I attended a Squaw Valley Community of Writers Summer Literary Event this week. The hundred or so attendees at the Olympic Village Lodge sat at tables and chairs facing the raised stage and podium. Large windows that stretched from the floor to the ceiling overlooked aspens and pines and beautiful sunny skies. With notebook open and pen ready, I eagerly anticipated the event.
The day-long panels and presentations left me with a full notebook and a drained brain. The first two presentations on memoir and short story were inspiring, but the last panels on West Coast literary magazines and epublishing felt like taking medicine. I knew it would help me, but it tasted bitter.
Hard to Swallow
The literary magazines represented in the panel receive hundreds of submissions for each issue. They always want to showcase name writers for added cache and in some cases publish short stories, essays, poetry, photography and art all in one issue. The editors want relevant subject matter that fits their taste and pieces they choose must complement the others, similar to the way an art gallery mounts a show. There’s usually a theme. And the online journals are great, but some publish only once a year. The key is to be very good and to have the good luck to be writing about a timely subject that also connects with the editor’s interest. Simple, right?
The epublishing panel was made up of publishers and agents who offered practical information to help writers make informed decisions about whether they want to let Amazon give away books for 99 cents that they’ve worked on, sometimes for years. They talked about the poor editing and low quality of books glutting the marketplace. The panelists suggested several must-read articles. For example, Letter from Scott Turow: Grim News. Also, The Shallows: What the Internet is doing to our Brains by Nicholas Carr.
Hardly the stuff of inspiration, but when I penetrate that magic door of being published, I’ll be happy to have the knowledge shared at Squaw rather than popping my bewildered head out of the sand when it’s too late.
On the Page
Listening to writers talk about what happens on the page was much more interesting to me. The first speaker, John Daniel, talked about truth in writing memoir. His advice is something any writer would be wise to employ in nearly anything they produce.
- “Write for yourself. Write because there is an area of your life you are not clear about. Write to see it in fuller light. You are at odds with yourself and you write your way to some understanding.”
- “It’s not about what you’ve done but what you do with what you’ve done—on the page.”
- “Honesty is the only policy in writing a memoir worth reading.”
I’d like to take that one step further and say that honesty in writing anything is key. The kind of honesty that comes from knowing what your own motivations are and if you don’t know, to keep searching.
Even if some of the sessions were reminders that the publishing world is shifting under our feet and no one really knows what to expect, I’m glad I attended. And I was inspired by the setting and the presentations.
By the way, if you want to read or write some fun Flash Fiction, check out the Writer Unboxed contest. I’ve posted my second one this week. If you like it, or any of the others, click Like!