July 17th, 2004

Clarion, Day 42: Conference with Jeffrey Ford

This is a catch-up post.

Had my conferences with Jeffrey Ford and Kelly Link on Monday. Jeff's basic advice was to keep writing. He believes that at this point, I need more writing time, not workshops. He has limited patience for non-standard narration: "Cut the narrative tricks, just tell the story." In fact, that's been one of his watchwords in the workshop in general. His going-away gift was a wooden paddle, signed by all of us, with the motto on the back, "Just tell me a damned story."

He thought that if I kept developing as a writer, I should be expect to be published professionally within a year or so.

Other advice: "The writer should write as the reader reads: from point A to point B. The writer should *discover* the story in the same way the reader discovers it." He doesn't like titles that are literary/philosophical name-dropping (case in point, the title of one of my Clarion-written stories, "Tabula Rasa.") He says the title should not give anything away.

He had a number of suggestions for changes in the stories of mine he had read, and suggestions for markets, including Polyphony, Argosy, Leviathan (a roughly biennial anthology), Third Alternative, and the Say... series.

Jeff Ford's recommended reading (for me):
Aristotle's Poetics
John Gardner's The Art of Fiction
Steven Millhauser's short fiction.
Raymond Carver, especially "The Knife Thrower."

Because I asked him specifically for any tips about character development, he recommended these authors:
Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle, for character development
Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars books
Laurie Colwin's Goodbye Without Leaving
Stephen Bury (pseudonym of Neal Stephenson), The Cobweb
  • Current Mood
    melancholy melancholy

Clarion, Day 42: Conference with Kelly Link

Had my conference with Kelly Link on Monday.

She talked a good deal about the stories I'd written here; she's read them all. One of them she offered to buy for LCRW outright, but also seemed to think I should shop it around to professional markets first, including non-genre markets. She mentioned 3rd Bed, a publication I had been unaware of, as well as McSweeney's, New Yorker, Penthouse (is Penthouse the new Playboy for sophisticado genre fiction with a soupçon of sex?). She also generally likes Polyphony and Alchemy as outlets for fiction.

Reading suggestions:
George Saunders
Robert Reed
William Browning Spencer, Resume with Monsters
Stacey Richter, My Date with Satan
Jane Hamilton, Disobedience: A Novel
Anne Pratchett, Bel Canto
M.T. Anderson, Thirsty (The author is associated with 3rd Bed, mentioned above
Holly Black, Tithe : A Modern Faerie Tale

She offered to introduce me to a writers' group near Philly. (!)

She gave me two books. (Kelly is noted for giving out books to students at her Clarion conferences). For me, it was David Quammen's The Flight of the Iguana and Barry Hughart's Bridge of Birds Thanks, Kelly!

Final, no shit, really truly the last teaching session right now, with Kelly and Gavin, on small presses and publishing, must go, more later.

7/22/04: Update/correction. Kelly Link informs me that she was recommending Tin House magazine, not Penthouse. Oops. Slip of the ear on my part.
  • Current Mood
    hopeful hopeful

Clarion, Day 42: Kelly and Gavin on pulishing/small press publishing

Cory Doctorow, The Idiot's Guide to Publishing Science Fiction
Few houses take unagented fiction; Tor does.
It can take up to three years to hear back from Tor; they are known occasionally to lose manuscripts.
Usual advance for first novel US$4K to $10K;
Typically takes 18 months for novel to publish; beware of shorter time frames, 6 months is not sufficient time adequately to design, edit, and typeset a book.
Many editors nowadays tend not to do much editing; your book may be published pretty much as submitted.
Author increasingly expected to help with the marketing; author may be responsible for getting blurb quotes from other writers.
Gavin: for folks at our level, focus on writing better, not on publishing. [This was pretty much Jeffrey Ford's line, too.] Subscription to Locus is a good idea.
Bookstores typically keep new novels on the shelf 90 days, then strip them.
Gavin: advises against self-publishing, iUniverse, etc. "iUniverse is good for your aunt's memoirs."
Gavin: Chapbooks are acceptable, even though they sort of edge towards self-publishing.
Year's Best Fantasy and Horror may be useful source in looking for markets and publishers.
In small presses, besides Small Beer, of course, recommend Golden Griffin (although tends for some reason to be a boy's club), Nightshade.
Distributors, such as Ingram, typically take up to 2/3 of the cost of the book (40% is passed on to the bookstore).
Advertising budget for publisher is typically US$1 per copy printed. I.e., print run of 5000 will have ad budget of $5000.
Kelly: even the best proofreaders miss about 25% of errors in manuscripts.
Kelly: SMF, SMF, SMF. If you want to say you went to Clarion, do it in the cover letter, not the ms.
Kelly and Gavin: LCRW likes self-stickum-no-lick envelopes (like Carina at RoF).
Gavin: chapbooks are inexpensive to make, and nice to give out at readings. Along the same micro-micro-publishing lines: bookmarks with tiny stories on them.
  • Current Mood
    cheerful cheerful

Clarion, Day 42: I've got no expectations to pass through here again

Reading by Kelly and Jeff at the Archive Bookstore two nights ago. Kelly read part of a story about a cheerleader and Satan going backward in time, and it was wonderful, but I didn't catch the title or where it had (or was going to) appear. Jeff read "Creation," the first story in his The Fantasy Writer's Assistant collection. Books were bought and signed. A good time was had by all.

Last crits were on done on Friday. Lots of Mafia played and movies watched over the last 24 hours. Nikki coordinated the making of an impromptu chapbook as a going-away present for Kelly Link; everyone got a copy and there was a mad signing party over pizza. Clarion 2004 T-shirts showed up. When I have a little time I'll transcribe the quotes from the back. The keynote quote, from the front, reads, "How can I get my word choices more better?"

Six of us have left already, two more are leaving this evening. Jeff Ford left this afternoon. Most of the rest of us are leaving tomorrow, Grace, Peter and (of course) Amelia are hanging on until Tuesday.

I am feeling inexpressibly sad. It is an almost physical sensation in my chest, and a weakness of my limbs.

I wandered into the crit room -- the Kappa house's formal living room -- this morning, stood, and looked around. The circle of chairs was still there, empty. No more crits, ever. No more group, no more voices offering praise, correction, encouragement, hesitation, voices of other writers, who think my thoughts, have my dreams, struggle with my problems. Whatever happens to us now, Clarion is over, forever. Brynna, Al and Tenea came in. We just looked at each other for a while.
  • Current Mood
    crushed crushed

Clarion, Day 42: So long, and thanks for all the caterpillar sushi

Dinner tonight with the gang at Omi, a sushi/other Japanese place within easy walking distance of the KKG house. I had caterpillar sushi, which I had never had before, and which is both beautiful and delicious. Also octopus with shoyu and sesame oil, likewise delicious. Came home, packed as much as I could tonight. Tomorrow I should be able to get out of here in an hour or so. Plan is to leave at 7 a.m., to be home by 6 p.m.

From the conversation at dinner, everyone else is feeling pretty much as I do: very sad, with a tremendous sense of loss. If I had one misconception about Clarion before coming here, it was this: I didn't realize how all-consuming it would become, or how much the other students would become a part of my life, the elemental components of my world.

Six weeks of Clarion is about right. More would be too much, less would not be enough. Clarion must end, I know that, we all know that.

But damn, it's painful.

This is probably my last post from East Lansing. I'll post some summing-up stuff after I arrive home, get unpacked and reorganized.
  • Current Mood
    lonely lonely