Instructor Q&A: Stephanie Barko

“It’s never too early to find the readers for your next book.”

-Stephanie Barko

Stephanie Barko is teaching a class for the Writers’ League of Texas called “Start Your Author Platform” on February 4 at St. Edward’s University in Austin, TX. This class will be appropriate for writers ready to promote their books and writers still working on manuscripts but thinking ahead. Read the interview below and visit the class page to learn more.

stephanie_barko-4671-1Scribe: How important is it for authors to take an active role in promoting and marketing themselves and their work? Isn’t that their publisher’s job?

Stephanie Barko: Ha! An author would have to be at the top of an imprint’s heap to get much attention at all.

Many publishers don’t spell out in their contracts what marketing they agree to do, if any. It is always the author’s responsibility to promote their work, regardless of publishing track.

Scribe: What if writers have never done any marketing or promotional work–they’ve just worked in solitude and written their books? How difficult is it to begin promoting themselves?

SB: I would substitute the word “necessary” for the word “difficult” in this question. Considering how many books are published each year, I consider it necessary to build your following a year in advance of release date. It’s never too early to find the readers for your next book.

Scribe: How essential is social media to marketing? Is it one piece, or is it the whole thing?

SB: Social media is one element in the trifecta that is author marketing. Come learn the other two in my class.

Scribe: When you talk about an “author platform,” what exactly do you mean?

SB: A book platform establishes a forum and following for your book. An author platform defines your brand and who you are across your entire body of work.

Thanks, Stephanie!

Click here to register for Stephanie’s class.

Click here for our current class schedule.

 

About the Instructor

Stephanie Barko is a literary publicist whose award-winning clients include traditional publishers and their authors, small presses, and independently published authors. She has been shepherding nonfiction and historical fiction for American authors since 2006. This spring Stephanie will speak on the publishing industry as a SXSW Interactive Mentor/Presenter.

Instructor Q&A: Stacey Swann

“Keep submitting to the journals you love and don’t be daunted when the best story you’ve ever written is rejected forty times in a row.”

-Stacey Swann

Stacey Swann is teaching a class for the Writers’ League of Texas called “How to Submit to Journals” on January 28 at St. Edward’s University in Austin, TX. If you are a writer stories ready to send out into the world, this class will help you arrive at that elusive understanding: what editors really value and expect. Read the interview below and visit the class page to learn more.

swann-photo-2-1Scribe: What’s the biggest misconception that writers have when they begin sending out submissions? Are there any common mistakes?

Stacey Swann: Misconceptions are often rooted in the writer’s own background. For example, writers who have worked in journalism or other nonfiction writing often assume that journals publishing fiction work the same way. Sadly, the response time for many fiction publications is 3-6 months, and some take longer than that. And upon acceptance, you will typically wait longer for publication than with other forms of writing like journalism. New writers often also assume that they will get constructive feedback from editors and are disappointed by the form letter rejections. But always remember that it isn’t because the editors don’t care! Literary journals are labors of love, and often the staff have other full time jobs. The move to electronic submissions has been a great boon to writers but also means that journals are dealing with twice as many submissions as they were fifteen years ago.

Scribe: Are there tools and resources to help find places to submit and track those submissions?

SS: Definitely! Duotrope has been around for a long time, and you can try out a free trial for a month. Poets & Writers and New Pages also have great lists. Recently, a student turned me on to Submission Grinder, which is much like Duotrope but completely free. A good chunk of journals now use Submittable for submissions, and they have a great interface that tracks all your submissions through their system.

Scribe: What do editors really look for (good or bad) when reading submissions?

SS: Editors really are looking for the same things any reader is when they pick up a new story—they want a narrative voice that they trust and enjoy listening to, characters and a plot that engage them, and a fictional world that feels concrete and believable. The added wrinkle is that, because they read so much more than a typical reader, they are also looking for something that can surprise them or feels different than other stories they have read before.

Scribe: What are reasonable expectations that writers should have as they begin sending out their work?

SS: The good news is that there are more and more journals out there publishing excellent work. So if you put in the time and effort of sending out your work to a wide range of journals, including ones new to the scene, chances for publication are very high. But for writers concentrating on the more competitive markets—the ones whose stories often wind up in the Best Of anthologies—the best trait to have is patience. Keep submitting to the journals you love and don’t be daunted when the best story you’ve ever written is rejected forty times in a row. There’s a certain amount of luck at work in this process, but I truly believe that hard work and persistence beats luck every time.

Thanks, Stacey!

Click here to register for Stacey’s class.

Click here for our current class schedule.

 

About the Instructor

Stacey Swann’s fiction has appeared in Epoch, Memorious, Versal, and other journals. The former editor at American Short Fiction and former Stegner Fellow, she teaches with Stanford University’s Online Writer’s Studio. She’s at work on Olympus, TX, a novel-in-progress she is whittling down from Texas-sized to a more modest Montana or New Mexico size.

Instructor Q&A: Charlotte Gullick

“Prose writers can struggle with being succinct, effective use of imagery, and with the rhythm of sentences. Studying poetry can help us enliven and streamline our material.”

-Charlotte Gullick

Charlotte Gullick is teaching a class for the Writers’ League of Texas called “Better Prose Through Poetry: Using Rhythm, Repetition and Other Poetic Tools in Your Writing” on January 21 at St. Edward’s University in Austin, TX. From novice to rising novelist, to seasoned, successful writers and screenwriters, this class will provide a broad spectrum of perspectives on poetry’s richness as foundation, catalyst and lively companion. Read the interview below and visit the class page to learn more.

Charlote Gullick bwScribe: What does it mean to use poetic devices in prose? Most novelists or memoir writers might probably resist using alliteration because it might sound too poetic. But is it? 

Charlotte Gullick: I am defining poetic in the broadest senses such as precise and extended use of metaphor and/or symbol; strategic use of sentence length so that the prose has a compelling and varied rhythm; use of white space; use of slant rhyme, and the occasional and effective alliteration.

Scribe: What are a few problems in prose that reading and thinking about poetry can address? 

CG: I think prose writers can struggle with being succinct, effective use of imagery, and with the rhythm of sentences. Studying poetry can help us enliven and streamline our material.

Scribe: Is the strategy of reading poetry to inspire prose only applicable to certain kinds of prose writers? What if someone doesn’t have a lyric voice in their work? 

CG: I think writers in genre, of any style, can benefit from studying poetry as a means to improve their prose. One key aspect to this is finding YOUR kind of poetry–in other words, not every poem is for every prose writer. Once a prose writer has found his/her style of poetry, then the poems can spark deep insights.

Scribe: What is a poem that you return to often? How has it inspired your own writing? 

CG: There are three: Mary Oliver’s “White Owl Flies Into and Out of the Field,”Patricia Smith’s “Skinhead,” and Sherman Alexie’s “The Summer of the Black Widows.”

All three pieces are very intense in their unique ways – and all three offer, for me, a perspective shift. Of course, they have the expected poetic devices that I admire and learn from, and on a larger scale, they give me ideas about how to see the world differently.

Scribe: Who is a novelist or memoir writer whose prose you admire for its poetic qualities?

CG: I love how Justin Torres uses repetition and white space in We the Animals; I also love Lia Purpura’s essays for the ways she weaves rhythm and image. Natalie Diaz’s essays knock my socks off with their precision, rhyme, and honed voice.

Thanks, Charlotte!

Click here to register for Charlotte’s class.

Click here for our current class schedule.

 

About the Instructor

Charlotte Gullick is a novelist, essayist, editor, educator and Chair of the Creative Writing Department at Austin Community College. A first-generation college graduate, she received her AA with High Honors from Santa Rosa Junior College, a BA with Honors in Literature/Creative Writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a MA in English/Creative Writing from the University of California, Davis. She began a MFA in Creative Nonfiction at the Institute of American Indian Arts in July 2014.

Charlotte’s first novel, By Way of Water, was chosen by Jayne Anne Phillips as the Grand Prize winner of the Santa Fe Writers Project Literary Awards Program, and a special author’s edition was reissued by the Santa Fe Writers Project in November of 2013. Charlotte’s other awards include a Christopher Isherwood Fellowship for Fiction, a Colorado Council on the Arts Fellowship for Poetry, a MacDowell Colony Residency, Faculty of Year from College of the Redwoods as well as the Evergreen State College 2012 Teacher Excellence Award.

Meet the Members: David Eric Tomlinson

“Writing, like nothing else, encourages me to focus on the bigger picture, to try and make sense of my community, my place within it, and how and where change can be affected.”

–David Eric Tomlinson

A member of the Writers’ League of Texas for three years, David Eric Tomlinson lives in Dallas.

tomlinson-webScribe: In what genre(s) do you write?

David Eric Tomlinson: I write fiction and the occasional book review or personal essay.

Scribe: What author would you most like to have a drink with, and what’s the first question you would ask them? 

DET: My college writing professor, novelist and memoirist Mel Freilicher, who I haven’t seen in more than ten years. He always has a unique perspective on the intersection of art and politics, so I’d want him to explain the recent presidential election and what it all means. If anyone can do it, Mel can.

Scribe: If you were stranded on a deserted island, what book would you want to have with you to keep you sane?

DET: Underworld by Don DeLillo. It makes sense of this modern world like nothing I’ve ever read.

Scribe: What have you learned from your association with the Writers’ League?

DET: The Writers’ League has given me access to a whole diverse community of Texas writers, all of them pushing boundaries and taking chances with their work, which is so often excellent. I’ve reviewed several novels for the Members Review, something that has helped hone my own craft, because it forces a closer engagement with a manuscript, which is always a good thing for an author.

Scribe: Where do you see your writing taking you (or you taking it) in the future?

DET: I’ll keep writing novels. It’s a long game, many years from idea to finished product, but that process forces me to both retreat from and engage more deeply with the world around me. There is such a constant barrage of information these days, much of it meaningless. And writing, like nothing else, encourages me to focus on the bigger picture, to try and make sense of my community, my place within it, and how and where change can be affected.

Scribe: Here at the Writers’ League, we love sharing book recommendations. What’s one Texas-related book that has come out within the past year that you couldn’t put down?

DET: I read a fantastic novel by Dallas author Joe Milazzo a few years ago called Crepuscule W/Nellie. It’s about a love triangle between Thelonious Monk, his wife (just diagnosed with cancer), and Monk’s benefactor, a wealthy baroness. It’s a big, brilliant, rambling, gutsy book that dives into jazz and the creative process and intimacy and friendship. Another great one is Carmen Boullosa’s Texas: The Great Theft, about Mexico’s invasion of Texas (which had been stolen from them), in 1859. It’s a funny, irreverent, and politically relevant take on the seemingly endless cast of characters struggling for control of the border.

Scribe: Is there anything else about you that you would like to share with the world? An opportunity for blatant self-promotion! 

My debut novel The Midnight Man was just released this month from Tyrus Books, now a division of Simon & Schuster. It’s a story about five Oklahomans who overcome deep racial, political, and social differences, to form a kind of family unit, in the year preceding the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. The plot revolves around a capital murder trial. We’re having a book launch party on Monday, January 16, at The Wild Detectives bookstore, in Dallas. You can learn more about all of that here: www.DavidEricTomlinson.com.

Thanks, David!

If you’re a Writers’ League member and you’d be interested in being interviewed for our Meet the Members feature, email us at member@writersleague.org for more information. It’s a great way for other members to get to know you and for you to share a bit about what you’re working on!

Instructor Q&A: Donna M. Johnson

“The best memoirs are always an interrogation of the self, the historical self, yes, but also the hidden, more mysterious aspects of the self.”

-Donna M. Johnson

Donna M. Johnson is teaching a class for the Writers’ League of Texas called “Deepening the Narrative: Moving Beyond the Self in Memoir” on January 14 at St. Edward’s University in Austin, TX. This class is for anyone who wants to learn how to add depth and resonance to their memoir. Read the interview below and visit the class page to learn more.

donnajohnson-1Scribe: The title of the class is “Deepening the Narrative: Moving Beyond the Self in Memoir.” This might seem like a contradiction in terms to some people. After all, isn’t a memoir inherently about the writer? What does it mean to move beyond the self? Why is it necessary?

Donna Johnson: The subtitle “Moving Beyond the Self in Memoir” could have easily read, “Moving Beyond the Historical Self.” I think the best memoirs are always an interrogation of the self, the historical self, yes, but also the hidden, more mysterious aspects of the self. For example, the fact that one day my daughter and I stumbled upon what became a dig site may be more important to my story than when and where I attended college, or how long I was on the dean’s list. This relatively inconsequential event may become a recurring motif in my story that makes the memoir about so much more than what happened to me. We’re talking about using the self as a way to explore the universal human experience.

Scribe: Can you give an example of a memoir that moves beyond the self? How does it do so?

DJ: H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald. The author’s father dies at the opening of the book, but instead of writing about their relationship or her grief over his death, she focuses on training a goshawk, which she calls a killing machine. She tells the story of her relationship with the hawk and of how she enters into its bloody world. She also relates the story of the author T.H. White’s (The Once and Future King) attempts to train a goshawk. White is a sadist who, in trying to escape his sadism, ends up inadvertently torturing his hawk. The result of this book is a layered, complex story that speaks to how one very idiosyncratic person deals with grief and in part, about how we come to accept our place in the world. It’s also about how we humans interact with wildness.

Scribe: A lot of memoir drafts (and some published ones, too) run out of steam before they reach the end. Part of the problem seems to be that the writer has run out of story. This is probably a worry that some writers have. We tell our stories all the time, but no one ever tells a memoir-length story. What is it that memoirs need to do besides tell what happened?

DJ: I think memoir is really concerned with exploring what happened rather than simply telling what happened. My favorite personal narratives circle around a group of questions as Helen MacDonald does in H is for Hawk. One way to explore is to reflect directly on what’s going on. Another way is through the use of motif. As memoir writers we can’t write about something just because it happened. Yes, Aunt Hattie may have made that dress for you–but what does it mean? Why are you telling me, the reader, about it? What significance does it have in your story? What does it say about Aunt Hattie, about your family in general, about the part of the country from which your family originates? How does it relate thematically to your larger story?

Scribe: Will students in the class be reading excerpts from particular memoirs? Which ones can they look forward to learning from?

DJ: Memoir is such an exciting and experimental form. I haven’t made my final selections but I’m considering The Ticking is the Bomb by Nick Flynn, The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, and The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch, as well as a few others.

Thanks, Donna!

Click here to register for Donna’s class.

Click here for our current class schedule.

 

About the Instructor

Donna M. Johnson is the author of Holy Ghost Girl, a memoir deemed “enthralling” by the New York Times and “compulsively readable” by Texas Monthly. The book made the Oprah.com Memoirs We Love list twice and took top honors at the Books for a Better Life Awards in New York. Donna’s work has appeared in several anthologies as well as the Huffington Post, Shambhala Sun, The Rumpus, Psychology Today and other publications. She is currently at work on a second memoir as well as a journalistic project.

 

Meet the Members: John Pipkin

“It’s supremely important for you to have a community of writers to turn to for support and for advice, and for drinks when you finally crawl out of your writing cave.”

-John Pipkin

pipkinA member of the Writers’ League of Texas for over 16 years (and a former WLT Executive Director!), John Pipkin lives in Austin.

Scribe: In what genre(s) do you write?

John Pipkin: Literary Historical Fiction. My book The Blind Astronomer’s Daughter (Bloomsbury) came out in October.

Scribe: What author would you most like to have a drink with, and what’s the first question you would ask them?

JP: David Foster Wallace. I’d like to ask him what was on the deadly-entertaining videotape in Infinite Jest.

(But I don’t think he’d tell me.)

Scribe: If you were stranded on a deserted island, what book would you want to have with you to keep you sane?

JP: John Milton, Paradise Lost (1667). It’s an epic poem, so it has the merit of being really really long, and it holds up under multiple re-readings.

Scribe: What have you learned from your association with the Writers’ League?

JP: It’s supremely important for you to have a community of writers to turn to for support and for advice, and for drinks when you finally crawl out of your writing cave.

Scribe: Where do you see your writing taking you (or you taking it) in the future?

JP: I’ve written novels set in the 18th and 19th centuries, so eventually I’d like to creep up into the 20th century, maybe.

Scribe: Here at the Writers’ League, we love sharing book recommendations. What’s one Texas-related book that has come out within the past year that you couldn’t put down?

JP: Dominic Smith, The Last Painting of Sara de Vos

Scribe: Is there anything else about you that you would like to share with the world? An opportunity for blatant self-promotion!

JP: Ah, I feel like I’ve already been doing a lot of shameless self-promotion on social media lately, so maybe I should pass on this one. (Okay, one thing: the UK edition of The Blind Astronomer’s Daughter came out on December 15, and the large print edition publishes on January 17. That’s it.)

Thanks, John!

If you’re a Writers’ League member and you’d be interested in being interviewed for our Meet the Members feature, email us at member@writersleague.org for more information. It’s a great way for other members to get to know you and for you to share a bit about what you’re working on!

MEMBERS REVIEW: Good as Gone by Amy Gentry

“You’ll find yourself having to remember to breathe.”

-Reviewer Tony Burnett on Amy Gentry’s Good as Gone

GOOD AS GONE

 

good-as-gone

by Amy Gentry

Published in 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

reviewed by Tony Burnett

Eight years after Julie was silently abducted from the bedroom next to her young sister while her mother and father slept downstairs, the remaining family dynamic has persevered. Though they each carry their own private burden of guilt, the family has not quite imploded. When a young woman shows up at the door claiming to be Julie, the joy is overshadowed by the opening of old wounds, especially as Julie’s mother, Anna, begins to suspect the woman is not her daughter.

Amy Gentry’s debut novel, Good As Gone, takes the genre of domestic suspense to a level of intensity rarely experienced. The superb writing explores not only the depth of the characters but the extremes of their ability to cope with the unknown or, in some cases, not to cope with what is known. The narrative perfectly balances the scalding plot progression with a definitive internal conflict of a family whose tender scars are ripped wide open.

The point of view moves through the members of the family as well as the chameleon-like identities “Julie” has assumed for the sake of survival. This complex character examination is a powerful study of identity and cohesion when challenged by the extremes of physical and emotional stress. Gentry presents her protagonist’s unlikely manifestations with the humanity required to make the reader not only believe but empathize with the conviction required to keep the pages turning. The Northwest Houston setting is so accurately portrayed as to coax the reader into feeling he is a neighbor in the cul-de-sac on the next subdivision over.

The novel explores cultural mores and relationships ranging from homeless street survivors, through back alley blues bar divas, to the garishly pristine power and greed of the largest mega-church pastors.

If you are fascinated by the depths of depravity human beings will assume to control others, this story will amaze and horrify you. Good As Gone is a must read for fans of Gillian Flynn, Paula Hawkins, Kim Addonizio, and B.A. Paris. I rarely encounter a novel that grabs my attention to the extent that all other concerns fall by the wayside. You’ll find yourself having to remember to breathe.