Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Residency: Wrap-Up

Another  excellent residency with the Converse low-res MFA program.  So wonderful to see our graduates read their work and lecture on an array of craft topics…surely it won’t be long before I’m off to the bookstore to buy one of their books (I promise always to buy hardcover!).

As for me, I’m still trying to organize my real world life, which I totally forgot about while I was away (not to worry; Steve came along for several days, so it’s not as though I forgot about him). 

Before my mind gets too foggy, and I totally forget about the magic of the residency, here are some quick (paraphrased!) highlights from my notebook:

Small Press Panel

--Be discriminating in your search for a small press; always ask if the press has active distribution.  Do they send out galleys and review copies?

--Your best chance at a small press is usually when you have some sort of connection; do you know the people who run the press?  Do you know someone who can recommend your work to the press?

--“I’m looking for writers whose books will sell.”  She considers underwriting possibilities as she evaluates work and opportunities for an extended book tour based on places where a writer has lived and has connections.

--She suggested www.newpages.com as the best site to learn more about small press publishers.

Guest lecture on characters by Cary Holladay
--“All of my stores are written because one person loves someone else”: an aching heart is at the core

--A character’s desires create suspense.  These desires my change direction, so ask yourself frequently, what do your characters want?

--“A secret is a useful thing for a character to have or discover.”

--A rule of thumb:  avoid letting your character be alone too long because they ruminate and brood instead of act.

--Readers can tell how deeply you go into your own heart.  “Write until it hurts.”

Oh, seriously, there are PAGES more of great stuff from Cary.  This was an amazing lecture, and I feel fortunate that I was in attendance.  If you ever get the chance to see Cary Holladay read and/or teach, GO!  In fact, drive through a snowstorm to get there.  She’s terrific!  I’ve never met a more generous writer:  in her lecture, she included work by each member of the fiction faculty and discussed it with such love and detail that we all felt blessed.  (And that's NOT a word I tend to use.)  To get a sense of how wonderful she is, check out this interview.

Agent talk by Jeff Kleinman, Folio Literary Management

--He tends to look for two things:  First, a good premise and an ability to come up with ideas.  Second, he looks for a book that is voice-driven.

--Learning to write well is simply the bottom line, he said.  The next step is to figure out what makes you and your story special. 

--In the query process, he suggests always sending along a first page even if not requested in the guidelines, telling the agent you’re doing so “just to give you a sense of the writing.”

--Your cover letter and synopsis should have a voice that reflects the book.  If your book is funny, your letter/synopsis should also be funny.

Like all that?  There’s SO MUCH more, including heated discussion about Bobbie Gentry’s  “Ode to Billie Joe,” the annual fiction writers dinner, a night of hilariously bad break-up stories, wine and beer and Jack Daniels & ginger ale, the same Mexican restaurant twice in one day, and the creamiest grits ever!

So….join us.  The application deadline for summer 2012 is February 15!  More info here.


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.