Twenty writers, eight staff members, five panelists, two instructors, one craft lecturer, and an infinite supply of cheese descended upon Manhattan’s Center for Fiction today. This can only mean one thing: the One Story Summer Writers’ Workshop is back in full swing.
This is the third year that One Story has hosted our own workshop, and it is already off to a great start, thanks in part to our friends at the Center for Fiction who have welcomed us into their fabulous space. The week will feature small group workshops, craft lectures by award-winning authors, and panelists from literary agencies, publishing companies, and MFA programs. After this morning’s workshops, led by Marie-Helene Bertino (past Associate Editor of OS) and Will Allison (current OS contributing editor), we were thrilled to hear Ann Napolitano, author of A Good Hard Look and Within Arm’s Reach, give a craft lecture on the art of description. She highlighted nine key points about description, including the importance of specificity, the usefulness of nouns and verbs in place of adjectives, and the significance of word choice, quoting Mark Twain: “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”
Next, we were each given the opportunity to do our own describing when Ann passed out a variety of odd fruits and told us to write about them using the five senses. After getting up close and personal with what looked like a fuzzy green oyster, I eventually compiled a nice list of sentences from the exercise (though I still have no idea what fruit I was actually describing. A rare cousin of the peach? Perhaps.).
After breaking for dinner, the writers reassembled for a panel of five literary agents: PJ Mark, Julie Barer, Jim Rutman, Julie Ferrari-Adler, and Renee Zuckerbrot. The panel helped to answer questions about getting an agent and offered their own stories from the publishing industry. While the world of agents has always seemed quite mysterious to me (I half-expected them to come in wearing tuxedos and sunglasses reminiscent of Will Smith’s attire in Men in Black), the panel helped to clear up most of my confusion. So, what is it that agents look for? The conclusion, it seemed, was unanimous: everybody’s looking for love. Each agent really wants to fall in love with a manuscript, and once they do, they’ll be the writer’s biggest advocate, establishing that necessary link between writer and publisher. Love, though, is hard to find, and it’s up to the writer to make a good first impression. When we all seemed a little down-trodden after hearing how difficult it is to catch an agent’s attention, PJ Mark reassured us: “All agents are optimists. You have to remember that we are all eager to see your work.” After the panel, we had the opportunity to converse over wine and cheese, connecting with the agents one-on-one (and maybe even mustering up the courage to pitch them our novels).
It was a lovely first day at the Center for Fiction, and we cannot wait to hear craft lecturer Simon Van Booy and the panelists from various MFA programs. Stay tuned for more updates!