Fall for the Blog: Nathan Leslie and Jen Michalski

Fourth Estate follows events of the Fifteenth Annual Fall for the Book Festival through Fall for the Blog.

Nathan Leslie and Jen Michalski  start off our Fall for the Blog coverage with three different perspectives.

Arrielle Brooks
(photo by John Irwin)

Fiction Perspective:

Two short story fiction writers-turned-novelists, Nathan Leslie and Jen Michalski, presented their work this Tuesday outside the JC. It was a treat! Both authors have dealt mainly with short stories throughout their career, and only recently did they break into the realm of longer fiction.

I was excited for this event the moment it started when Laura Scott, Mason English Advisor and Creative Writing professor, introduced the two authors. The summary of Leslie's works was rife with the surreal and fantastic, something that always draws me in as a reader. Alternatively, Michalski's novel was grounded in realism even though it mixed in some elements of fantasy.

It was interesting to see the differences between each author, both stylistically and formally. Leslie stated how his strengths rest in short fiction rather than novel writing, and even his new book The Tall Tale of Tommy Twice is made up of episodic chapters strung together. Of the three excerpts he read--the novel, a short story, and a flash fiction piece--the first felt the most engaging, perhaps because he's spent more time with it.

Michalski, on the other hand, has been cranking out novels one right after the other this year. She has three books set to be published in late 2013. She read from The Tide King, which felt rich in research about the WWII era. Michalski also had a nice focus on action, where Leslie's work dealt more with character.

Afterward, the authors did a Q&A session where they offered insight into their experiences in publishing fiction and their writing processes. By the end of it all, I definitely had two new books to add to my shopping list.


Meghann Patterson
(photo by John Irwin)

Non-Fiction Perspective:

The cool breeze and sounds of speeding skateboards on the gravel sidewalks set the mood for the Tuesday afternoon book reading. Jen Michalski quietly sat in the second row as Nathan Leslie made his way up to the podium. After adjusting his glasses, Leslie began reading from his first novel, The Tall Tales of Tommy Twice.

What an explosion of words to have on one page. Usually the short stories I write are based off of real events. I hadn't realized how much fun it would be writing a fiction story. Although there were times when Leslie spoke with a very monotone voice, it didn’t take away from the amounts of imagery that filled the pages. While the excerpt he read from his other two books was good, they sadly didn't hold my attention as well. And I could tell I wasn't the only one. I caught a couple people looking around, playing on their phones, and watching students practicing walking on tightropes in the distance.

Things shifted a bit when Jen Michalski came up to the podium to read an excerpt from her book, The Tide King. She definitely had personality in her voice and often sounded like she was reading a poem instead of a novel. I didn’t have an issue with this because I love poetry.

During the question portion, I learned an interesting fact about short stories versus novels. Both authors exclaimed that writing short stories can take 2-3 months while writing a novel can take 3 or more years. I guess I’ve missed the deadline considering I've been writing my short story for four years now. 

On a small stage in front of the Johnson Center, novelist Jen Michalski and short story fiction writer Nathan Leslie shared with their audience - a mixture of students, teachers, and men and women from around the area - excerpts from their books.


Savannah Norton
(photo by John Irwin)

Journalist Perspective:

Both authors are from Baltimore, and currently reside in the Washington D.C. area.

Leslie started off the event talking about his short story The Tall Tales of Tommy Twice.  He read from the first chapter, smiling down at his writing as he slowly began to reveal his main character, an orphan named Tommy .

Leslie was very descriptive with his characters.  The grandmother named Gaga stuck out because he described her with “ears like cinnamon buns” and “hands the size of mittens.”  The audience was amused and laughed often as he read.

Leslie has written seven short stories and also teaches creative writing at Northern Virginia Community College.   

After Leslie read from a few more of his short stories, Michalski came onto the stage.

She was a bit more reserved but it was obvious that she cared a lot about her book The Tide King.  She was consumed by her novel and joked that she was reading “the most normal part” of her book.

Michalski was very grateful to take part in the Fall for the Book events this school year and to share her story about World War II.  She explained that she wrote it to honor her relatives who fought in the war.


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