Virginia Journal Launches Story Prize Honoring Local Writer

Blackbird, the online literary magazine of Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in Richmond, has announced a new award for short fiction. Given in honor of late Richmond-born fiction writer Rebecca Mitchell Tarumoto, a two-thousand-dollar prize will be given annually for a story submitted to the journal over the course of each year, specifically by an emerging writer.

The inaugural winner, selected from among writers published in Blackbird this year, will be announced in the Fall 2011 issue. In addition to the monetary prize, the winner will be invited to give a reading on the VCU campus next spring, and may also be asked to put in appearances at Richmond-area elementary and high schools.

Blackbird does not charge a fee for submissions, and prefers writers to send work using the magazine's electronic form. For details on how to submit, visit the Blackbird website.

May 12

5.12.11

Choose a bureaucracy: the Department of Motor Vehicles, the Post Office, the Army,etc. Imagine two people who work there, one a supervisor, the other an underling, and write their letters of resignation. Then write a scene where the two former co-workers meet for coffee three years later.

McSweeney's Author Named Top Lion

The New York Public Library held its eleventh annual Young Lions Fiction Award celebration last night, honoring five emerging fiction writers with books published in 2010. After readings of the finalists' works by actors Billy Crudup and Martha Plimpton, Chicago author Adam Levin was named winner of the ten-thousand-dollar prize for his novel The Instructions (McSweeney's Books).

Levin's fellow honorees, receiving one thousand dollars each, are John Brandon for Citrus County (McSweeney's Books), Patricia Engel for Vida (Grove Press), Suzanne Rivecca for Death Is Not an Option (Norton), and Teddy Wayne for Katptoil (Harper Perennial).

The award, cofounded by Ethan Hawke, Rick Moody, Jennifer Rudolph Walsh, and Hannah McFarland, is given annually for a work of fiction by a writer age thirty-five or younger.

In the video below, McSweeney's Books presents a teaser trailer for Levin's winning novel.

Ayelet Waldman on Working With Literary Agent Mary Evans

In honor of Mother's Day, we asked Ayelet Waldman, author of Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace, to talk about how she works with her literary agent Mary Evans

You've written an eclectic mix of fiction and nonfiction: mystery novels, literary novels, personal essays, as well as a new foray into television. Does your agent, Mary Evans, play a role in deciding what to write next? Does she offer long-term career advice, encourage or discourage you in taking on the next project?
She's wonderfully encouraging, my biggest cheerleader next to my husband. She's always eager for me to try new things, to stretch my wings in different directions. She's never once said anything like, "Oh the mysteries are working, don't try to write more 'literary' fiction" or "The nonfiction mommy stuff sells well, do more of that." I think she genuinely views her role as facilitating my growth as a writer, even when, on occasion, that means making a less commercial choice.

Agents are notoriously over extended and distracted as they deal with their many clients, or courting editors, answering numerous queries, etc. Do you wait for Mary Evans to contact you, for instance, if she's had a manuscript for a long while with no word? Or do you not hesitate to call or write to check in?
I feel truly blessed. Mary always calls me back right away, and on the very rare occasion where she can't return my call within a couple of hours, she's hugely apologetic. She turns my manuscripts around immediately, usually that same weekend, and certainly within a week or two. I feel comfortable (perhaps too comfortable) checking in about the work she's looking at, about my career in general, about how much I hate the Republican majority in the House.

Daughter's Keeper, published in 2003, your first literary novel, was rejected thirty-one times before finding a publisher. Tell us about Mary Evans's role in seeing that novel to fruition. Did she edit, or suggest rewrites between submissions?
Absolutely. In fact, it's my fault it was rejected so many times, not hers. She very gently suggested from the beginning that I do more work on it before I sent it out, but I was about to give birth and I desperately wanted the novel out the door. Had I done what she said, I probably would have sold the novel a lot earlier. And in the end, of course I had to do the work anyway.

And last, a related question: Does Mary Evans edit your work, either a full manuscript or a nonfiction proposal, before it's sent out to editors? Or does she send it out as is?
I wouldn't feel comfortable sending something out without her practiced eye. She reads everything, comments on everything, and yet doesn't push. She'll read multiple drafts of a novel, even when we're at the stage of things where I'm submitting directly to my editor. I like having her input, and I think she enjoys this part of the job.

Landing a Literary Agent by Going Viral (and Being Funny)

If somehow you're one of the few who missed Richmond, Virginia, attorney David Kazzie's hilarious Xtranormal animation, "So You Want to Write a Novel," that zinged around the Internet a few months back, then watch it right now, but only if you're sitting somewhere where it's appropriate to laugh out loud. It lampoons the vast, blind ambition of certain novice writers, and tickled agents, editors, writers, as well as would-be writers and readers alike. The video, as they say, went viral, and one of the multitude of people who liked it, was Ann Rittenberg, a Manhattan literary agent who represents Dennis Lehane, and who, with Laura Whitcomb, has written a how-to guide called Your First Novel.

Kazzie noticed Rittenberg had linked to his video, and found it particular exciting as he is a huge Dennis Lehane fan. Kazzie and Rittenberg chatted, and it turned out, Kazzie did indeed have an unpublished manuscript, a thriller. Rittenberg liked his sensibility. David Kazzie now has an agent, and, yes, it's Ann Rittenberg.

Bonus: Ann Rittenberg's "The Successful Writer’s Personality" and an interview with David Kazzie. Also, check out more with Ann Rittenberg in Eryn Loeb's article, "Seek and You Shall Sign" in The Poets & Writers Guide to Literary Agents.

Nathaniel Mackey on Sound and Sense

We asked SPLAB project director Paul Nelson to update us on Poets & Writers-sponsored author Nathaniel Mackey who recently gave a reading and hosted a workshop in Seattle.

The SPLAB Visiting Poet Series welcomed Nathaniel Mackey to Seattle March 11 and 12, 2011. This event set a new high water mark for SPLAB.

The prose reading on Friday night at the Northwest African American Museum was Mackey’s first Seattle reading in seventeen years. He read from his novel From a Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate. Letters from N to a mysterious figure known as the Angel of Dust relate the experiences of a jazz band in Los Angeles in the late seventies/early eighties. Jeanne Heuving of the University of Washington, Bothell interviewed Mackey, and a Q & A followed, fully engaging the audience.

Nathanial_Mackey

Mackey also led a workshop at SPLAB on Saturday, during which he suggested we consider “incident versus narrative” and said he was interested in the “vivification of incident,” as well as consideration of the “sound/sense ratio” of poems. His grace and warm presence allowed for intensity, and his insights, often delivered at the end of each poet’s feedback, were very incisive.

Saturday night's reading included work from Splay Anthem, Nod House, and new work from an as-yet-untitled collection. The two threads of his ongoing serial poem, Mu and Song of the Andoumboulou, continued into these last two as-yet-unpublished works. The Andoumboulou, as Mackey points out in Splay Anthem, are “rough draft human beings” from the Dogon culture of West Africa. Lines such as “each the other’s increment” and “star wobble gave us away” give one a sense of Mackey’s reach, from the indigenous and intimate to the galactic.

The visit leveraged contributions from local and regional arts funding agencies, new partnerships, as well as community contributions of lodging and meals. The first grant, from Poets & Writers, acted as catalyst for the rest of the contributions.


Photo: Nathaniel Mackey. Credit: Meredith Nelson

Support for Readings/Workshops events in Seattle is provided by an endowment established with generous contributions from the Poets & Writers Board of Directors and others. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.


Books by Finnish Author, Slovenian Poet Win Translation Prize

Three Percent, the University of Rochester's international literature program, announced late last week the winners of the five-thousand-dollar Best Translated Book Awards in poetry and fiction. Brian Henry's translation of Slovenian poet Aleš Šteger's collection The Book of Things (BOA Editions) won in poetry and Thomas Teal was honored in fiction for his translation from the Swedish of late Finnish author Tove Jansson's novel The True Deceiver (New York Review Books).

Thirty-seven-year-old Šteger is the author of three other volumes of poetry, but The Book of Things is his first to be translated into English. Poetry judge Kevin Prufer said of Šteger, "His objects reflect our own strange complexities—our eagerness to consume, our rationalizations and kindness. Our many cruelties and our grandiosities." Prufer was joined on the jury by Brandon Holmquest, Jennifer Kronovet, Erica Mena, and Idra Novey.

Jansson, perhaps best known for her Moomins, a cast of fantastical characters she created over a half-century through comic strips and children's books, began writing for adults in later life. Among her novels translated into English are The Summer Book and Fair Play, published by New York Review Books. Jansson died in 2001.

The fiction panel, comprised of Monica Carter, Scott Esposito, Susan Harris, Annie Janusch, Matthew Jakubowski, Brandon Kennedy, Bill Marx, Michael Orthofer, and Jeff Waxman said of Jansson's winning book, "Subtle, engaging and disquieting, The True Deceiver is a masterful study in opposition and confrontation."

The awards were announced at New York City's Bowery Poetry Club in conjunction with the PEN World Voices Festival, which closed last Sunday.

To get a sense of Jansson's sources of inspiration, check out the video below, which offers a tour of the author's longtime summer home on an idyllic shoreline near Helsinki.

May 5

Take a story you know extremely well, such as how my parents met, my first kiss, or the night I was born and fictionalize it by writing it from a distinct or unlikely point of view. For example, using the story how my parents met, write it from your father's perspective or from the perspective of the bartender at the bar where they met.
This week's fiction prompt comes from Joanna Hershon, author of three novels, including The German Bride (Ballantine, 2008).

New Rivers Press Extends Story Contest Deadline

The American Fiction Prize sponsored by New Rivers Press has pushed its deadline to June 1. Fiction writers have an additional month to submit a story of up to 7,500 words to be considered for the one-thousand-dollar prize and inclusion in an anthology, American Fiction: The Best Unpublished Short Stories by Emerging Writers, to be released in 2012 by the press.

This year's judge is Croatian-born fiction writer and essayist Josip Novakovich, whose most recent book is the story-essay hybrid Three Deaths, published last year by Montreal press Snare Books. His story collections include Yolk and Salvation and Other Disasters, both published in the United States by Graywolf Press.

For complete American Fiction Prize guidelines, visit the New Rivers Press Web site.

April 28

4.28.11

In a Paris Review interview, fiction writer Amy Hempel talks about a workshop she took with legendary editor Gordon Lish in which he assigned  the class to "write our worst secret, the thing we would never live down, the thing that, as Gordon put it, 'dismantles your own sense of yourself.'" From this came her story, "In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried." Follow Lish's assignment. Write a story about your worst secret.

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