Friday, April 30, 2010

My Talk on "Prose Writing" to MFA Students at Lindenwood

Last night was an eye-opening experience. Dianna Gravemann, a writing friend and university-level teacher, invited me to talk to her MFA students in a class on "Prose Writing" at Lindenwood University in St. Charles. The focus of my talk was on short stories, specifically what I look for when judging a short story contest or deciding which short stories to accept when I'm editing Cuivre River Anthology.

The class was a mix of published and yet-to-be-published students. During my presentation I talked about what makes a good story, including the importance of story titles and gave them an exercise on "guess the original title of the book." For example, "Pansy" was the original title of what best-selling book that was made into a famous movie? Answer: "Gone with the Wind."

Last night we also discussed characters, conflict, word choices, voice, and most of the basics of short stories. But a few students had specific questions about the business of publishing, and I'm not certain I adequately covered those questions in the time I had to speak. Even if I had more time, I'm not sure I could've covered them because frankly those questions were geared for someone in publishing rather than a garden-variety writer like me.

Before leaving I handed out bookmarks with my blog address and invited the students to visit here. So, I hope some of them will visit today because I've found links to sites with insight from professionals in the publishing industry on some of the questions asked last night.

* One question had to do with the future of self-publishing. I don't have a crystal ball and wouldn't want to specualte, and self-publishing individual decision. While self-publishing isn't right for me, I mentioned a few self-publishing success stories, and Dianna chimed in with some others. Here's a link to Alan Rinzler's post on How Self Publishing Can Lead to a Real Book Deal. In his post he lists the top four reasons self-published books get signed up. Another excellent post about self-publishing comes from literary agent Nathan Bransford, "Should You Self-Publish? The Questions to Ask Yourself."

* Two related questions asked last night were: "When do you know you're ready to send off your manuscript?" and "When do you stop sending off to lit mags or publications that only give contributor copies or pay $100, and start writing to make money?" Those are very personal decisions, and I didn't have a one-size-fits-all answer, but I found something that might shed some light on the subject. Here's a link to another post from Alan Rinzler. This one is on "How Writers Build Courage."

* Related to the questions above, which touched on finding an agent, here's a post from literary agent Nathan Bransford on "How to Find a Literary Agent," along with over 100 comments about his post. You can also learn a lot about agenting from Kristen Nelson in her Agenting 101 blog posts. I frequently visit these two blogs because of the excellent information they provide for writers.

* Another question touched on the content of a manuscript. "If 90 percent of what I've written is true and 10 percent is made up, is it fiction or non-fiction?" Great question. I've heard several opinions on the matter and had lengthy discussions with writing friends. Last night I mentioned James Frey, and one student brought up "Angela's Ashes." I found an article from the Christian Science Monitor that addresses the question of "Memoirs Whose Truth and Does it Matter?" that might help. Here's another link on a related question that was asked: "What is Creative Nonfiction?"

Those are all the questions I can recall that needed to be addressed more, but if there are others, let me know.

Thanks again Dianna for inviting me to talk to your class, and thanks to everyone there for being so polite and for having so many wonderful questions!

15 comments:

  1. Great post, Donna! And good for you for speaking to a class! I'm impressed!!

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  2. Sounds like a really great session Donna. It's so hard to fit everything you want to share into a session. :)

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  3. Can not seem to post here for few days, will try one more time.

    Lots fo good info here I want to check out when I have some time. Thank you for presenting it here!

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  4. Might know it would post the comment with a big GOOF! :)

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  5. I CANNOT believe I didn't know that about Gone With the Wind. Now I'm wondering about the other titles...anyway, I learned something. Just as I'm sure all those students learned, too.

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  6. "One question had to do with the future of self-publishing."

    I believe the question may be resolved by what is happening to our media right now. Electronic publishing innovations are occurring so quickly one can not rule out knowing how to self publish both hard copy and electronically.

    A short 10 minute promo on YouTube may do more to sell one's books than hours at book signings.

    The next few years may make the difference in every writer's future

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  7. First of all, what a great opportunity for you to speak with the students! How cool. And this post is so great!!!! Thanks for the links and information about the kinds of questions they asked.

    Margo
    http://margodill.com/blog/

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  8. Donna,
    I'm sure the students enjoyed your visit as much as I enjoyed reading this information.

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  9. Hi All,
    Thanks for posting comments and words of encouragement. It really was an honor to talk to Dianna's class, and I always manage to learn something when I speak to a group.
    Stan is right about self-published authors being able to connect with readers via the Internet by social media, but that also applies to tranditinally published books as well.
    Donna

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  10. Bookie,
    You're not the only one who's had a problem posting on my blog lately. I'm not sure what's wrong, but it looks like it's fixed now.

    And Cathy,
    I was surprised when I read about the Pansy title for GWTW, too. Makes me think it would be a good idea to devote a future post on titles and give some of the examples I found.
    Donna

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  11. Hi Margo,
    Thanks, and congratulations on your AWESOME good news.
    Donna

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  12. Hi Linda,
    Aw, shucks. I'm blushing, and I enjoy reading your blog, too. Entertaining and inspiring.
    Donna

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  13. Hi Becky and Jemi,
    Thanks for your kind words.
    Donna

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  14. Donna, thanks again for speaking to the class! You were great, and the information you provided was well received. But all this extra info is great, too!

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  15. Hi Dianna,
    Thanks again for the invite. It was fun.
    Donna

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