The Ploughshares Round-Down: What NYC Publishing REALLY Thinks About Self-Publishing

Last week, I had an author ask me the earliest his publisher could have his book out. I told him January 2016. Even if he turned it in this week. “And, they wonder why big publishers are dying,” he said. He wondered aloud if he should crowdfund a shorter idea and self-publish a ninety-nine cent ebook between now and then. The funny thing is that he’d referred a friend to me just a few weeks ago who wanted an agent. That friend had gone exactly the route he was now proposing, and had found the indie pub experience to be much less amazing than he’d been led to believe.

4x8dmoxI’ve written before that big publishers aren’t dying, but many of my authors wonder if they aren’t at least scared by the number of alternative routes to getting a book published. If you spend a lot of time on Reddit’s subreddit for writers, you’ll get the feeling that authors are all revolutionaries and that, because of them, the NYC publishers must know their weak foundations are crumbling.

That’s not, however, how the people I know think of the situation at all. I’ve never heard a single person in publishing, young or old, express fear over the rise of self-publishing.

That’s why the most interesting thing I’ve read in the past two weeks was this article in the Guardian by Suzanne McGee, called “You can try to be the next Hemingway– for $6,000.” (Full disclosure: I have spoken with Suzanne in the past about her writing, but not about this piece.) It’s an account of what you’ll have to pay to self-publish well, and it’s a useful resource for writers.

What’s even more interesting to me, however, is how much more than this a traditional publisher spends to make a book happen. NYC publishers spend ten times that, which demonstrates that you get what you pay for: the difference in the final product is a big part of why many employees at the big publishers don’t consider self-publishing a threat at all.

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An MFA for the Rest of Us

mfa 2

Needless to say, we will all dress like this

I’m in that small and shrinking group of writers who don’t have MFAs. Which I think makes me uniquely qualified to start my own MFA program. Haven’t most education reformers come from outside the system? My program will, for starters, involve napping and swimming pools. And the course offerings will be much more practical than “Problems in Modern Fiction.” We’ll cover the things you need to know. (The writing part you can figure out on your own.) I herewith present my 2015-2016 course catalog. Continue reading

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Writers with Responsibilities: The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Children_about_to_board_the_school_bus_(Thibodaux,_Louisiana)Perhaps, you’re one of those people who cry on the first day of school. For those of you putting your eldest on the kindergarten bus for the first time, I’ll give you a pass. For the rest of you, get real! The first day of school should bring the same wonder and joy you experienced traipsing down the stairs in your feety pajamas to see what Santa left under the tree. The endeavor warrants nothing less than a small jig.

A word to the wise: Your exuberance must be internal, lest you be accused of not truly loving your brood. (Been there, done that!) Those of you that home school, I admire your dedication and question your sanity, but this is a joy you’ll never know. And I am sorry for that.

Each school year marks the passing of time—small-kid problems get bigger, life gets more complicated. For me there is also another clock. It began ticking when my daughter, Claire, was in third grade and lamented the fact that her parents weren’t cooler. “Finn Haney’s mom is an artist and his dad makes movies,” she said. Claire felt more than gypped. Continue reading

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The Best Story I Read in a Lit Mag This Week: “Birthright” by Elizabeth Evitts Dickinson

I believed in ghosts as a kid. Since then, I’ve wondered why I wasn’t ever fascinated by the lore of other supernatural creatures. I think it’s in large part because ghosts—unlike angels, demons, vampires, or werewolves—didn’t seem to have such a strict set of rules governing their existence. In my understanding, ghosts could pretty much show up wherever they wanted, for any reason, and all manner of mysteries could be attributed to “ghost activity.”

Revolver_Full_mobileLiving a childhood where ghosts were real meant that any suspicious noise, weird animal behavior, or missing object could not only be explained but also imbued with significance. A door closing on its own didn’t happen because open windows in the house caused a difference in air pressure that made the door move. No, an angry ghost slammed that door because it was once a girl like me and she had died. But how? And what did she want now? And why was she angry?

In other words, I liked ghost stories because they at once solved and created a mystery.

I loved Elizabeth Evitts Dickinson’s story “Birthright” when I read it on Revolver earlier this month for the same reason. Clocking in under 700 words, “Birthright” is about a girl, never named, who resembles her dead grandmother. The story reads like a myth in its straightforward, naked aim to account for the girl’s likeness to her father’s mother, mixing modern pragmatism with fancy. The girl, referred to as an “Old Soul,” is visited by the ghost of her dead grandmother at night, both in dreams and reality, a distinction that doesn’t seem to matter because, as the narrator points out: “It is always late and dark and dreamlike.”

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New Ploughshares Solo: “Pie” by Suzanne Matson

Matson-Final-smallerWe’re thrilled to kick off our third volume of Ploughshares Solos with “Pie,” a story by Suzanne Matson. Over the past two years, our Ploughshares Solos series has given us the opportunity to publish excellent long-form stories and essays: first in an easily affordable digital format, and then in our annual Ploughshares Solos Omnibus collection. We have some great work lined up for this third year of Solos, and we’re really excited to share it with you. Stay tuned for a new Solo nearly every month from August through May. If you are in search of even more reading material, you can see all our Solos on www.pshares.org.

About “Pie”
Leaving behind her strict Mennonite upbringing, Kathryn has moved west by herself. America has just won victory in Japan, and a charming older man begins visiting the diner where Kathryn works, taking her out dancing and around town. With her old soldier boyfriends now scattered, and the country flush with postwar happiness, Kathryn takes a chance on her mysterious admirer and moves to Los Angeles with him. But how much does she really know about her new boyfriend? In this Solo, acclaimed novelist and poet Suzanne Matson looks at the thrill and danger inherent in the American dream of unrestricted liberty.

This Solo is available on Kindle for $1.99.

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The Ploughshares Round-Down: Stop Chasing “Childlike Creativity”

peter pan not necessaryEarlier this month I got to spend a week leading creative writing workshops with children in the foster system, some of them as young as six-years-old. And while many of you work with six-year-olds all the time, I usually teach college students or teenagers in jail. This was challenging, hilarious, and loud.

My friends knew I was in unusual Tasha territory, so several of them wrote to ask if it was really different working with young children: because weren’t they so much more creative, so open to their own imaginations, so unpressured by life’s demands, so . . . kids? And the answer was, emphatically, no.

But my friends’ questions weren’t surprising, given the persistent advice in the creative and self-help industries to cultivate your childlike wonderor to create like a child! or to do what you love with no regard for failure, like children! Such advice means well, but it’s weirdly ignorant . . . about children. Continue reading

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What Is It About the Literature of War?

511S2LUdJoLUp until that short story workshop I took my junior year of college, my TBR pile was made up of a bizarre mix of Stephen King, Barbara Kingsolver, and Bill Bryson. Then my professor passed around photocopied packets containing stories by Lorrie Moore, Grace Paley, and Tim O’Brien, and I realized there was more to life than homicidal clowns and humor writing.

The Things They Carried,” a staple in college classrooms across the country, started me in on a love affair with O’Brien’s work. It wasn’t necessarily the subject matter that appealed to me. I had never before been interested in historical fiction in any form. Rather, it was the beauty and artistry with which he strung his words together. That coupled with his quiet, quirky sense of humor.

Heck, I enjoyed July, July (a novel set at a high school reunion, having absolutely nothing to do with war) almost as much as I enjoyed Going After Cacciato.

But then his books became a gateway to other war literature. Catch-22. All Quiet on the Western Front. The Thin Red Line.

I ate them all up.

But what was it about these books? Continue reading

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Talkativeness

Talkativeness_for_website_grandeTalkativeness
Michael Earl Craig
Wave Books, April 2014
104 pages
$18.00

Buy: book

If you were among those persuaded by Thin Kimono (2010) that Michael Earl Craig was a poet to watch, you may consider your intuitions confirmed. Talkativeness dwells a little more deeply in the voice of that earlier volume, becoming more at home in it, but still capable of surprise.

Craig’s territory is contiguous to the domains of Ashbery, Tate, and Dean Young, but a little further off the interstate, a little lonelier. The natives are kindly but unlikely to offer help unless asked. For that matter, you might get further by simply paying closer attention.

The book’s epigraph, from Yamamoto Tsunetomo, states, “No matter how good what you are saying might be, it will dampen the conversation if it is irrelevant.” But—the following volume seems to ask—how confident can we be that any remark is irrelevant, when it may connect intimately to the topic at hand by unguessable, labyrinthine subterranean channels? How do we know that the apparently tangential is not, in fact, the royal highway to the real? Continue reading

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Episodia 2.9: I’m Not a Writer, I Just Play One on TV

PersonaI’ve spent the past few weeks preparing for the publication of my first book this fall, and a key ingredient of this process is the “public” part. I’ve been updating my website, beefing up my social media presence, and reaching out to people to spread the word about the book I believe in so passionately.

On good days, I see that I might be evolving into a more potent version of myself—a writer who is able to talk about her own work articulately, one who can move seamlessly between her public and private worlds. On tougher days, the whole thing can feel fake, like I’ve been hired to portray myself in some sitcom or drama loosely based on my life. Despite the best intentions, opportunities for fraudulence arise at every turn. Can I make myself look stronger, wiser, funnier if I try hard enough?

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The Fall 2014 Issue is Now Available

403-Cover-frontWe are very excited to announce that our Fall 2014 issue has officially released today! Acclaimed novelist and short-story writer Percival Everett (Erasure, I Am Not Sidney Poitier) guest-edits this all-fiction issue.

As Everett writes in his introduction, the stories “range from so-called mimetic to so-called meta. I do not like such labels and I hope to undermine their use by putting these fine works together.” Authors experiment with everything from extensive footnotes to shifting points of view, and narratives run from a husband who can’t stop crying (Nick Arvin’s “The Crying Man”) to a super-sophisticated domestic robot learning the ways of a Japanese family (“I, Kitty,” by Karen Tei Yamashita). Featuring stories by Aimee Bender, Richard Bausch, and Edith Pearlman, this issue is an illustration of the adventurousness and variety of the short story in English today. The issue also features Jay Baron Nicorvo’s Plan B essay about surfing, and an appreciation of the early work of the poet Robert Duncan.

If you would like to read our Fall issue, and you aren’t already a subscriber, subscribe to Ploughshares today! You’ll get great reads, ideas for your own work, and the ability to submit your work for free!

You can purchase single copies of our issues or subscribe by visiting our website: www.pshares.org.

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