Tag Archives: Publishing

Lighting the Creative Fire

Today a student of mine called to say that she just sold her novel to a major New York publishing house. She was having a celebration and would I please come.

Ah, the rewards of teaching.

As a published novelist, I know, like perhaps nobody else in her immediate universe, what it means to get a book contract. I know the heartache and the angst and the Himalayan-size obstacles to overcome to get a good story down in 120,000 words, find agency representation and get a publishing contract. I can celebrate with her on a sub-atomic level. And I will.

The interesting thing to me is that to her, my novel writing classes are all about her story. She focuses on her story, she works on her story, she does the homework using her book as her class project. And so it is with all of my students. To them, the class is all about them.

But I know the truth. I am the teacher, and as much as they think they learn in my classes, nobody learns as much as I do. My goal is to light their fire, to give them a taste, to prod them to learn more on their own. But they each challenge me every single day to new insights about my own craft.

I’m sure they think that after many books and short stories and more than a decade of teaching the basic elements, I know everything there is to know about the craft. But writing fiction is more than craft; it is engaging in fearless, relentless introspection, and there are always more layers to peel back, more depths to plumb, more insights to be had. And always, new techniques to try. 

One of the things a fiction writer must study in depth is the motivation of their characters, and while the characters I devise are not me, they are of me. Their motivations come from thoughts, feelings, attitudes, longings and imaginings I’ve had. So then, one must ask now and then, what is my motivation for doing what I do on a daily basis? Why do I teach fiction?

First, and most obvious, I enjoy hanging out with other writers. Many of those who take my classes don’t even consider themselves writers because they’re either not published or they’re not accomplished, but being a writer is more than that. It’s a state of mind, a curiosity of being. I can be my socially-inappropriate self with a bunch of other social inappropriates. It’s fun.

Second, it’s their job to challenge me, and they’re very good at it. When I stand in front of a class, I set the tone. If I’m enthusiastic and animated, asking questions and giving meaty information, they’re taking notes like mad, having insights about their own books and their own selves, and the questions start to come. Many times I can see they’re surprised by their own questions. Many times they begin by saying, “I’m not sure how to phrase this,” or “I don’t even know what it is I’m trying to ask,” and then they go on to ask a question that gives me pause and makes me search the mental databank. Many times I’ll alter whole areas of my syllabus because of one student’s question. Many times I’ll go home and try out what they were asking about, to see if it works, to see if it’s valid, to see if I can do it, to see if it makes sense.

Invariably, it does. And when that happens, I give a hoot and scare the dog, and my craft has just taken a monumental leap forward, out of my practiced tedium and into new unexplored areas.

So I’m going to go have coffee and cake with the Woman of the Hour, the new author, and I will hear her give me some kind of credit—but I know the truth.

The credit all goes to her, because she is the one who made it happen.

I just let her teach me about it on her way.

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Filed under Discipline, dreams, Learning, Possibilities, Writing

TripleTree Publishing

TripleTree Publishing has a new owner.

I have sold the business to Rick Ramsey, a friend, a writer, and an enthusiastic guy who has great vision and big plans. He has asked me to guest-edit the next MOTA anthology, he is putting together a great retreat in Ireland with a resulting anthology of stories written there, and is, in general, carrying on the tradition I started of putting worthy new writers in print for the first time. Bravo.

Turning the reins over to him was a bittersweet moment.

But a good one. TripleTree rests in good hands. Check out his website and keep your eye on what Rick is up to.

It’ll be good.

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Filed under editors, Writing

Kindle update and clarification

People seem to be very interested in the Kindle and what it will mean to the publishing industry.

I don’t know. I only know that I can read the New York Times in bed at night without folding over giant pages, getting ink all over my hands and figuring out what to do with the piles of newspaper as they accumulate. The Kindle is like what… five ounces and the size of a paperback book. A subscription to the daily NY Times is $13.99/month. To Time Magazine: $1.49 per month. A free 15-day trial subscription to each magazine or newspaper is included. The NY Times is automatically downloaded to my Kindle every morning around 3am. I get up, and there it is.

But books are what we’re talking about here. Electronic rights have been an issue for publishers and authors alike for some time. The field of electronic publishing has been in flux, and yet zooming ahead, leaving everybody confused. The publishers want to tie up the rights to a book for electronic media not even invented yet. I assume that’s why I can’t download Geraldine Brooks’ new book–or any of her books, in fact.

But John Saul’s new hardcover, The Devil’s Labrynth, still in hardcover, is available for download for $9.99. His book Perfect Nightmare, out in 2005 and currently available in paperback, is available for your Kindle for only $5.59.

Do the authors still get paid? Of course. The price is cheaper because there’s no printing, no paper, no ink, no fancy four-color, embossed covers, no gas consumed by shipping palettes of heavy books.

I downloaded Barbara Kingsolver’s amazing book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and paid a whopping $9.99. It’s still in hardcover for $26.95. I can annotate my copy, highlight passages, do anything I could do to a hard cover book, and I don’t have to store it in a bookshelf and I don’t have to box it up if I move. If I delete it eventually because of lack of space on my Kindle, Amazon.com stores a copy for me, complete with my annotations, so I can download it again for free later if I need it. My electronic bookshelf is at their place.

I know of a New York editor, who, instead of schlepping heavy boxes of manuscripts to and from home every weekend, now converts manuscripts to .pdf files, loads them on his Kindle, and he has only 5 ounces to take home with him. Pretty sweet.

Again, I’m not trying to sell these things here. I’m just spreading the word about an amazing new product. Technology that works. 

Again, I’m shouting for joy. 

This is the ultimate tool for readers.


Filed under editors, Joy, Reading, Writing