Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Little by little...step by step...

The old vaudeville scene popularized in 1944 by the Three Stooges in Gents Without Cents:

Slowly I turned... step by step... inch by inch....

Pic from the Niagara Falls Reporter

...well, the phrase anyway, reminds me of the tiny steps that writers must take in order to reach their goals.

I absolutely love small successes - and had one yesterday, that I'm pretty happy about! I've also been considering my direction - novel, short stories, flashes? Agents, publishers, collections, contests? What are my goals?

Part of my contemplation has been spurred by listening recently to many writers talking with discouragement - about getting published (or lack thereof), watching others attain a 'larger' portion (and feeling slightly threatened or mildly jealous), getting tired on the the steep climb to "respected author" status - and it makes me think about the true definition of success. What does it mean and when is it all enough for a writer?

I think it's important to consider why we write, when the going gets tough.

Is it to receive accolades for our brilliance? Or, is there a more philosophical deep-seated need to express our thoughts and ideas? The answer is probably situated anywhere from one extreme to the other, depending on each individual. Yet, ultimately, I think most of us haven't really chosen this path; it's simply a part of who we are, that inexplicable chunk of ourselves. It doesn't help any that we seem to be a very impatient lot as well, so sometimes our efforts seem meaningless or wasted. In the end though, every success, every publication (even every rejection), personally helps to define me and push me into a better understanding of who I am as both a writer and a person.

For now, I'm trying to enjoy each small step as though it were the Nobel Prize, because I know as long as I keep moving forward, I'll reach my destination.

Maybe I'll have some fun along the way too.

Picture located at Schon.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Buds turn into flowers...caterpillars into butterflies...

Writers who write, into published authors...

Final thoughts on the AJC Decatur Book Festival Writer's Conference....

I hadn't mentioned that George Singleton, author of "Novel," spoke regarding the difference between southern writing and writers from the South; they are not necessarily one and the same. It is mostly a lifestyle which we reference in such a broad categorization. In fact, he mentioned a writer from Maine that he considers one of the best "southern writers." (Substitute moose for deer, he used as one example).

He is a very funny, and I think, humble person given his success. What I found to be his best and most profound advice (which if I'm not mistaken, the blog panel - Snynder, Jones and Guth echoed) is that as up-and-coming or just-getting-going writers, we don't really need to mess with all of this yet! Shut everything else out but the short story or novel.

Just write.

Obsessing over the "how-to" [insert: find agent, market your book, any number of imaginary problems or points of procrastination] when you don't yet have a product, is really counterproductive. Listen to the successes and failures - a little bit - for pick-me-up and inspiration, but don't get bogged down in designing each step of the way, just yet.

Our jobs right now are to shut everything else out and put together the first drafts, the better drafts, and then start that marketing process.

It's almost like sitting at a smorgasbord and wanting the food everyone else is eating, a want it all sort of thing. Pick your project, and work on it!!

The Catch-22, I think:
Working with such focus and concentration doesn't allow us to "see" progress, so in the true American immediate gratification sort of way, we have to write pieces and get them out to visualize the progress, and it gets us in knots - the excruciating pain of waiting, which then keeps us too harried to write more! It may be hindering the long-term goals, and here I am truly speaking of myself, because I think I should be working on my novel!

I wonder how many of us are in that boat? I absolutely adored novels when I was growing up; I honestly believe that's the form I am [will be] probably at my best. Last year, when I participated in NaNoWriMo, the story really began unfolding - developing - as a novel should while I was writing, and I was amazed. I think it was the first clue to my overly dense mind, that I write as I think - as a big-picture person - and I get comments (a lot) regarding my so-called shorts: "Seems like a piece of something larger."

Maybe my shorts really are.

However, whatever the individual case, the true goal, the advice he gave is prudent....agents, publishers, editors and publicists mean nothing to us yet, if we aren't writing. Every day.

Go. Write something!


Another small press find that MANY people will like:

Impetus Press, publishing folks such as Nick Antosca and Dave Housely.

It was founded by Jennifer Banash and Willy Blackmore, the site says "on a mountain of contempt for mainstream publishing." The story of Impetus is an extremely interesting read (even after my general admonishment to just write), and might give hope to writers that lie in that grey area between commercial and experimental.

So see? Don't feel like there's no home for your treasure. There's going to be - don't worry about it now - GO Write!

Image : Adventures in New Zealand

Saturday, September 09, 2006

So you wanna be published in The Atlantic Monthly?

Study up!

My interpretation of the C. Michael Curtis panel during Writers Conference at the Decatur Book Festival.

Facts: 12,000 subs/year. 3000-6000 words preferred (unless story is phenomenal. This year there were two that were longer, so only six pieces were published). He does send about 5-6 personalized rejections/day (!) and there are forms that “seem” personalized, but aren’t.

What he says he looks for:

A story with moral weight, interesting time/place, situation.
Evocative, distinctive language – something that will resonate, as though a “real person” is telling it.
Whole narrative – fully developed characters, plot and resolution.
A story that yields or strikes “true” in some way.

General remarks/no-nos:

Watch grammar, punctuation, mechanics – all the basics. (I loved telling my students that!)
Grammar should only be “misused” if in context with development, character “thought” process, etc.
Take care with adjectives and adverbs – TRUST simple nouns and verbs, ie, find the right one!
Use fragments cautiously, as well as ellipses, blech on 2nd person unless astounding and well-done, and ease off the present tense unless the story really calls for it.

My impressions:

a) In regards to the elimination of the Atlantic Monthly carrying monthly fiction:
Short fiction isn’t dying, but the typical MFA style seems to be “more work than typical readers want,” Mr. Curtis said at the beginning of his talk. On the plus side for many writers, this year’s issue of Atlantic Monthly featured two (or three, I took poor notes) stories by authors who had never had major publication before.

b) Slush is good; but ‘tis better to have something even more meaningful behind you (I read into this). Although they read and accept from the slush pile, Mr. Curtis referred several times to the likelihood of getting a second glance if you have previously published with one of the established quarterlies or if you’ve attended a high profile workshop (BreadLoaf, Sewanee – both he mentioned- Iowa Summer, Tin House, I’m adding). And yes, the MFA will still garner you a bat of the eye as well. I will be applying next year for workshops; I had already decided this, but his confirmation of my inclination has cemented the idea.

Personally, I found Mr. Curtis to be a lot as I would have expected. He seems earnest and sincere in finding and cultivating new talent if he sees it, serious about his role as editor, and a very introspective man. He’s of that age/era when magazines and fiction were in their heydays, and I’d love to hear about that history and evolution, his story.

I bought “Faith Stories: Short Fiction on the Varieties and Vagaries of Faith,” a collection he edited, Mariner Books imprint. It contains shorts by authors including Joyce Carol Oates, Salman Rushdie, Amy Tan, Alice Walker, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Elizabeth Cox. She was there and signed the book, as did Mr. Curtis. (I still wish I'd had enough money for Three Fallen Women, but I wanted the sig! God, what a geek).

Overall, yeah, chances are slim of getting in the Atlantic Monthly. But. I wouldn’t, couldn’t, shouldn’t even consider myself a writer, if I didn’t think there’s enough talent in me to do so, if I should so decide it’s on my “must have” list.

I never underestimate luck either.

Picture acknowledgements/sources:
Girl and Boy Studying (first pic)
Nuns Studying

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Places to sub, people to read.

Like that play on the Bye, Bye, Birdie song?

How's this?
Places to go, people to see (a photography book)

More on the book festival last week.

I got to meet some very interesting people, one of whom was Amy Guth, author of Three Fallen Women and proud bloggess (someone help me with terminology here) of Bigmouth Indeed Strikes Again. She and two other panelists spoke on the importance of blogging; each had their cautionary tales as well, relaying slightly bizarre tales. I was thrilled about all of the info, since I literally began this project just two days prior to the festival.

Her experience seems to have indeed enlarged her mouth - not literally, of course - but her literary voice seems to have gained volume for sure. Amy also has a unique look (pink hair and madly cool eyewear)when combined with her publishing history, created an instant fan of me. Via reviews, flipping through the book, and high praises from her publisher, I think the book is going to be wonderful and I can't wait until my next book-buying spree. Ultra high on my list.

The most interesting thing to me was her mention of a small controversy over part of her book - regarding abortion. I recently talked about this with several writers (as one of my stories touches upon the subject too), and most seemed to think it was a dead issue. Apparently not completely.

Anyway, I think she's pretty cool. Go check her out.

Co-panelists were Laurel Snyder (poet and NPR contributor) and Tayari Jones (Leaving Atlanta), both of whom brought unique perspectives as well, especially in regards to the question of totally professional or caution-to-the-wind style blogging; seems the answer is as individual as a writer, or person, can be. Laurel has been blogging since before these were called blogs and Tayari has one of the most beautiful, professional blogs I've ever seen, perhaps because it's built-in to her website.

Now I've gotten off track, and gave you people to read first.

Places to sub - I was not familiar with the publisher of Amy's book, So New Publishing. James Stegall, head honcho of said organization, was a panelist during the day, and I was very impressed. It seems he's quite dedicated to the merging media, embracing the need for works that can be held and read in the tub, as well as savoring the immediacy and energy of digital creativity. I think So New is definitely worth a double take. There is also a quarterly publication, Words! (submission info here).

I'm tired. I need to go finish - or write new - fiction. Then sub it.

I just couldn't resist. Another interpretation of Places to go, people to see (Sixspace gallery).

Monday, September 04, 2006

There's an elephant in my living room.

I went to the AJC Decatur Book Festival as promised, and actually, have more to report than I realized, so I'm going to update every so often this week - just too much to write in one blog sitting.

I thought I'd start with meeting John Warner of McSweeney's Internet Tendency. He's a very nice guy, which as I said before, I sorta figured based on my experience with my 0-4 record in submitting there. (I'm not the worst; apparently one person has an 0-247 record, or some such incredible number). I will now be prepared to be horribly crushed though, in the event of future rejections, since I possess the keys to sure-fire comedic writing in the McSweeney's tradition.

The major epiphany was that I haven't been sending the right kind of material - big surprise, huh (!) - but now I know for sure what it is I need to send, that is if I wish to be published there. That is, when and if I ever write it.

Key word: Conceptual humor! In essence, start with the premise, the what-if, the zany situation and let the story tell itself from there. With a good premise, why even George Bush could seem funny because the concept does the work!

Another thing he pointed out, like an elephant in the living room, is that even the title will explain that concept, the conceit, right out of the box. Take a look at the pieces published at McSweeney's, and you'll find it's true. And of course, there are the FAQs containing a built-in straight-man, in the form of the question, and Open Letters where conflict and tension are inherent in the combinations of unlikely suspects you throw together.

Check out some recent titles:




What a huge lesson in really studying individual markets and evaluating if the piece really is right for the publication!

Anyway, I'd never analyzed the true composition of their pieces, the true nature of the situational comedy inherent on their site, and I was shocked, I say, to finally see the obvious.


I was also VERY excited that the second suggestion that John and other panel members made for subbing humor was Magazine. Even though I'm on the print side, I still feel all warm and fuzzy and family-like with the other half. Very cool!

Another online zine with which I was actually unfamiliar is The Morning News. Definitely worth some examination.


On a final note for today, I did get to start Ellen Meister's "Secret Confessions of the Applewood PTA" on this trip. Lisa Kudrow is a delightful reader and the characters themselves are clever and witty. In Atlanta traffic, I didn't get as far as I'd wished because I'm trying to concentrate on style as well as storyline, a difficult feat while battling maniac drivers in that city; I'm still on disk one-of-nine, but there's going to be some terrific travel time coming up!

Friday, September 01, 2006

Postpone that and pencil this in.

Gee whiz! I needed the break from work, but the Opium.print #3 launch is postponed until the end of the month. At least I get Monday off...

And along comes another activity - the Decatur Book Festival. Check out the events here:


I'd forgotten about it, then got a reminder: I actually never knew that D&H was preparing the lit activities and us former contributors got e-mails (probably everyone on mailing list, but trying to feel special here) regarding the events. I signed up after finding out that I can't go to NY this week. Well, I could, but have neither the money nor the banked vacation time to do it all.

I think the most fun will be the workshop with John Warner, McSweeney's online editor. We've talked back and forth many times. Of course in the form of "Hey, you like this one?"

"Nope, but thanks for thinking of McSweeney's, and try again!"

He's actually been wonderful in rejection; I hope I learn the key tomorrow.

I never mentioned this, but when I ordered Ellen Meister's audiobook, I also got the 30th year anniversay collection of Schoolhouse Rock for my students. Lord, who can't love learning grammar by song and animation!

Will let you know how tomorrow goes! Last year I got to meet Kris Broughton at a similar event, though much smaller and more intimate (the venue guys, not the meeting). Also got to meet Shannon Ravenel, Nat Sobel, and Brigid Hughes. Very interesting. I really wish it were smaller; then again, I don't know how well this has been promoted either, so maybe it will be.

I'm very excited though. Blessing in disguise, perhaps. I wanted to attend this, but originally, since I was leaving Wednesday, wasn't going to. Now I get it all!