Sunday, March 1, 2009
Debrief: AIW/Mason Fiction Writing Seminar, Feb 28
The program was offered in an unusual (for me) format: a day long series of talks and panel discussions with no overlapping sessions. The continuity of audience allowed for a certain continuity of discussion, which was special. Though there were a few students in attendance, most of the participants were non- or post- academics, very like the participants I encountered when I attended the New York Summer Writers Institute at Skidmore a couple of years back: serious folks who love reading and writing but who don’t always have a stable writing community
I was committed to 10 minutes duty, so I can’t explain why I gave over my whole Saturday to this thing, but I’m glad I did. Art Taylor has posted his “highlights,” so here are mine:
9:07 am: Jeffrey Deaver presents a charming speech where he very clearly negates the necessity of the panel that follows him by offering a succinct consideration of literary and commercial fiction and neatly dispenses with the mythical opposition between the two.
9:30am. Deaver goes into the audience to gently heckle the next panel “Literary Snobs and Commercial Sellouts,” an anecdote filled discussion featuring Alan Cheuse (as “The Snob”) taking jabs from commercial writers John Gilstrap, Donna Andrews, and James Grady. No real blood here, and one thing all the writers agree on: TAKE DA MONEY. About half way through I become agitated. Aren’t we really just giving in to unimaginative marketing labels that don’t really mean anything to a real reader, let alone artist? And why do I have to run all over the bookstore to put together my Walter Mosely collection? I happen to be sitting next to a former student I know has a particular interest in writing rape/bondage fiction. What would the panel have to say about that genre?
10:45am. “Novelists who write reviews” —Nandini Lal, Sudlip Bose, Art Taylor, Louis Bayard. Far and away the smartest, most cohesive panel, plus Art is a riot as he tries to explain the difficulties that arise when he befriends an author he has reviewed. Wish Tara had been there to see him fumble-recover, Daryl Monroe-style. We all turn on him. He prevails. Big fun.
1:30—“New Media and Publishing Creative Writing”—Reb Livingston, Mark Athitakis, Bernadette Geyer, and ME. Moderator Reb does a brill intro, covering issues of commodification and new publishing models, which leaves the panelists free to get right to our issues. Mark and Bernadette talk about the publishing industry and emerging promotional tools. All of my prepped material is about the “workshop story” stagnation of the 80s/90s and how new publishing has re-ignited evolution in the form, but I know from being here all day that the crowd is mainly interested in novel writing, so I feel I need to come up with something new—my first instruction to the crowd is “Write down these names so you can google them when you get home: Shane Jones and Nick Antosca.” Reb nods emphatically, and adds “And Blake Butler.” (I could kick myself for forgetting Blake, but I haven’t followed his writing as closely as Nick’s and Shane’s.) I told the folks that these are writers with novel pubs whose publishing activities illustrate what new careers in writing can look like. The Audience. Took. Notes. I had to repeat and spell names.
3pm—Second novels—William Miller, Andrew W. M. Beierle, Katharine Davis, Dallas Hudgens, and Alex MacLennan. This panel turned out to be surprisingly Relevant To My Interests. Two of the panelists didn’t publish their first novels until they were over 50. Still two others no longer use an agent. Much frank discussion of agents, editing, etc, and while I already knew a lot of what they had to say, I didn’t necessarily know that I knew what I knew. Talked a little to Katharine Davis after—she is my new hero. Did you know that the author has to write those “book discussion questions” you see in trade paperbacks?