One Story Summer Conference Day 5: The End

Dear Readers: This week One Story is hosting our 8th annual Summer Workshop for Writers. Our current interns, Hannah, Olivia, and Miche will be chronicling each day here on our blog, giving a peek into what we’re doing at the Old American Can Factory in Brooklyn. Today’s write up is by Olivia Liu. Enjoy! –LV

I’m sad to say that the One Story Summer Conference has come to an end. It’s a bittersweet feeling. This week has been jam-packed with excellent workshops, eye-opening craft lectures, engaging panels, and the opportunities to talk to those right in the business, from top agents to whip-smart editors to the incomparable One Story staff itself. In this immersive environment of word-lovers, we’ve made friends, recounted stories, gotten advice, and had an overall blast. Not to be cheesy here, but while I’m sad it’s over, I’m very happy it happened.

We kicked off the morning with our last workshops. I know instructors Will Allison and Patrick Ryan have enjoyed working with our conference attendees so much.

After lunch, we headed to Ann Napolitano’s craft lecture on the life of the writer. The room was impressively set up with quote after helpful quote. In the lecture, Ann broke down the seven steps for having a successful and well-balanced writing life.

Step 1: Make a plan and protect it. Writing time can be so rare and precious, it’s important to dive into it armed and ready. Some plans include waking up at 5am to write before anyone else is up, writing on your commute, binge writing (writing retreats are a great place for devoting huge chunks of time to writing), thinking about your story when you can’t actually sit down and write it (Ann Patchett plotted a book down to each scene while she was waitressing), having a specific place to write (such as your car or the café), and making a rule to write for at least 5 minutes a day. Once you choose your plan . . . tell people! You want others to hold you accountable and to respect your writing time.

Step 2: Plan your life around writing. Ann, for example, juggles only three to four things at a time and doesn’t keep overly demanding jobs.

Step 3: Find readers who care about making your book the best it can be.

Step 4: Exercise—yes, exercise! We are not just “meat sticks with minds on top.” We have to take care of our bodies too. 

Step 5: Meditate. Meditation can help you feel fresh, instead of worn down, when you sit down to write.

Step 6: Pay attention to what you pay attention to and pay attention with intention. Every person has a specifically calibrated magnetic board that pulls certain subjects to you—don’t resist them! Be eccentric! Ann told a story about she became obsessed with Flannery O’Connor but resisted the urge to write about her for a long time, as she was from the North and O’Connor was a Southern literary icon. Eventually she gave in, and O’Connor became the subject of her second book, A Good Hard Look. Ann now does not avoid writing about what interests her.

Step 7: Trust yourself as a writer. Don’t submit something too soon because you’re searching for feedback; put the work in a drawer for a week then look at it again.

All in all, this craft lecture was extremely illuminating and chock-full of practical advice. It was like a TED Talk—but better.

After the lecture, the conference attendees prepared for the evening reading. The weather was lovely, so some sat outside to work on their pieces. When they reconvened at six, they found that the reading space in the Canteen was done up beautifully with a backdrop of writing advice strung up with fairy lights and garlands of One Story issues. The reading went wonderfully. If anyone was nervous, it didn’t show. The writing was captivating, the audience attentive. We couldn’t clap hard enough. The reading was also interspersed with hilarious jokes from the One Story staff—wonderfully punny ones, may I add. We couldn’t stop laughing.

The evening came to a close with a delicious dinner catered by Runner + Stone. Six days ago they’d gathered in the same room as strangers, and now, given the laughter and animated conversation over plates of food and glasses of wine, it was clear workshoppers were leaving as friends.

 

One Story Summer Conference Day 4: Revise, Revise, (Read Aloud), and Revise

Dear Readers: This week One Story is hosting our 8th annual Summer Workshop for Writers. Our current interns, Hannah, Olivia, and Miche will be chronicling each day here on our blog, giving a peek into what we’re doing at the Old American Can Factory in Brooklyn. Today’s write up is by Hannah Johnston. Enjoy! –LV

On the penultimate day of our conference, after another morning of workshops followed by lunch in the Canteen, Julie Buntin, author of the novel Marlena and an editor at Catapult, gave a craft lecture on how to successfully revise and edit as a writer. Buntin discussed her experiences as an editor working with writers and how she’s developed an understanding of the way editors edit and the way writers ought to approach the process of revision.

Buntin began her lecture with a line-edit exercise on a short excerpt from James Fenimore Cooper’s novel The Last of the Mohicans; a passage that was used by editor E.L. Doctorow to make a point about the value of concise writing. She worked with conference participants to find the places in the narration where there was superfluous language. 

Once they shaved the language down to the necessary elements of the excerpt, and made the prose far stronger, Buntin moved beyond line editing to talk about what writers need to do in order to revise their own work effectively. She explained that the most important thing you can do in your revision process is determine the fundamental truths of your story, and to then use those truths to hold your work to.

Buntin had the group read the short story “Spring in Fialta” by Vladimir Nabokov in preparation for the lecture. The story is about a man named Victor and his final meeting with Nina, a woman with whom he’s been on the verge of having an affair as long as they’ve known each other. Buntin acknowledged Nabokov’s ornate and over-the-top prose, but she also said that it all seems necessary to the fundamental truths of the story. For example, Nina herself is never really standing or sitting still in the narrative, and this relates to the fact that she’s never been a still or solid aspect of Victor’s life— she’s always been slightly out of frame.

Buntin also talked about her work as an editor at Catapult, and how the questions about fundamental truths have come into that work. At the beginning of her talk, she had conference participants write down something that they felt was an essential truth about their work, and at the end of the lecture she gave them a related writing exercise: write a paragraph in your story which operates as if that essential truth is no longer true or essential. The writers found this exercise very helpful, and many were able to view their work in a new lens thanks to their letting go of certain assumptions. Buntin left the workshop participants with this idea: By asking what the fundamental truths of the story are, a writer will be able to edit and revise effectively.

After a quick break and opportunity to chat with Buntin, participants made their way down to the Canteen to hear a valuable talk from One Story editors Patrick Ryan and Ann Napolitano on how to give a good public reading. Both Ryan and Napolitano admitted their initial shyness and stage fright in the beginning of their careers. They’ve had to overcome great anxiety in order to give successful readings of their work, and they gave the workshop participants a list of dos and don’ts that they’ve picked up over the years.

DON’T’S

  1. Don’t go over your time— never, never, never. Everyone, the audience and the the other writers set to give readings, will love you for it. It leaves the audience wanting more, which is way better than leaving them wanting less.
  2. Don’t read too fast. Napolitano explained that this is the most common mistake a reader can make, because people speak more quickly when they’re nervous. Reading your work too quickly prevents your audience from being able to settle into the narrative.
  3. Don’t read too quietly. One of the worst things that can happen at a reading is for an audience member to yell, “LOUDER!”
  4. Don’t choose a section that requires a lot of exposition. If you need to describe the Civil War in order to set up the passage you’re reading aloud, people will be overwhelmed with information and won’t be able to properly follow along. It should only take one sentence (or less) to set up your passage.
  5. Don’t choose a section that contains dialect, foreign language, or anything else you won’t be able to pronounce correctly or speak fluidly. Ryan went for a large portion of his life believing that chasm was pronounced with a soft ‘ch’, like the sound in cheese. In reality, chasm is pronounced with a hard ‘k’ sound, and he was once mortified after a reading when a friend told him he was pronouncing the word incorrectly.

DO’S

  1. Stay within your time. Both Napolitano and Ryan re-emphasized that this is VERY IMPORTANT.
  2. Read more slowly than you think is normal. Often, we feel like we’re speaking way too slowly when we’re actually speaking at the perfect speed to keep the audience engaged. Try to take deep breaths and beats between words and sentences in order to keep yourself from speeding up.
  3. Read at a good volume. Again, it stinks to have someone yell “louder!”
  4. Maybe, if you can, try to choose a selection that will garner a reaction from the audience. Ryan likes to select something funny or shocking, and this way he is able to tell that the audience is engaged. He also mentioned that it’s okay to go with something sad or solemn as long as you prepare yourself for deadly silence from the audience.
  5. Pretend to be a great writer. At the start of her career, Hannah Tinti, One Story co-founder, used to pretend she was the excellent public speaker Elizabeth Gilbert when she went onstage. Now, Napolitano often thinks about how Hannah herself would give a reading!
  6. Look up every once in a while. It can be awkward to make eye-contact with a specific audience member, but it always helps to look up, perhaps just above the heads of the crowd, in order to give the impression that you’re engaged with your audience.
  7. PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE! Before the first reading she had to give since she’d bombed a public speaking gig in high school, Napolitano read aloud the passage she had prepared to her husband every day for a month. By practicing your reading, it can almost become muscle memory, and it will make it so much easier to fight your nerves when the time comes.

While Napolitano and Ryan gave this talk in anticipation of the readings that will be given by the conference attendees themselves tomorrow, they explained that these rules can and will apply to any readings that the talented writers will be giving in the future.

After a break for writing and dinner, it was time for a panel of editors to come and answer questions with Lena Valencia, One Story’s managing editor. The panel included: Katie Raissian, editor and publisher of print magazine Stonecutter Journal and an editor for Grove Atlantic; Jenny Jackson, a senior editor for Knopf and Doubleday (imprints under Penguin Random House); Brinda Ayer, managing editor for Restless Books; and Margaux Weisman, who works as an editor for Vintage Anchor and Knopf Doubleday.

The four editors discussed they look for in the manuscripts. Jackson said that debut books are especially exciting, and that the voice in the writing is most often what gets her antenna up. Weisman expanded on this, adding that even if the plot doesn’t work as well, a good style in writing will always catch her eye.

Valencia then asked the editors what they think writers can expect the differences between publishing a book with a large publishing house and a small publisher might be. As an editor at a small publisher, Grove Atlantic, Raissian was enthusiastic in explaining the benefits of her house’s size. Writers get a ton of personal attention, and the staff works very closely with them to make sure their works are published carefully. Every writer at Grove Atlantic is given the same amount of time and effort because Grove editors only buy books they’re very passionate about. Grove was the only publisher that wanted The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen, and now it’s a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Passion is what drives them, and it usually pays off.

Knopf is different from other large publishers in the sense that it’s a relatively independent imprint of Penguin Random House, but they still garner big house benefits. Jackson talked about how beneficial it can be to have a large corporate connection, as they have larger budgets for advertising as well as a great deal of research on what works best in selling a book. She also felt, however, that Knopf has been able to successfully retain its identity despite its corporate parent, and that passion plays a great role in her book decisions as well.

All four of the editors went on to explain that chemistry between editors, writers, and agents is usually the biggest predictor of success. Many of them had stories about losing books that they loved because of a much larger advance offered by a competing publisher or a disagreement over an edit. While it stings to provide edits to someone only to have them work with another house, they ultimately want there to be as many great books out there as possible, and if they can contribute something positive to a good writer’s work, it’s a job well-done.

After the panel was over, conference attendees enjoyed a wine and cheese reception with the editors, and were able to ask more questions and get to know the industry better. After a long day of activity, everyone was happy to get back to their homes and hotels in order to recharge in preparation for the final day of the One Story Summer Writer’s Conference.

One Story Summer Conference Day 3: Keep Writing

Dear Readers: This week One Story is hosting our 8th annual Summer Workshop for Writers. Our current interns, Hannah, Olivia, and Miche will be chronicling each day here on our blog, giving a peek into what we’re doing at the Old American Can Factory in Brooklyn. Today’s write up is by Miche Hu. Enjoy! –LV

The third day of One Story’s Summer Writers Conference began with another round of morning workshops led by Patrick Ryan and Will Allison. The afternoon craft lecture, which focused on the process of submitting work and getting out of the slush pile, was led by Hannah Tinti, One Story cofounder and author of the new novel The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley.

Tinti discussed what to do and not to do and what to believe and not believe when putting work out into the world. She outlined some important, often overlooked details of submission formatting while also highlighting the importance of heart and honesty when writing stories. Examples from her own experiences reading slush for The Boston Review and The Atlantic Monthly, as well as transcripts of rejection letters she had received for her own work helped writers to understand some of the challenges associated with submitting work. Particularly helpful were the different resources and anthologies to read and to use as resources for finding the places to submit.

Three trusted sources for Tinti are The Pushcart Prize Anthology, Best American Short Stories, and The O’Henry Prize Stories.

Tinti’s discussion of rejection letters, and their various forms, resonated with workshop writers. She broke down the differences between form rejections and more personalized rejections, and stressed that any letter that expressed interest seeing more of a writer’s work was cause for celebration. “You’re a writer if you’re writing, not if you’re published,” Hannah reminded us, echoing earlier advice from craft lecturer Myla Goldberg and the previous night’s agent panel. After the lecture, all were invited to peruse the many different literary magazines on display at the back of the room and take any home, with the knowledge that the work inside was borne out of both rejection and tenacity.

After a short break for writing and dinner, workshop writers reconvened at Community Bookstore for a reading of Lisa Ko’s debut novel, The Leavers. A One Story Debutante, Lisa Ko published “Proper Girls” in One Teen Story in 2013 (when her newly published novel was still being written—and rewritten). The novel follows the double narrative of Deming Guo and his mother, Polly. Having just returned from a week-long meditation retreat, Lisa Ko read an excerpt from the novel about last time Deming sees his mother, just before her disappearance. Deming’s observations of his mother reveal his own character traits—he remembers his mother’s hands rubbed raw and wishes for a super lotion that can grow her new skin, how she says motherfucker and he walks in step to the syllables as he practices the word.

During the Q&A, Ko and Patrick Ryan discussed how she used point-of-view to discover her characters, and her little celebrations after winning the PEN/Bellwether Prize. Both writers shared the various ways they disposed of unused pieces of their stories. Ryan does not delete anything, though he rarely revisits. Ko admitted that she will often remember certain sentences or descriptions and “pluck it from the graveyard”—the graveyard being the file where she stores her unused writing. Lisa also talked about how she perseveres through the difficult, stagnant moments by setting daily goals for herself: fifty rejections a day. “I like to aim for rejection,” she said. As the crowd listened to her novel excerpt and the tales of her struggles with the publication process, they were reminded of what often seems hidden from writers: publication is the outcome of a lot of “no.” But, as Tinti had stressed in her lecture earlier in the day, it’s not publication that makes a writer a writer—it’s the act of writing. The lesson learned on Day 3 of the Conference was simple, but not necessarily easy: keep writing.

One Story Summer Conference Day 2: No Tricks

Dear Readers: This week One Story is hosting our 8th annual Summer Workshop for Writers. Our current interns, Hannah, Olivia, and Miche will be chronicling each day here on our blog, giving a peek into what we’re doing at the Old American Can Factory in Brooklyn. Today’s write up is by Olivia Liu. Enjoy!–LV

Tuesday was a stellar second day of the One Story Summer Conference. The featured Craft Lecturer was One Story Contributing Editor Karen Friedman, who gave a useful talk on how to edit your own story. The lecture was structured around four main story aspects—beginnings, characters, plot, and endings—and the lessons we can learn from soap operas. You read that right: soap operas! Sure, soap operas are not exactly high-brow literature but they do have a way of pulling you in and never letting go, something that a story should certainly do.

To edit beginnings, Karen advised writers to take a page out of Yoda’s book (yes, that Yoda). Unclear writing can make a reader angry, and, according to the Grand Master of the Jedi Order, “Anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering.” To avoid angering readers, writers should make clear what the setting, characters, and conflict in their work are by page 2.

As a template for character, Friedman used Jason, the golden-boy-turned-crime-boss-protégé from the soap opera General Hospital. As soon as we re-meet Jason after his amnesia, we immediately learn his appearance, actions, voice, motivation, backstory and, perhaps most intriguing of all, we learn the concept of reusing a character. General Hospital could have made the crime boss protégé a new character entirely, but Friedman pointed out that Jason would lose the layer of emotional depth the viewers gained from knowing this new villain was once a beloved son.

“Make your characters want something right away, even if it’s a glass of water.” Friedman used this bit of advice from Kurt Vonnegut to frame her segment on editing plot. She outlined the basic narrative arc of set up, escalation, climax, and resolution and emphasized that every scene should feature a narrative arc, no matter how small. One example of a scene arc she used was a clip from Guiding Light in which Reva Shayne baptizes herself as the “Slut of Springfield.”

Friedman discussed her two major “don’ts” for endings—NO TRICKS (don’t make the story “all a dream”) and Death ≠ Answer (a character’s death does not count as a story ending). Endings, she said, should resonate with readers. The reader should be thinking about the story long after it’s over. One technique to create resonant endings, Friedman said, was to slow down and focus on an object that has had some significance in the narrative. As an example, she used the ending of Jodi Angel’s “Snuff” (OS #179), which is structured around a pocketknife, and the final scene of As the World Turns, which prominently features the newly-retired Robert Hughes (Dr. Bob) slipping his nameplate into his briefcase as he leaves his office for the final time.

The lecture ended with a fun writing exercise. We each wrote two characters on two different yellow cards and one setting on a blue card. Everyone switched cards and had to craft a beginning of a story from those characters and that setting. This resulted in some fun and unexpected stories, which Friedman stressed was the point of the generative exercise: to get writers out of their comfort zone.

The group reconvened in the evening for a panel with some of the industry’s top agents: Mitch Hoffman, Dana Murphy, Duvall Osteen, and Renée Zuckerbrot, moderated by One Story Co-founder and Executive Editor Hannah Tinti. They opened the discussion by discussing an agent’s role in the life of a writer, a role that, according to Murphy, ranges from best friend to therapist. All four agents agreed that it is ultimately a business relationship, and stressed the importance of professionalism.

Because the relationship with their agent might be the most important relationship an author will forge in their career, the panelists advised conference attendees to choose carefully, with patience and deliberation. Finding agents and editors can be a lot like matchmaking, and jumping the gun on these relationships is akin to marrying the first person you meet on Tinder.

The four agents also shared projects that they were proud of. Murphy talked about her very first project, Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka, which will be published next week, and Osteen told a story about hope: her client who had a book she absolutely loved got rejected multiple times but finally got a deal after waiting and more revising.

When asked about the best way to approach an agent, they discussed the importance of doing your homework. Know who you’re talking to, they said, and be sure to follow the specific submission requirements the agents have.

After the panel, conference attendees enjoyed wine and cheese and a chance to talk to the agents one-on-one. Despite a long day of workshops, lectures, and panels, the writers were all buzzing with energy as they chatted with the agents and with one another. The crowd didn’t begin to thin until well after 9pm. “I’m tired but happy,” proclaimed one attendee, as she left for the evening with a grin on her face.

 

 

One Story Summer Conference Day 1: Write What You Know; Write What You Don’t Know

Dear Readers: This week One Story is hosting our 8th annual Summer Workshop for Writers. Our current interns, Hannah, Olivia, and Miche will be chronicling each day here on our blog, giving a peek into what we’re doing at the Old American Can Factory in Brooklyn. Today’s write up is by Hannah Johnston. Enjoy!–LV

One Story’s eighth annual Summer Writers Conference is officially underway here in Brooklyn at the Old American Can Factory! Twenty-one talented writers from all over the country joined the One Story staff and interns on Sunday night to celebrate the start of the workshop for a cocktail reception in the OACF Canteen. The group made eager conversation over drinks and snacks, pausing for One Story cofounders Hannah Tinti and Maribeth Batcha’s brief introduction to the workshop. The cofounders also introduced the Writing Advice Wall, where participants are can make note of great writing advice they hear from speakers and in workshops throughout the week, write it down on colorful slips of paper, and clip them onto the wall. Once the remarks concluded, Hannah and Maribeth led the group on a short tour of the Can Factory, and the group returned to the Canteen to mingle for the duration of the evening.

Over the course of the coming week, Patrick Ryan and Will Allison will each lead a group of attendees in intensive workshops, where each writer will have their piece discussed by their instructor and fellow writers. In addition to the workshops, there will also be readings,craft lectures, panels, and more from authors, publishing professionals, and the editorial staff of One Story.

The first official day of the conference began on Monday with a two-and-a-half-hour workshop period. Workshops often become sacred spaces, and throughout the week it won’t be surprising to see camaraderie built among writers from the same groups.

After lunch, workshop participants attended an illuminating craft lecture from Myla Goldberg, acclaimed author of the novel Bee Season. The lecture addressed the idea of “writing what you know,” for which she had workshop writers read the short story “What You Left in the Ditch” by Aimee Bender. The story is about a brief time in the life of Mary, a woman whose husband has come home from an unnamed war after losing his lips in battle.

Goldberg made a point of encouraging writers to write about things they’re afraid to write about; to write about the unfamiliar. To do this, she explained, a writer must figure out a way to relate some aspect of the unfamiliar situation to their own emotional experience. Goldberg used Bender’s story as an example, explaining that it was unlikely that Aimee Bender has ever had such a specific experience with war or trauma resulting from war, but she most likely understands what it’s like when two people are in a relationship and one of them changes while the other remains the same.

Goldberg went on to discuss the power of empathy in writing and how it is different from sympathy. In order to engender empathy, she explained, neither writer nor reader need to have have actually experienced what the characters are experiencing, but the writer needs to find a way to make that experience real and familiar. Goldberg, an excellent lecturer with engaging energy, gave workshop attendees many tidbits of useful writing advice. She talked about “telegraphing”: how authors reveal character traits to a reader using visual clues rather than explicitly spelling them out. For example, Bender’s description of Mary’s husband’s favorite chair as “neatly dusted” signals to the reader that Mary has been taking care of his things while he was away at war, and clearly cares about his wellbeing (despite acting as if she doesn’t). In analyzing Bender’s story, the group determined that Bender was able to create familiarity and universality through her lack of time- or place-specific details, and to create empathy by showing Mary’s external and internal selves through close-third-person POV.

After Myla’s energizing talk, writers made their way back to the Canteen to conclude the day with casual social time over sweets and drinks. After some relaxing chat, the group gathered together to listen to Maribeth facilitate a “getting to know the instructors” talk with Will and Patrick, who discussed their first published works and the experiences that eventually led them to become editors for One Story.

Patrick made an interesting point about balancing his work as a writer and an editor. Early in his career, he’d been worried that reading good writing would discourage him from creating his own work. The opposite proved true. “Reading really good writing doesn’t make me not want to write,” said Patrick, “it makes me want to write even more.” It often seems daunting to both write your own work and read the excellent writing of others, but Patrick and Will each said they’ve come to the conclusion that it’s beneficial to their writing to read others’ work. Will even noted that he’ll occasionally use a “kick starter book” to take a break from writing in order to reinvigorate his creative flow. As the day came to an end, a handful of useful tips hung from the Writing Advice Wall, and many workshop attendees headed out to enjoy a nice evening in Brooklyn. Stay tuned for the low-down on day two of the One Story Summer Writers Conference!

One Story Workshop Day 5: Magnet Boards & Family Dinners

Dear Readers: Over this past week, One Story hosted our 7th annual Summer Workshop for Writers. Our current interns, Michelle, Jess, Coryna and Kally have been chronicling each day here on our blog, giving a peek into what we’re doing at the Old American Can Factory in Brooklyn. Our final write up is by Coryna Ogunseitan. Thanks, ladies, for writing up these great posts!–HT

One Story staff poses on the final night

One Story staff poses on the final night

After hours and hours of writing, reading, listening, and learning, One Story’s Summer Workshop has come to an end. The last day of the week began as usual; students were now familiar with the routine, and those who got to the Canteen early snacked and chatted with familiar friendliness. Most were thinking about the reading to take place later that evening, discussing what work they might share and different reading techniques. Students whose pieces were yet to be discussed were eager finally to showcase their writing in the morning’s workshops with Patrick Ryan and Will Allison.

After lunch, everyone gathered for Ann Napolitano’s craft lecture, which she referred to as “more of a TED Talk”. If what she meant by “like a TED Talk” was that her lecture would be more than inspiring, the comparison was spot on: Ann told workshop students about techniques by which they could process the world in order to become better writers. She advised everyone to pay attention to their internal “calibrated magnet” – inside each and every one of us is a particular set of traits or experiences that make us attracted to certain subjects or ideas. There are the best things to write about, the things that stick. Ann gave examples that ranged from the noble (like motherhood, the paramount theme in Anna Solomon’s reading Thursday night) to the grotesque (Ann once met a writer who was obsessed by newspaper articles about dead babies). She stressed that everyone who intends to write should be deeply familiar with what sticks to her magnet board, explaining that it is easy for mainstream tastes to overwhelm individual tastes when we let pop culture dominate most of our thoughts.

To illustrate each individual’s unique perspective, Ann revisited photographs she had asked students to take of “something that catches your eye”. There were sunsets, dead birds, funny notes, and dogs. She then asked everyone to write a sentence about each of five photos. When everyone read aloud, it became even clearer how particular each writer’s tastes were: while some described the image they saw in front of them, others cracked jokes and still others introduced first-person narrators. Ann emphasized that what sets a writer apart is not only what she sees in the world, but how she sees it.

After the lecture and exercise, students took a break for the afternoon. Many went to practice for the fast-approaching reading, and joked about how many glasses of wine a writer should have before getting on stage. It hardly seemed that any time had passed when writers returned, dressed up with heels and well-practiced stories, ready to culminate the effort and learning of the week.

Although many readers confessed to being anxious, no one’s nerves were obvious: everyone read smoothly and confidently from a selection of work as varied as the group itself. A vasectomy, turduckens, and being home alone were among the many rich subjects addressed. Workshop students received their fellow writers’ work, some serious, some humorous, with laughter and enthusiasm.

Once the reading had ended, the relieved students settled into their seats around the giant table set for 29 people, and, over a delicious dinner made by Runner & Stone, talked about the highlights of their weeks. As the evening winded down, everyone exchanged phone numbers, eager to keep in touch with other writers whose vision and criticism participants had appreciated. We ended the night with laughter and song, after Hannah announced that we were all now part of the One Story family.

One Story Workshop Day 4: Take a Moment to Celebrate

Dear Readers: This week One Story is hosting our 7th annual Summer Workshop for Writers. Our current interns, Michelle, Jess, Coryna and Kally will be chronicling each day here on our blog, giving a peek into what we’re doing at the Old American Can Factory in Brooklyn. Today’s write up is by Michelle Hu and Coryna Ogunseitan. Enjoy!–HT

Anna.Cat

Even Community Bookstore’s resident cat is entranced by Anna Solomon’s new novel, LEAVING LUCY PEAR

Today at the Summer Workshop, writers powered through their fourth day, packed with morning workshops taught by Will Allison and Patrick Ryan, Hannah Tinti’s lecture on getting “Out of the Slushpile” and attending Anna Solomon’s launch of her newest book, Leaving Lucy Pear at Brooklyn’s own Community Bookstore.

Although “Out of the Slush Pile” suggests a more pragmatic lesson than an inspiring one, Hannah continued the pattern of lectures this week by reminding us all that writing is hard loving and loving hard. She asked the audience to try as best as they can to separate the writing process from the publication process. The room filled with a gentle silence as they were told that “not being published doesn’t mean you’re not a writer.” Writing is about the heartbeat, about authenticity. Publication is a business hat, one you wear when the sun gets too hot.

Hannah then began her talk, quickly breaking up the process into three digestible parts: preparing your work, compiling a list of places to send, and hearing back.

PREPARATION: The formalities of hard and digital submissions were laid out in specific details from fonts (Patrick’s favorite is Garamond) to email follow ups. A specific pet peeve, one shared by many editors, is page numbering (always number the pages).

SENDING (short stories to magazine): Hannah sited Best American Short Stories, The O’ Henry Prize Stories, and the Pushcart Prize anthologies as great ways of finding which publications are gaining attention. In general when submitting, one should consider the magazine’s reputation and circulation. It’s also nice to be paid.

SENDING (manuscripts to agents): When looking to query literary agents, Hannah cautioned writers to do their research. As explained at the Agents Panel on Tuesday night, the writer/ agent relationship is a more delicate one determined by compatibility between persons and ideas. Agents’ qualifications are not determined by who they are but the people they know and the books they represent. It is important to be more selective in how many you submit to at once (preferably less than 5), and the specificity of your address to them, noting any familiarity with their work or other points of connection.

HEARING BACK: After breaking down submissions and providing tips for cover letters, Hannah talked to the group about acceptance and rejection. Through example letters, writers reviewed the different tiers of rejection and learned their varying significance. A rejection is not a hard No. The coded hints (the inclusion of their name, a story title, or a personal note) help writers better understand the spectrum between yes and no. “The editors are having a conversation with you,” Hannah said. By being able to decipher their cues, writers can begin to talk back.

Later on in the evening, writers reconvened a few blocks away, at the Community Bookstore for Anna Solomon’s launch of her new novel, Leaving Lucy Pear. The bookstore’s cat purred and listened intently as Anna began reading from the opening chapter, describing a young woman, Bea, leaving her baby in a pear field, then watching behind a stone wall as another woman, Emma, picked up the baby and adopted her as her own. During the Q & A, moderated by Hannah, Anna not only talked about her revision and writing process, but talked candidly about her ideas of motherhood, growing up Jewish, and her hometown of Gloucester, Massachusetts.

During the event, as we listened to and celebrated with Anna Solomon, understanding all the labor and the love she put into creating Leaving Lucy Pear, we were reminded of what Hannah said about acceptances in her afternoon lecture. “When one comes your way, stop and celebrate.” Acceptances are rare, and sometimes, their importance isn’t easily understood by family or friends. “So take a moment,” Hannah said, “and feel exactly what you feel. Raise a glass with some fellow writers. They are the ones who will truly understand how hard you worked to make this happen.”

One Story Workshop Day 3: Find the Action in Your Story

Dear Readers: This week One Story is hosting our 7th annual Summer Workshop for Writers. Our current interns, Michelle, Jess, Coryna and Kally will be chronicling each day here on our blog, giving a peek into what we’re doing at the Old American Can Factory in Brooklyn. Today’s write up is by Kally Patz and Coryna Ogunseitan. Enjoy!–HT

Victor

Victor LaValle talks about ACTION!

Alice Munro and the Brothers Grimm may not appear to have much in common. Aside from, of course, their enormous talent, the writers are stylistically very different. But today, they were two of four celebrated authors on the syllabus for Victor LaValle’s Craft Lecture. After students finished two hours of rigorous workshopping with Patrick Ryan and Will Allison, and enjoyed a delicious lunch prepared by Runner & Stone, we all gathered in the Canteen to take a closer look at ACTION & PLOT.

LaValle began by drawing our attention to a key element of storytelling that, despite its simplicity, is overlooked by many literary writers: present, physical action. He said that when he was an MFA candidate at Columbia, no one ever asked the basic question, “Are your characters doing anything?”

One Story workshop students then read aloud, popcorn-style, three of the stories LaValle had assigned and broke them down according to action, like a comic strip. For each new action, LaValle drew a new box, inside of which he wrote no more than two or three words. (For example, “Mike walks,” or “Mike gets lost.”) The exercise helped the students visualize each story, as they might a movie script, highlighting action as something concrete, progressing step by step. LaValle encouraged breaking down our own stories–and the stories of authors we love–in this same way, to see how the physical action relates to the overall meaning of the piece.

According to LaValle, what was important was that readers and writers alike were able to see why each action was “justified.” He cited a beautiful moment in Alice Munro’s story, “The Bear Came Over the Mountain,” when the protagonist, suffering from dementia, is leaving her home to move into an assisted-living facility, and erases the mark a “cheap black house shoe” left on the floor. Not only is she permanently leaving the home in which she lived most of her adult life; she is erasing what LaValle called “the last trace of herself.” Workshop students left the class talking about the Munro story, many intending to reread it at home looking for intentional, meaningful action.

Some One Story workshop students snuck off to nap—we mean write!—but most stuck around to hear Hannah Tinti and Ann Napolitano’s advice on giving a good public reading, in preparation for open mic on Friday. Students took notes as Hannah and Ann shared tips on getting over the jitters, then tried out their new skills with a classic author used by orators young and old: Dr. Seuss. We were feeling inspired and composed this short tribute in preparation for the evening’s Book Editor Panel:

Big press
Small press
Old press
New press.
This one has a bestseller.
This one treats new authors better.
Say! What a lot
Of editors there are.

Indeed, there were a lot of book editors in the Can Factory last night. The panel, moderated by One Story’s Managing Editor Lena Valencia, included Sarah Bowlin from Henry Holt, Brinda Ayer from Restless Books, Yukia Igarashi from Catapult, and Margaux Weisman From William Morrow/Harper Collins. (Unfortunately, we couldn’t work all of this into the “One Fish Two Fish” syntax.)

The editors started off by talking about how they got into the publishing industry. According to Margaux, the secret is to work 72 jobs and spend your free time hunting down literary agents. There was some nervous laughter in the room, but she assured us that wasn’t a joke.

Things cheered up a bit when the editors talked about what gets them excited. Sarah told us about how she got the rights to Sheila Heiti’s How Should a Person Be? Nobody wanted it after it sold poorly in Canada, but, with some editing and an extra 8,000 words, it became a breakthrough novel at Henry Holt. Everyone geeked out and Brinda asked if that really happened. Sarah confirmed that it really did. A little bit of a book editor fantasy for you.

Inevitably, we came to the age-old question: big or little, which press fits best? Everyone seemed to agree that small presses are a good home for new authors or authors who want to try something a little different. A short story collection, for instance, might do better at a small press that can afford to take a risk. Brinda said that small presses have almost become a hunting ground for larger presses looking for emerging authors. While miming a vulture, she told us about how Farrar, Straus and Giroux bought the paperback-rights to Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle after it did well at Archipelago, a small press down the hall from the One Story office. Brinda’s vulture demonstration got us thinking. We’ve been suspicious of the hawks that live on the can factory’s fire-escape in the past, but now we’re absolutely certain: they are publishing spies!

After the panel was over, editors mixed with students, sharing glasses of wine and beer and answering questions about the business of publishing. Each day of the workshop, the possibility of publishing a book one day seems more concrete and possible. As we left the can factory and wandered out into the night, we looked up at the massive nest of sticks perched at the top of the fire-escape, and wondered if the hawks were watching.

 

One Story Workshop Day 2: Dating Your Reader

Dear Readers: This week One Story is hosting our 7th annual Summer Workshop for Writers. Our current interns, Michelle, Jess, Coryna and Kally will be chronicling each day here on our blog, giving a peek into what we’re doing at the Old American Can Factory in Brooklyn. Today’s write up is by Kally Patz and Jess Pane. Enjoy!–HT

PatrickSocks

Planet socks worn today by editor & teacher Patrick Ryan, author of THE DREAM LIFE OF ASTRONAUTS

The One Story Workshop might officially be about writing, but, really, it’s all about dating. Last night, Patrick Ryan and Will Allison encouraged writers to use their romantic know-how when contacting agents and editors. (This comforted a few, but alarmed those with memories of blind dates gone terribly awry.)

Writing, as it turns out, is no different. Hannah Tinti’s craft lecture today covered how to write strong beginnings, resonant endings, and discover the layers hidden beneath the surface of our stories. It was also about how a good first page is just like a good first date. You might want to spruce up with some solid grammar, wash off any typos, and put on something a little bit different before heading out the door. Usually, it doesn’t take Hannah more than a page to know if the relationship is going anywhere. When she’s on a date with a story, she looks for five things right away:

(1) Is the writing good on a sentence level?
(2) How fast do I get sucked in?
(3) Is there something new?
(4) What is the story?
(5) Is the writer in control?

First impressions are important, but even a good start can be overshadowed by how things end. Hannah has seen it again and again: a relationship is going well, she’s enjoying the story’s company, and it ends too soon.

“I can tell when an author was just exhausted with a piece and pressed send,” Hannah said. “When you have that thought, put it in a drawer. Let the story get some air.”

She advised that authors take some time to remember why they got involved with their story in the first place. Some writers in the audience nodded, though it was unclear whether they were thinking about an old story or an old flame.

Later in the evening, One Story welcomed literary agents Sarah Burnes, Rebecca Gradinger, and Jim Rutman to the Old American Can Factory for a discussion, moderated by Hannah (who used to work at an agency herself), on when and how a writer might need an agent.

First, they covered what an agent actually does. The agent is the intermediary between the writer’s manuscript and the published book. It’s a business relationship. They deal with the contracts, figuring out when the book is ready, and how much effort needs to go into a project before they send it out to publishers. And, yes, manuscripts almost always need work before they are sent out.

All the agents on the panel stressed that the most important thing to remember when finding an agent, is to find the right one. This is the person who you want to be in a relationship with for your career. A good agent understands your work and will fight for it. It means they will find a publisher that is also passionate about the work because the publisher should also fight for the success of a book.

While what draws an agent to a particular piece of work may be personal, the agents gave some helpful hints about what questions to ask and when is it appropriate to approach an agent.

Some questions to ask when approaching an agent:

  • What is your communication style? (Yes, your agent should always call you back.)
  • Do you do editorial work? (Some agents don’t do editorial work and ask that the writer find an outside editor.)
  • Do you sell foreign rights in-house or do you use a co-agent?
  • Does your firm work with a film agent?
  • What are some deals that you’ve done recently?

When it is appropriate to approach an agent:

  1. A writer should always review the submission guidelines on the website. Your query letter should be good. Don’t write a bad one.
  2. Send something when you have something to sell. Meaning you believe you have a finished manuscript. Beginning, middle, and end.
  3. Send something when you have something you’re proud of. For example, if you know the agent will tell you it doesn’t start until pg. 30, then work on the manuscript until it starts on pg. 1.
  4. Don’t solicit more than one agent at one literary agency. But you may solicit more than one agent if they are at different agencies.
  5. If you have a story collection, the most successful story collections have stories that have been published in known literary journals and/or the collections are theme-driven with a singular idea guiding the collection.
  6. Research the agents before you submit to them–try and find an agent who represents books similar to the one you’re trying to sell.

When it comes to rejection, just keep trying. The panel also suggested taking feedback from your rejections and consider how to possibly incorporate it into the manuscript before sending it out again. Patience is the most important part of finding an agent and publisher. If an agent is offering feedback, but still saying no, it means they really thought about your work and they would like to see it out in the literary world. Maybe it just wasn’t the right fit for them. As Sarah Burnes said, “If someone leaves the door open, it is genuine.”

Several people in the audience asked questions about numbers. How many copies does a story collection actually sell? What is the difference between publishing with a small press vs. a commercial press? Tomorrow night, on our Editor Panel, we’ll be going into more details. But for further information, Hannah recommended Lincoln Michel’s article at Electric Literature “Everything You Wanted to Know About Book Sales (But Were to Afraid to Ask).” And here is the Atlantic Monthly article, “Why American Publishing Needs Indie Presses,” mentioned by Sarah Burnes. Enjoy!

 

One Story Workshop Day 1: Subvert Expectations

Dear Readers: This week One Story is hosting our 7th annual Summer Workshop for Writers. Our current interns, Michelle, Jess, Coryna and Kally will be chronicling each day here on our blog, giving a peek into what we’re doing at the Old American Can Factory in Brooklyn. Today’s write up is by Michelle Hu. Enjoy!–HT

WSDayoneHuzzah! One Story’s seventh annual Summer Workshop for Writers has begun. Writers arrived at the Old American Can Factory and began Sunday night with a cocktail reception, filling the floor with excited and nervous conversation. The room quickly became boisterous as more names were exchanged and glasses of wine and beer were consumed. Students were introduced to the One Story team and their instructors, our own Patrick Ryan and Will Allison, in preparation for the week ahead, where they’ll be attending morning workshops, craft lectures, and a variety of panels on the business of publishing. After a friendly welcome, the students went on a tour of the can factory, and visited our office, where they heard about the creation of One Story from its co-founders, Maribeth Batcha and Hannah Tinti.

The first official day of the conference began the next day with morning workshops, where Patrick and Will led in-depth discussions on stories and novel excerpts from each student. A growing familiarity between writers became apparent in the lunch that followed.

Afterwards, students gathered for the first of the Craft Lecture series with author Myla Goldberg, who began with a brief announcement about the subjectivity of writing (even after it is published). Myla focused her lecture on creating a space that allowed for productive disagreement. Lauren Groff’s “L. DeBard and Aliette,” an unusual love story that takes place in a time of illness, became an avenue to explore how Groff develops the relationship between the writer and the reader. Students took Myla’s invitation to explore ambiguity and disagreement in the story.

Reading, a process between the writer and the reader, is not one-sided, and the goal, Myla said, “is to foster collaboration with just the right amount of information.” In the lecture, students explored the ways Groff’s intentional choices create that mutual experience. The story, written in present tense, gives the characters’ experiences a real life immediacy. The choice to divulge certain details non-sequentially, however, allows her to not alienate the reader but challenge their ability to read about difficult topics. Similarly, the exclusion of details also contributes to the collaborative experience. Myla discussed the way Groff writes about sex through exclusion and how that creates moments that are at once delicate and also provocative. In what Groff chooses to not disclose, the reader is given an active role in how they experience and what they fill the moments with.

To end the lecture, Myla told the students how she makes space for writing and gave some advice. In summary: Writing is play! She reminded us that writing began before we were given the words for it. The creation of imaginary lives and worlds started with our childhood vividness. In wide arm gestures, Myla told us that writing is as active and away from the page as acting. Get an empty room, she says, and physically act out what the character is doing, grimaces and laughter alike.

Another way of looking at writing as play is through something Myla mentioned earlier in her lecture: “Subvert the expectation.” A line that applies to the hesitation most writers feel. When beginning to write it is crucial to remember to play, to subvert, and to undo expectations. She left us all with the reminder that writing is undoing as much as it is doing. But above all else, it’s fun.

After an afternoon social break with snacks and drinks, the day ended with an informal “Meet the Instructors” conversation, moderated by One Story Publisher Maribeth Batcha. Patrick Ryan and Will Allison discussed and answered questions about how they started as writers and gave some tips for the submission process. As lightening and flood warnings briefly distracted the students, it seemed as if even the weather was fortifying the duality of a writer’s life. While some took the opportunity of the thunder storm to continue talking to their peers after the event, others hugged their bags and sprinted through the river-ed streets with their heels kicked high.