Celebrating Texas Independents: Carve Magazine and UNT Press

“Independent booksellers, publishers, and magazines provide a way for the public to discover literature and local communities so that they can be part of a bigger dialogue on culture and art.”

-Matthew Limpede

In conjunction with Texas Independence Day, we’re partnering with some of the state’s greatest Independents to host a series of free and open events across the state throughout the month of March.

These panel discussions will focus on the great opportunities for writers and readers that Texas has to offer, from independent presses, to journals, to bookstores, and beyond, while also answering writers’ burning questions about the publishing process, submitting to presses and journals, catching the eye of an editor, and more.

Our discussion in Dallas will be held at Deep Vellum Books on Thursday, March 23, at 7 pm (details and address here). We’ll be speaking with four distinguished panelists. We recently interviewed two of them about the literary landscape in Texas: Karen J. DeVinney, assistant director and managing editor at University of North Texas Press, and Matthew Limpede, executive editor of Carve magazine.

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?

Matthew Limpede: Like many things in Texas, so much of what makes us unique is our outsized (or perhaps “Texas-sized”) identity. Our literary landscape is shaped by our pride in being Texan, and in taking that Texan perspective to the world while also inviting others to experience it. There are a lot of opportunities here. We have some stellar MFA programs, and there are literary communities growing and thriving in both urban and rural areas. There are conferences and festivals, both big and small, for nearly every type of genre (romance, teen, literary, you name it). Independent bookstores are also valuable community anchors in Houston, Austin, Dallas, and other cities.

Karen J. DeVinney: This is a tricky question because of the enormous changes in the cultural landscape of Texas over the last twenty-some years. The stereotype of the cowboy and oil baron has been replaced by a more urban, cosmopolitan profile. Books about the Wild West do not claim the same market that they used to and have been replaced by Spanish-language books or  book with non-European emphases. We still publish a lot of Texas Ranger history, but it’s not selling that strongly compared to books that could have come out of any state — such as titles on jazz music, for instance.

Scribe: What do you see as the role of independents in Texas’s literary community (publishers, journals, booksellers) and what do you find most rewarding about the work you do at Carve?

ML: I think independents’ role is to be a point of access for the public. While academic institutions are an invaluable and indispensable part of the culture of literature, not everyone is able to access or participate in that. So independent booksellers, publishers, and magazines provide a way for the public to discover literature and local communities so that they can be part of a bigger dialogue on culture and art. What I find most rewarding about Carve is providing an opportunity for people to participate in a community that they’re proud of and excited to be in. Most of Carve is run by volunteers, and they wouldn’t be providing their time and energy without it giving something back to them in return. I’m happy to facilitate that exchange however I can.

KJD:  Independents are more nimble; they can pick up books on narrower topics that appeal to a narrower market; they can provide more personalized experiences. My favorite part of working for a small university press is the close relationships I can form with my authors. If I’ve acquired a book, then when it comes time to edit it, I’ve already had a 6-month-long relationship with the author. Tasks at a large commercial press can often be much more siloed, and the manuscript editors rarely get to know their authors like the acquisitions folks do. And the acquisitions folks rarely stay in contact with their authors through editorial.

Scribe: Tell us a bit about a program or event that you have upcoming that exemplifies the spirit of being independent in Texas.

ML: I’m always excited about our Raymond Carver Short Story Contest, which is open April 1 – May 15. We offer five prizes totaling $2500, and all winners are read by three literary agents. A little-known fact about Raymond Carver: he met Tess Gallagher at the SMU Writer’s Conference. So Texas is embedded in the story of Carver’s life in a very wonderful way, and we’re proud to honor him as our magazine’s namesake.

KJD: A book of photographs by four generations of a Texas family is a good example of something a larger press would probably not take on, but we were able to. And even though there’s a Texas angle to it, it has received a lot of attention worldwide. You can find more info here.

Thanks, Karen and Matthew! Also included in this Dallas panel discussion will be Will Evans of Cinestate (read an interview with him here) and Madeline Smoot of CBAY Books. Visit our website for additional cities and dates where we’ll be Celebrating Texas Independents throughout the month of March.

Are you a Texas independent (publisher, journal, bookstore, etc.) interested in participating in a future event and/or learning about other opportunities for partnership and promotion? We’d love to hear from you. Email us at wlt@writersleague.org.

Meet the A&E Conference Faculty: Dan Smetanka

“Seek out forms of engagement that you enjoy and feel comfortable with. There are so many now, and it can be a benefit in the often long, lonely slog of becoming a writer.”

-Dan Smetanka

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 Dan Smetanka

Dan Smetanka has worked in the publishing industry for over twenty-five years. As an Executive Editor at Ballantine/Random House, Inc., he acquired award-winning books including The Speed of Light by Elizabeth Rosner, Down to the Soundless Sea by Thomas Steinbeck, and Among the Missing by Dan Chaon, a 2001 Finalist for the National Book Award. He is currently Vice President, Executive Editor for Counterpoint Press. He acquires both fiction and nonfiction, and his projects include works by Dana Johnson, Abby Geni, Tod Goldberg, Natashia Deon, and Karen E. Bender, a 2015 Finalist for the National Book Award.

dan-smetanka-newScribe: How would you describe your personal approach to working with an author?

Dan Smetanka: Every book is different, and every author needs different things at different times throughout the process. So I don’t think there is just one approach. An editor’s first job is to establish a level of trust with the author; you are for that book the author’s closest reader and confidant. In discussing revisions, no ideas are off the table; it must be a safe zone of collaboration. An editor will be the one to guide the author through the process of revision but also through the entire process of publishing the book, from manuscript to galleys through production, publicity, and marketing. So the job of an editor does not end when the manuscript is finished. The relationship must be strong enough to withstand all aspects of the publishing process.

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

DS: Really the same as for any project: an interesting story, well told, in a way I have not seen or thought about before. The magic can come from voice or perspective or language or structure, but it has to be there. There is so much extra work in breaking out a debut author — no awareness of them in the marketplace, or with sales reps, or a history to fall back on — but it is also consistently one of the most exciting aspects of the American publishing scene. Everyone likes to encounter a new and exciting voice. The act of discovery is an impactful and memorable one.

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

DS: Yes, it’s important. But I would say this a different way. Any and all forms of engagement are important and necessary. To not have any forms of engagement is a mistake. This is an industry based on relationships and community. So the days when the writer — especially a debut or non-yet-famous writer — can retreat to the fainting couch are long past. Seek out the forms of engagement that you enjoy and feel comfortable with. There are so many now, and it can be a benefit in the often long, lonely slog of becoming a writer.

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

DS: Socially, be polite. Just because you wrote something, do not assume that anyone has any responsibility to you to read it. Editorially, read your pages out loud — to the wall, to the pet, to the plants. You can catch a lot of your own mistakes that way.

Scribe: Are there any recent or upcoming releases that you’d like to highlight, to give readers a better sense of what you’re currently looking for?

DS: I am very proud of the depth and breadth of the Counterpoint list — for both fiction and nonfiction — and for our ability to welcome and publish both new and established voices. A trio of debut novels really connected with readers last year: The Houseguest by Kim Brooks, set just before WWII about the different factions of American Jews and their reactions to the news of atrocities coming out of Europe, that seemed to have direct echoes to the horrible news coming out of Syria; The Lightkeepers by Abby Geni used a nature photographer on the Farralon Island to explore our relationship to the natural world, to memory and loss, and the murky distinctions between animal and human; and Grace by Natashia Deon created a group of outlaw women in the antebellum south to portray the horrors of slavery and the divinity of maternal love. All were very different, all had bold, inventive ideas, all are stunning.

Scribe: In previous interviews, you’ve discussed how the role of the editor has expanded over the years in response to changes and expansions of the industry. How would you recommend debut authors proceed in a market that is in constant flux?

DS: Proceed carefully, of course. Educate yourself on the basics of the industry, since it is one led by idiosyncratic rules. There are ways to approach agents, ways to learn about books, ways to behave on social media as you present yourself as a professional writer. The internet provides a host of information that never was available to me or my ilk coming up in this industry. So while the market is in flux, and very competitive, this is the most knowledgeable generation of writers to exist, ever. Use that. And keep your wits about you.

Thanks, Dan!

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.

Instructor Q&A: Stephanie Noll

“The story might sing in your head, and you clearly understand all the characters’ motivations, the plot points, etc. But are you communicating that to your reader?”

-Stephanie Noll

Stephanie Noll is teaching a class for the Writers’ League of Texas called “How to Workshop Your Writing.” This class will teach students the fundamentals of the writing workshop, including giving/receiving feedback. This class also satisfies the requirement to participate in our Advanced Craft Workshop.

Scribe:
For some, the idea of receiving feedback on their work can be daunting; what words of advice would you give to someone attending a workshop for the first time?

Stephanie Noll: Sharing our work makes us incredibly vulnerable. Before sharing a piece, you’ve spent hours in solitude, clicking away at a keyboard, at times deciding you’re a genius and then (sometimes within the same hour) feeling certain that you are the worst writer who ever lived. Still, you aren’t writing a diary; you’re writing with the hope that some day your work will reach a wider audience, and you need trusted readers to consider your draft and help you find ways to make it better.

During workshop, it’s best to stay quiet and take notes while others discuss your work. If possible, separate yourself from the piece (easier said than done, I know), and imagine it as an entity that isn’t connected to you, your self-worth, or even your talent as a writer. Finally, I would suggest listening to those comments that speak to your own feelings about the piece. For example, if you’ve wondered if a line comes up as cliché and someone mentions that line as problematic, then your instincts were right and it’s time to cut it. You can’t take everyone’s feedback and apply it to your work, so listen for what resonates with your own sense of the piece.

Scribe: Writers are generally encouraged to reach out for feedback in many different ways; what might be more beneficial about a workshop with strangers or acquaintances who are also writers, instead of relying on feedback from friends or family?

SN: Your friends and family want what’s best for you—or not, right? Family members may be looking for themselves reflected in your work; a friend might be hypercritical or too generous, depending. And when we share with friends and family, we might be looking for validation that has nothing to do with the work. Soliciting feedback from fellow writers is best because they are doing the same kind of “butt in chair” work that you are. This is not to say every writer will be a good reader for you and your work, but writers will understand what it took for you to get the piece where it is, and they are the ones who will be better equipped to help you see what it can be.

Scribe: Is it possible to attend a workshop too early or too late in the writing process? How do writers know their work is ready for the workshop phase?

SN: A writer should put up work that is as done as they can get it. It’s frustrating to readers to have someone submit a piece to workshop that is clearly in really rough form. At the very least, the writer should line edit the piece for typos and glaring errors. When I put up work in workshop, I like to think that I am one or two revisions away from submitting to journals (if it’s a shorter piece) or agents (for a booklength manuscript.) A writer should go into their workshop with some clear concerns or questions they have about the piece so they can take in what others say and apply it as makes sense, given their own vision.

Scribe: Are there any common mistakes or misconceptions that writers face when attending a workshop for the first time?

SN: I think the biggest mistake a writer might make is to get defensive about the work. The story might sing in your head, and you clearly understand all the characters’ motivations, the plot points, etc. But are you communicating that to your reader? Sometimes we can fall into this place where we’re like, “they just don’t get my work,” but we should be asking ourselves, “how have I not communicated my vision?”

Finally, I think we need to see workshop as a part of the writing process. We don’t sit down, write a piece, and declare it “done.” We sit, we write, we workshop, we revise, and sometimes we workshop after a revision. It’s not easy work, but part of what makes it so worthwhile is to find readers who will work alongside you on your journey.

Thanks, Stephanie!

Click here to register for Stephanie’s class.

Click here for our current class schedule.

 

About the Instructor

Stephanie Noll taught the Advanced Craft Workshop in Fall 2016. She studied fiction writing at Texas State University, where she earned her MFA. She is a frequent storyteller at The Story Department, a monthly fundraiser for the non-profit Austin Bat Cave, and has also told stories at Listen to Your Mother, Backyard Story Night, Hyde Park Story Night, and the Tellers. Stephanie has 18 years of teaching experience and works as a senior lecturer in the English department at Texas State where she recently was awarded an Excellence in Teaching award. Stephanie is the director of Old Books for New Teachers, an organization that helps first-year teachers build classroom libraries. She has written a novel about a standardized test cheating scandal at an inner-city Houston high school.

Meet the A&E Conference Faculty: Tricia Skinner

“If your first book deal doesn’t let you retire from your day job, don’t put away your computer.”

-Tricia Skinner

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 Tricia Skinner

Tricia Skinner is an agent for Fuse Literary. She began her writing career as a newspaper reporter and wrote for The Detroit NewsInvestor’s Business Daily, MSN, and The Houston Chronicle. Tricia has 20 years of experience working with the video game industry in various roles, including public relations, industry relations, and writing/editing. She is also a hybrid author of passionate urban fantasy (represented by McLean). Diversity in genre fiction is dear to Tricia’s heart. As an agent, she wants to represent authors who reflect diversity and cultures in their work.

tricia-skinner-agentScribe: How would you describe your personal approach to working with an author?

Tricia Skinner: I prefer to communicate frequently, touching base on projects and providing updates when I have them (even if the update is “no new info yet”). My clients will tell you I’ll pick up the phone or send an instant message just to say “Howdy.” Writing is so solitary. It helps to know your agent hasn’t forgotten you!

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

TS: Drive, career goals, and a sense of the business of publishing books. Even if a writer is unpublished, I want to see that they have a website and a developing social media presence. It’s easier (and more helpful) to find a debut author who “gets it.” The most important thing I look for is someone I can truly partner with. I don’t want divas, and I don’t want anyone lazy. I don’t want to have to drag someone along (this is their career, after all), but I also don’t want someone who’s harboring too many unrealistic goals. I prefer to work with authors who are open to new ideas and different perspectives.

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

TS: Yes, I do, but social media should be used in a smart way. Spamming people to buy your book is never a good idea. Neither is never updating your social media. Authors should understand the balance.

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

TS: Think in terms of years. Publishing books is always going to be the first goal, but so is growing your career over time. All the quick fixes you’ve heard about, or mega deals, don’t happen to everyone. If your book deal doesn’t let you retire from your day job, don’t put away your computer.

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.

TS: This year, I was promoted to a full agent role at Fuse Literary. I had closed two new book deals, and I had planned to reopen to unsolicited submissions when it happened. For me, it was a formal acknowledgement of this career path being a great fit for me. I love what I do.

Thanks, Tricia!

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.

Celebrating Texas Independents: Austin

“One of the unique aspects of the Texas literary landscape is the overwhelming support that writers and others in the book community here provide to one another.”

-Colleen Devine Ellis

In conjunction with Texas Independence Day, we’re partnering with some of the state’s greatest Independents to host a series of free and open events across the state throughout the month of March.

These panel discussions will focus on the great opportunities for writers and readers that Texas has to offer, from independent presses, to journals, to bookstores, and beyond, while also answering writers’ burning questions about the publishing process, submitting to presses and journals, catching the eye of an editor, and more.

Our Third Thursday panel discussion in Austin will be held at BookPeople on Thursday, March 16 at 7 pm (details and address here). We’ll be speaking with four distinguished panelists. We recently interviewed three of them about the literary landscape in Texas: Colleen Devine Ellis of University of Texas Press, Abby Fennewald of BookPeople, and Sunny Leal of fields and Feminine Inquiry.

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?

Colleen Devine Ellis

Colleen Devine Ellis: One of the unique aspects of the Texas literary landscape is the overwhelming support that writers and others in the book community here provide to one another. I attend a lot of book signings and events, both as part of my job and because I love books, and there are frequently writers and booksellers in the audience. It’s inspiring to see how successful, established writers can positively affect the careers of their not-yet-established peers, and then watch those writers do the same with students and beginning writers. There is a comparable swell of support and promotion for booksellers, independent bookstores, and small/university press publishers. By investing in the literary communities in Texas, we invest in the support and success of writers, publishers, and booksellers, and the continued enjoyment of readers.

Abby Fennewald

Abby Fennewald: When I first moved to Texas I really wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of the literary landscape. In my year here, it has become clear that Texas, and Austin in particular, has a community of writers and readers that’s flourishing in a city that has a strong tradition of creativity of all kinds. As a bookseller, it’s always special to promote local writers and presses. We like to think there’s a certain synergy in all of our goals as we want to keep the literary landscape vibrant, and having a bookstore as a community space that works with local writers to sell their work is an important part of that.

Sunny Leal

Sunny Leal: What I think makes the Texas literary landscape so unique is the diversity Texas has to offer. Not only does Texas host an array of different racial and ethnic backgrounds, especially being so close to the border, but the state is home to so many different types of landscapes, climates, histories, and lifestyles that if you want to write about a certain subject there is an audience for it here. Or if you want to sell a certain type of literature or publish a very specific genre, there is someone in Texas who will share in that enthusiasm with you. Everything is truly bigger in Texas, and the scope of literature in this state is just as large.

Scribe: What do you see as the role of independents in Texas’s literary community (publishers, journals, booksellers) and what do you find most rewarding about the work you do at your respective organizations?

CDE: Independent and university presses are particularly well-suited to encourage, publish and promote new authors, and to take risks that larger publishers won’t (or can’t). One example of how a university press can make a difference is from 2015 when the publisher I work for released The Jemima Code: Two Centuries of African-American Cookbooks by Toni-Tipton Martin. Showcasing one of the world’s largest private collections of African American cookbooks, ranging from rare nineteenth-century texts to modern classics by Edna Lewis and Vertamae Grosvenor, it’s an extensively illustrated book that brings to light a formerly hidden story about America’s food culture. Larger publishers declined to publish the book for a number of reasons, including that it wasn’t easily defined by bookstore subject categories, it would be expensive to produce, and it was the first book of its kind so there were no strong comparisons to use for sale and marketing data.

UT Press chose to publish it because we saw it as a trailblazer in food writing and African-American history. It’s since gone on to win a James Beard Award, be featured in national press including several articles in the New York Times, and sell thousands of copies.  It was a joy to see this book be so successful because it is truly original and important, and it might not have ever been published if we didn’t take a risk for a project we believed in so strongly.

AF: As we frequently talk about with our booksellers, the most rewarding thing about being an independent is that we have so much control over what we are talking about and promoting, both in-store face-to-face with customers and online. For booksellers, that means you can really move the dial on a book you love, hand-selling it at every opportunity that arises. A bookseller’s love means a book gets put in the hands of customers long after it’s published. For the store it means we can really commit to what we think is important for people to read. At the moment, that means our storewide push behind Mohsin Hamid’s excellent new novel, Exit West. And to take it a step further we’re giving part of our proceeds back to the community as a donation to Caritas of Austin. Those ties keep us part of our community and help serve the people who shop here.

SL: The role of independents in Texas’s literary community is to create and foster the avenues in which our wide net of writers can thrive and be acknowledged. As I said earlier, there is so much room in our literary landscape and with so much space a lot of the lesser-known voices can get lost. It is not only the responsibility of independent journals, sellers, and publishers to play host for the large amount of up-and-coming writers here in Texas, but it is a privilege to be able to see these people hone their craft and share their work with audiences that will truly appreciate it.

That is also a part of what is so rewarding about working with fields magazine. Every submission period I read amazing work by hundreds of relatively unknown poets and I am in awe of each and every one of their talents and the bravery they possess in putting their work out there for consideration. To have these great writers place their work in my hands and trust that I will make honest and fair judgement on something they worked so hard on is so humbling and inspiring.

Scribe: Tell us a bit about a program or event that you have upcoming that exemplifies the spirit of being independent in Texas (or, if that’s not applicable, tell us about something you have upcoming that you’re especially excited about; a chance to promote something to our readers! Include a link if appropriate).

CDE: We are looking forward to SXSW this year because three of our authors are featured in the official programming: Jarod Neece and Mando Rayo for The Tacos of Texas, and Zak Pellacio for Project 258: Making Dinner at Fish and Game. In April, the San Antonio Book Festival is always a great day for authors, publishers, booksellers, and especially readers. University of Texas Press authors including Bill Wittliff,  Barbara MorganMaya PerezAndrea Valdez, and Frederick Luis Aldama will be on panels throughout the day.

AF: We’ve watched as bookstores nationwide are examining their role in their communities since the election. For most of us, the most important thing is to remain a place of open minded discussion and idea sharing, and in that vein we’re starting a new book club called Uncomfortable Reads. The inaugural meeting is on March 28 at 8 pm, and we hope this can be a great gathering place for Austinites to come talk about issues that are affecting them, with guidance from books we think are important reading. Details here.

SL: On March 31st, fields magazine will be holding our seventh issue release party at First Street Studio. I’m so excited for this event because not only do we get to celebrate the 20+ creatives that are featured in our upcoming issue, but we’re also hosting readings and performances by people who have taken their crafts and truly made it their own, whether that be from influences in their personal life or through their own unique style. These writers and performers along with the continued success of fields really exemplify what it means to be independent in Texas: no matter what obstacles we may face, we’re doing it right, doing it big, and doing it our way. That seems like a pretty Texan mindset to me.

Thanks, Colleen, Abby, and Sunny! Also included in this panel discussion will be Will Evans of Cinestate; read an interview with him here. Visit our website for additional cities and dates where we’ll be Celebrating Texas Independents throughout the month of March.

Are you a Texas independent (publisher, journal, bookstore, etc.) interested in participating in a future event and/or learning about other opportunities for partnership and promotion? We’d love to hear from you. Email us at wlt@writersleague.org.

Instructor Q&A: Brittani Sonnenberg

“Setting is like a gentle friend: it’s right in front of you (or in your mind’s eye) and can be a lot less elusive than plot and character, so you might as well hang out with it.”

-Brittani Sonnenberg

Brittani Sonnenberg is teaching an online class for the Writers’ League called “The Secret Trapdoor: Transforming Setting into Story” on March 23. This class will teach students how to choose settings, how to depict setting in a way that captures a reader’s imagination and transports them to another place, and how to make setting work overtime (i.e., how setting can help evoke other fictional elements like character and plot).

Can’t attend the live class? Those who register will have access to the recording for one week after the class. Read the interview below and visit the class page to learn more.

Scribe: Setting is usually introduced as a foundation of writing (right up there with plot and characters), but writers don’t always spend as much time developing it as they do the other two. Why do you think that is?

Brittani Sonnenberg: I think writers often take setting for granted the way humans take setting for granted. By this I mean that in our day-to-day lives, we often don’t stop to notice just what trees and birds are in our neighborhood, how pleasing the soft neon glow of a sign is against the night sky, or what the streets in downtown smell like. But when we do, we feel more alive, and when we do so as writers, our fiction comes to life. And setting is like a gentle friend: it’s right in front of you (or in your mind’s eye), and can be a lot less elusive than plot and character, so you might as well hang out with it.

Scribe: How would you suggest writers work towards finding a balance between giving readers enough information about setting without unnecessarily dragging out the exposition? Is there a good rule of thumb that you rely on?

BS: When you feel your own interest flagging, it’s a good cue to move on to dialogue or action. Most movies don’t begin with a slow panning of the moors or the beach that lasts much longer than the credits, and most chapters don’t dwell on setting for much longer than a couple paragraphs at a time. Instead, narration dwells in setting, which is a much more integrated approach.

Scribe: Certain settings are often associated with certain genres — outer space with sci-fi, high schools with young adult fiction, and so on. Do you think there is space for writers to push back against these associations, or is it better to play it safe and go with what has been proven to work?

BS: Absolutely. You should write whatever setting feels integral to your story: usually a place that calls to you or haunts you. Slapping a genre setting on a story because you feel like you have to will make you feel trapped and constricted as a writer.

Scribe: In the best stories, characters and plot are intertwined and have the power to affect each other; do you think the same can be said of setting, in that it can change and be changed by characters and plot?

BS: Definitely! While a grandmother’s mountain house may not physically change much over the course of a novel, the events that take place may cause the house to shift from a place of comfort and reprieve for the protagonist to one of terror and regret. I recently interviewed a choreographer who likes staging performances in unconventional spaces, and she said that much of her inspiration comes from reacting to those settings. In fiction, plot and character should be deeply informed by setting, just as the events of the novel will affect how your character views their surroundings.

Thanks, Brittani!

Click here to register for Brittani’s class.

Click here for our current class schedule.

 

About the Instructor

Brittani Sonnenberg is the managing editor of Tribeza Magazine and the author of the novel Home Leave. She was raised across three continents and has worked as a journalist in Germany, China, and throughout Southeast Asia. A graduate of Harvard, she received her MFA in fiction from the University of Michigan. Her fiction has been published in The O. Henry Prize Stories 2008 as well as Ploughshares, Short Fiction, and Asymptote. Her nonfiction has appeared in Time, Associated Press, Minneapolis Star Tribune, and NPR Berlin.

Meet the A&E Conference Faculty: Anjali Singh

“I want to find and help get published the stories we just haven’t seen enough of, and that have the power to open up readers’ understandings of the ‘other’ — in whatever shape that might take.”

-Anjali Singh

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 Anjali Singh

Anjali Singh is an agent at Ayesha Pande Literary. Most recently Editorial Director at Other Press, she has also worked as an editor at Simon & Schuster, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and Vintage Books. Two upcoming projects include Sherine Hamdy and Myra El-Mir’s young adult graphic novel about coming-of-age Muslim-American, and Bridgett M. Davis’ What Dies Happiness Play For?, a memoir about growing up in Detroit in the 60s and 70s with an extraordinary mother. Singh is looking for character-driven fiction or non-fiction works that reflect an engagement with the world, memoirs, and MG and YA literature and graphic novels.

anjali-singh-1Scribe: How would you describe your personal approach to working with an author?

Anjali Singh: My background is as an editor, so I would say my approach as an agent is similarly hands-on; I’m on board to help manage every aspect of my clients’ careers, but it starts with getting the fiction MS or proposal just right in order to get them the best possible deal with a publisher. That means the pre-submission/development part of the process can be very drawn out. I do several rounds of close reads with editorial comments, and all along the way I’m talking to my clients about their expectations, helping to manage those expectations, but also helping them to hopefully write the book that has the best potential to reach their intended audience.

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

AS: I’m always looking for writing that is direct and honest, and that has an immediacy that moves me. I want to feel swept up in the stories I read, and I want to feel that the characters are complex and recognizable and to truly believe in them. I also want the book to somehow change the world! I know it’s a big ask, but I think what I mean is I want to find and help get published the stories we just haven’t seen enough of, and that have the power to open up readers’ understandings of the “other” — in whatever shape that might take.

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

AS: Some of this is informed by my generation — I’m pretty much mid-career with 20 years in publishing, but I still didn’t grow up in a world, even a professional world, where social media was king. The perceived wisdom is that if you’re good at it and it comes naturally and organically, having a social media presence can be immensely helpful. But if not, I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary, especially when it’s something that feels forced. I do think it’s worth learning about, trying out different platforms, to see if there is one that is a fit with your personality type. I think it behooves all of us to engage with it and to do our research.

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

AS: I’m beginning to sound like a broken record on this subject, but what I think is most important in terms of building a career and growing as a writer is to create a community for yourself of fellow writers and readers — and to read your fellow writers’ books, to really know what else is out there.

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.

AS: I’m only a little over a year into my agenting career, so right now every project is new, different, and exciting. One area I’ve been stretching my wings into is MG and YA, which I knew very little about as an editor in the adult publishing world. But as the mom of 8- and 5-year-old girls, I’m reading into that space at home. I have been picking up YA books in my spare time and falling in love with them, in the way that reading books as a young person utterly transported me and made me fall in love with reading. It’s also about getting to have a new experience with books and with publishing. So right now I’ve placed a YA graphic novel about growing up as a Muslim-American and am working with the author of a YA fantasy novel set in ancient India, as well as a MG graphic novel series that features a 9-year-old girl detective.

Scribe: Are there any recent or upcoming releases that you’d like to highlight, to give readers a better sense of what you’re currently looking for?

AS: One project in the pipeline that I’m extremely excited about is Bridgett Davis’ What Does Happiness Play For? This memoir is about growing up in Detroit in the 60s and 70s and pays homage to the author’s mother. Davis’ mother ran Numbers, an illegal lottery business, and in so doing created a loving, prosperous, and stable life for her family at a time when African-American women had very few career paths open to them.

I’m also working on several debut novels, one about a Muslim immigrant family that is both beautifully written and political, and which I feel will be an important contribution to the body of work about the American immigrant experience. I’m also working on another debut that’s a saga about four generations of a Kuwaiti family.

Thanks, Anjali!

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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.