 

I’m always looking through a window with a multicultural worldview and go through phases and shifts, so I can’t really admit to having a favorite writer, because my preferences change depending on where I am in life. Right now, it’s Zora Neale Hurston and Claudine Rankine. Sorry, that’s two. As well, I often immerse myself in other works of an author, reading a few books in succession before I move on to a different writer. I’ve done this with Toni Morrison, Atwood, Borges, Joyce, Solzhenitsyn, V.S. Naipaul, Rushdie, Arundhati Roy, Jesmyn Ward, Calvino, John Fowles, Eudora Welty, Orwell, William Gass, and Philip K. Dick, to name a few. I’m interested in voice and power, in that special subterranean force of language and ideas which an author can convey from the everyday into a new realm of authority.

What’s the hardest lesson you’ve had to learn as a writer?

Overwriting. Learning how not to overwrite, and learning to be more grounded by showing, not telling. These were my early failures and challenges as a budding writer. I used to think that volume meant something, that I would be taken seriously as a writer by agents and presses if I presented them with a high page count in a single full-length manuscript (for a new author). I should also add another lesson here: knowing when to stop writing. I say this because I would just go on and on with a single idea or scene/situation. That’s a problem really, because the story must move forward, because pacing is important, and that despite a novel’s obvious length, conciseness and brevity also play a role. Of course, having an editor helps.  

What is your writing process? Do you write for a certain amount of time per day or a certain number of words? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, how have you dealt with it?

I make it a point to write every day, a paragraph or a page at least, often more when I can. Discipline is everything, but sometimes life gets in the way, and yet I have to try. Writing demands this. Thankfully, I’ve never had an issue with writer’s block, but I have stared at an empty page too often, and that’s a discomforting place to be. So now I’ll start by mapping out a short- or long-form story. When I write, I listen to ambient music, but at a level that doesn’t overwhelm my thinking and ideation; there’s just too much noise around. I can write for an hour or for hours at a stretch, often at sunrise, or way past sunset, especially in warmer temperatures which suit me best. My effort depends on the complexity of the plot. Sometimes it’s difficult to get to that sweet spot; at other times, I find it with no effort at all. But I try not to fight the process. 

What are you reading now?

W.E.B. DuBois’ The Souls of Black Folk, Louise Erdrich’s The Plague of Doves. Eric Foner’s Reconstruction. Next on my list, I have Valeria Luiselli’s Lost Children Archive and Ida B. Wells’ autobiography Crusade for Justice.

What was it like to transition from Fishhead to writing your next novel?

Transitioning from one work to another isn’t easy for me. I faced this issue in the MFA program too, even though that’s one of the hurdles you learn to overcome in college. After having labored with Fishhead for four-plus years, and after at least five rewrites, it seemed like I could finally let it go once Tortoise Books sent it to print at the end of 2019. After my successful and early book launch for Fishhead at Women & Children First in January 2020, I took a month and more to empty my head before I began tossing around concrete plans for the next novel. However, I feared losing touch if I waited much longer, but the pandemic accelerated my motivation. Both novels involve two vastly disparate experiences and timelines, with one shared aspect of craft: they are both experimental novels, something that interests me a lot. I began researching the next novel and then started mapping it out, which made easing into its new territory more manageable for me.

How do you fuel your creativity?

Raw veggies and a GF diet. No alcohol or drugs. Boring, right? In recent years I’ve needed to rely on a paleo-pescatarian diet, although not entirely by choice, so that fuels my body, health, and creativity. I love good food, and I cook Indian once or twice a week. But food isn’t everything. Reading all the time also fuels my creativity, as does writing, and paying attention to the world, even if I have to withdraw from the world to write meaningfully. I make sure the books I’m reading do not influence my own writing, unless I want them to inform my work; and I always keep my ears and eyes open. I like to think that I’m a good listener and observer.

Many of us have books published in Amazon, where they languish for a long time due to the lack of reviews. We'd like to help.

Many of us have books published in Amazon, where they languish for a long time due to the lack of reviews. We'd like to help.

We have created a Google Doc listing our members' Amazon-published books.

Feel free to add yourself to the list. Leave the name of the author, the name of the book and the URL of your book in Amazon.

If you take advantage of this opportunity, please make sure you read and review other OCWW authors. Fair is fair.

We have created a Google Doc listing our members' Amazon-published books.

Feel free to add yourself to the list. Leave the name of the author, the name of the book and the URL of your book in Amazon.

If you take advantage of this opportunity, please make sure you read and review other OCWW authors. Fair is fair.

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