The Modern Love column with its stories of love, loss, and redemption has become a staple of our Sunday reading over the last decade. We share our favorites on social media and keep bits of wisdom from those oh-so-personal essays in our collective memory. And a great number of us writers dream of seeing our stories spread out there in the Sunday Styles section of the New York Times right beside one of those lovely signature Brian Rea illustrations. In fact, 5000 plus essayists each year send their work into Modern Love. Yet, there are only 52 weeks in a year, and only just that many essays can make it into the column that has turned many a writer into an author with a book contract. So, what is it that makes a potential Modern Love essay jump out of the slush pile and into print? This is the topic of the teleseminar, “How to Write a Modern Love,” in which I interviewed Dan Jones and six Modern Love alums on this topic and giving my own insights as well.
Thanks to a bit of luck, an essay of mine was selected before the first Modern Love column went live back in November 2004, and so I avoided the heavy competition and can’t say that my own experience with writing my essay has been especially helpful in guiding others. But since then, I’ve read many essays of Modern Love aspirants who didn’t make the cut. I’ve also had several students who’ve had their essays published in Modern Love, and so I’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about what makes a great Modern Love essay and how to write one that will catch the eye of the column’s editor, Daniel Jones.
During the How to Write a Modern Love teleseminar, I offer writing advice on how to take a Modern Love story from idea to submission and insights into trends in the column. Modern Love Editor Daniel Jones shares secrets of the editorial process and advice for writers, and Modern Love alumni Mandy Len Catron, Veronica Chambers, K.K. Goldberg, E. J. Levy, Peter Mountford, and Margot Page (see full bios below) make cameo guest spots in which they share their experience and insights.
Daniel Jones has edited the Modern Love column in the Sunday Styles section of The New York Times since its inception in 2004. His books include the recent bestseller Love Illuminated: Exploring Life’s Most Mystifying Subject (with the Help of 50,000 Strangers), two essay anthologies—“Modern Love” and “The Bastard on the Couch”—and a novel, “After Lucy,” which was a finalist for the Barnes & Noble Discover Award. He lives in Northampton, Massachusetts with his wife, writer Cathi Hanauer, and their two children.
Mandy Len Catron is a writer living in Vancouver, BC. She teaches English and Creative Nonfiction at the University of British Columbia. Her Modern Love column, “To Fall in Love with Anyone, Do This” was the most viewed and most shared New York Times article for January 2015. She’s currently working on an essay collection about the dangers of love stories. For more, check out her website and her blog.
Veronica Chambers is a prolific author, best known for her critically acclaimed memoir Mama’s Girl and the New York Times Bestseller Yes Chef, which she co-authored with chef Marcus Samuelsson. In 2012 Yes Chef won the prestigious James Beard literary award and was a NY Times bestseller. In 2014, she co-authored a second bestseller, Everybody’s Got Something with GMA host, Robin Roberts. Her Modern Love essay “Loved and Lost?” It’s O.K., Especially if You Win” was published in the New York Times in February 2006.
A MacDowell Fellow and MFA graduate, K.K. Goldberg’s writing has appeared in the New York Times, and in numerous literary journals and anthologies, including The Sun, The Gettysburg Review, The Alaska Quarterly Review, and Best Women’s Travel Writing 2009. Her book, The Doctor and The Stork: A Memoir of Modern Medical Babymaking, is forthcoming in October 2015. Her 2011 Modern Love piece, “A Little Lint and Suddenly You’re Bridezilla,” is about how a lawsuit over her destroyed wedding dress brought her family together almost more than the wedding itself.
E. J. Levy’s writing has appeared in Paris Review, Best American Essays, and received a Pushcart Prize. Her debut story collection, Love, In Theory, won a 2012 Flannery O’Connor Award and 2014 GLCA New Writers Award (previously awarded to Alice Munro, Louise Erdrich, and Mary Szybist for their first books); she teaches in Colorado. Her Modern Love essay “After a Parent’s Death, a Rush of Courage” appeared in the New York Times in November 2013.
Peter Mountford’s debut novel A Young Man’s Guide to Late Capitalism won a 2012 Washington State Book Award, and his second novel The Dismal Science, released last year, was a NYT editor’s choice. His work has appeared in The Atlantic, Best New American Voices 2008, Granta, Southern Review, and elsewhere. He is on faculty at Sierra Nevada College’s low-residency MFA program. His Modern Love essay, “How I Came to Live in the Chair Emporium” appeared in the New York Times on January 15, 2015.
Margot Page’s work has recently appeared in The New York Times, Brain, Child and the Huffington Post. She is the creator of the popular Dear Drudgery column on the Brain, Mother blog and the author of a memoir, Paradise Imperfect: An American family moves to the Costa Rican mountains (11/13, Yellow House Press). Margot lives, works and writes in Seattle. Her Modern Love column, “Labels of Married Life, in a New Light,” was a married heterosexual’s take on how marriage equality enriched her own vision of marriage roles.