Meet the A&E Conference Faculty: Amy Gash

“Show your work and be open to hearing criticism. Incorporate the feedback that feels honest and true.”

-Amy Gash

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 Amy Gash

Amy Gash is a Senior Editor in the New York office of Algonquin Books, where she acquires literary fiction and narrative nonfiction on topics ranging from from science, education, humor, graphic memoir, history, and language. Books she has edited have won The National Book Critics Circle Award, The American Library Association Sophie Brody Medal, and The Sami Rohr Prize. They have been New York Times bestsellers, Boston Globe and Los Angeles Times bestsellers, #1 Indie Picks, Top Ten Amazon Books of the Year, and New York Times Notable Books. They have been published in translation throughout the world.

Amy Gash photoScribe: How would you describe your personal approach to working with an author?

Amy Gash: My goal is to help an author write the best book possible—and that requires a personalized approach to each book. Often with nonfiction, the book I’ve acquired has not yet been written—there may only be a proposal and a chapter—so the first step might be conversations about what the author wants to achieve and how to get there. We might talk about structure, about themes, about endings and beginnings. I usually have strong opinions but I’m always cognizant of the fact that I’m there to facilitate the author’s vision. At the same time, I want to steer the author in a direction that I think readers will respond to—and I’m the stand-in for the reader. Once the manuscript is delivered, I always print out a hard copy and make copious notes all over the pages—I’ll write down whatever comes to my mind as I read. Then I’ll usually read the manuscript again while I’m transferring those notes to the digital manuscript and by then I’ve formed a cohesive view of the bigger issues (pacing, structure, does the book hold my interest, etc.) and smaller issues (sentence structure, repetition, did I “notice” the writing instead of enjoying the reading, etc.) that need to be addressed. Then I’ll do all this again when the revised manuscript is delivered, and again until the book feels ready to be published.

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

AG: In any book—fiction or nonfiction, debut or not—I’m looking for a story that no one but that particular writer can tell. A voice or a story that makes me sit up and say this is original, this is something I haven’t read before. And even if the story is familiar, I’m hoping it’s told in a way that is completely fresh—maybe the writer comes at it sideways or backwards—or just differently.

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

AG: No, but it certainly can help. That said, I think one’s social media presence has to be authentic to be effective. So an author who has published a book and has never been active on social media but then decides to tweet up a storm in order to sell that book is likely to be disappointed.  Algonquin has a strong social media presence and we really work with our authors to create campaigns that are creative and potent. It takes thought.

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

AG: Show your work and be open to hearing criticism. Incorporate the feedback that feels honest and true.

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.

AG: Algonquin recently published a book by filmmaker and pop culture icon John Waters. It’s the text of the commencement address he gave at the Rhode Island School of Design. I watched the speech on YouTube and loved it because it was not the usual, tired advice for graduates. I immediately thought it should be a book but the text was short and we needed to create a book around it. We found a slightly subversive illustrator whose art fit John’s worldview and we worked with John and now Make Trouble has just been published. It’s not a typical book for me, as I mostly edit fiction and narrative nonfiction, but still it fits well on Algonquin’s list because the book is moving and original.

Scribe: Are there any recent publications you’d like to highlight as representative of the kinds of works you’re interested in taking on, or can you give an example of the ideal book you’d like to publish?

AG: Recently published books include Real Food/Fake Food, an expose about how many of the foods we eat—from olive oil to cheese to wine—are not what we think they are; The Muralist, a novel by the author of the bestselling The Art Forger, about abstract expressionists in pre-WWII New York; Cannibalism, written by a zoologist who looks at the practice across the animal world; Pumpkinflowers, a memoir by a former Israeli soldier about how wars are fought today; and The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness, by the comedian Paula Poundstone. As you can see, my interests are broad!

Thanks, Amy!

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 A&E Conference Faculty: Caroline Casey

“A successful author/publisher collaboration is like parent/nanny—no one will ever love your book the way you do, but you need to find someone you feel comfortable with and then trust them to do the right thing by your progeny.”

-Caroline Casey

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 Caroline Casey

Caroline Casey is Managing Director at Coffee House Press. She has a background in marketing, publicity, and acquisitions, including stints at Sarabande Books and Stanford University Press, and holds an MFA from the Nonfiction Writing Program at the University of Iowa.

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

Caroline Casey: A successful author/publisher collaboration is like parent/nanny—no one will ever love your book the way you do, but you need to find someone you feel comfortable with and then trust them to do the right thing by your progeny.

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

CC: Talent. Full stop. We only care about the book.

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

CC: Definitely not. Social media can, when employed well and with years (years) of groundwork laying, sell books. But plenty of writers simply write, and they succeed or fail based on that.

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

CC: If only! Everyone requires something different. I guess I’d say to not judge the value of your work by its reception. You can’t control that.

Scribe: On your website, you give a wide-range of narrative nonfiction; can you highlight a few examples of recent narrative nonfiction publications to give readers get a better sense of what you’re looking for?

CC: We’re interested in work that conforms more to the demands of “essay” than of “nonfiction.” Recent-ish examples would be Elena Passarello’s Animals Strike Curious Poses or Katie Holten’s collage (that’s the best description I can think of) About Trees. I’m enjoying Lauren Elkin’s Flaneuse. Garnette Cadogan is writer I’m always ready for new work from, as is Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah. I’d say our taste is: any book that approaches its subject with curiosity, sentence-level interest, and a sense of context.

Thanks, Caroline!

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 A&E Conference Faculty: David Doerrer

“Sit down and write! Don’t wait for someone else’s permission or validation to create.”

-David Doerrer

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 David Doerrer

David Doerrer is a graduate of New York University and worked at Sterling Lord Literistic and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt before joining Abrams Artists Agency in 2010. In addition to working with a growing list of writers, novelists, and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists, he works with his colleagues at Abrams, “a full-service talent agency,” to create opportunities for his clients in other mediums and outlets. He’s on the look-out for big-hearted adult and YA fiction, and a wide range of narrative nonfiction, from science, sports, and pop-culture to memoir that atomizes large-scale change through a personal prism.

david-doerrerScribe: How would you describe your personal approach to working with an author?

David Doerrer: Before I made the transition to agenting, I was in subsidiary rights, which is strictly a sales position. I switched gears because I wanted to play a greater role in the editorial development of projects—and still have a chance to sell them. So I tend to be very hands-on. I work with authors over the course of weeks, months, and in some cases years to get a proposal or manuscript just right.

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

DD: I look for a compelling and confident voice. I find that a lot of debut authors get tripped up in trying to embroider every sentence and fitting all of their stored wisdom in one book. I love a well-crafted, flowery sentence, but it’s not everything. I look for first-time writers who unfurl their stories with assurance and patience.

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

DD: Social media is no silver bullet for the unpredictability of the marketplace. That said, I advise all of the authors I work with to cultivate some kind of social media footprint. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram—these are unparalleled avenues for authors to find their fans and for their fans to find them.

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

DD: I realize this is not particularly profound, but I’d say: Sit down and write! Don’t wait for someone else’s permission or validation to create.

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.

DD: Playing a role in the sale of the memoir by the first male professional athlete to come out as gay. That book saves lives.

Scribe: On your website, you give a wide-range of narrative nonfiction; can you highlight a few examples of recent narrative nonfiction publications to give readers get a better sense of what you’re looking for?

DD: I recently sold a nonfiction account of the citizen science movement told through the prism of one crusading family. I love books that anatomize large-scale social, political, and cultural change.

Thanks, David!

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: Nan Cuba

“The beginning of a story functions as a microcosm of the whole.”

-Nan Cuba

Nan Cuba is teaching a class for the Writers’ League called “Crafting Openings that Hook the Reader” on June 3 at St. Edward’s University in Austin, TX. This class will focus on analyzing opening pages of texts to give writers strategies to better hook readers within the first few lines and pages of their own projects. Read the interview below and visit the class page to learn more.

Scribe: Are there any common patterns within opening pages that you find most effective and would like to bring to writers’ attention?

NC: The two most important parts of a story are the opening and closing. The opening places the reader in the fictional world, whether realistic or fantastic, current or historical or futuristic, establishing guidelines for understanding what will follow. The protagonist, setting, situation, tone, atmosphere, theme, structure, and narrative voices are introduced. For example, Janet Burroway says the first paragraphs should reveal the character’s gender, age, race or nationality, class, period, region, profession, and marital status, but none of this should be given as information. Instead, it must be implied by appearance, tone, action, or detail.

According to Robbie Macauley, the design of the opening should suggest the story’s design. For example, if the first paragraphs are exchanges of dialogue as people discuss something about their lives, the implication is that the story will be about their attitudes and opinions, that the way they express them will be important. If the opening brings one character forward for the readers to observe, then the story will be about the traits, ideas, experiences, and emotions of that person. If a group opens the story by participating in an event, then the characters’ actions will become the focus. Opening with a generalization signals a story’s emphasis on theme. A reminiscent narrative voice signals a story about an incidents that was life changing. In this way, the beginning of a story functions as a microcosm of the whole.

Scribe: If you had to choose one novel as having your favorite opening pages, which would it be and why?

NC: I’m going to change your question a bit. Instead of focusing on “opening pages,” I’ll share opening lines to three classic novels.

Opening lines should operate much like opening paragraphs but in compressed form. One of the most famous first sentences is found in Leo Tolstoy’s novel, Anna Karenina. The omniscient narrator begins with a generalization: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Readers immediately recognize the truth in this observation then realize the story will be about one of these unhappy families, with details about how it got that way. The sentence establishes point of view, introduces the main characters, hints at the conflict, and suggests the theme.
Another famous first sentence is from George Orwell’s 1984: “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” Since the novel was published in 1949, the title announces this as a futuristic setting, while the opening announces that bad luck is everywhere. Point of view, setting, and conflict are established.
A third example is from Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man: “I am an invisible man.” The reader knows that the story will be told by a first-person narrator, who thinks no one sees him. We don’t know why, but we know his invisibility is the conflict. We find out later that his color makes him socially invisible, so the first sentence also introduces theme.

Scribe: Implicit in this class and these examples is that writers need to learn to continually teach themselves how to write–by reading other great writers. Why is it important to practice reading like a writer?

Nan Cuba: Learning the craft of fiction writing is a lifetime pursuit. Like anyone being trained in a skill, we hope for instructions to practice and then confidently use to launch a professional career. But mastering craft is not like learning to drive a car, memorizing which pedals and handles to push, and then breezily moving along. A serious writer doesn’t rely on formulas or trends, but instead learns fundamentals of language usage, grammar, and storytelling, and then applies knowledge, curiosity, and intuition in order to experiment and challenge oneself, resulting in the development of an individual style, one that, like the writer herself, is ever-changing. Proficiency introduces new craft challenges, while the writer constantly strives for originality and innovation. Understanding plot basics leads to de-familiarization; recognizing melodrama’s exaggerations entices one to effectively include it; an expanded vocabulary and facility with language and diction challenge one to experiment with syntax and voice. A person could continuously take classes, but the best teacher shows her students how to teach themselves. Chekhov didn’t have a writing degree; neither does Jonathan Franzen. So, how did they learn craft? By reading like a writer. That means analyzing words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs, characterizations, settings, plot devices, points of view, etc., noting what works and how it’s accomplished. Francine Prose meticulously describes the process in her excellent book, Reading Like a Writer.

Scribe: Reading definitely helps develop writing skills, but not all reading is good or appropriate writing; is there anything to be gained from reading works in which the writing style is not well crafted?

NC: Not really. If you read literary fiction — that is, fiction that emphasizes language and character, as opposed to commercial fiction that focuses on plot — and you analyze its operations, much like a medial student observes a surgeon in the operating room or a doctoral student assists a chemist in the laboratory, over time and with practice, you will come to recognize literary craft workings. That way, when you knowingly read popular fiction for entertainment, which we all occasionally do, much like watching a blockbuster Star Wars movie, you recognize shortcuts and manipulations, the story becoming predictable and flashy, a fun diversion that ultimately confirms your dedication to innovate and challenge yourself, to write stories that reveal nuanced aspects of our common human experience, in other words, to create art.

Thanks, Nan!

Click here to register for Nan’s class.

Click here for our current class schedule.

 

About the Instructor

Nan Cuba is the author of Body and Bread, winner of the PEN Southwest Award in Fiction and the Texas Institute of Letters Steven Turner Award for Best Work of First Fiction, co-editor of Art at our Doorstep: San Antonio Writers and Artists. Her work has appeared in Antioch ReviewHarvard ReviewColumbiaChicago Tribune’s Printer’s Row, LIFEThird Coast, and D Magazine. She has received a Dobie Paisano Fellowship, an artist residency at Fundación Valparaiso in Spain, and was a finalist for the Humanities Texas Award for Individual Achievement. She is the founder and executive director emeritus of Gemini Ink, a nonprofit literary center, and teaches in the MA/MFA Program in Literature, Creative Writing, and Social Justice at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, where is writer-in-residence. Her website is nancuba.com.

Instructor Q&A: Brian Yansky

“We read fiction to see characters struggle and overcome or fail to overcome the conflict in their stories.”

-Brian Yanksy

Brian Yansky is teaching a class for the Writers’ League of Texas called “Developing Conflict in Fiction” on May 27 at St. Edward’s University in Austin, TX. The class will identify and discuss different kinds of conflict and how to use them in novels and stories. Read the interview below and visit the class page to learn more.

Brian Yansky

Scribe: First off, why is it important to develop conflict?

Brian Yansky: Conflict is at the heart of all fiction. It develops characters, propels plot, and makes setting relevant. We read fiction to see characters struggle and overcome or fail to overcome the conflict in their stories. From a writer’s POV, creating conflict within your characters and between your main character, other characters, or perhaps society or nature or any number of other possibilities builds narrative. You’ve got to have conflict.

Scribe: Do you find that characters are developed with a specific conflict in mind, or do conflicts form based on the characters?

BY: Both. For me, usually, I start with a character and a situation. The situation has to have the potential for conflict in it. The character wants/needs something, and something gets in the way of her want/need.  This is one way to build a central conflict for the character. However, as the character develops, other conflicts will occur to the writer. It’s a process. The character creates conflicts by her actions in trying to deal with problems and conflicts.

Scribe: Are there any specific tips you rely on to generate conflict within stories?

BY: The big tip is to start with a character in a situation that will create conflict from the inception of the story. But beyond that it depends on the story. A character in conflict with society—  for example, Hunger Games, 1984, To Kill a Mockingbird – will find conflict everywhere because they’re struggling against something large and powerful.  Just generally, I look for friction inside a character, between characters, or between a character and setting or a character and plot. Developing this friction will develop conflict, which will develop character and plot. That’s why conflict is so essential. It helps the writer build her story.

Scribe: Have you noticed any trends of less-common conflicts emerging in contemporary fiction?

BY: It should be pretty clear that I think conflict is in just about every story. Whatever the new trend is, it will have conflict and writers will find creative ways to make the conflict different and unique.

A trend that’s been done many different ways is “end of the world” stories. The setting creates immediate conflict in these stories. There’s conflict between survivors and other survivors, or those pesky walking dead or a world consumed by nuclear winter, or aliens, or gods.  One of my favorites in this kind of story in recent years is Station Eleven. If you’re looking for a good “end of the world” story, check that one out.

Thanks, Bryan!

Click here to register for Bryan’s class.

Click here for our current class schedule.

 

About the Instructor

Brian Yansky is the author of five published YA novels and over a dozen short stories for adults. His last three novels were published by Candlewick Press  (Utopia, Iowa, 2015; Homicidal Aliens and Other Disappointments, 2013; Alien Invasion and Other Inconveniences, 2010.) His stories have been published in Literal Latte, The Crescent Review and other literary magazines. He teaches writing at Austin Community College.

Meet the A&E Conference Faculty: Will Evans

“Write with a sense of urgency palpable enough to hook a reader from the first page, and never let them go.”

-Will Evans

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 in June, we’re happy to share Q&As with some of our faculty here. 

An Interview with Will Evans

Will Evans is president and co-founder of Cinestate, an entertainment studio established in 2016 with the film producer Dallas Sonnier, combining book publishing, film production, and audio experiences. In 2013, Evans founded Deep Vellum Publishing, a nonprofit literary publisher dedicated to translating the world’s best novels into English. Evans also co-founded Deep Vellum Books in early 2016, a brick-and-mortar bookstore and cultural community center in Dallas’s historic Deep Ellum neighborhood. Prior to his career in publishing, Evans worked for five years in the music industry on tour and in Los Angeles before becoming a talent buyer for Austin’s iconic music venue, Emo’s. Evans graduated from Emory University with degrees in History and Russian Literature and received a Master’s degree in Russian Culture from Duke University. His translation of Oleg Kashin’s political satire novel Fardwor, Russia! A Fantastical Tale of Life Under Putin was published by Restless Books in 2016.


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

Will Evans: Trust in the author as Artist, and maintain open dialogue on all aspects of the publishing process—editing, design, marketing, etc.—as steps on the path to achieving the fullest potential for each story, to implant each story into the brains of its intended and deserved audience.

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

WE: Originality of vision and unique execution.

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

WE: Not critical, though it is an added benefit for those authors with the types of personalities and styles that thrive on continuous engagement with their audience and their peers.

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

WE: Write with a sense of urgency palpable enough to hook a reader from the first page, and never let them go.

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.

WE: The ability to work with S. Craig Zahler is a highlight in my career as an editor. He’s a true renaissance man who’s already had several amazing novels published by indie and major presses. He also wrote, directed, and composed the score for the film Bone Tomahawk, and he has several more films in the works that he’s written and directed that we’re working on at Cinestate, too. His artistic vision is so unique, so precise, so exacting—he is one of the few writers who wields the command to write such cinematic literature and such literary film scripts, in addition to being a damn good filmmaker and accomplished musician. Our company works with Zahler closely across all mediums: he’s written books for us, directed films for us, written scripts for us, produced audio dramas for us—this type of close relationship is what we’re looking for out of the authors we work with. If we believe in you and your vision, there are no limits to the possibilities of ways we will work to share your story with the world.

Scribe: Are there any recent publications you’d like to highlight as representative of the kinds of works you’re interested in taking on?

WE: I’m especially proud of our inaugural publishing list launching this fall, including S. Craig Zahler’s marvelous coming-of-age tale, Hug Chickenpenny: The Panegyric of an Anomalous Child, Michael J. Seidlinger’s provocative thriller, My Pet Serial Killer, and Robert Ashcroft’s incredible debut, a gripping, philosophical sci-fi/horror novel, The Megarothke. These novels are all representative of what we’re looking for in a book we publish: genre-based literature of the highest quality written with a cinematic approach to storytelling.

Thanks, Will!

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: Wendi Aarons

“Humor works best when it’s sprinkled in lightly, then occasionally dropped like a bomb. Less is more.”

-Wendi Aarons

Wendi Aarons is teaching a class for the Writers’ League of Texas on May 20 at St. Edward’s University called “How to Write Funny.” This class will introduce tips, tricks, and easy ways to lighten up dialogue and prose to be more humorous in conceptual humor pieces. Read the interview below and visit the class page to learn more.


Wendi AaronsScribe:
When developing humor, do you find that character personalities or setting and circumstance play a larger role? Or perhaps a mix of multiple elements?

Wendi Aarons: I prefer a mix of multiple elements, but most enjoy seeing how certain personality types react to uncomfortable or different situations and circumstances. For example, you could write a character that is naturally funny and have her sit in a room all day just saying humorous lines and that would work somewhat. But it’s even better to take that character and place her in a situation where she’s not living in a humor vacuum. David Sedaris’ narrator in his essay “Front Row Center with Thaddeus Bristol” is amusing on his own, but David places him at a local grade school’s Christmas pageant, which he then reviews like the snotty theater critic he is. That’s a humor home run. Of course, it doesn’t always have to be as elaborate as that, but think of the humorous situations you’ve seen in real life, things that make you laugh, and use it for material or inspiration.

Scribe: Do you have any tips to help writers find a balance so that humor within the story doesn’t overpower the plot?

WA: Even if you’re able to do it, an essay or story that has wall-to-wall jokes is exhausting to read. You’re not a stand-up comedian. When written, humor needs air to make the lines really work. Think about meeting someone in real life who just cracks jokes non-stop instead of letting you see his or her real personality. It gets annoying quickly. Humor works best when it’s sprinkled in lightly, then occasionally dropped like a bomb. Less is more.

Scribe: Are there any tropes that you find particularly useful for first-time humor writers, or any that you feel are overused and should be avoided?

WA: I’m a big fan of the List. My first accepted humor piece was a list on McSweeney’s Internet Tendencies, and it was called “Potential Nicknames for the Star Player on My Son’s Soccer Team.” I think there were less than 100 words total, but it was an easy way to jump into that type of writing. It’s not as intimidating as prose or a longer piece. As for what should be avoided, I admit to not enjoying song parody because I think the joke is made immediately, then it’s the same thing for three more minutes. (However, the success of Weird Al Yankovic means many people don’t agree with me on that.) I also think people should be careful when jumping into parody where they are speaking in another person’s voice, like my Twitter parody account @PaulRyanGosling that concerns Speaker Paul Ryan. It’s not as easy as it seems, and care should be taken to get the tone and voice right before really going full-steam on it.

Scribe: What is one piece of advice you’d like to give to someone who is trying to write funny for the first time?

WA: Read a lot of humor. Listen to a lot of humor. Realize that humor is subjective above anything else. What you find funny may not be funny to me and vice versa (although, let’s be honest, I’m probably right). Be natural and don’t force the jokes. Don’t be offensive or insulting because the meanness will outshadow the humor. Play around with words because even the adjustment of one word can take something from “eh” to LOL. Don’t expect to get it right the first time you try because it’s not always that simple. As they say, dying is easy, comedy is hard.

Thanks, Wendi!

Click here to register for Wendi’s class.

Click here for our current class schedule.

 

About the Instructor

Wendi Aarons is an award-winning humor writer and blogger who lives in Austin, Texas with her husband and two sons. In the past few years, she has written for a number of publications including McSweeneys, and for Esther’s Follies, Austin’s famous comedy revue. She has also been a commentator on Austin’s NPR station, KUT. Wendi is one of the creators of Mouthy Housewives and the much-lauded twitter feed @paulryangosling. She is also a writer for US Weekly magazine’s Fashion Police.

Instructor Q&A: Greg Garrett

“By pushing people into a literal or metaphorical journey, we’re pushing them across their usual boundaries. Things happen to them. They meet people. And story follows in its wake.”

-Greg Garrett

Greg Garrett is teaching a class for the Writers’ League of Texas called “On The Hero’s Journey: Discovering Plot, Character, and Meaning for Your Novel” on May 13 at the ACC Highland Campus in Austin, TX. The class will provide writers with an overview of Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey and how this model will help a writer with almost any novel. Read the interview below and visit the class page to learn more.

greggarrett (2)

Scribe: In case anyone is unclear, what exactly is the Hero’s Journey?

Greg Garrett: The Hero’s Journey is an archetypal story told by cultures around the world for thousands of years. In it, a hero goes on a journey, proves her- or himself through a series of adventures and tests, experiences a sort of death and rebirth, and returns home with a boon or gift that, in ways large or small, saves her or his people. The pattern itself was named by Joseph Campbell, a twentieth-century scholar of comparative literature who studied hero and creation myths and found this incredible similarity from story to story. It was almost, he thought, like there was a story pattern to which we were conditioned to respond. I like to say that the Hero’s Journey is hard-wired into our genes, which makes it an essential piece of knowledge for every storyteller.

Scribe: In your opinion, why is the Hero’s Journey such a strong model that writers have been able to rely on for so long?

GG: I think the thing that works about the Hero’s Journey for storytellers is that the journey model is a perfect way to create conflict. If we say there are two great stories—a person goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town—they’re both about cracking open a hermetically sealed system and making story possible. If people remain hidden in their living rooms, then nothing happens to them (normally; the Will Ferrell character in Stranger than Fiction is a funny meta-fictional exception). But by pushing people into a literal or metaphorical journey, we’re pushing them across their usual boundaries. Things happen to them. They meet people. And story follows in its wake.

Scribe: Do you think it’s possible to abbreviate the Hero’s Journey for short form fiction, or is long form necessary?

GG: The short story plot arc is a much narrower arc than in a novel, play, or screenplay, so while you can use fragments of the Hero’s Journey, you can’t walk a character through the full journey in 12 pages. But you might show their Threshold Crossing, Ordeal, and Rebirth moments—that would make a strong short story. So knowing about the Hero’s Journey is a useful device for any story, but it most fully flowers in a long narrative.

Scribe: Is there any part of Joseph Campbell’s original Hero’s Journey model that you don’t agree with, or would like to see changed in some way?

GG: I find Campbell’s model really useful, but his expression of it is hard to digest for most writers. He was a scholar, not a storyteller. The Hero with a Thousand Faces is brilliant, but it’s really hard to read. Very dense. Even the PBS series he did with Bill Moyers, The Power of Myth, doesn’t really capture in any useful form the story pattern, the archetypal characters, or any real practical storytelling wisdom. It has taken story analysts and professional storytellers to find ways to make the Hero’s Journey a useful tool.

Scribe: Of the plethora of well-known works that are structured around the Hero’s Journey, do you have a favorite?

GG: Star Wars is the obvious response; George Lucas very consciously used the Hero’s Journey model and brought Joseph Campbell to Skywalker Ranch to talk with him about story. But I think maybe my personal favorite of the works that contains the Hero’s Journey is the Harry Potter epic. Every one of the seven novels contains a discrete Hero’s Journey, and then the 4100-page master narrative also bears the imprint of the Hero’s Journey. You can see how the archetype works in the most-popular story of all time—and it works REALLY well!

Thanks, Greg!

Click here to register for Greg’s class.

Click here for our current class schedule.

 

About the Instructor

Greg Garrett is the author of over twenty books of fiction, nonfiction, and memoir, including the acclaimed novels Free Bird, Cycling, Shame, and The Prodigal. He teaches fiction writing and screenwriting at Baylor University, where he has received numerous teaching honors, and has offered highly-rated classes for the Writers League for over a decade. He lives with his wife and family in Austin.

Instructor Q&A: Antonio Ruiz-Camacho

“Personal essays keep us tethered to the human experience at a time when everything we know about being human seems to be undergoing a disruptive, at times frightening, transformation.”

-Antonio Ruiz-Camacho

Antonio Ruiz-Camacho is teaching a class for the Writers’ League called “How to Conceive and Structure Personal Essays” on May 6 at St. Edward’s University in Austin, TX. This class will help writers learn to pair traditional journalistic methods and structures with the narrative energy of short fiction and memoir in order to craft compelling essays. Read the interview below and visit the class page to learn more.

Antonio Ruiz-CamachoScribe: For anyone who is unfamiliar with the term, can you explain what a personal essay is?

Antonio Ruiz-Camacho: A personal essay is usually a brief piece where the author shares in vivid detail a personal moment in her life and how it transformed her or helped her understand something about herself, or the world, she didn’t before. A personal essay is to a memoir in nonfiction what a short story would be to a novel in fiction.

Scribe: What topics do you think make for strong personal essays?

AR: As in any other piece of storytelling, regardless of genre, the best essays combine compelling narrative force with indelible emotional import. As long as an essay has both, it can delve into any topic you may be able to think of – from the intricacies of small talk, to the enrapturing experience of moving to New York from Sacramento, as students enrolled in this class will see in the personal essays written by Karan Mahajan and Joan Didion we’ll be discussing.

Scribe: Is there a common slip-up that you notice in personal essays that you want to warn writers away from?

AR: Lack of detail and resonance, inconsequential events, and shallow perspective are always signs of a poorly developed essay. Interesting things happen to all of us all the time, but not every experience – compelling or life-altering as it might be – will translate by itself into a powerful essay. More important than what happened is how such experience is recreated narratively and how its impact on the larger scale of things is insightfully articulated on the page.

Scribe: Is there a market for personal essays? How would someone go about getting their essays published?

AR: Absolutely. Some of the most popular series in The New York Times, like Private Lives and Modern Love, are strictly devoted to featuring personal essays. Most literary journals publish them. If you are interested in publishing a personal essay, regardless of publication, you should pay attention to the topics we, collectively as a society, are discussing, and see if you have a personal, transformative experience that may shed new light on it, that may offer an unexplored or fresh angle to such topic, that may advance its public discussion somehow. But it must have inherent narrative force, its thought-provoking impact on the author must be genuine and not merely a fabrication aimed at producing a piece whose only goal is to get published. Editors, and readers, can easily identify when an essayist is “faking it” – and won’t buy it.

Scribe: Personal essays appear to be a recently popular trend; do you foresee the excitement around them continuing?

AR: Are they? Sure, every now and then we see an essay go viral with the same force of a Joe Biden meme, but Didion’s personal essays turned her into a literary rock star back in the sixties. George Orwell might be en vogue once again for his novel 1984, but back in his day he was a defining essayist who tackled sensitive issues such as colonialism, totalitarianism and social justice – his sharp essays remain as timely as his fiction works. Phillip Lopate’s must-read anthology, The Art of the Personal Essay, opens with a piece by Seneca, a philosopher and writer who was born around the same time as Jesus Christ. Personal essays have been part of our literary tradition for centuries, and I don’t foresee their demise any time soon – just the opposite. The need to connect to a larger experience through storytelling remains as essential as ever, but our increasingly fragmented interaction with the world is rendering us isolated. We’ve never been more connected – and lonelier. Personal essays keep us tethered to the human experience at a time when everything we know about being human seems to be undergoing a disruptive, at times frightening, transformation.

Thanks, Antonio!

 

Click here to register for Antonio’s class.

Click here for our current class schedule.

 

About the Instructor

Antonio Ruiz-Camacho was born and raised in Toluca, Mexico. A former Knight Journalism fellow at Stanford University, a Dobie Paisano fellow in fiction by the University of Texas at Austin and the Texas Institute of Letters, and a Walter E. Dakin fellow in fiction at Sewanee Writers’ Conference, he earned his MFA from The New Writers Project at UT Austin. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Salon, Texas Monthly, The Millions, and elsewhere. His debut story collection Barefoot Dogs won the Jesse H. Jones Award for Best Book of Fiction and was named a Best Book of 2015 by Kirkus Reviews, San Francisco Chronicle, Texas Observer and PRI’s The World. It was published in Spanish translation by the author, and is forthcoming in Dutch. Antonio lives in Austin, Texas, with his family, where he’s currently at work on a novel.

Instructor Q&A: Tomás Morin

“My practice is to always just let a new poem look however it wants to look in a first draft.”

-Tomás Morin

Tomás Morin is teaching a class for the Writers’ League of Texas on April 29 at St. Edward’s University called “Playing with Poetic Voice: How to Discover Your Own Voice by Borrowing from Your Favorite Poets.” The class will give writers tools to revise their poems by redressing them in other poets’ styles to elevate their poems to a new level.

Scribe: The focus of the class is about reworking pieces of poetry in styles of other famous poets. Do you have a personal favorite poet whose style you enjoy working with?

Tomás Morin: Not really. What’s really fun is when I choose a poet whose style is very different from the style of the poem I’m working on at the time. For example, if I’m working on a poem that’s fragmented and lyrical, then a Frank O’Hara style will really open my draft up. Likewise, if I’m writing a poem that is chatty about the ordinary moments of my life, and there are many, then the electric and sharp style of Lucille Clifton will be fun to try on.

Scribe: Do you think the process of reworking is a tool that should only be utilized if a poem gets stuck, or is it acceptable (or even encouraged) to start writing a poem with a particular poet’s style in mind?

TM: I think one can certainly start with imitation in mind if that’s what seems to call to you. My practice is to always just let a new poem look however it wants to look in a first draft.

Scribe: Are some styles better for applying to a poem? Are some styles incompatible? In other words, how might writers go about determining which writing style would be ideal for them to try rewriting their poem in?

TM: For me, it’s all about trial and error. The process is more about discovery than it is about following a formula. That said, all styles that are not the one you’re using would be ideal because they’re different. The more different the style is, the more your poem will have to open up and expand.

Scribe: Do you have any poems or poets you would like to recommend in preparation for the class, or for readers in general?

TM: I think any poet who has a very unique style would be great, the kinds of poets we couldn’t imitate because they sound so much like themselves that we would end up sounding like them if we imitated them. Folks like W.S. Merwin, Lucille Clifton, Wislawa Szymborska, Mark Strand, Yusef Komunyakaa, Natalie Diaz, etc.

Thanks, Tomás!

Click here to register for Tomás’ class.

Click here for our current class schedule.

 

About the Instructor

Tomás Q. Morin‘s poetry collection A Larger Country was the winner of the APR/Honickman Prize and runner-up for the PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award. He is co-editor with Mari L’Esperance of the anthology Coming Close: 40 Essays on Philip Levine, and translator of The Heights of Macchu Picchu by Pablo Neruda. His poems have appeared in SlateThreepenny ReviewBoulevardPoetryNew England Review, and Narrative. His latest collection, Patient Zero, is forthcoming this spring from Copper Canyon Press.