Monthly Archives: March 2013

Some thoughts on professionalization

Yesterday, I blogged a link to one of Cathy Day’s Literary Citizenship student’s round-up of harsh publishing truths. Cathy commented to ask when should students learn professionalization? Someone anonymous asked why shouldn’t students learn the business of their future field?

These are good questions. One good point is that undergraduate creative writing students are going to go into a variety of professions — as editors, agents, copywriters, journalists, etc. Some of them will go to law school. Some of them will go into academia. Others might marry someone making respectable money and stay home with the kids. Maybe one of them will actually make money as a commercial fiction writer, and maybe one of them will become a serious artist.

Given how scarce some of those jobs are, professionalization is certainly welcome. My flip comment — that I’m not sure it’s good for a person’s writing to obsess over publishing — is really directed to the one artist out of the bunch. Here are a few harsh truths for undergraduate creative writing majors who want to be artists:  Continue reading

Weekend News Roundup

I don’t know what’s going on in Cathy Day’s literary citizenship class, but her students are coming away with a harsh (realistic?) view of publishing. On one hand, I really admire this effort at professionalism, but on the other hand, I’m not sure it’s good for writers (or at least, their writing) to be obsessing over publishing before they’ve spent some time on their craft.

Most contemporary literary fiction is terrible, says a guy who writes contemporary literary fiction. He makes some fair points, and I think you can waste an awful lot of time trying to keep up with the hottest new writers out there, but I’m also skeptical of blanket statements like that.

Here’s a feel-good story for those of you toiling away: A teenager just landed a three-book deal for her romance novels. It sounds like writing is her hobby, and she plans to do other, perhaps better things with her life.

PBS aired its American Masters special on Philip Roth last night — well worth checking out.

James Salter’s new novel, All That Is, comes out Tuesday. Rumor has it that it’s the 88-year-old author’s best work. Why isn’t he more popular?

Stewart O’Nan, “Finding Time to Write”

Do you all know Stewart O’Nan? He’s an interesting, under-discussed writer. Here’s a cool essay he wrote about finding time to write. An excerpt:

How do you do it? How do you keep the work rolling while you’re working, say, at engineering? I was in test engineering, which is feast or famine, so I’d be working seven days a week, 12 hours a day. And I also commuted an hour to work. And had a family. And somehow I had to keep the work rolling.

Very simple things like keeping the manuscript with you at all times. Always keep it with you. That way you can always go back to it. Doesn’t have to be the whole manuscript.


Best book cover bio statement ever?

rothThat’s the inside back flap of an early edition hardback of Portnoy’s Complaint. Even DeLillo and Pynchon jacket flaps offer a complete sentence as a bio statement. I love that Roth’s just lets the work speak for itself. Also, as Ben noted, Roth looks like he’s about to seduce the photographer. (Also, also, it’s not like a bio statement appears anywhere else on the cover either.)


Mid-Week News Roundup

It’s been a busy week for the WITTScasters, but the world doesn’t stop.

Fiction Writers Review interviews J. Robert Lennon.

The Review Review submits New Yorker stories, which are soundly rejected. No surprise, not because the New Yorker stories are no good, but because literary journal screeners have so much to wade through that great stories get rejected all the time. The twist is that the New Yorker rejected a few of its old stories. Slate calls BS.

Ron Rash on writing. I’ve got a review of his new collection coming out this weekend, and I’ll post a link.

Cathy Day on the “abyss” between school and publication. Most writers don’t make it through this phase. Also, she weighs in on professionalism in general.

Should writers write for free? This is a complex issue, worthy of more thoughts.


Episode 8: Strengths and Weaknesses

In this episode, the WITTScasters try to figure out how to emphasize the strengths of their writing while improving on their weaknesses. Jon waffles on the primacy of plot, Ben searches for the souls of his characters, and Brian marvels that any story survives beyond the first draft. After looking their shortcomings in the eye, the guys cheer themselves up with a discussion of the hilarious and moving story “Pitching Pennies,” by George Singleton.

Reading Discussed

Interview: Marie-Helene Bertino

In episode 7, we discussed Marie-Helene Bertino’s charming story “North of,” which is in her debut collection, Safe As Houses, which received the 2012 Iowa Short Fiction Award and was published last fall. She kindly answered a few questions about her story and Bob Dylan, that “banty rooster.” For more about her, visit her website here.

WITTScast: Where did this story come from?

Marie-Helene Bertino: I was fired on Bob Dylan’s 60th birthday, then drove up to the mountains to meet my friends. I wasn’t broken up about being fired, but it was a surreal experience I spent the ride mulling over. Philly radio played nothing but Dylan all weekend. You do not realize how many songs Bob Dylan has about leaving a job until you get fired on his 60th birthday. Later, I told people I spent the weekend driving around with Bob Dylan. Then, I thought, what if I made that figurative sentence literal? Everything else took years.  Continue reading

What is it all for? On faith and fiction

Faith isn’t brought up much in the writing workshops — or at least any writing workshop I’ve been around. Maybe it’s just my South Carolina upbringing, O’Connor’s “Christ-haunted South,” but I think there’s a really deep connection between “faith” and “fiction,” one even the most secular writers could agree on.

Faith and Your Career

First, you’ve got to be somewhat stupid to be a fiction writer.  Continue reading

Interview: Roxane Gay

In episode 4, we discussed Roxane Gay’s excellent story “Glass,” published in the Atticus Review. She answered a few questions via email about that story and writing in general. Her short stories have been published widely, including in Best American Short Stories 2012, and her debut collection, Ayiti, is now available. For more information, visit her website.

WITTScast: I think what we admired most about “Glass” is your ability to be experimental with form while also writing with a remarkable amount of heart. The risk of experimentation seems to be that a piece loses heart. How do you prevent that? Do you find that “experimentalism” and “heart” go hand in hand for you?

Roxane Gay: Writing and heart go hand in hand for me, whether I am writing a traditional narrative or something experimental. I want to make people feel, no matter how I go about doing that. When heart gets lost in experimentalism, it’s because there’s not enough method to the madness. It’s an easy trap to fall in, to get lost in the experiment for experiment’s sake. We’ve all been there. Continue reading