Potomac Review’s intern, Ellie Forder, writes about award-winning author Leslie Pietrzyk’s visit to Montgomery College.

Award-winning author Leslie Pietrzyk came to Montgomery College Thursday, October 15, to read excerpts from her new book, a collection of short stories entitled This Angel on My Chest. The room was filled to the brim with students and teachers all eager to hear her read and ask questions about the writing process and details about the book, including specific choices she made when writing. Not only has Leslie Pietrzyk been published before in the Potomac Review, but the story that was published in our magazine, “Someone in Nebraska,” is in her new book as well, which won the Drue Heinz Literature Prize.

This Angel on My Chest is a collection of short stories themed around the death of husbands and draws a lot of inspiration from the grieving she went through when she lost her own husband at a young age. At the reading, she told us that the first story, “Ten Things,” was the first thing she wrote when mourning her husband. The proceeding stories were written the following years whenever she came back to that place of grief and wanted to explore it. The book also features humor in the stories, and when asked about why she added humor into a book about death and grieving, she said that she wanted to show that humor was a way of accepting what had happened and was inspired by a young widows’ support group she used to attend, during which funny stories about the deceased were told and everyone would laugh uproariously.

Many good questions were asked, particularly about how she writes. For the stories in This Angel on My Chest, she stated that a requirement for herself was that while the stories were fictional and could be embellished upon, each one had to have one hard and fast truth about what she experienced personally. An example given was for the story “Slut,” in which a woman goes on her first date after the death of her husband and runs into her husband’s brother while on the date. When she was going on one of her first dates after the passing of her husband, she went to a restaurant that was near where he used to work and saw a bunch of his coworkers at the bar. She created this rule of putting her own experiences in her writing as a way to challenge herself, because she does not like to write about herself personally very often.

Both of the excerpts Leslie Pietrzyk read to us were written in the second person perspective, which she said is a perspective she enjoys writing in because it causes the reader to imagine what it is like to have the experiences she is writing about, even when they cannot even come close. It’s also a good way to write something very personal without feeling like you’re making it personal, distancing yourself from the experience so you can better write it.

It was fascinating to hear about the writing process from such an experienced author. Even this book was rejected by multiple publishers, and she related receiving letters from publishers saying that they could not put it down and it had them in tears, but they simply couldn’t publish it, until she finally received the letter from her dream writing award, the Drue Heinz Literature Prize, asking if the book was available for publishing.

We were honored to hear from Leslie Pietrzyk, and I personally feel honored to have gotten to meet and talk to her both before and after the reading. She is a wonderful, funny woman and a great author. Just from the excerpts she read, I both laughed and ha