Meet the A&E Conference Faculty: Liz Parker

“I look for breadth of interest in stories and for someone clearly driven to write more than one book.”

-Liz Parker

Every year, the Writers’ League of Texas brings a faculty of close to thirty agents, editors, and other industry professionals to Austin for its Agents & Editors Conference. As we look ahead to the 23rd Annual A&E Conference in June, we’re happy to share Q&As with some of our faculty here. 

An Interview with Liz Parker

Liz Parker explored a variety of areas in publishing before joining InkWell Management in June 2015. In the years leading up to June 2015, Liz worked in the editorial department at Viking Penguin, was a scout with Maria B. Campbell Associates, and was the publishing director of Counterpoint/Soft Skull Press in Berkeley, CA. Liz is actively signing authors of commercial and upmarket women’s fiction and narrative, practical, and platform-driven non-fiction. While Liz reads everything under the sun, she is most on the hunt for the beach read.

LizParkerScribe: How would you describe your personal approach to working with an author?

Liz Parker: My two largest strengths are fantastic communication skills and editorial experience, so my approach consequently revolves around those two elements. I am very hands on editorially-speaking and work extensively with authors before starting a submission. And, in an industry where passes are far more commonplaces than offers, the one thing I can control is how and when I communicate whatever information I have to an author.

Scribe: What do you look for in a debut author?

LP: I look for breadth of interest in stories and for someone clearly driven to write more than one book. I also look for writers who know and understand their community.

Scribe: Do you think social media presence is critical for a successful writing career?

LP: I think social media presence for those authors savvy and fluent in that language can help launch their career. However, for those authors who either don’t have the interest or don’t have the fluency (and aren’t interested in learning), then a creative and methodical approach to marketing sometimes proves just as effective. Basically, going after social media at half steam doesn’t necessarily garner results.

Scribe: If you could give writers one piece of advice, what would it be?

LP: Don’t assume your first book will sell, even if you love it, your family loves it, and your agent loves it. With that in mind, be prepared to write a second book before the first book sells.

Scribe:  Tell us about a project you took on because there was something special or unique about it, even though it wasn’t like projects you usually take on; or tell us about an exciting or proud moment in your career as an editor.

LP: I recently took on a podcast, even though I don’t listen to a lot of them, and even though I don’t represent any other multimedia properties. However, at its essence this podcast is about sharing otherwise unheard stories, which is what I aim to do as an agent. It’s new territory, yet utterly fitting for what I’m trying to do.

Thanks, Liz!

Click here and here to read our 2016 A&E Conference agent & editor bios.

Click here for more information on the 2016 Agents & Editors Conference, a weekend long event in Austin, TX (June 24-26) that focuses on the craft of writing, the business of publishing, and building a literary community.

Summer Writing Retreat Instructor Q&A: Charlotte Gullick

“We have to honor each draft in the sense that the work we have already written has led us to the moment of editing out a character or a scene. All of it counts even if we cut it.”

-Charlotte Gullick

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, an MA in English/Creative Writing from the University of California, Davis, and an MFA in Creative Nonfiction at the Institute of American Indian Arts.

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.

Charlotte is teaching a class during the Writers’ League of Texas Summer Writing Retreat called “The Confident Revision: A Roadmap for the Editing Process.” Read the interview below and visit the class page to learn more.

Charlote Gullick bwScribe: When did you know you were a writer? Was there a defining moment in your personal history? 

Charlotte Gullick: I knew I was a writer when I had a creative writing assignment returned to me in a community college class and written across the top was “You’re a real writer. Stick with this.” This comment coincided with the death of my grandfather by a drunk driver. He was a piano player in the old timey-sense; they were folks from Arkansas who carried music with them wherever they went, and when they settled in California, getting a piano was a top-priority. His love of music, of honky-tonk and of cowboy songs, informed my appreciation for the ways songs could tell stories and of how stories could be songs, bringing people together. He believed in me absolutely, and I think my writing has grown out of the moment of being identified as a possible writer and wanting to evoke something of my grandfather’s lively, creative presence on the page.

Scribe: You’re teaching a class on revision during the Summer Writing Retreat. What is a common misconception about the revision stage? 

CG: I think a common misconception is that we can revise everything in a single pass; that a “real” writer can hold all the elements of craft in his/her mind’s eye and look at the material for improvement with all those elements at once. I believe that this notion actually slows us down and makes us revise superficially. If we instead revise each draft with a single focus on one element of craft (i.e. dialogue or sensory detail or tension), the improvements we make will be more meaningful and take less time and we will feel more empowered to make those revisions.

Scribe: Making cuts to a draft is a difficult task. How do you approach it?

CG: We have to honor each draft in the sense that the work we have already written has led us to the moment of editing out a character or a scene. All of it counts even if we cut it. When it comes to big sections, say 3-4 paragraphs or sometimes a whole chapter, I do save them in another file, something like “One-Man Reservation Cuts” – so I can return to it if needed. I often don’t come back to this material for the particular piece I’ve cut it from (I might use it for something else, though). But, creating the file of the edited out material softens the blow of taking it out, I think. This approach helps me map out the revision, so I can see what I have and what I need.

Scribe: When you revise, do you get feedback from peers or do you rely solely on your own instincts and knowledge?

CG: I definitely get feedback from peers. I’m someone who is impatient with process and often too close to my material to see what’s missing and what’s not working. For example, in my second novel, which I’ve written eight times, I have a character who is deeply important to ME. My husband, who is also a writer, has kindly pointed out, after I asked him if I can keep this character, that I need to make this character as important to the readers as he is to me. This is excellent feedback – it helps me see and understand what I couldn’t otherwise. I would add, though, that I am judicious about which folks I share my work with. The wrong person at the wrong time can deflate momentum and faith.

Scribe: You’re a professor at Austin Community College. What’s a valuable piece of advice that you’ve learned from teaching/participating in writing classes over the years?

CG: That community matters. People with significant differences in experience, ability, and ambition enter the community college classroom, and most of us are there because we want to cultivate discipline and community; we want to know we’re not alone in our dreams and our struggles.

— Thanks, Charlotte!

Click here to register for Charlotte’s class.

Click here for more information on the Summer Writing Retreat.

Meet the Members: Robin Overby Cox

“Storytelling is such fine work, and I’m ready to work hard and listen.”

-Robin Overby Cox

A member of the Writers’ League of Texas since March, Robin Overby Cox lives in Bryan/College Station.

robinoverbycox

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

Robin Overby Cox: Historical fiction, women’s fiction, and nonfiction.

Scribe: What authors would you like to have a drink with, and what beverage?  

ROC: I’d love to share a ladle of water with O.E. Rolvaag who wrote Giants in the Earth long ago.

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

ROC: The Book of Common Prayer, and a blank journal with a pencil for sanity’s sake.

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

ROC: I’ve discovered a wealth of knowledge and experience.

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

ROC: I’ve put lots of kettles on the fire, hoping one just comes to a rolling boil sooner rather than later! I have queries out, rejections in, and prospects in hand.

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?

ROC: I enjoyed The Train to Crystal City by Jan Jarboe Russell as far as Texas titles go.

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

ROC: I’m proud to be a part of the writing profession—storytelling is such fine work, and I’m ready to work hard and listen.

Thanks, Robin!

Community Member Q&A: Ageless Authors

“You must continue to create and flourish at all ages. Statistics bear that out, so [we] wanted a vehicle to urge people on. Ageless Authors is that vehicle.”

-Larry Upshaw

Ageless Authors highlights the work of writers and artists ages 65 and older. Founded by Ginnie Bivona and Larry Upshaw, Ageless Authors celebrates senior creativity by publishing anthologies of work created solely by those over the age of 65.

In addition to promoting the work of seniors, Ageless Authors is a proud Community Member of the Writers’ League of Texas. Read the interview below with Larry Upshaw to find out more about them.


LarryWeb2Scribe:
 Can you tell us a little more about your mission and what inspired you and your co-founder, Ginnie Bivona, to start Ageless Authors?

Larry Upshaw: Ginnie Bivona is an 85-year-old Dallas author and poet who started writing in her fifties. Her first novel became a made-for-TV movie, Bound by A Secret, on Hallmark. She has another novel being considered for a TV series. She believes that you must continue to create and flourish at all ages. Statistics bear that out, so she wanted a vehicle to urge people on. Ageless Authors is that vehicle. We encourage people 65 and older to enter our writing and art contests. We publish the best entries in an anthology, and we both work with older aspiring writers, teaching them how to write and publish. Her areas are fiction and memoir. I have ghostwritten a dozen business and professional books, and that is my area of expertise.

GinnieWebScribe: Your site lists titles of several planned anthologies, including: “Remembering Romance & Magical Moments In Life” and “Baby Boomers Look at 65.” How did you select the topics for these anthologies?

LU: Memory can be a wonderful thing, and that’s what older people have in abundance. Memories can be a lubricant for the brain. I can’t think of anything more productive at this stage of my life (age 68) than telling a great story from my past. Too often we get hung up on whether these stories are real or imagined, but if you become a storyteller that doesn’t matter. Ginnie and I had a good time conjuring up these anthology titles. Our favorites are one military memories, about tales of the battlefield and the home front, and “Dang I Wish I Hadn’t Done That,” sure to be a rich collection of tales about the foolish or destructive things we did earlier in life.

Scribe: Ageless Authors is hosting its first contest for its first-ever anthology. Can you tell us a little more about this contest and how interested writers can submit?

LU: This first contest has a deadline of August 15, 2016. You can write about anything for this first anthology. We are looking for outstanding essays, short stories, poetry and art (cartoons and line drawings). We will award cash prizes for winners in each category, and the best entries will appear in our first anthology this fall. Entrants can be professional writers or beginners. The easiest way to enter is to go to agelessauthors.com and click on contests to submit online. To submit via mail, please find details on our website.

Scribe: As a professional writer – you’ve written for numerous publications and have published over a dozen books – what is one piece of advice you’d like to give aspiring authors?

LU: Just keep at it, and enjoy the process of writing. I’ve heard all this bull about writing being so tedious. At my age, sitting down to write almost anything is the best part of my day. I’ve written books that sold well and some that I still have in my warehouse, but that did not determine the amount of enjoyment they gave me.

Scribe: What’s important to you about supporting the Writers’ League of Texas and being a community member?

LU: Anything that encourages literacy beyond 140 characters and a gang of emojis is good for our culture. We’ve become a nation of consumers. Time to produce something.

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?

LU: Maybe it’s this Ageless Authors project that has made me turn to the past. Once I was hired by The Dallas Morning News book editor to travel the country interviewing Texas writers. The one I found most interesting was William Goyen, who wrote about the decadent South from his office at the corner of Hollywood and Vine in LA. I’m rereading his first and last novels, The House of Breath and Arcadio, and consider them masterpieces.

Scribe: Anything else you’d like to share?

LU: Many of your members are not old enough to participate in Ageless Authors, but almost everyone knows someone who is. We ask you all to encourage people 65 and older to take part in our contests and anthologies. Using your mind like this will keep you young.

Thanks, Larry!

Click here to visit Ageless Authors’ website.

Are you a business or organization interested in getting involved?

Community Membership is a great way to connect with the Writers’ League’s membership base and share news and information about writing-related services and events. For more information on Community Membership click here or call our office at (512) 499-8914.

April 2016 Third Thursday Wrap-Up

Keeping it Brief: Writing and Publishing Short Stories


ThirdThursdayApril2016

by WLT Intern Kelsey Williams

How does a writer know when a short story should end? What form should a short story take? Answers to these questions, like short stories themselves, can differ tremendously. As Third Thursday panelist Chaitali Sen, author of the Pathless Sky, put it, “With short stories, the engineering can be so varied. It’s a great form for experimentation. You can spend a whole lifetime figuring out the ways it works.”

April Third Thursday panelists Michael Barrett, Jill Meyers, Chaitali Sen, and Kirk Wilson all had slightly differing approaches to publishing and writing short stories, yet there was one common point on which all agreed—the form of the short story is something to be admired. Kirk Wilson, author of The Early Word elegantly describes a short story as “a drop of water that implies all five oceans.”

“From a journal’s perspective,” Michael Barrett, editor of The Austin Review, said, “short stories provide an outlet [for writers], and a diversity of perspective.” Readers can enjoy the brevity of the short story and discover perspectives they may never have noticed in a less efficient form of storytelling. Jill Meyers, cofounder of A Strange Object, praised the “economical” form of short stories, and believes that through a short story, readers “gain a new experience of the world.”

Short stories, like novels, provide a good basis for readers to explore another world but do a more succinct job than novels in providing the reader with questions to consider. As Meyers put it, “Short stories are good for inquiry—they set up questions, and have you asking questions…without a sense of incompleteness.” Of the time frame of short stories, Barrett said, “They die at the right time. They end where it feels right.” The beauty of this inquiry, this sense of dying, of ending at the perfect, most beautiful moment comes from what Sen calls good “engineering.” When it’s done right, short stories should “end with a lovely pause,” said Meyers. Unlike novels, short stories, Wilson said, “have more intuitive leaps. They are more participatory.”

In addition to their more philosophical insights on the topic of short stories, our panelists had plenty of concrete advice on submitting work for publication. Wilson, for example, provided many helpful tips for making the submission process smoother, the most important being to submit only your best work. Work that has been through multiple drafts or even workshopped in a writing group has a better chance of acceptance. Once you have a solid piece, according to Wilson, it’s best to submit in bulk to improve your chances— but only after you’ve done your research. He suggested creating a spreadsheet to organize the literary journals that you want to submit to and noting what feedback you get. Barrett and Meyer also stressed the importance of doing your research, advising writers to remember that there may only be a few readers for the hundreds of submissions at any one journal. Becoming familiar with the journal and the type of short stories that they tend to publish, and following every specific guideline provided by the journal, can be tremendously helpful in getting a piece considered for acceptance. Our panelists also mentioned some specific software that short story writers might want to familiarize themselves with and consider using, including Duotrope, and resources for writers such as Writers’ Relief and Poets and Writers.

The magic of short stories may be shrouded in differing approaches to the form, but one thing is certain—short stories make you think. And, as our panelists agreed, there is a definite beauty that draws people to the eloquence of short stories.

Join us at our next Third Thursday, where we will discuss the art of writing the personal in non-fiction and memoir.

Kelsey Williams is a full-time bookseller and part-time short story writer. She loves art, literature, and the little smiles people get when they text someone that they love.

Instructor Q&A: Greg Garrett

“Kurt Vonnegut said there are only two possible reactions to life: you can laugh, or you can cry. Laughing is more fun. And probably better for you.”

-Greg Garrett

Greg Garrett is the author or co-author of over twenty books of fiction, memoir, and nonfiction, including the acclaimed novels Free Bird, Cycling, Shame, and The Prodigal. Greg had taught creative writing, literature, and film for over a quarter-century at Baylor University, and has also read, spoken, taught, and led workshops across the U.S. and Europe. A member of the Texas Institute of Letters, Greg has taught highly-rated courses for the Writers’ League of Texas on novel writing, point of view, dialogue, and many other topics, and enjoys the chance to meet and work with writers at all stages of their careers. He lives with his wife Jeanie and their family in Austin.

Garrett is teaching a class for the Writers’ League called “Writing Funny: A Short Course on Humor” on Saturday, May 28, 2016 at St. Edward’s University. Read the interview below and visit the class page to learn more.

English department pictures for web page and maybe brochures. Dr. Kara Poe Alexander, Dr. Jesse Airaudi, Dr. Greg Garrett, Kathryn Seay, Lois Avey, Clay Butler, Dr. Nancy Chinn, Dr. Coretta Pittman, Dr. Peaches Henry, Amber Adamek, Cristin McAnear, Dr. Jeanette Denton, Dr. Lydia Grebenyova 08/31/2006Scribe: Who are some humor writers who inspire you?

GG: Aaron Sorkin is a favorite, and we’ll talk some about The West Wing in class. I admire his facility with dialogue and his comic timing. I also love Tina Fey’s ability to find the funny in almost any situation and Oscar Wilde’s wit and wordplay. He must have thought five times as fast as a normal human being. I’m also really fond of the TV series Community, which strikes me as a supremely well-written show using character as the linchpin for comedy. Like Friends and other great situation comedies, we get to know characters well, and we anticipate the disasters that are coming—and we also get surprised by little character movements. A big part of humor is anticipation, but another working component is surprise.

Scribe: In addition to humor writing, you have also written books that deal with heavier topics such as life’s biggest spiritual questions. Does comedy have its place in these books as well?

GG: In the nonfiction I write, I distinguish between things that are critical or theological and things that are narrative. In the critical books, I often consider things that are funny, but since you’re not telling a story and building up a powerful emotion that needs to be relieved, the use of humor in those books might be wit or point of view. I’ve written a couple of books of memoir, both on big topics, and four novels, and in all of those, comedy has been essential. Like Anne Lamott, I believe you need to tell big stories, and you can’t swing for the fences with serious emotions without having funny in your back pocket. Most of my main characters—and I count myself as one of those in the memoirs—have some self-awareness and a sense of life’s absurdities that is essential to the comic effects of the books. In the most recent novel I’ve finished, I actually play with the structure of comedy, since my main character/narrator is a screenwriter who is writing a romantic comedy based on his own whacked-out life. That was super fun, and I may read some of that in class.

Scribe: How would you describe your own humor? 

GG: I think I’m funny in a couple of ways: observational humor, wit and wordplay, and understanding of comic structures. Knowing that repetition leads to laughs is a useful thing. Also, having lived life from two distinct viewpoints where humor is essential (sardonic/sarcastic and joyful), I have a couple of different approaches to humor, and both are valuable. One pokes fun at things that, I hope, need to be deflated a little. And one takes pleasure in the sheer weirdness of being human.

Scribe: How does humor change across different mediums—for example, books versus film? 

GG: There are things that are funny in both, but a lot in film or dramatic writing depends on timing and acting. In writing prose, you’re building humor and playing with language. In a novel or a nonfiction narrative, people are living in your words and in your narrative voice. In dramatic writing, whether plays, movies, or TV, language still matters, but how something gets delivered matters a lot too. An example: I saw the great British actor David Suchet in drag last summer in London playing Lady Bracknell in Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. Lots of great actresses have played that role—Judy Dench, Maggie Smith, Edith Evans. But the audience’s awareness that it’s a male delivering these lines offers some new opportunities for humor, maybe actions or pauses that weren’t funny when others offered the same words.

Scribe: How has learning to write comedy influenced your worldview?

GG: Humor is about paying attention to words and paying attention to life. It’s also about recognizing that much of what happens on this planet is hard to account for or doesn’t make any sense. Kurt Vonnegut said there are only two possible reactions to life: you can laugh, or you can cry. Laughing is more fun. And probably better for you.

Thanks, Greg!

Click here to register for Greg’s class.

Click here for our current class schedule.

Meet the Members: Nola McKey

“At this stage of my life, I’m interested in preserving things for future generations, so whatever I write about, whether it’s food, folklore, or something else, it will probably have a preservation focus.”

-Nola McKey

McKey_04-14-16A member of the Writers’ League of Texas since 2015, Nola McKey lives in Austin.

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

Nola McKey: Nonfiction. My background is in magazine journalism (freelance writer, assistant foods editor with Southern Living, and senior editor with Texas Highways). While at Texas Highways, I edited Cooking with Texas Highways (University of Texas Press, 2005, 2007, 2014). Since my retirement from TH a few years ago, I’ve been working on my own cookbook—From Tea Cakes to Tamales: Third-Generation Texas Recipes—which was released earlier this month. It involves food, family traditions, and regional history.

Scribe: What authors would you like to have a drink with and what beverage?

NM: Nora Ephron comes to mind immediately. I was lucky enough to hear her speak at the Paramount a few years before her death, and she was terrific. The beverage? Probably iced tea; it wouldn’t matter. I actually had drinks with Studs Terkel sometime in the mid-1980s, when I was working in Birmingham. I’d gone with friends to hear him speak earlier that evening, and he happened to be at the bar we went to afterwards. He was sitting on a barstool by himself—we noticed his trademark red socks right away—so we asked him to join our table and he did. He was even more entertaining than he’d been on stage. He was the real deal, telling us story after story. I think he genuinely loved interacting with people.

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

NM: I doubt that any book would keep me sane in that situation, but putting aside the obvious survival guides, I’d opt for something fat and dense like War and Peace so that I wouldn’t run out of reading material.

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

NM: Several of the Third Thursday events have been really helpful. I was still researching my cookbook when I heard Stephen Harrigan speak on a panel several years ago. A comment he made about his obsession with his Czech grandmother’s kolaches led me to ask him for her recipe, which ended up in my book along with a nice intro from him. I also made some good contacts at a panel on food writing. And WLT’s recent program, “The Look of the Book” (on book design for authors), opened my eyes to the importance of a good cover design. Having that basic information helped me communicate with Texas A&M University Press when the staff was choosing a cover for my cookbook.

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

NM: That’s a good question—one I’m trying to answer for myself. I have at least one more cookbook in mind that involves recipes and stories, and lately, I’ve been thinking of a children’s book based on a series of tales I told my son as he was growing up. Generally, I hope my writing will involve traveling, talking to interesting people, and exploring new ideas. At this stage of my life, I’m interested in preserving things for future generations, so whatever I write about, whether it’s food, folklore, or something else, it will probably have a preservation focus.

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?

NM: Right now I’m enjoying Sarah Bird’s new book, A Love Letter to Texas Women (University of Texas Press); it’s a fun read. I also like Jessica Dupuy’s United Tastes of Texas: Authentic Recipes from All Corners of the Lone Star State (Oxmoor House). It’s a beautiful cookbook, with a wealth of tantalizing recipes and well-written sidebars about all things Texas. Having worked at Southern Living, which is associated with Oxmoor House, I know the recipes in her book have been thoroughly tested, which isn’t a given with all cookbooks. When it comes to fiction, I recommend One Red Thread, a novel by Austin writer Ernie Wood that came out in late 2014. It’s about exploring family history and involves an interesting twist—time travel.

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

NM: My new book, From Tea Cakes to Tamales: Third-Generation Texas Recipes (Texas A&M University Press), includes more than 100 third-generation (and older) recipes still being made by the contributors today. Recipes that have lasted that long are usually pretty good and often have interesting stories associated with them, and the recipes in my book bear this out. The book also includes photos of the ancestor cooks and watercolor illustrations of many of the dishes. More than a dozen ethnic groups are represented. In addition, there’s a chapter on preserving heirloom recipes. For ordering information, see www.nola-mckey.com.

I’ll be speaking at BookPeople on Sunday, June 26, from 3-4 p.m. The program features my interviewing three Austin-area recipe contributors and providing tips on unearthing and preserving heirloom recipes. I’m also speaking at the Castroville Conservation Society’s annual historic preservation workshop on Wednesday, August 24 (time pending). Details for each of these events can be found on their respective websites.

Thanks, Nola!