WOMEN READING ALOUD is an international organization dedicated to the power of the writer’s voice. WRA believes in providing space for artistic growth. Founded in New Jersey in 2003, it offers writing workshops modeled after the Amherst Writers and Artists Method, the Author Series, and Work-in-Progress Series, Writing and Yoga Program, conferences and retreats where women writers can explore their “authentic” voices. Founded on the 3-in-1 principle, WOMEN READING ALOUD focuses on the equal value of the writer, the reader, and the listener. All genres are welcome. WRA encourages writers to cherish their own voices, as well as the voices of others, as they travel the writer’s journey.
The winners of the Pulitzer Prize were announced this week. The prize for poetry goes to Tyehimba Jess for the book, Olio. The book is described as astoundingly innovative, combining poems, songs, historical facts, fiction, interviews and tables to create a chorus of compelling voices — all singing praises for the countless African American performers whose contributions to minstrel shows of the late 1800s have been largely undocumented.
The book was published by a small poetry press in Seattle–Wave Books, surprising to many on the book publishing industry. Small presses, or independent presses, as they are often called, make up about half of the book publishing industry market. Many focus on fiction, poetry and nonfiction. Since the profit margin can be thin, small presses can be narrowly focused and driven by other motivations, including reaching niches that mainstream publishers ignore.
Small presses are a potential outlet for novelists and writers of other genres to get published, but they are often overlooked in favor of the big publishers. Writers don’t support small presses as much as they should by purchasing the literature they produce. That’s a shame. I had the opportunity to talk with dozens of editors and publishers at small presses while at the AWP Conference Bookfair in February and seek out publishing opportunities with them.
NewPages.com, a website of literary news and information, has an extensive list of small presses and calls for submission worth checking out.
Last week I attended the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference, better known as AWP. It is the largest literary conference in North America. This year it was held at the convention center in Washington, D.C., and hosted 550 events, 2,000 presenters and more than 800 presses, literary journals, and literary organizations from around the world at the book fair.
This was my third time attending the conference. I learn new things each time. Here are 5 things I learned this year.
It’s a good idea to put your photo on your business card.
During a panel discussion titled, “Agents and Editors and Publishers, Oh My! Demistifying the Business Side of Writing and Publishing,” an agent pointed out that she meets hundreds of eager writers at conferences who hand her business cards, but when she gets back home, she may not be able to match the business card with the person she met. A photo business card will likely jog her memory.
It makes sense to smuggle your own food into the conference.
At a food stand set up in the center of the book expo in the convention center, I paid $10.00 for a medium-sized bowl of pineapple chicken and another $5.00 for a large bottle of diet coke. Talk about sticker shock! I got smart quickly. Since I was staying with my sister, who lives in the D.C. area, I was able to raid her refrigerator and pack a ham and cheese sandwich, some fruit, snacks and my own beverage. This cost me nothing and sis was happy that I helped to empty out her fridge.
If you didn’t win the writing contest you entered, you can always apply again.
I’ve applied for several first-time author contests. None have named me the winner so far. Several of those independent presses and associations that sponsor the contests were represented by the publishers and editors at the AWP Book Fair. They told me to feel free to apply again because they use different judges every contest cycle. One press also told me that sometimes people apply the following year and win.
If you’re not paying attention, you could miss a hidden treasure.
I was walking through the book fair near the back of the room where a small African American publisher I had talked to earlier in the day was located. The publisher remembered me and beckoned me over. He pointed to a man dressed in black, seated at the exhibit table, hunched over, checking his smart phone. It was the bestselling novelist and crime fiction writer, Walter Mosley. I’ve seen the movie starring Denzel Washington, based on his novel, Devil in a Blue Dress, and read one of his novels with members of my book club. It was thrilling to meet him. I asked him if he would take a picture with me and he said in his charming way, “Only if you’ll put your arm around me. Of course, I obliged.
If you’re looking for an independent press to publish your manuscript, the book fair is the place to be.
I was eager to see the books of an independent press I was considering sending my manuscript to. I was horrified when I saw that the books are designed in square dimensions, not rectangular dimensions like most books. Stopping by the table of another press, I was able to quiz the representative about their efforts to market their books. I was able to hold the books and see the quality of the paper, design, and binding. Coincidentally, one of the authors was at the table, autographing copies of his novel, when I walked up. He told me all about his publishing experience with that press. I was impressed with their operation and walked away pleased.
Next year’s conference will be in Tampa, Florida. I’m not sure yet if I’ll attend, but if I do, I’m sure there’ll be lots of tips to pick up there too!
I find it ironic that writers whose job it is to frighten their readers or at least make their pulses quicken with their plot twists and suspenseful moments sometimes find themselves facing the same emotional and physiological moments when dealing with crafting their mysteries and crime fiction.
While attending panel discussions at Mysterium: The Mystery Novel Conference, held recently on the campus of Wesleyan University, I was surprised to discover that some writers experience anxiety over technology. They are so afraid to deal with technology that they either avoid it by setting their novels in the pre-1985 era or they have whatever gadget the main character is using sabotaged by the end of the first page.
One crime novelist said that’s why it’s not unheard of for a main character who’s standing in an alley, looking down at a lifeless body to drop his or her cell phone in a puddle and then have the cell phone end up in a dumpster. “Because if you can Google everything,” she said, “the investigation can easily be solved.”
This got me wondering how mystery and thriller author Chris Knopf felt. He’s best known for his Sam Acquillo series. At the conference I attended his talk, titled “Writing Mysteries in the Age of Google.” He suggested that authors use technology in their stories as they would in real life. “If you’re going to be realistic, it has to be a seamless and a natural part of your story,” he said. “Don’t use a particular brand. Otherwise your books will only last a couple of years.” He said that Google is not something to be avoided, but embraced in degrees. “You have to deal with Google when the character is researching. I use Google for the basics and then I go talk to people. The same goes for my characters.” Knopf said that voicemail can be used as a device central to your plot. “I integrate voicemail into the story,” he said. “The dead man’s last words in a voicemail trigger the story.”
And I’m sure I’m not the only writer who thinks she can pick up hints on writing crime and law enforcement scenes from watching television. However, Knopf said, “Don’t rely on it. It doesn’t translate. I have a forensic analyst I consult. Everybody has to have a geek these days.”
And, of course, social media is too big to ignore, as are drones. “You don’t have to have a drone creep up to a house in a rural area,” he said. “New York can send a drone. They can be as tiny as a bug. They can fire weapons, shoot you with poison. There’s a lot of drama possible with drones.”
I’m not a mystery writer. I registered for Mysterium: The Mystery Novel Conference held at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, because two of my friends had planned to go—one who’s written a mystery novel and another who’s planning to work on one—and I wanted to spend time with them because I don’t see them very often. Their plans fell through and I thought about skipping it, but I had already paid the $100 registration.
Before the speakers arrived, I heard fascinating snippets of conversation from people around me in which they talked about the cozy mysteries they’ll have coming out in the fall, the deadlines they’re facing and the lure of procrastination.
During the keynote, conference host and novelist Amy Bloom (pictured left) interviewed award-winning detective novelist Laura Lippman.
Lippman talked about the importance of place in her novels. “I love books that have a strong sense of place,” she said. “Place to me is integral. I don’t understand stories where there is no place.”
Lippman’s “place” is Baltimore. She worked for a number of years at the Baltimore Sun, alongside her father, and talked about writing books that take place in Baltimore and the Baltimore suburbs.
She said she especially finds inspiration when writing stories that she sets in the suburbs. “I write dark stories there,” she said. “This reflects my thoughts about the suburbs.”
Mysterium is billed as a celebration of readers and writers, combining pleasure, instruction from writers, intellectual stimulation and great fun. This description is accurate. I thought I would feel out of place not only because I was alone, but because my writing focuses on general fiction, essays, and journalism—not mystery or crime writing. But once I took my seat at the keynote presentation, I felt at ease and the discussions were applicable to my own writing.