But back to the seminars. The first seminar I went to was “The Best Times at the End of Times: Writing Dystopia”. This one went rather well, watching a book trailer about a newly published graphic novel about a world where people live off of landfills and trash men are respected men of military. It was new and exciting somewhat, for we got to enjoy different movie trailers of old movies that fell in with the subgenre of dystopia: the silent film Metropolis (1927), The Time Machine (1960), and my dad’s all-time favorite Harrison Ford and Ridley Scott movie from 1984, Blade Runner.
They even considered the first Star Wars movie (episode four, of course) to be dystopian, but they said it was more science fiction than dystopia. I had several pages on that subject and remembered why the Mad Max movies, such as the latest Fury Road, had the same theme.
“The Microverse: Writing Short in Fiction and Nonfiction” was a great way to learn more about the short-short stories, as headlined by one of my old college professors, talking about David Foster Wallace and short stories worthy of being published on Twitter. For instance, Ernest Hemmingway, if he were still alive, would tweet his famous six-word story on Twitter—For sale: baby shoes, never worn.
After lunch and the session of quick critiques was the final seminar about literary contests, featuring another old college professor of mine and two winners of previous contests, one for prose and the other for a collection of poetry. One of the things some people took away from that was if you win a contest, you can get published for your whole collection of stories anyway, which might be easier to get a foot in the door. Additionally, if you don’t win anything from any particular contest, you could still get published, but only if your story was good enough and well thought out.
There was something that my professor Geoff Becker said about how Eddie Van Halen described playing his guitar: “like falling down a flight of stairs and landing on your feet.”
That’s not necessarily how I would describe writing a novel or writing a collection of short stories, but at least that’s how some of it is done, with style. Or rather, sucking with style, for Schappell encouraged everyone to ‘fail forward’, that writers are not writers unless they fail at something.
The only difficult thing I found after the wine and cheese reception was that I didn’t think I got enough out of the conference as I hoped. Larry Doyle, author of I Love You Beth Cooper, didn’t get to hear from me a great deal since his panel got crowded very quickly and he seemed to keep a straight face and keep quiet the whole time. He somehow reminded me of that character on Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, the writer Matthew Perry hired back to help write the sketch comedy show but never even cracked a smile or a joke. Serious and sullen all the time, and this was supposed to be a comedy talk… sometimes I wonder if some comedy writers are not funny in real life at all. Maybe I’m wrong.
He did say Beth Cooper wasn’t his favorite book he ever wrote and that the movie of it sucked, for the book was better. Maybe it was just him trying to get a sale.
The other thing that made me feel that way was the quick critiques panel. I had my story ready for some constructive criticism, and I only got the last few pages looked at. I was hoping to have more than just one person to look at my work and say, “This is what works… and this is what you should get rid of…” but only one person got to look over my work and tell me how to polish it and get ready for agents.
I also thought that you could get an agent by submitting some pages of your short stories until I was told that those days are over and contests and literary magazines are the way to go now. I even got an advertisement to submit things to my old college’s literary magazine Grub Street, which was available even to those who’ve already graduated. Since I was the class of 2011, I probably need apply.
I just don’t know if anyone will take my work because I don’t know if I’m good enough. I submitted a number of pieces to Grub Street once upon a time and they didn’t like it. Got a rejection letter less than two weeks later. Is there something wrong with the way I write?
As I sit here typing this out from my temporary dorm room, which I may or may not ever see again depending on whether or not I get the internship I applied for, I’m looking back at how things have gotten to be slower and quieter than it usually is. One thing I did take away was my notepad full of notes and a book that my professor wrote and autographed for me. At least I got to share it with someone I met in work readiness who also wants to be a writer.
I’ve failed, I’ve gotten back up, I’ve written some more. I still haven’t let the inner voice of my ex-boyfriend get to me, the little voice of reason saying, “Give up. You’re a dying breed of writer and you’ll never afford or achieve a life as a writer unless you’re Rachel Maddow.”
Nah-uh, forget it. I can suck with style. Tell that to my resistance.