The Wednesday Web Browser for Writers

  • The annual BookExpo America (BEA) extravaganza is coming up, and Publishers Weekly provides a guide for those who will be attending (or wish that they could).
  • April is coming to an end, and I didn’t write nearly as many poems as I wish I had. But I’ve bookmarked Robert Lee Brewer’s Poetic Asides blog’s April “Poem-A-Day” prompts, and I’ll be returning to them for inspiration. (Frankly, I think Brewer should collect them in a little book/ebook. I’d download a copy!)
  • If April is coming to an end, then May is just about to arrive. And that means that Fiction Writers Review will soon be celebrating Short Story Month. Check out the Collection Giveaway Project details here, and give yourself a chance to win one of Practicing Writing’s own giveaway offerings, too.
  • Poet E. Ethelbert Miller has created a forum for sharing writing wisdom from author Charles Johnson, and in this post, Johnson addresses the art of book reviewing. (Thanks to @mathitak for the find.)
  • If you’re interested in long-form journalism/narrative nonfiction, you’ll want to read all about Byliner, launching soon. (Thanks to @Kathy_Crowley for the find.)
  • Yet another example of ever-reliable, agent-focused advice from Nathan Bransford. (And if you’re looking for more resources re: agents, check those that I’ve listed toward the end of this page.)
  • Monday Morning Markets/Jobs/Opportunities

    It’s good to be back! I had a lovely vacation week (even if the weather didn’t really cooperate until Thursday). Those of you who subscribe to The Practicing Writer will be receiving your September issues today. Plenty of the usual medley of offerings for poets/fictionists/writers of creative nonfiction, in terms of the no-fee competitions and paying calls for submissions. Plus, an interview with author, essayist, editor, and professor Dinty W. Moore. Soon, I’ll post the issue online, but if you’re not yet a subscriber why risk missing out on first glance at our next issue, too? Subscribe now! For today’s blog post, I’ll limit myself to items that didn’t make it into the newsletter.

    From Chuck Sambuchino: “As the editor of both Guide to Literary Agents and Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market, I need upfront informative articles for those books. I am now open to queries if you want to submit any ideas. Send them to [literaryagent(at)fwmedia(dot)com] and put “Query” in the subject line. I will only be open to queries until about mid-September, and I will respond within 4-8 weeks from now, so please query soon. Articles are 1500-2300 words and will appear in the 2012 editions (next summer). I urge writers to go in detail about what they had in mind and who, if anyone, they plan to interview. In other words: Wow me!”

    Win a free writing class: Basement Writing Workshop is running a prompt-based contest (no entry fee). “The contest winner will receive a free online class from the Basement Writing Workshop, chosen by him or her from any of our Winter offerings, as well as publication in the Basement Writing Workshop ‘campus’ website, props in our newsletter and social networking outlets, and last but not least, a Certificate of Awesomeness, signed by all our Portland-based instructors, in lipstick.” Deadline is November 1.

    Brown University (R.I.) “invites applications for an Associate Professor or Professor specializing in Poetry, position to begin 1 July 2011. Candidates should have a strong national and international reputation as a poet, a substantial publication record, and extensive teaching experience; additional expertise in other areas such as translation or poetics. An ideal candidate will also have leadership potential and be interested in helping to develop and administer the future of the Literary Arts Program.”

    California State University, Monterey Bay “seeks an Assistant Professor whose specialty is in both Fiction and Creative Nonfiction Writing to teach undergraduate courses in its Creative Writing and Social Action concentration (CWSA). We seek a candidate who is uniquely qualified and committed to educating working-class, ethnically diverse, and historically under-served students through innovation in interdisciplinary teaching and learning, scholarship, community service, and collaborative and imaginative program development. The concentration in CWSA is offered as part of the New Humanities for Social Justice (NHSJ) curriculum, along with Chicana/o Latina/o studies, Africana studies, cultural history, oral history, and new media studies.”

    Harvard University Press (Mass.) seeks a Publicity Assistant, Princeton University (N.J.) is looking for a Public Relations Specialist, and Montgomery College (Md.) wants to hire a Speech Writer.

    Friday Find: SlushPile Hell

    “SlushPile Hell” is a new blog that’s been receiving a number of mentions around the Internet lately. Subtitled “a grumpy literary agent wades through query fails,” the blog presents a daily snippet of a query–complete with the grumpy agent’s acerbic online riposte. Good for a daily laugh (and warning!).

    Have a wonderful weekend, everyone, and for all of the American practicing writers out there, Happy July 4th!

    Thursday’s Pre-Publication Post: Come On Get Happy!

    Earlier this week, the Fiction Writers Review blog spotlighted an essay by author Aryn Kyle. Titled “‘This Book Made Me Want To Die’ And Other Thoughts From Readers,” the essay engages with comments/reviews Kyle has received with a decided point of view: that maybe, she should try to write something a little “happier”:

    “Mostly,” Kyle writes, “what I learned about my book is that it’s depressing. Not just depressing, but ‘pointlessly depressing’; ‘brutal’; ‘disturbing’; ‘unrelentingly bleak’; and ‘appalling’—just to touch on the tip of the critical iceberg. One reader claimed to be so disturbed by [Kyle’s novel] The God of Animals that, upon finishing it, she had to medicate herself with sleeping pills.”

    But when people tell Kyle to write something “happy,” she can’t quite understand. “Happy like Anna Karenina? Happy like The Grapes of Wrath? Happy like Lolita or Catch-22 or Revolutionary Road? Happy like Hamlet?”

    You get the idea.

    Because the publication of my story collection, Quiet Americans, is still several months away, I don’t yet have access to a comparable trove of reader reaction. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t already identify with the essay and the points Kyle has raised.

    In fact, while I was reading, I couldn’t help but recall one AWP conference, at which I finally met one of the TriQuarterly editors who had helped bring my story, “Matrilineal Descent,” to the reading public. I’d gone over to the journal’s Bookfair table to introduce myself. “Ah, yes,” the editor said. “Your story. It was a laugh a minute.” To which I responded—how else?—by laughing. (Attention, lucky readers! You, too, can enjoy the utter comedy that is “Matrilineal Descent” when the story reappears in Quiet Americans this winter.)

    But Kyle’s essay also sent me straight to the shelf where the Purple Binder (pictured) rests.

    The Purple Binder, my friends, contains all the many rejection letters and e-mail messages that I received from agents and publishers who considered my collection, in one variant or another, over a five-year period. (It should not be confused with the far thicker Red Binder, which contains rejections received for individual short stories.)

    I was certain that I’d find some echoes of the comments that have come Kyle’s way within the Purple Binder’s pages. And guess what? My memory was right.

    Dear Erika Dreifus,

    Thank you for giving us a look at four stories from your collection, Former Title, which [Big-Time Agent] asked me to review. I’m sorry about the delay in getting back to you, and I wish I had better news. I very much admire your writing and found all four stories very strong, but I’m afraid that this collection would be difficult to sell. The cumulative effect of your stories, with themes ranging from the Holocaust, to fetal defects to racism, is too downbeat for the editors we deal with.

    Nonetheless, I think you are a talented writer. If you are not too put off by these remarks and you begin a novel, we’d love to see the first 50 pages.

    Associate at Big-Time Agent’s Agency

    P.S. Let me know if you’d like me to return your pages.

    Now, a few comments:

    • I’ve worked on the collection so long that it’s really not surprising that not all of the stories that went out to this agency–supposedly my “best” stories at the time–have ended up in the final book. Among the now-excluded stories is one that was, for a long time, intended to be the title story. Hence, the need for a new title. So if you’re thinking that you’ll actually find the Holocaust, fetal defects, and racism prominently displayed throughout the book, well, don’t get too excited, because not every happy theme I’ve ever dealt with in fiction has made the cut into the final collection.
    • Similarly, I’ve been working on these stories so long that this particular correspondence dates from George W. Bush’s first term, an era when it was still very common to send work via postal mail. Hence, the offer to return my pages. I guess I hadn’t included a SASE.
    • Here’s what may be most interesting. I hadn’t approached Big-Time Agent. Rather, Big-Time Agent had contacted me, based on a story that had appeared in a literary journal. And frankly, that story didn’t exactly present a thousand points of light. Admittedly, it did not feature fetal defects or racism. But, in a mere 2500 words, it did manage to encompass parental death, post-9/11 anthrax attacks, incapacitating depression, divorce, and—I know you’re waiting for this one—the Holocaust. Hence, my surprise that “downbeat” might present a problem for this particular agency.

    (By the way, that part of the message about welcoming a novel didn’t surprise you short-story writers, did it?)

    In truth, I’m trying not to think too much just yet about what people will say about Quiet Americans once it has been published (assuming that it receives any attention at all). But if the book is faulted for not being “happy” enough, at least I’ll be prepared. And in good company.