Phong Nguyen, “How to Lose 102 Pounds in 102 Words”

Find an obsessive friend who talks about health and fitness all the time—a man who isn’t self-conscious about being fixated on diet and exercise. Model yourself after him for a while. Pretend you are a member of a shamanic religion, and you must embody his archetype the way you embody the archetype of a Hunter-God or Healer-God. His iPhone fitness Apps become your sacred bundle; his cardio and strength-training regimen become your ritual worship; his hand-written notes on loose-leaf paper about macro-nutrients become your holy text. Whenever you fail in these daily devotionals, don’t punish yourself. Just reembody your obsessive friend.

Phong Nguyen is co-editor of Pleiades and author of Pages from the Textbook of Alternate History (2014) and Memory Sickness and Other Stories (2011). He co-directs the Unsung Masters Series, for which he edited the volume, Nancy Hale: On the Life and Work of a Lost American Master (2012). Nguyen teaches fiction and American literature at the University of Central Missouri, where he lives with his wife, the artist Sarah Nguyen, and their three children. From August 2012 to June 2013, he lost 102 pounds in the manner described above.

Phong Nguyen’s new book:
Pages from the Textbook of Alternate History

Pages from the Textbook of Alternate HistoryAt critical moments in world history, every political, spiritual, and cultural leader foresaw a different destiny. Columbus planned a Western sea route to Asia; Hitler applied to art school twice; Joan of Arc prophesied that she would become a mother. It is out of their failures that history itself is made. But what if the history-makers succeeded in the fulfillment of their best-laid plans? In Pages from the Textbook of Alternate History, Phong Nguyen explores a myriad of pasts in which these icons of history made a different choice, and got what they wished for.

Where to find it: Queens Ferry Press


Jacob M. Appel, “The 250-Word Guide to Speech Writing on Subjects You Know Little About”

I give hundreds of speeches and lectures each year on subjects as varied as “Civil Liberties in Wartime” to “Strategies for Winning Fiction Contests” to “The History of the Medicinal Beer Movement.” Sometimes, I know a lot about the subjects on which I speak; on other occasions, I have mastered the material only hours before the presentation. The cardinal rule of public speaking is to remember that your audience assumes you know more about the subject of your speech than they do. I have also found the following three rules have helped me to avoid my share of rancid vegetables:

1.  Always begin with a joke. Tell your audience that it’s a joke. This cues them to laugh, even if you’re not funny.

2. Always conclude with a piece of practical advice. People only remember the last five minutes of your presentation; if you end with a tidbit of concrete wisdom, they’ll feel they got their money’s worth.

3.  End early.  If you’re assigned an hour, and you give a brilliant speech that runs 1:01, all people will remember is that you ran over. If you give a dreadful speech that runs thirty minutes, people will say, “He wasn’t half bad and he got us out on time.”

And above all, don’t picture your audience naked. This advice works in the movies, but only because the actors receiving the advice are speaking to other movie stars. Instead, I recommend picturing your audience with as little exposed flesh as possible.

Jacob M. Appel is the author of the novels The Man Who Wouldn’t Stand Up (2012), which won the Dundee International Book Award, and The Biology of Luck (2013).  His short fiction has appeared in more than two hundred literary journals including Gettysburg Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, and Virginia Quarterly Review.  Jacob holds an MFA in fiction from New York University and an MFA in playwriting from Queen College-CUNY. He practices medicine in New York City.

Jacob M. Appel’s new book:
The Biology of Luck

 The Biology of LuckOdd-job queen Starshine Hart is about to go on somebody else’s perfect date. At 29, the usually carefree Starshine has realized that it is easier to start sleeping with a man than to stop. Her lovers include one of the last underground members of the Weathermen and the dilettante heir to a lawn chair magnate. Both men have staked their romantic future on her. Her only respite is her impending dinner with the nonthreatening but unattractive tour guide Larry Bloom. But Larry, too, has a stake in her future. He has written a book about their impending dinner in which he fantasizes about Starshine’s life on the day he wins her heart.

Where to find it: Elephant Rock Books