Tag Archives: AWP

Z is for Zombies

I know, kind of a stretch, right? This is my final post for the April A to Z Challenge, and hey, Z is tough. But let me reassure you – I am not into that whole Walking Dead thing. Zombies just never have done it for me. However, there is one way in which they relate to what I’m doing that I can discuss. And that is the old writing maxim: Write it like they’re dead.

This typically applies to nonfiction work: memoirs, biography and the like. Most of the time, someone writing a biography has the cooperation of their subject, so it’s not an issue. But what do you do when you want to write a memoir – ostensibly about your own experience – and in come all those other people in your life, and you find you have to write about them, too?

I went to an excellent panel at AWP (I know, really, this is the last mention!) on Privacy of Secondary Characters. If you are writing creative nonfiction, memoir, or even poetry, you have to consider this. Or if there’s a chance that your best friend will recognize herself in your novel, I guess it would apply there too. But the bottom line is, it really doesn’t matter.

If you are worried about how others will respond to your work, then you have two choices: either don’t write it, or write it like they’re dead. You can’t create this work worrying about what others will think, even if they are explicitly mentioned in the work. One quote from the panel stands out: “The only authorization is the ethos of art.” Which is to say, you will get no authorization, nor do you need to. Unless you are portraying someone as criminal, you can’t worry about it. (And if you are, that’s a whole different story.)

Other tidbits from this session (it really was excellent) include:
1. Make the writing worth the cost (if it’s that good, who’s going to argue?)

2. Don’t worry about defacing the Family Scroll (a hypothetical scroll of family history on which you don’t want to make a black mark)

3. There’s no such thing as writing honestly about yourself and not doing justice to others.

4. You cannot ultimately predict how anyone will respond (panelists had stories of responses very different than they had envisioned, some good, some from different people than they had expected)

5. Compassion + mercy + forgiveness can come back around to the authors.

6. The subject and writer are in this together, even if the subject has a lot more to lose.

7. We do it, we do it imperfectly, but don’t kid yourself there’s no cost to anyone.

I guess then it’s all about your risk tolerance. How much of a risk are you willing to take? What might the costs be of your craft? There is, of course, always a cost. How do you weigh that against not performing your craft?

As I said, this has mostly to do with nonfiction, but you might also consider this if you are writing fiction. I had an idea for a novel a while back that would have been very transparent to my best friend, about a woman whose dad was dying of cancer. The new book I’m working on is actually about my best friend, who herself died of cancer. It is nonfiction. I have considered how her mom might feel about it, or her husband or her son. But I honestly can’t worry about that. Also, they don’t read much or go to book events, or read reviews. So there is really little chance that they would actually know about the book unless I told them. I am torn.

What is your responsibility to your subjects? Is their story just out there for the taking? How do you reconcile that if your story is inextricably intertwined with theirs?

There are so many questions. It’s an ethical question, to be sure. And a good discussion could be had on ethics in art.

What say you?

Y is for Yoda

Many of you may have seen the strange little illumination making the rounds online, of the curiously Yoda-like figure appearing in the manuscript from the 14th century. There is no explanation for this. It is just pure nerdery.


I don’t find this all that surprising. I happen to have a deep affinity for Yoda. My favorite Star Wars quote (and I’m sure the favorite of many of you) is “Do or do not. There is no try.” This is what comes up any time you search for a Yoda quote (I know, I just did it). It is by far the most likely candidate to appear on a t-shirt or coffee mug.

But what does it mean? What can this strange little hippy-dippy gnome-like creature teach us? If you haven’t seen the film, let me enlighten you (no, really, I know there are people who haven’t!). Yoda teaches Luke to become a Jedi by a method similar to that used in the Karate Kid (I know, really dating myself now, huh). Performing seemingly unrelated and mindless repetitive tasks and proving once again that wisdom is wiser than a punk kid. Yep.

And it works. Yoda teaches Luke that indeed, a rock is no different than a spaceship, in terms of what you want to move. It is just a thing. Size doesn’t matter. Just believe you can do it, and there. Bam.

By now you are thinking, what does this have to do with writing? Well, aside from the beauty of the illuminated manuscript pages, a lot. The main point is to keep going. Do not look over at the next person and say they are doing it better. Do not compare your work to a spaceship. Do not think that this is too hard. Do not give up.

It’s a lot harder to do than to say, I know. But it is a fundamental thing. At AWP (honestly, last reference to AWP, I swear!), The Loft Literary Center had a booth where you could write down an item, seal it in an envelope, and leave it in the basket, and then you spun a wheel to take an envelope. The color the wheel landed on corresponded to the color of the envelope you could take. The messages were written on the color of paper corresponding to the type of message it was. I wrote a message of encouragement (yellow). When the wheel landed on purple, that meant I got to choose a six-word story from the basket of envelopes (a purple envelope). A bit complicated, but the upshot of the story is that I wrote a piece of advice on my paper, put it in my color-coded envelope, and then tweeted it out to get people to come to the booth. My advice: Don’t give up. The only difference between a writer and an author is the author didn’t give up.

AWPLoft game

It’s true. How many times have you heard the story of a writer who trudged through the motions for years? How many tried countless agents (well, not countless – they always know exactly how many!), sent out dozens of manuscripts, tried again and again, to the detriment perhaps of all else? Famous story: When Stephen King got the letter that Carrie had been accepted, he had just had his phone shut off. There are many many other stories like this.

And yet, Fahrenheit 451 was written on a pay typewriter, in the basement of a library! How did he even have time to do corrections? How many people today are writing a classic using their library facilities? To judge from the folks using the banks of machines at my local library, I would say not many, but I would also bet that I am wrong. There is always a way to do something that you really want to do.

Like Yoda says: Do or do not. There is no try.

How can you accomplish something unless you actually believe you will be able to accomplish it? How can you be successful without visualizing that success? How do you continue to try without believing that you will succeed?

The answer: very hard to do. You almost cannot.

Just Do It. Oh yeah, there’s another slogan for you. But you don’t need another slogan. You don’t need a ‘Wax on, wax off’ teacher. You just need to believe in yourself.

J is for Journals

Now, I don’t mean to keep bringing this up, but it just so happens that I was at AWP this week. One of my goals in going to AWP was to find journals that might be appropriate for my work, meet the people involved, and pick up samples. Spend some time getting to know them.

I’ve made a renewed commitment to my writing this year, and this involved a lot of soul-searching, which included finding some things that I was not too happy with. I am, eternally, the cobbler with no shoes (I know, same thing as blogging). I am a writer who does not submit. Or who does not submit enough. For a long time, I worked on the premise that if I saw a good place to publish, or a good contest, I would write something to fit it or see what I already had that would fit. Now I have decided to just write, and then look for places that fit my writing, instead of the other way around. I think it’s better this way.

Oh yeah. And to actually submit. For five years I’ve been teaching a publicity class at The Loft Literary Center, and students always ask how they can get publication credits. Well, I know the answer. Submit. But I haven’t been doing it myself.

So learning about journals is one of the first steps. I always kind of gave them a cursory look, but I haven’t ever really taken a good look. In the past three days I have learned a lot talking to folks and got some good tips in the sessions I went to. One of the people I met is the editor of The Review Review. I always recommend this resource to my students, as it has great articles about various genres, and includes reviews of one journal in every issue. It’s a wide and deep site, and there is bound to be something there for any writer. Sign up for the email newsletters. The subject headlines alone are worth it.

Recently there was an article about AWP in which the writer said that even the publishers and publicists there probably were secretly writers. I have never been secretly a writer – at least in my own head. I’ve always self-identified as a writer. But along the way, somehow I got sidetracked in my outward persona. So it’s time that I was outwardly a writer to everyone else I know.

So when I walked up to these tables that is what I said. And they asked, “What do you write?” And I said, “Creative nonfiction and poetry.” And that, my friends, feels good.

Let me suggest to you that you also consider publishing small pieces before you go whole hog with your book. I mean, keep writing the book. But consider if a chapter might work as a short story. Or flash fiction. I can’t believe how many places had calls or contests for flash fiction. Certainly if you write essays or poems you would do well to send them out singly. The feedback alone could be worth the effort.

Another thing I heard, from both book publishers and journals, was that they liked to see a commitment to submitting and to the publication. For instance, a book publisher would like to see work from a customer who has supported the press. A journal would like to see more submissions from someone who has not been accepted, especially if they liked an earlier piece but for some reason didn’t accept it. The lady at New England Review (NER) told me that if someone received an encouraging comment on a piece that wasn’t accepted, that person should definitely submit again. Persistence and patience. Patience and tenacity.

Another thing to remember is not to discount a journal because it may seem too small, or it may seem like you wouldn’t fit. There is a journal in Marshall MN called Yellow Medicine Journal that deals with indigenous material. The author doesn’t have to be indigenous – somehow when I heard indigenous journal I felt like I wasn’t allowed. But I talked to the editor today and she was all, “No! It’s about indigenous people – all over the world.” It’s a matter of the content, not the author. So yes, I might have something for that.

Also, places like Georgia University and Harvard Review want your stuff. Even if you are not an Ivy Leaguer or from the South. The editors there told me what they were looking for, and the HR editor went so far as to say “It cuts both ways.” (We may think “Harvard” means elitist, but they want all types of people to submit, so they are not getting the submissions they want.) They want all comers, but all the journals want different things.

So study your markets. Be consistent. Try to read what you can. The editor of the Tupelo Press was at a session and he said, “There is a home for a lot of writing. And your job as a writer is to find that home. How you do that is by reading.”

Start with The Review Review website. Go to your local bookstore and check out any local or national journals they carry. Try your library. It can be hard to find some of these outside of academic libraries. If you get a chance to go to a book festival, see if there will be a CLMP (Council of Literary Magazines and Presses) display. Check with your local colleges. And certainly, the journals are a great part of AWP.

C is for Conferences

We’ve already talked about the AWP conference being held next week in Minneapolis. But I want to go over conferences generally as well. There are, in my mind, two reasons why as an author, you should be thinking about attending conferences. (I’m talking about conventions here, too, but the terms are often used interchangeably, and to simplify I will mostly use ‘conference.’)

Hello, my name is

First, there is the basic writers’ conference. AWP is one of these, though it is also an industry (academic) conference, so combines the two. There are many, many other writers’ conferences which feature the holy grail of the writing life – meetings with agents and editors. These will also feature some breakout sessions, but the main reason people go to these is for the chance to make their pitch.

There are many types of these, from genre-specific to those geared towards certain markets (such as Christian), and they are held all over the country. One of the largest is the DFW Writers Conference in Texas (of course, right?). I’ve never been to this one, but it’s on my radar. At conferences of these type, you may have keynote or other presentations from well-known authors. But that is not the draw. Again, it’s those pitch meetings. Very often you need to sign up ahead of time for those, and certain conferences will charge for them. You need to go armed with a formal proposal, and backed up by a completed manuscript. In rare cases I’ve heard of an author pitching an idea, but this is usually for nonfiction work and most often the book was design heavy. Almost always they had some written material to offer as a sample.

There is a subset of these, called a Pitch Conference, one of which is being held at The Loft next November. It’s two days and it’s not cheap (over $400!). But the whole focus of this is pitching (as the name implies). There are several of these held each year. Not everyone is a fan. If you see a conference offering this new-fangled idea of query feedback, perhaps you should jump on that.

There are some writers’ conferences that are juried. You must apply to be able to attend. One of these is Bread Loaf in Vermont. The prestige of getting accepted is gilded by the reputation of former students and the number of NYC publishing houses in attendance.

The other type of conference you may consider is a targeted fan conference. For instance, the mystery genre is replete with conferences – there’s Bouchercon, Thrillerfest, Crimelandia and many other smaller ones. At this type of conference, you as an author can go and meet other writers, but the convention itself is geared towards writers and fans. So there may be panels on craft, but there will also be opportunities for fans to meet authors. I think it’s a good idea to go to one before you attend as an author – though I wouldn’t pass it up if your publisher offers to send you, simply because you haven’t been yet. These types of conferences will often allow volunteer panelists, so you can be on a panel if you choose. That’s a great way to get exposure and meet other authors.

Many of these are genre-specific – romance, mystery and fantasy and science fiction being the most popular. The fantasy/science fiction realm has raised this to an art form, with the various Cons held all over now, the largest being the San Diego Comic Con. Not just comics any more, believe me. These feature all types of entertainment – books, but also TV, movies, comics, and gaming. You will often find art sales and lots of costumes at these. Most of them include breakout sessions, a marketplace, and lots of parties. The one I go to is held here in July each year, called CONvergence. It’s four days of sessions, parties and costumes, but it also features a whole hotel floor devoted to gaming, author signings, movies and more. I go as a fan and writer, and last year I was on three fan panels. This is the largest volunteer-run convention of its type. There are large and small Cons now all over the US.

The other type of convention that authors should know about is the many industry conventions held every year for booksellers. The biggest is Book Expo America (BEA), held mostly in New York City but traveling occasionally to LA or DC. This is for members of the American Booksellers Association, and the publishing companies come out to fill the trade show floor. This convention has grown beyond its initial audience, however. They have now added a digital component and a whole day conference for bloggers. There is also the affiliated BookCon, which is billed as “the ultimate celebration of books,” which seems more like the genre fan conferences I discuss above.

There are also smaller, regional conferences held in the areas of the regional booksellers associations. The one near me is called Heartland Fall Forum, and is the convention of the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association and the Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association (MiBA/GLiBA). These regional shows may be a better place to start, as BEA can be a bit overwhelming for the first-time attendee.

I would discourage any author from attending one of these bookseller conventions unless your publisher sends you. There is really nothing for you to do unless you are a featured author. You can go to sessions (but many of them are geared for booksellers, with focus on inventory control, etc) and you can walk the trade floor, but you’re not going to randomly meet many fans, unless you just happen to be in the right place at the right time. The parties at BEA are legend, but you have to know where they are. And I have seen authors walking around BEA with a sandwich board, asking a question in a panel thinly disguised as a pitch for their book, and it’s just sad. These are industry professionals, and they want to meet authors with credibility. But if your publisher offers to send you, run, do not walk, because there is no better way to meet hundreds of booksellers.

There are many other smaller conventions and book festivals going on all the time. Do a quick search to check out what’s near you, and see what your budget is for travel to any that are further away. Talk to other authors, find out what their experience has been. And lastly, for any conference or convention, have a plan. If you are going to a writers’ conference, pick your pitch meetings and sessions carefully. Decide what your focus will be. If you are going to a big convention, know what your goals are, and try to have a plan of attack. I love these things, and I’ve had wonderful experiences at them. But you don’t want to be the guy with the sandwich board.

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A is for AWP

Here is my first post for the April A to Z Challenge. A is for AWP, folks!


Every year, the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) meets in a different city. The Internet explodes with articles about “How to Make the Most of AWP.” All of my writer friends start talking about it about a month in advance, especially the ones who teach at colleges. It’s one of the biggest conferences out there: the estimate this year is that 10,000 people will attend.

This year will be my first time attending the conference. I have heard about it for years, and I have wanted to go for a while. Last year I was going to go but had to cancel at the last minute. This year, it is in my backyard, in Minneapolis, so I couldn’t pass that up. I’m taking the money I saved on plane fare and spending it on a hotel room, so that I can dive in and not come up for air until it’s over. I’m looking forward to it.

AWP is an industry conference but also geared highly towards the average writer. There are many more breakout sessions to attend than at other conferences I’ve been to, and the schedule is insane. I still haven’t finished going through it all. They have a nice feature where you can mark a session that interests you, and add it to your schedule. So when you’re done, you print it or send it to your phone or whatever, and then you have a handy list of everything you want to do, when it’s scheduled and where it is. Some sessions are geared towards academics, but most are simply for writers. There’s everything from How and Why to Blog to publishing companies sponsoring readings from their authors. I have several choices marked for each session time – it will come down to a game-time decision based on where I am standing, what else has come up, and what I feel like doing.

Of course, one of the fun parts of AWP is the off-site events. There are myriad parties, readings, happy hours and so much more. Everyone pulls out their A game. I’ve received about 25 event invites on FB so far, and I am having trouble deciding what I want to do. One of my issues is that I don’t want to drive. I want to park my car and leave it there – that’s the whole point of getting a hotel room. There is a good bike rental service in downtown Minneapolis, called Nice Ride, so if I really want to get to something off-site, I could probably use that.

The problem with big parties is that they are just that – big. Huge crowds of people all talking to each other is something I can’t do for days on end. I’m going to be by myself too, which makes it kind of awkward sometimes. I expect that at most events I will know people, so that’s not really a big concern. But I don’t have a pal to hang with. If push comes to shove, I can always retreat to my hotel room and actually write.

One of the things I’m most looking forward to is meeting people in person that I have been communicating with for years. I am hoping to set up a time to meet with Bethanne Patrick, otherwise known as The Book Maven, as well as run into Jane Ciabattari, a past President of the National Book Critics Circle (NBCC). I’ve done blog posts for both of them in the past, and follow them both on several social media platforms. I also hope to meet some writers that I admire, such as Dani Shapiro.

I’ll make the bookfair my first stop, since I know several people who are exhibiting. And my attendance at AWP is not as a publishing professional: it is as a writer. So I’m going to be there first and foremost for myself. I want to get to the bookfair before it gets too crowded, before everyone gets tired out, and before they run out of copies of their latest issue. I want to visit journals that I might submit my work to, and meet the editors whenever possible. I also want some facetime with folks that I have worked with in the past.

I’m so looking forward to this! If you are on Twitter, look me up @LindaWonder and follow along as I navigate this spectacle. It starts next Wednesday!