Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Prize Winners and Book Clubs

Last night I had the pleasure of meeting Aimee LaBrie, author of Wonderful Girl, which won the Katherine Anne Porter Prize from UNT Press this year.
Aimee read from her collection of short stories and did an excellent job of capturing the attention of fatigued students with her vivid prose and wicked humor. I was Aimee's first reader on this prize...and had the experience of mining the gold from the slush pile. As a writer, reading for the KAP contest helped me see the other side of publishing: that daunting mountain of manuscripts (this year we had almost 300) and the overwhelming responsibility of slogging through each one, looking for glimmers of brilliance.

Yes, there are the manuscripts with clip art (bad idea) with themes of unicorns and princesses (bad, bad idea) and the strange single-space formatting, or worse, italics. Those, thankfully, are the minority of entries, and each year the contest is filled with better and better applicants. The majority of entries we see are from people who publish widely in literary journals, authors who write with competence and confidence. To find the winner is no easy task. We separate the cover letters from the manuscripts for readers, so each entry is reviewed "blind" without the weight of accolades to push it past its prose. Which helps, I think, in giving an honest read.

Aimee's book came through with such shining strength, I had no trouble passing it along for a second read and in voting for it as a finalist. When it won, I did a happy dance, and it was no surprise that the author turned out to be just as engaging and witty as her writing. If you're interested in crafting short stories that get published, you should check out her collection and treat yourself to a great read. You won't be disappointed.

I'm off tonight to Dallas to visit with members of a book club who chose Potter Springs for this month's read. I always enjoy meeting with readers who spend their time with my stories, since I think in today's world time is one of our most precious resources. I also like the questions and insights that other people bring to my work...when they argue over a character or see themes I hadn't pre-conceived on the page. I'll report back on the most interesting comments...

In a Q&A session with an author, what question would you ask?


Blogger Mathilda said...

I think I can one up you on the contest reading: a story from a man who is currently in prison and wrote the entire story in 16 point courier font. I was afraid to send a rejection letter, so I made someone else do it.

Also, for those interested, the Cream City Review (UW-Milwaukee's lit journal is currently reading for the "found" theme and Mike and I (Creative Nonfic Eds) are reading for the David B. Saunders Award. We are currently ACCEPTING pieces for our new spring issue (fic, nonfic, poetry, art) for the theme of humor.

7:06 AM  
Blogger Travis Erwin said...

A question for an author ...

Depends on the author of course, but if I've read their work I always want to know how the book and characters changes from the first vision to the final novel, and what made the author make those changes?

If I am unfamiliar with their work I ask them about their process and methods and the path they took to publication.

5:36 AM  
Blogger Britta Coleman said...

Love the 16-point font. Did it come spiral-bound with a handmade cover? Those are my favorites.

I always like to ask an author their process as well. Aimee LaBrie hit home with me: she too has to trick herself into 15 minutes of writing, and then lets it grow from there. I am not one of those authors who leaps to her computer each day, muse singing loudly in one ear. The first step, for me, is carving out the time and making myself stick to it. If that involves an egg timer and a self-promise of a nap or a Monk rerun later on, so be it.

11:35 AM  

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