Thursday, December 18, 2008

What to Write, What to Read

Eileen: I'm thinking about attempting something "experimental" like the article I wrote for the writing text book. The "hybrid story" seems hot with publishers right now; it's what everyone says they want to publish, but no one can define.

El Johno: write whatever you'd like to read.

Eileen: that gets difficult when what you'd really like to read is your own name in print.

Blogger Margosita: Oh, I'd like to hear what you think of Best New American Voices. (Because how badly do I want to be one of them?!)
Don't we all! I very carefully read through the preface where they explain how they get the stories and then how they judge them -- when you set your sights on something you really should know how it works, right?

Last night I read the preface, introduction and the first story in the 2009 Best New American Voices -- BTW the first story in the 2008 edition, "Alice," by Tucker Capps, was amazing!. I sat in a Barnes & Noble reading that 30+ page story determined to finish it before they turned off the lights and kicked me out and made it by only the narrowest of margins. The opening story of the 2009 edition was good -- "Yellowstone" by Baird Harper -- with an awkward WTF-just-happened? ending, but wasn't as strong as "Alice" by any means.

The stories are nominated by the instructors of just about every MFA, MA and writing conference workshop in the USA. And from those nominations the finalists and eventually winners are chosen, so, for example, Bread Loaf Writer's Conference sends in entries as well as The Banff Center for the Arts Writing Studio (never heard of them), not just MFAs.

And I have no reservations stating that I do not think my performance this past semester will lead to any sort of nomination.

These are stories faculty have seen in workshop, in workshop! Needless to say my half-mended first draft that I turned in for my final workshop wasn't submitted with this anthology in mind. At the point where I turned that story in (with it's controversial "memoir" tone and description, ha) I just wanted some feedback to help me think about where I was going -- I really didn't even see it as a short story anymore but a nascent novel. If I want in this anthology I won't be able to do that anymore. Final draft only, thankyouverymuch.

But at the same time, I know that the workshop I just sat in would have destroyed "Yellowstone" had anyone brought it to class. I can even hear what they'd say in my head -- they're so predictable -- I didn't find the little girl and her mother, particularly her mother, believable; the dead girlfriend is really too much of a plot device, if she was in the story more that would be okay, but right now she's just a plot device to get the guy to this city; I don't like the ending, either we need to know what happens, you can't make those kinds of statements and then not tell us, then the instructor would state well, I think you can pretty much assume X, to which the first person would reply then the author needs to tell us X instead of forcing us to make those kinds of assumptions.

can you see why this workshop made me want to drink? Subtlety was completely lost on some of the more vocal members. Unfortunately the more vocal members were among the most well read and possibly best classically educated in literature ... or they believed they were. However, I'm a firm believer that classical education "smarts" needs to be balanced with emotional "smarts" and common sense knowledge of how people work in the real world, which isn't logical at all.

For example I remember reading Aquarius' story of her ex "Rolex boyfriend" and his entire "Rolex family," and that she eventually realized she was probably only dating because she, too, owned a Rolex ... and I thought hmm, that might just make for an interesting story premise. My ex-workshop would have ridden it into the dust as contrived and so improbably it was impossible, and then called it a plot device. Well, at least I believed you, Aquarius! LOL.

I really need to stop ranting about this and just get over it ... but in all honestly that will probably take a few weeks.

Now I must go and work on first drafts so that I can bring something to workshop in the next semester/year that might just be nomination worthy!

Highly Recommended