2017 Summer Writing Workshop Instructor Q&A: Carol Dawson

Just when you think you’ve finally reached the finish line with your first-draft manuscript, typed The End, slumped backwards in your chair, and expelled a triumphant sigh, the realization strikes that those two seemingly final words actually signal the end of one process and the beginning of the next. It’s time to edit and revise. But how do you go about it when you’ve never learned how?

Our Summer Writing Workshop (Austin, August 14-19) can help. We’re so excited to have beloved instructor Carol Dawson teaching “The Joy of Revision: Editing and Revising Your Manuscript for the Marketplace.”  Read a Q&A with Carol below to learn more about the class and the process of revising your manuscript.

Scribe: Writers are often resistant to revision—and when they do begin to revise, it’s tempting to nibble at the edges, tweaking a word or phrase here and there. What is the mindset that a writer needs to enter in order to do his or her best revision?

Carol Dawson: When embarking on revision, every writer needs to enter a space that seems contradictory: both entirely objective (as if he or she was a reader picking up the work for the first time) and deeply in tune with the creative forces and intention that shaped the work’s first draft to begin with. It’s a sort of knife-edge walk down the page. To stand back and look at what’s working and what is not, and why, and what can be done to fix it requires a mindset of problem-solving and distance that a few word-tweaks will not necessarily satisfy.

Scribe: For this writing workshop, you will be editing the first five pages of the opening chapter of each student’s manuscript in after-class hours. What kind of feedback can students expect to receive, and why are these first pages of a manuscript so crucial when it comes to the editing and revising process? 

CD: The first line of a book is designed to snag the attention of a reader. The following paragraph must then hook and hold that reader’s attention–woo the reader’s curiosity into finding out more. It must invite the reader into a world that he or she wants to enter, and promise rewards of suspense, character, interesting conflict, and a vital setting. In other words, it, and the pages that follow it, must plunge the reader into the heart of a story he or she cannot resist.

Scribe: This class is appropriate for novel writers as well as those writing non-fiction and memoir. Does the process of editing and revising differ for fiction versus nonfiction?

CD: Not really, no. The same narrative needs apply to both, although the form and the content might seem very different in the two disciplines. In this class, we’ll look at successful non-fiction openings and narrative structures as well as those that work and ‘build’ well for fiction, and talk about how to achieve them in each separate project.

Scribe: You’ve written six books. Does revision get easier as you go, or must you reinvent the process anew each time?

CD: I’ve published six books, but I have actually written a great many more than that. Therefore, I’m very familiar with the early pain and conundrums that inflect the task of revision. But yes, revision does get easier as I go—to the point that, these days, I incorporate it (using that knife-minded objectivity I mentioned) as I write the first, second, and third drafts. That makes the end result much easier to achieve. That’s also the goal I wish for the students who take this Summer Writing Workshop class.

Thanks, Carol!

For more information about Carol’s class, click here.

For more information about the Summer Writing Workshop, click here.

Carol Dawson is both a novelist and nonfiction author whose books include the novels The Waking Spell, Body of Knowledge, Meeting the Minotaur, and The Mother-in-Law Diaries, all published by Algonquin Books, Simon and Schuster, Viking-Penguin, and translated overseas into several languages. Her award-winning non-fiction book House of Plenty: The Rise, Fall, and Revival of Luby’s Cafeterias was published by the University of Texas Press. She has taught creative writing and literature at the College of Santa Fe, as well as in numerous workshops. Her latest non-fiction book, Miles and Miles of Texas: The Story of the Texas Highway Department, 1917-2017, published in Fall of 2016 by Texas A&M University Press, ranked Number 4 on the Amazon Best Seller List in its category.

Community Member Guest Post: The Writer’s Workshop

Community membership in the Writers’ League of Texas allows businesses and organizations to support our programming and services. It’s also a great way for our community of writers to learn about the many valuable and varied services, programs, and opportunities available to them.

The Writer’s Workshop is a resource that provides writing workshops for novels and memoirs, creativity groups, coaching, and editorial services. Read a guest post from Writers Workshop director and coach Ron Seybold below.

How to Enter Finishing School

We lie about our writing. Most of us do, with the best intentions, to make up the stories about how much we’re working on our books. It becomes a story that a writer tells when they say “I’m working on my novel.” If you’re working on a book, and writing too little, it’s time to enter Finishing School.

The concept is at the heart of a new book by Danelle Morton and Cary Tennis. Finishing School shows us where we get in our own way about completing our works in progress. Six Emotional Pitfalls stretch out in front of us. Doubt. Shame. Yearning. Fear. Judgment. Arrogance. Not everyone feels all of them, but these are the reasons why we do not finish our work. Get a few writers together and their eyes brighten when they can be honest about pitfalls. “I’ll never be as good as Hemingway,” (Doubt) or “I never finish anything.” (Shame). Or “I get annoyed by writers’ groups, those losers.” That’s Arrogance, which is probably not your problem since you’re reading Scribe.

We struggle separately, alone with the pitfalls. There’s a way out and a way up, say Morton and Tennis. You learn to finish together, without judgment or even reading each other’s work. You make a schedule for one week, getting specific about what you’ll do. Details help. Then find a partner who does the same. You meet in person because it’s personal work. You promise to text or email them the moment you begin working. You meet seven days later and share how your plan worked. Or how it didn’t, but you’re honest now. You plan again, meet again. We become masters of finishing because, as Cary said over Skype from Italy, “Finishing School throws into relief the conditions of our actual lives.”

We start with overly ambitious plans. We begin with little awareness of our hurdles. It feels so good at first. Later, the writing plan haunts us when we fall short. Better to make room for your real life, forsee the hurdles, plan for them. Cary and I have one thing in common. It’s not that we’re both successful advice columnists (that was Cary at Salon). We both have training in the Amherst Writers & Artists practice. “I needed Finishing School for myself,” he says in his book, adding, “I had a panic attack while writing and ended up in the hospital.” He built Finishing School from his AWA training so “workshop participants would crystallize their time; schedule time to work toward it with mutual support; and work steadily to get that writing finished, polished, and published.” They also add accountability without judgment.

It’s a school you’d hope to see opened by a man who wrote advice from the heart for more than a decade. We can enter it with a group as small as two writers, artists of any kind, really. The book is powerful, the process transforming. Finishing School might not be the last school you attend. It’s a good bet it will be the most important one.

Thanks, Ron!

Find out about upcoming programming at the Writer’s Workshop here.

Ron Seybold is director at Austin’s Writer’s Workshop and a teaching volunteer with the Austin Bat Cave literacy program in schools. His debut novel Viral Times is available now in paperback.

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.

Meet the A&E Conference Faculty: Laurie McLean

“Remember why you started writing in the first place and constantly reconnect with that joy as you move through the cut-throat, competitive business of publishing.”

-Laurie McLean

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 24th Annual A&E Conference, taking place June 30–July 2, 2017, we’re happy to share Q&As with some of our faculty here.

An Interview with Laurie McLean

Laurie McLean spent 20 years as the CEO of a multi-million dollar marketing agency and 8 years as a literary agent/senior agent at Larsen Pomada Literary Agents before co-founding Fuse Literary in 2013. At Fuse Lit Laurie specializes in adult, middle grade, and young adult genre fiction. Laurie is also the co-director of the San Francisco Writers Conference, in its fifteenth year, and co-founded two ePublishing companies: JoyrideBooks.com for romance, and Ambush Books for tween and teen books (acquired by Short Fuse Publishing in 2015). Find out more at FuseLiterary.com and AgentSavant.com, and follow her on Twitter @FuseLiterary and @AgentSavant.

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

Laurie McClean: My approach with a client is to start building their career as soon as they sign the agency agreement to work with me. That begins with an author branding session on the phone, Skype or Slack where we determine how to describe that author to attract the kinds of readers (and editors) who love what they write. We also do a career planning session as well as a social media audit.

Armed with that kind of information, we progress to the work in progress. I do an edit, which might be light or heavy depending on the state of the manuscript, create a pitch list of editors/publishers and a pitch email, then I go to work. Each situation is different so I can’t give you a cookie cutter approach to pitching, but suffice to say that I try to give the author and the project the best chance of securing the best deal for their particular situation. Once a deal is achieved, I continue to work with that author and editor to shepherd the book through publication and into the world. Fuse does a lot of social media promotion between its 9 agents and 130+ clients. And we keep finding ways to market our clients and their work since publishers save the big marketing guns for their bestsellers.

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

LM: Passion. Talent. Understanding. Curiosity. Patience.

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

LM: I do believe social media is critical for an author’s success in today’s publishing revolution. Fuse is passionate about it and has created multiple bestselling authors through the use of social media promotion. We even created Fuse Club on Facebook for our authors as a place where they can share ideas, answer each other’s questions and promote the heck out of Fuse Club member writing. For the first time, social media allows authors to market their own work and talk directly with their fans outside a book signing. Previously authors would have to buy ads or pay a PR firm for drive time interviews. It was prohibitively expensive. And with social media, especially blogs, it plays to an author’s strength: WRITING!

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

LM: Never give up. Remember why you started writing in the first place and constantly reconnect with that joy as you move through the cut-throat, competitive business of publishing.

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 agent.

LM: My proudest achievement as an agent was a million dollar deal I worked my butt off to get for my bestselling client YA author Julie Kagawa. It took me almost a year of researching and planning and two months of intense negotiation, but we ultimately not only got the publishing deal, but a 7-figure movie deal as well.

Scribe: You represent mostly adult genre fiction (romance, fantasy, science fiction, mystery, thrillers, suspense, horror, etc.). Is there a genre among those you are currently seeking more than others at this conference? Is there any benefit to a writer whose manuscript could be classified as cross-genre?

LM: I’m pretty heavy with fantasy clients at the moment because it has been super popular over the past 3-4 years, but science fiction is something I’m looking for, especially space opera. I just picked up a weird western series that I love, so more weird westerns would be nice. Plus any kind of thriller and psychological horror is always welcome. I’ve pulled back on romance and mystery simply because we have three other Fuse Lit agents who are aggressively looking for new clients in those two genres, but I’m happy to hear pitches on romance and mystery at the conference, which I will definitely pass on to my colleagues.

As for cross-genre writers, hey, write what you’re passionate about. If it’s harder to sell, or impossible to get an agent interested, self-publish it and market the heck out of it. It’s all great practice for the traditional deal down the road. But seriously? I’ve got half a dozen indie authors who have no interest in traditional deals because they’re making mid-six figure income from their self-published genre fiction. And I love selling their subrights. Heck, I just negotiated a six-figure advance for books 7 and 8 in Brian D. Anderson’s epic fantasy series The Godling Chronicles with Audible. Six figures for audiobook rights? It’s a wild, wild time to be an agent!

Thanks, Laurie!

Click here and here to read our 2017 A&E Conference agent & editor bios.

Click here for more information on the 2017 Agents & Editors Conference, a weekend long event in Austin, TX (June 30-July 2) that focuses on the craft of writing, the business of publishing, and building a literary community.

Meet the Members: R.S. Dabney

“I’d like to sit down with George R.R. Martin and ask him why he is taking so long to complete The Winds of Winter!”

-R.S. Dabney

A member of the Writers’ League since March, R.S. Dabney lives in Terlingua, Texas.

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

R.S. Dabney: I write speculative thrillers, but my work has been described by various critics as fantasy, dystopian, and even science fiction.

I’ve written two books to date, The Soul Mender and The Peace Keeper, both part of The Soul Mender Trilogy. I’m looking to have the final installment out in early 2018. I like to think that my novels have something for everyone—a sprinkle of suspense, a dash of adventure, and a whole lot of good versus evil.

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

RSD: If I had the opportunity to go back in time and have a drink with an author, I would choose Joseph Campbell. I don’t know what question I’d ask—I feel like I’d just begin with “Tell me everything that’s in your head,” and then sit back and listen. I’m fascinated with his writing and have learned so much about storytelling and characterization from his works. Just to spend an hour with the man would be any writer’s dream.

Also, I’d like to sit down with George R.R. Martin and ask him why he is taking so long to complete The Winds of Winter!

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

RSD: So many titles race through my brain for this question, but if I were stranded on a deserted island and could only have one book with me, I would want Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist. The first books that came to mind were some of my favorites, but I think over time I’d need something inspirational, something that kept me believing in a hope of rescue.

Even now, as I’m beginning this crazy journey as an author, it feels at times like being stranded on an island. Writing is such a solitary journey, one that is mostly uphill and without tangible reward. Books like The Alchemist about perseverance, patience, and belief in oneself have kept me positive and have continued to push me to work toward this dream.

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

RSD: I haven’t been a member for very long, but from what I can tell this is a fantastic group of writers who are very supportive of each other. We all want to help make a name for talented Texas authors, poets, and scribes of all sorts. I’m so excited to be part of such a group and look forward to a rewarding year of fellowship and writing.

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

RSD: By the beginning of 2018 I will have completed my first trilogy, a journey that will have taken nine years to complete. I’ve grown a lot in that time, both personally and in my writing, and I’m looking forward to my next project when The Soul Mender Trilogy is completed. I’ve already started work on a new series and have a few stand-alones waiting in the wings as well. I absolutely love writing novels and hope to continue sharing my stories with the world for many years to come. I’m certain the completion of my third novel won’t be the last you see of me!

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?

RSD: The Far Empty by J. Todd Scott. I might be biased because the book is set in my neck of the woods (or desert), but I found it to be totally enthralling. This book was exciting from page one all the way until the end, and I had a hard time putting it down in between the two.

As someone who lives in “The Far Empty,” the Big Bend Region of Texas, I felt the descriptions and characterization of the area were spot on. Even though fictitious, I found it totally believable.

The story is told through multiple POV’s, which added to the tension and grittiness of the plot. Getting into the minds of each character, including the villain, where we sort of know what is going on the whole time but are still gripping the edge of our seats needing to know more, is a fascinating way to share a story. I’m truly looking forward to Scott’s next work.

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

RSD: Yay for blatant self-promotion!

Writing a book and fulfilling a dream has been such a wonderful experience, and this first year of being a published author has been good to me. Thus far, The Soul Mender has reached Amazon’s Bestsellers List, received a five-star review from the Pacific Book Review, was a quarter finalist for the Booklife Prize in Fiction, received a starred review from Kirkus Reviews, and was selected by Kirkus Reviews as one of their Best Indie Debut Novels of 2016. The Soul Mender also recently won first place in the “Genre Fiction” category in the Los Angeles Book Festival contest. The Peace Keeper was released on New Year’s Day of 2017 and recently won first place in the “Sequel” category in the Los Angeles Book Festival contest.

If anyone is interested in more information, I can be found all over social media @rsdabneyauthor and at my website, www.rsdabney.com.

Thanks, R.S.!

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!

An Interview with Erika Jo Brown of the Boldface Conference

Here at the Writers’ League of Texas, we love highlighting Texas literary organizations doing great work to support our community. Now in its 9th year, the Boldface Conference takes place May 22-May 26 in Houston and is dedicated to emerging writers. The conference is hosted by Glass Mountain, the University of Houston’s undergraduate literary magazine. This gives the conference’s organizers unique insights into the needs and issues facing emerging writers in today’s challenging literary environment.

To learn more about this conference, we spoke with Erika Jo Brown, Graduate Advisor at Glass Mountain. Registration is still available! Click here for more info.

Scribe: What makes the Boldface conference unique?

Erika Jo Brown: Boldface is truly a unique experience. First of all, we are devoted to emerging writers, which we define as those who have not yet published a book or enrolled in an MFA or PhD program in Creative Writing. We’re also entirely student-run; the conference is an initiative and a labor of love for the editors of Glass MountainUH’s undergraduate magazine.

From May 22-26, the conference itinerary is filled with writing workshops, craft talks, professional panels, readings, evening events around the city, and private manuscript consultations. Some participants are local and some are flying in from Oregon, Indiana, and more! We’re thrilled to host three visiting writing luminaries in each genre, Bill Broun (Night of The Animals) in fiction, Leah Lax (Uncovered) in nonfiction, and Hayan Charara in (Something Sinister, The Sadness of Others, The Alchemist’s Diary) in poetry. Plus, for breakfast and lunch, we scour the city for local, delectable meals.

Scribe: Why is it so important to support emerging writers?

EJB: The writing world is tough, and we’re delighted to provide guidance and, most importantly, community for our fellow scribblers. On Friday, we’re pleased to expand on a “community” day founded last year. We’re assembled terrific panels with local literary figures on topics such as  applying to grad school, submission bombing, pointers on performing work in public, literary citizenship, self publishing, and literary translation. Plus, we’ll have tables of publishers, book artists, magazines, and more. Together, we all rise!

Feel free to email boldfaceconference@gmail.com if you’re inspired to register for our Houston conference.

Thanks, Erika!

To find out more about Boldface and Glass Mountain Mag, visit the Boldface Conference website.

An Interview with Charles Dee Mitchell of WordSpace

“Dallas has become known as a significant center for the visual and performing arts. WordSpace wants to provide the same visibility and enthusiasm for the written word.”

-Charles Dee Mitchell, WordSpace 

WordSpace is a non-profit literary organization that supports education and writers, connecting Dallas with the best of world literature. Founded in 1994, the organization hosts authors, readings, student workshops, concerts, and salons to promote established and emerging artists who use imaginative language in traditional and experimental forms. Through diverse, multi-cultural programs, WordSpace enhances the development of language artists of all ages, facilitates communication throughout the literary community, and contributes to expanding the Dallas literary scene to the widest possible audience. We spoke with Charles Dee Mitchell, board president, about WordSpace’s upcoming May events.

Scribe: Can you tell us more about WordSpace’s mission and the programs you offer in support of that mission?

Charles Dee Mitchell: WordSpace produces about 50 events per season. We feature readers both local and national. We feature authors just starting out and possibly giving their first public readings, as well as such well-known and respected local figures as David Searcey and Willard Spiegelman who have just published their latest books after turning seventy. By holding free events in bookstores, community centers, theaters, galleries, and private homes spread across the city, we are making a concentrated effort to get contemporary writing both new and established audiences. Dallas has become known as a significant center for the visual and performing arts. WordSpace wants to provide the same visibility and enthusiasm for the written word.

Scribe: WordSpace is hosting several events in Dallas in May at various venues. Can you tell us a little more about these events?

CDM: Douglas Kearney’s appearance at the South Dallas Cultural Center on May 25 concludes the third season African Diaspora: New Dialogues, our collaboration with the SDCC. This series has brought local, national, and international writers to Dallas. Season three included Jamaican novelist Nicole Dennis-Benn and poet Tyehimba Jess, who won the Pulitzer Prize a few days after his reading in Dallas. We plan to make Natalia Toledo Paz’s reading at the Latino Cultural Center the beginning of a new collaboration with the SDCC series. Ms. Toleday Paz is a distinguished Mexican poet, and this will be a unique trilingual event. Much of her verse is in Zapotec, and the peformance will include live Spanish translation and projected English super titles.

The Kessler Theater has hosted our Headliner Series since 2011. This series, one of our few ticketed programs, has featured such writers and performers  as John Waters, Nikki Giovanni, Sandra Berhnardt, and Laurie Anderson. Our first headliner was Dan Savage, and we felt that the time was right to bring him back to Dallas on May 11.

Scribe: Deep Ellum Lit Hop will be held in June and includes a packed lineup of individual hour-long showcases of literary talent. Can you tell us more about this event and how those interested can participate?

CDM: The first Deep Ellum Lit Hop took place in the summer of 2016 and attracted around 200 people for an afternoon and evening of poetry and music. By announcing this as the Second Annual Deep Ellum Lit Hop we are committing to making this a soon-to-be Dallas institution.  So far there are four Deep Ellum venues and twelve participating groups, but the event is still evolving. Checking out the Facebook event page is the best way to stay up to date on what’s happening, https://www.facebook.com/events/129649400912879/

Scribe: Here are 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?

CDM: Kathleen Kent’s The Dime is a debut crime novel set in Dallas, Weatherford, and a white supremacist compound in East Texas. It does not disappoint.

Thanks, Charles!

To find out more about WordSpace and May’s events, visit their website.

An Interview with Clay Smith of the San Antonio Book Festival

“Texas writers are given such a limitless gift by writing about–or being from– this place.”

-Clay Smith

We can’t believe it’s already April! The schedule for the 2017 San Antonio Book Festival is out now, and we couldn’t be more excited about this year’s lineup. The festival will be held on Saturday, April 8, from 9 am to 5 pm at the beautiful downtown Central Library and Southwest School of Art. A program of the San Antonio Public Library Foundation (SAPLF), SABF celebrates national and local authors and their contributions to the culture of literacy, ideas, and imagination.

This year, as in years past, we’re excited to feature our members at our exhibitor booth. You can find us in the Festival Marketplace at Booths 35-36. The list of WLT members who are signing and selling their books at our booth can be found here on our website.

To learn more about the San Antonio Book Festival, we talked with literary director Clay Smith about planning this year’s program as well as the literary landscape of Texas.

Scribe: Can you share a few thoughts with us about the Texas literary landscape — what makes it unique, and what opportunities can be found here for writers, readers, publishers, and booksellers?

Clay Smith: Texas writers are given such a limitless gift by writing about–or being from–this place. Not just the myths of Texas (and its actual history that inspires those myths), but Texans have a strong sense of themselves and a strong sense of what they think Texas means. That’s a real gift to a writer that I don’t think all American states offer to their writers.

Scribe: What have been your favorite aspects of developing this year’s SABF programming?

CS: The best part of this job is considering which aspects of and issues in our culture people are really thinking about and finding authors who write in thoughtful ways about those topics. So we’ve got events about terrorism, immigration, the environment—hard-hitting topics like those. But we’re also featuring a lot of thoughtful poets and fiction writers who help us re-imagine our world. The joy of the job is mixing those writers together and letting San Antonians engage with our writers, make up their own minds, and be in conversation with other readers about these big ideas.

Scribe: Can you tell us about one or two pieces of programming that are new or different from years past?

CS: This is our first year to bring The Moth to San Antonio (its first time in the city), so that’s been a really wonderful process. The approximately 100 writers who are chosen by us to appear at the Festival are chosen for very specific reasons (namely, because we think they are doing excellent writing and have something unique to say about this world), but the five storytellers chosen by the producers of The Moth aren’t necessarily writers. They are people who have figured out how to tell stories from their lives that are funny or poignant or some mix of those qualities, and I think The Moth is a great addition to this year’s programming. The Moth takes place on the Friday night before the Festival, April 7, at the Majestic Theatre. The Texan-Off, a contest based on former TexasMonthly.com editor Andrea Valdez’s book How to Be a Texan, is going to be a lot of fun, too. We’re asking native Texas writers and a few non-native ones to be contestants to see who has the best Texana knowledge.

Thanks, Clay!

Visit the San Antonio Book Festival website for more information and the schedule of events.

Clay Smith is the Literary Director of the San Antonio Book Festival. He is also the editor-in-chief of Kirkus Reviews and former literary director of the Texas Book Festival. He was elected to the board of directors of the National Book Critics Circle in 2015 and has written for the New York Times Book Review, among other publications. He is a graduate of the Cultural Reporting and Criticism program at NYU and began his journalism career at the Austin Chronicle and talks about books regularly on the public radio program “Texas Standard.”