I’d like to welcome Writer’s Digest Book’s author George Singleton to Annette’s Paper Trail. George is new to the blogosphere, but brave enough to jump in with both feet! He is just gaining momentum on the blog tour for his latest book. Today, George offers his sage advice about staying current with literary trends.
In Pep Talks, Warnings & Screeds: Indispensable Wisdom and Cautionary Advice for Writers, acclaimed Southern story writer and novelist George Singleton serves up everything you ever need to know to become a real writer (meaning one who actually writes), in bite-sized aphorisms. It’s Nietzsche’s Beyond Good & Evil meets Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. It’s cough syrup that tastes like chocolate cake. In other words, don’t expect to get better unless you get a good dose of it, maybe two.
Accompanied by more than fifty original full-color illustrations by novelist Daniel Wallace, these laugh-out-loud funny, candid, and surprisingly useful lessons will help you find your own writerly balance so you can continue to move forward.
Read Contemporary, Literary Work If You Plan to Publish Contemporary, Literary Work
By George Singleton
I teach at a school wherein prospective students must send in a portfolio of ten or so pages of their own work, either poetry or fiction. They write an essay, also. Their high school counselors send in transcripts and letters of recommendation. Then, the students show up in February or March for an interview, plus a workshop where they’re given prompts, just to make sure that, indeed, they didn’t pay off someone to write a portfolio, et cetera.
In the interview, my chairperson Scott Gould and I always start with the same question: “Tell us what you’ve been reading.”
There are three camps, at least. There are the students who say, “I love that woman who wrote the Twilight series, and I love Stephen King, and I love Anne Rice.”
“Do you read any contemporary poetry?” we’ll ask. I don’t know why.
“Edgar Allen Poe!” will be the answer.
It’s not like we weren’t warned earlier, what with the vampires, zombies, cutters, slashers, unpronounceable character names, lack of rising action, ghosts, et cetera.
The members of the second group say things like, “I love Shakespeare. I love everything there is by Shakespeare. Shakespeare, Cotton Mather, Hawthorne, the Brontës,” and so on. They’ll name off every writer they’ve had to read in a regular high school English class.
“What about poets?”
What else: “Emily Dickinson!”
And then there are the students—who normally have high grade point averages—who say, “Raymond Carver, Alice Munro, Tobias Wolff, Jill McCorkle, William Gay, Tom Franklin, Dale Ray Phillips, Wendy Brenner, Best American Shorts Stories, New Stories from the South, Flannery O’Connor, John Cheever, Thomas Pynchon, Madison Smartt Bell, Michael Parker, Jennifer Egan, Barry Hannah, Clyde Edgerton, David Foster Wallace, Jonathan Franzen, Stevie Almond, Cary Holladay, Moira Crone…”
We’ve not gone wrong with these students yet. Now, it’s important to know the writers of the canon—especially if you plan on being a contestant on Jeopardy!—but if one wishes to be published at the beginning of the twenty-first century, it might be helpful to know what kind of writing is being published in magazines, journals, and by the publishing houses.
Scott likes to say, “If you go get knee surgery, do you want a doctor who pores over medical journals from a hundred years ago, or one who keeps up with the latest medical technology and procedures?” There’s no better way to say it. If you wish to be published these days, shouldn’t you know trends, countertrends, audience needs, and the like? The only way I know how to fully get a grip on these things is to subscribe to a literary magazine or ten, plus the slicks, plus keep up with something like the New York Times Book Review.
Now, I understand that people are going to say to me, “Hey, that Twilight woman and Anne Rice and Nicholas Sparks make a whole lot more money than literary writers.”
My answer to that is always, “In America, we buy and consume a lot more bologna than we do filet mignon, but that doesn’t mean it’s better for us.”
Readers: Where do you weigh in? Mainstream or literary fiction? Would you rather leave your signature in tomes of timeless literature? Or have a million dollars worth of bologna in the bank?
George Singleton is the author of four collections of shorts stories and two novels: These People Are Us (2001), The Half-Mammals of Dixie (2002), Why Dogs Chase Cars (2004), Novel (2005), Drowning in Gruel (2006), and Work Shirts for Madmen (2007). He has published one book of advice: Pep Talks, Warnings, and Screeds (2008). His stories have appeared in magazines such at The Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, Playboy, Book, Zoetrope, Glimmer Train, Georgia Review, Shenandoah, Southern Review, Ninth Letter, and North American Review, among others. He’s had work anthologized in nine editions of New Stories from the South, plus Writers Harvest 2, A Dixie Christmas, They Write Among Us, 20 Over 40, Must Be This Tall to Ride, Love Is a Four-Letter Word, and Behind the Short Story: from First to Final Draft. His nonfiction has appeared in the Oxford American, Best Food Writing 2005, Dog Is My Co-Pilot, and Paste.
George lives in Dacusville, South Carolina with his clay-artist wife Glenda, 11 dogs, and a cat.
Visit his website at www.georgesingleton.com. And pick up a copy of Pep Talks, Warnings & Screeds today!