Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Tidbits from the Squaw valley Community of Writers Conference

So I am up at the Squaw Valley Community of Writers Conference, the land of so many dreams. This is the place were aspiring writers come to workshop their short stories, novel excerpts and essay. They listen to the encouraging/discouraging words of editors, publishers, agents and other writers. Some of the big names this year include Michael Pietsch, publisher of Little Brown, Jack Shoemaker, longtime publishers of many imprints, authors Amy Tan, Dorothy Allison, Diane Johnson, Lynn Freed, Janet Fitch, Mark Childress, Jason Roberts, Rick Wartzman, Molly Gilles, and many more.

A few things heard or overheard:

On the demise of book criticism and book reviews, from author Alan Cheuse (after he lambasted the Washington Post for shutting down its stand along book review section) “We’re in a horrendous moment for American writers. It is so difficult to get attention for a book for someone who doesn’t have name recognition … and even for people with name recognition”

Lynn Freed: Most book reviews are book reports and are boring. She wants reviews to have opinions, to put books in broader context of writer’s work as well as the work of other authors. She and others agreed that reviewers are often writers and are reluctant to criticize one another's work.

(At which point I thought to myself: try doing all that contextual work when some places only pay $50 for a review)

The panel was short of discussion on the on-line chatter about books. In fact, the entire conference is missing a vibrant dialogue about the future of books, ebooks, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc. It is a conference that really focuses on writing rather than publishing.

On the agents panel: Susan Golomb, Peter Steinberg, Leslie Daniels

Golomb: Unfortunately publishers are now asking about an author’s platform, which they expect to be as high as a skyscraper, even when it is a debut novel.

Steinberg: It’s hard to give an average advance. They range from $1,000 to $5 million.

A participant asked what the agents thought of the online personality of Ms. Snark. None of them had heard of her. (I informed the questioner that it was agent Janet Reid)

Overheard: A woman came back from her one-on-one with a staff person complaining that the staff person asked what her vision of the book should be. After the participant talked a bit, the staff person said they only had 5 more minutes of the conference and they would have to wrap things up. The participant didn’t feel like she got any critique.

Also overheard: staff writer talking with someone whose manuscript he had critiques that day in class and setting up an extra session to discuss it with her.

Dorothy Allison read an except from a story that is out in the summer issue of Tin House. It concerned a young man named Jason who dreams of fame. Allison has lived in west Sonoma County on and off for ten years and says she is just now publishing stories about the area. This may be because Allison often writes as many as 18 drafts of a story.

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