Friday, August 29, 2008

Friday Fridge Clean-Out: Labor Day Weekend Edition

Like when you just don't know what to eat and open up the fridge door and stare, or maybe decide it's time to clear out the fridge and start pulling out this and that --here are plenty of picks for your weekend enjoyment. If the three-day weekend is more of a lounge than I think it will be, I'll get more up as it meanders along. Or maybe not. Meanwhile, read, think, wonder, discuss. Report back if you like.

The Salon des Refuses is a compilation and criticism special edition by two Canadian lit journals: only the previously-rejected story need apply. It's in response to 2007 Penguin Book of Canadian Short Stories, which some thought passed over too many worthy stories (and authors). OK, I get it. And I applaud anyone brave enough to launch any new print vehicle in 2008. Still: doesn't every story in a literary journal or anthology – unless you are Alice Munro – end up being rejected at least a time or two before it's published? And isn't it the job – like it or not-- of every anthology editor to whittle down the possible contenders? Guess the folks behind the Salon just didn't like what (and who) Jane Urquhart chose. And decided to do something about it.

With thoughts of school everywhere, I'm wishing my friend
Harriet Brown, who edited the funny and rueful Mr. Wrong, as well as the forthcoming Feed Me: Writers Dish about Food, Eating, Weight and Body Image, much good luck in her new job teaching in the magazine journalism program at Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communication, where I got my undergraduate degree. [Yes, I have an essay in Feed Me, but I'd send good wishes to Harriet anyway!]

I'm addicted to Publisher's Lunch/Lunch Daily, for a bunch of reasons. First, it's free, which its parent,
Publisher's Marketplace, though wildly informative, is definitely not. Second, anything that reminds me, on a regular basis, that there are books deals out there for writers and book ideas of every possible kind, that publishers are still hiring despite the "print is dead" rhetoric, and that agents are busy every single day nabbing contracts for completely unknown writers – well, that's the sort of encouragement I can use. Go here to sign up.

Speaking of free, you can sign up for the
BookPage twice-monthly e-newsletters here.

High-paying, quality markets for personal essays and creative narrative nonfiction are around, though not as plentiful as we'd like.
The Sun is an exception. It's good looking, well-edited, long-established, a monthly, and enjoys a good literary rep. And now there's this update from the submissions guidelines posted on the magazine's site:

"We pay from $300 to $3,000 for essays and interviews, $300 to $2,000 for fiction, and $100 to $500 for poetry, the amount being determined by length and quality. We may pay less for very short works. We also give contributors a complimentary one-year subscription to The Sun. We purchase one-time rights. All other rights revert to the author upon publication."

Hmm. Respectable compensation, fair rights terms, and a literary magazine that looks like a consumer magazine: in other words, I can keep it on my coffee table and visitors who never thought they cared about literary journals, may -- and do -- page through without intimidation, and without ads, too. The monthly e-newsletter, is free.

Okay, then there's this, and I’m not sure whether to be jumping in the aisles or putting on the "too good to be true" look I use when one of my kids tries to tell me something that ordinarily should be expensive, difficult and time-consuming is actually free, easy or quick.

Field Report is a new website promising a $20,000 payment each month to the author of a personal essay, judged the best by site visitors, who are fellow writer-contributors. I'm skeptical, mostly because (except for a few Google Adsense ads - and they pay next to nothing), there's no hint where the contest funds coming from. Who knows, maybe there's a noble-minded nonfiction lover behind the site. (Sure, they exist!).

The blurb on Mediabistro notes that one West Coast journalist said the San Francisco-based site has an "odd new business model." I'm hoping the emphasis in that quote isn't on "odd." Really, I hope it flies. I do. And I'd love to hear from anyone who knows more about it.

Have a great weekend.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Ten Days Without Writing

Awful. That's how it feels to spend a week and a half without writing. Let me clarify: it feels awful to spend 10 days without writing when you fully intended to write, but for unavoidable reasons, you are away from writing. No first drafts. No revisions. No scribbling in my writing journal where I jot ideas to develop, make notes, try out really rough drafts, scribble phrases and words I like, and generally play around with the ingredients of a writing life.

I guess it's not exactly correct to say I was completely away from writing. I did work through changes to an essay with an editor (it's destined for a website and I'll post a link when it's live). Then there is the research report I've been pulling together for a photography client who is working on a coffee-table book proposal. Oh, and I've been hip-deep in blogland with another client expanding her media industry website, composing test blog posts and a blog development plan. And I needed to put together some self-marketing materials for a website I'm partnering with on a project later in the fall.


Those activities are not what I think about when I think about writing. When I talk about writing, I'm talking about drafting, writing, rewriting, revising, rewriting, editing, revising, and the ongoing thinking process, that zone, when I'm more or less living in the piece. And, even before I get to all of that, I'm talking about prewriting, when my mind roils with ideas and themes and choices about points of view and tense and voice and tone….and even though my writing mind was churning during the past week and a half, since I knew I would have no time at all to actually write, mentally something seemed to clamp down, loud and hard. The draft from that shutting door, even if only for a short time, was chilling, desolate, scary.

Not all that often, but say a few times a year, my day jobs or my children or my husband or relatives and any or all of my other commitments, including my own health, will conspire to demand my attention. Often all at once. Not for small issues, but big ones, ones that simply cannot be put off. The kids schools will begin on time whether or not I get to write that new essay. Injured body parts must be rested and doctor appointments made (after being put off long enough) even if that means I miss a contest deadline. Sometimes, as a freelancer, my "sort of writing" obligations must be met, regardless of my own optimistic chapter-a-month memoir plan.

Having put most everything I could in my personal life on hold for the two years of an MFA program, it probably shouldn't come as a surprise to me that, six weeks out from graduation, so many issues have been usurping themselves, culminating in the Ten Days Without Writing.

It makes sense. It's just life. It doesn't mean anything other than a little bump in the writing road.

But I can hate it. And I do.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Q & A: Questions and Anthology Answers with Christina Fugate

As an occasional contributor to anthologies (and perhaps a future anthology editor), I always welcome the chance to talk to those who have put together a popular collection.

Christina Fugate edited
The Mothering Heights Manual for Motherhood: Volume 1 , released in May and recently held the number one spot in the mothering category at Amazon. Christina is a filmmaker, columnist, blogger and (need I say this?) a mother. I picked her brain just before she pulled the computer plug for a few weeks to enjoy some California summertime with her husband and children.

LR: Any topics or themes in the essay submissions which surprised you?
Christina: The use of the word perfection, over 96 times.

LR: Anything which you expected to see, but didn't?
Christina: I was surprised more moms didn't write about working at jobs outside of the home and how one juggles (or not) family life and personal needs.

LR: How many submissions did you receive?
Christina: I received over 100 submissions; 28 essays are featured, and I also invited submissions from several poets.

LR: When you decided which essays to include, what were the main criteria?
Christina: I looked for a unique voice and point-of-view in the essay. Sometimes that was in a form of a story, list or anecdotes. Some of the decisions were not mine but those of the previous publisher I was originally working with on the book. Once I took over the project, I did not have time to re-edit the manuscript and make the Mother’s Day deadline.

LR: Tell me about the title and subtitle.

Christina: The "manual" idea came from the fact that my husband has car manuals all around our house. One day, I thought to myself, I need a manual to tell me what to do with parenting. The subtitle came from the question posed for the essay contest and my continual griping about doing laundry and cooking.

LR: You turned around the print anthology pretty quickly. And you also ran, concurrently, an
online essay contest.
Christina: This was a lot of work and a natural diet. (I dropped poundage which is now back on.) I would never advise someone to host a contest, collect the entries, edit and publish a book in five months.

LR: I love the book's
trailer. What's on tap for promotion in the coming weeks?
Christina: I am taking most of August off to re-group. This has been an exciting but stressful time. I had an intervention from my husband who has insisted I put my laptop away and spend time offline relaxing. But I am doing some private book events and a reading at
Joseph Beth Booksellers in my hometown of Lexington, Kentucky on August 23.

LR: How can contributors to anthologies help to promote the book and themselves?
Christina: They need to toot their horn more! Send a copy of the book to their local newspapers and radio. It is so hard to get published, but an anthology can open a lot of doors.

LR: Tell us about your next project.
Christina: I am finishing up Transforming Matter, a film I have been working on for four years. It tells the story of poet
Donna Hilbert and her struggle to find love and happiness after the sudden death of her husband.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

A Nice Little Book. Emphasis on Little.

When is a nonfiction book more like a single long-form magazine article between harder covers?

Lee Israel's memoir,
Can You Ever Forgive Me?, detailing her escapades forging letters from and between the literary and artistic elite – Dorothy Parker, Noel Coward, Lillian Hellman -- according to the New York Times, runs just 18,000 words (think a longish New Yorker piece).

A Publisher's Weekly review notes, "…at 128 small pages, the book is thin to the point of anorexia…"
PW's and other reviews also, however, all praise Isreal's writing. Read an excerpt (or what amounts to about five percent of the book) and see for yourself.

Conventional wisdom has it that even a shortish memoir should run more in the neighborhood of 45,000 words. Yet I've read and admired many memoirs that are slim –
A Three Dog Life (Abigail Thomas) and About Alice (Calvin Trillin) come most quickly to mind. A new one, Comfort, by Ann Hood, is another unhefty volume; like the other few examples, the trade off for size is how expansive it is in emotion and sensibility. And it's not that I believe a book's size has much to do with its intrinsic value or that a long, thick tome must automatically be good.

But I do find it interesting such books seem like a good publishing move at a time when consumers are reluctant to pay a few bucks for a
magazine on the newsstand and the economy in general suggests less discretionary dollars to go around. Then again, maybe it makes perfect sense – a slimmed down memoir to go along with what we are told is the reading public's thinning attention span for words on actual paper.

And hey, when it’s a book about clever treachery, more or less "victimless" crimes going (more or less) unpunished, second chances, confession, redemption, and a bit of literary CSI-inspired how-she-done-it, why wouldn't it sell?

I’m sure I'll read it at some point. Probably before my Manhattan Midtown Direct train pulls into Penn Station from suburban NJ. And that's not a bad thing.

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Anti-Frey-and-Seltzer Memoir Diet

I haven't read New York Times culture writer and business columnist David Carr's new memoir, The Night of the Gun yet (early reviews are good), and I haven't even gotten to the based-on-the-book piece he did in the Times magazine either. But what's caught my attention, and has been creating interest among those who watch developments in the creative nonfiction and memoir world is this: The longtime journalist treated his subject (himself) and the events described (his descent into and bootstrap rise out of drug addiction) as if he were writing for the eyes of his Times editors. You know the kind, who insist on fact checking and corroboration, who care if the words on the page are accurate, true and verifiable.

Carr is so unambiguous on
where he stands on the unfortunate truth-bending trend in what he himself calls "junkie memoirs," he dug deep into his own past, notebook and video camera in hand, interviewing former associates, and checking records, and even hired a former journalism colleague to help search public records and interview those who knew Carr during the drug-addled years. He's not the first among journalists, or even among memoirists, who've researched themselves with rigor. But it's rare enough.

So, is this a
positive sign for memoirs? Or does it portend a time when the personal memories of ethical nonfiction writers will be discounted unless they can be indisputably fact-checked and verified? Would that help or hinder the reader? Will it make much difference to the book buying public? Is this the antidote to the Frey-and-Seltzer blight? Or would any memoir written by a current NYTimes columnist automatically pass the truth-in-nonfiction test anyway?