Words with friends
Corinne Litchfield, editor-in-chief of Paper Bag Writers
Corinne Litchfield is the founder and editor-in-chief of Paper Bag Writers, an online literary journal focused on curating and sharing stories, poems and essays written on brown paper lunch bags. Litchfield also works as a social-media manager for local authors, showing them the ropes of establishing an online presence and promoting new books. She’s also hard at work finishing up her first novel and a collection of interlinked short stories set in her native Maryland. Litchfield stopped writing long enough to talk about literary inspirations, tweeting Margaret Atwood, and why she’s calling out her fellow Sacramento writer and pal Jodi Angel.
Where did the idea come from?
It was influenced by the series of letters that my mother and I exchanged on airsickness bags since I was in my late teens. When she passed away in October 2009, that first flight where I could see the edges of the airsickness bag sticking out from the seat pocket in front of me was incredibly difficult. I started giving myself a writing prompt from the in-flight magazine, spending five minutes before the plane took off to write a piece of short fiction or an essay on the airsickness bag. When I told my writer friends what I was doing and showed some of what I’d written with them, they loved the idea.
What were some of those first writing prompts?
The first one that I remember was “Quick, think Omaha,” from a Southwest [Airlines] in-flight magazine. I just randomly flipped to a page with that ad. That story is on paperbagwriters.net.
How does Paper Bag Writers work?
[Writers] pay a small fee, between $7 and $10, and they will get in the mail a blank paper bag with a writing prompt tucked inside, which they can use or not, and a self-addressed stamped envelope. They write their story or poem on it and mail it back to us. Then we scan and publish it on the site with a short [author] bio, and promote it through Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
What kind of writer was your mother?
She was a very stream-of-conscious type of writer. She wouldn’t always be very linear in her writing, so you had to know her pretty well to understand some of the things she would say.
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I’ve been writing since I was small, like plays for my Barbie dolls that became soap operas because there was only one Ken, which can cause drama for the Barbies. I still have all the creative writing I did in sixth grade; I put those into a scrapbook. A number of those poems and stories I wrote went into a collection my school put out. That would have been the first affirmation that I’m writing and it’s good. In those first years, I knew it was something I would keep doing.
Pick any writer, living or dead, to contribute to PBW.
I think one would definitely be Raymond Carver, because his stories are so amazing and really capture the human condition in all its forms. I imagine he would put together a story that hit home really quickly and involves alcohol in some form or another. As for someone living, Jodi Angel is a friend and local writer. She writes short fiction that just alters me, and I would love to see what she could do with 500 words. She’s so beloved in the Sacramento literary community, and I’m looking forward to her getting the exposure she deserves. Jodi actually owes me a bag, so maybe calling her out in SN&R will get her to send it in!
What’s in PBW’s future?
I would like to find a business partner who can help with financing and funding so that I can handle the creative and marketing end of things. We’re getting recognition on a regional level, which is fabulous, and I’d like to see that go national. I’d also like to do a charity drive with bags from famous authors and poets that we auction to support a charity my mother would support, like Doctors Without Borders or Heifer International.
What do you do when you’re not running Paper Bag Writers?
I’m doing social-media management, working with a lot of local authors, helping set up their websites, teaching them how to set up a Facebook page or use Twitter and other tools.
Social media dos and don’ts?
Don’t feel obligated to post every day. Make it count. Don’t make every post about you. Do share stories and videos and links that mean something to you and matter to you. People want to know who you are, what your values are, and what interests you.
How do I compose the ideal tweet?
Focus on the key message. A tweet is a call to action—you want people to click through the link to your blog or podcast. Think about what words might motivate people to click through.
Any social-media victories?
When Jan Haag wrote her poem “Ode to a Paper Bag,” I knew the Margaret Atwood poem “A Paper Bag” and I realized I had a great opportunity to promote the site. So I wrote a tweet that name-checked Anne Lamott and Margaret Atwood, and Atwood retweeted me. When I saw, I screamed so loud, everyone in Sacramento probably heard me.