Oprah/Mayborn Controversy Video

The infamous Nan Talese comments about Oprah are now available for your viewing pleasure here. 

She didn’t even talk for that long, but I guess people don’t usually diss Oprah, hence the whole world is now weighing in, once again, on the brouhaha.

Here’s my own personal opinion (I know you were waiting for it).    I think that Nan Talese was grandstanding a bit, and that her comments sounded defensive.  If Oprah’s people did indeed treat Nan Talese as she said they did, and I have no reason to believe they didn’t, then their own actions were reprehensible.

However, let us not forget that all of this brouhaha is based on bad behavior to begin with, okay?  As a writer, I believe in truth, through and through.  How can you not?  That is the absolute bedrock core of what we do as writers–tell the truth, and that goes for writing both fiction and non-fiction.

It is important to remember that truth for each of us is different.  If 12 writers wrote an account of the same event, every account would be completely different because each of them would see a different truth.  But that is not the same as presenting material as truth when it is not.

I have heard–and again, I don’t know for sure that this is true–that James Frey originally tried to sell his book as a novel, but the publishers (and by extension, Nan Talese) told him they wanted to put it out as a memoir because it would sell more books. 

That’s bad behavior, folks.  Sorry, but it is.  And thus, she has just a wee bit to be defensive about.   

What amazes me is how and why we’re still talking about it, a year and a half later.  There’s something about this story that strikes to the core of our beliefs about honesty and disingenuous and betrayal. 

By the way, you’ll notice once again that I’m not linking James Frey to Amazon in this post.  I have no interest in helping him sell more books.

Mayborn, Round I Don’t Know What (And Don’t Forget Oprah)

Nan Talese is the best thing that ever happened to the Mayborn Conference.  The publicity about her remarks dissing Oprah is all over the place, most notably at the Time magazine website.  Head on over there and check it out.  You can easily find it because last time I checked, it was the number one most emailed story.  Apparently the Oprah and James Frey story has legs.

Okay, now that you are caught up on all the good gossip I can tell you about the conference.  I’m going to do somewhat of an overview today, and then post on individual lectures and events over the next few days.

I think I already mentioned that the conference is held at the Grapevine Hilton in Grapevine, Texas, 180pxgrapevine_flag just a little bit away from DFW airport.  It began for a few select attendees on Friday.  These attendees were select because they submitted their manuscripts to be workshopped and got in.  There were five essay workshops and two book manuscript workshops, of ten participants each.

I had the pleasure and honor of leading one of the book manuscript workshops.  We had such a great group.  We rocked.  We honored and supported and held the energy through some pretty intimate readings and discussions.  I love my group.  It was such a powerful experience that I’m going to devote a whole post to it.

Friday night was the Texas Barbecue night, though they had some fancy name for it that I can’t remember.  Let me tell you, those Texas boys can make a fine barbecue.  Good stuff.  That night, the delightful Mary Roach, author of Stiff, and Spook, spoke.   I loved hearing her story about how her very first piece was published in the crappy shopper section of some random newspaper.  I always think fabulously successful writers like her are sprung into the world fully formed, so it was nice to hear about the humble beginnings of her writing career.

All day Saturday and half the day Sunday, were the panels and lectures.  George packs them in.  I mean, sometimes there is barely ten minutes for a bathroom break.  But I like that–lots of bang for the buck.

One of the highlights of Saturday for me was a VIP reception for Joyce Carol Oates and other bigwigs.  They poured wine and beer liberally, of course. 

Ahem.  Not a good idea to send me to an event where they pour wine liberally.  I chatted with the managing editor of the Fort Worth paper, is it the Star Telegram?  We talked about why it is that most newspapers cannot regularly handle writing narrative journalism.  Not only is it an issue of having writers who can write literary non-fiction, it also takes a certain kind of editor.

Since I live in Portland, I’m lucky, as the Oregonian is one of the few newspapers with a huge commitment to the form. 

It’s really interesting to me to attend a conference full of journalists.  I’m usually off in cyberspace, the blogosphere, or writing fiction.  I love hanging out with newspaper types, as I find it very grounding.  It is so established and historic and traditional.  That said, the most wonderful person I met at the reception was a novelist.  Her name is Jane Roberts Wood, and I think once again its one of those "I came late to the party" type things.  Oh lord, we had fun talking and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t because we were both happily drinking red wine.  I’m ordering her books from Amazon today, and if they are even half as wonderful as she is, I’m going to be desperately in love with them.  Jane rocks, that’s all there is to it.   Here’s a photo of her:

Jane72I wandered up to the dinner, sloshing wine merrily all the way and sat with Stephen Eric Levine, who is, get this, a storm chaser.  He was the only male in my workshop and he’s got a good manuscript going about birthing your dream.  He has a tour company which takes people off in search of tornados and the like.  I am terrified of tornados beyond all reason but I still think its really cool.

And, well, the rest of the night there was a wee bit more drinking.  Certain people plied poor innocent me with more wine.  Not that I was the only one drinking too much, oh no.  The group from the Mayborn closed down the bar and then we all moved out to the lobby to hang out more.   Those journalists, damn they know how to drink. (Okay, there may have been an attorney involved also, but I’m witholding his name to protect the un-innocent.)

And may I just remind everyone how awful it is to have a hangover?  Especially when you have to get up early the next morning to listen to the lecture of one of the people you were drinking with?  (Though he was smart enough to quit drinking himself and go to bed at a decent hour.) And then when you later have to attempt to navigate two airports through a weather crisis that delayed half the flights in the southwest?  And when you end up having to stay at a hotel in Albuquerque and getting up at 4 AM the next morning?   Ouch is all I can say.  Ouch, ouch, ouch.

But, damn, it was all worth it.  Lest you think it was only worth it for the good time, that is an evil rumor that is simply not true.  I learned so much and most of all I was completely inspired, both by the lecturers and by the wonderful people in my workshop.  And to prove it, I’ll be writing more about the meat of it in the days to come.

Mayborn Writers Conference & Oprah controversy

I’m in LA after the Mayborn Writer’s Conference and will do a full report on my travels tomorrow.  I’m also planning a mini-series about some of the presentations.  So check back in!

Meanwhile, for a look at some of the controversy that got stirred up (or, as my friend Leigh calls it, the "Oprah smack down,") go to the CNN website.

Round-Up: Mayborn and Awesome New Service

I’m off to the Mayborn Literary Non-Fiction Conference tomorrow.  I wasn’t going to link it, because its sold out, but you never know someone might drop out.  The good news is that I’ve finally learned how to spell the name.  There’s no "e" on the end of it, duh.

I’m taking my trusty laptop and I’ll have wireless access at the hotel, so I will report on sessions and what Joyce Carol Oates has to say at the keynote session.  At least that’s the plan.  I won’t be held responsible if those damn literary non-fiction writers shanghai me and force me into the bar and pour margaritas down my throat, when all I really want to do is sit demurely in my hotel room and write. 


In other news, I’ve found a really cool new site/service/whatever.  It is a blog back-up service.  As many of you are aware, Typepad had a wee problem yesterday when they had a power outage at their data center.  We didn’t lose any posts or info, but it has always worried me that something more drastic might happen, erasing our blogs and leaving me SOL, because I never save copies of what I write.

Enter the wonderful folks at BlogBackupOnline.  They back up your entire blog for you and then do daily back-ups to catch new content.  Mine is being backed up even as I write this.  And, best of all, the service is free while it is still in beta.  And if yahoo mail is any indication, things tend to be in beta for very long periods of time.  So check it out.

See you in Dallas!  Or at least I’ll be writing to your from Dallas!

Typepad Outage

The Typepad data facility had a power outage this afternoon and nobody could access Typepad for a few hours.  All seems well now.  So, if you tried to get on earlier and were wondering what was going on…that’s the scoop.

I Won An Award!

Schmooze This is the coolest thing ever–I won an award!  As you can see it is the Schmooze Award and I got it from the amazing and wonderful Susanne at Sue’s Daily Photos, which you should check out immediately. Her photos of Key West will make you want to book a ticket there, today.

The award is for bloggers who get involved and make an effort to get to know others.  The fun thing, and the really, really hard part is that I now get to turn around and award the Schmooze Award to five other outstanding bloggers.  Truth be told, I’ve been obsessing about this for days. 

While there are many wonderful social networking communities out there, I’ve found my home at Blogcatalog, and I met all of the bloggers I’m awarding today there.  You should check it out.  I think it is the most user friendly and just plain ol’ fashioned friendly of all the sites.

Okay, here goes.  Drumroll.  Oh God this is hard.  No, I’m ready, really.  Here we go.  Ta da!  The Schmooze Awards go to:

Pierre Vachon, at Another Point of View.

Pierre is an opioniated middle-of-the-road progressive and we need more of those, plus I love opioniated people AND, he is a great adder of blogs to his blogroll of Suspicious People. 

Suzy Q at Creative Writer Within.

She’s a relatively new blogger, but she’s putting together a great collection of articles and information about creative writing.  Really great stuff.  She linked to my creativity series and that made her a heroine in my eyes.

Thomas Hamburger at Harry McFry Investigates.

My man!  You must go read the adventures of Harry.  I love the way Thomas, aka Paul, is serializing his novel on his blog.  He was one of the first bloggers to really reach out to me so I think that we should honor him forever and ever, don’t you?

Lisa McGlaun at LifePrints: Good News for A More Compassionate World.

Lisa is an accomplished freelancer and writer, but does she spend time focusing on herself?  Oh, no.  Instead, her goal is "giving back all the kindness and love that’s been shown to me."  Her blog is about people who are making a difference, and if that’s not worthy of an award, I don’t know what is.

Andrew at Odlum Online.

He’s a great networker at Blogcatalog, and I love that he gave my blog a great review.  Thanks, Andrew.  But most of all I love that I can go to his site and learn stuff about the internet and websites and that he writes in an entertaining and literate style.  A techy with literary flair!  I so love it!

I’m going to go have a drink now.  Now, I’m not really, its only noon.  Go visit all these wonderful blogs and check out Blogcatalog for more.  Honestly, there’s so much great stuff over there, its amazing.  And thanks again to Susanne for awarding me in the first place!

The Best Thing About Being A Writer

The August issue of O magazine has a special section on "Inside the Writer’s Mind," wherein they interview "six terrific novelists" about writing. 

The first question they ask is, "What’s the best thing about being a writer?"

Jeffrey Eugenides , author of Middlesex, said that, "The best thing is also the worst thing. It’s that, no matter how long you’ve been at it, you always start from scratch." National Book Award nominee Mary Gaitskill, author of Veronica, said that, "The best thing about writing is being able to clearly express things in a way you can’t express in conversation." Reading these responses made me ponder what I considered to be the best thing about being a writer. The answer came instantly–it’s that I’m never bored. Ever. Here are the ways in which I’m never bored:

  • I’m never bored professionally, because, as a writer, there’s always something else to learn.
  • I’m never bored mentally, because, as a writer, I can, and do, always make up stories.  Making up stories is how I order and make sense of my world.
  • I’m never bored in that world, because as long as I have pen and paper (and I go nowhere without it), I can always write.   

Anybody else want to tell what they consider the best thing about being a writer?

Writing: Critiquing Mayborne Manuscripts

I’m in the middle of critiquing book manuscripts for the Mayborn Conference on Literary Non-fiction (it has some long official name that I can never remember) which is in Dallas weekend after this one.

The writer-in-residence and also doer of anything remotely related to the conference, George Getschow, asked me to come up with guidelines for critiquing.  He already had one set of evaluation guidelines for essays in place, so I worked off that and adapted it for book manuscripts. 

Thought it might be interested for everyone to have a look at.  Bear in mind that this is designed specifically for book-length literary non-fiction.  Here you go:

1.  Does the first chapter–the opening of the book–draw you in by teasing your interest, creating a mystery, a puzzle or a question that in some way grabs you and holds your attention?  Does the opening immediately present a conflict?  Or do you get the impression that the author is just warming up?

2.  Does the story deliver sufficient proof to make it credible?  Does the story demonstrate that the writer has done his/her research?  Does it contain telling details, facts, statistics, quotes and other material from a variety of primary and secondary sources to validate the main themes and sub-themes of the story?  Does the manuscript provide historical context?

3.  Does the story have a beginning, middle and end?  Does the manuscript have a clear overall structure?  Are you able to identify a narrative arc for the story?  Does it start in one place and end in another, with logical steps in between?

4.  Is the story presented in scene (showing) or does the writer rely solely on exposition (telling)? Does each scene accomplish a purpose? Does each scene contribute to the whole? Do the scenes, taken together, have a cause and effect flow that adds up to a plot?

5.  Are the people in the story well presented?  Do they come across as multi-dimensional characters or talking heads?  Do they come across as human beings that think, feel, laugh, and cry? Do the characters have an arc?  Do they change and grow over the course of the story?  Is the protagonist clearly identified?

6.  Does the writer use specific, concrete detail and facts that are fresh and relevant, or resort to vague/abstract generalities?

7.  Does the writer employ metaphor, scenes, dialog, and other storytelling devices to make the story more vivid and help it to come alive on the page?

8.  Does the story possess a lyrical quality?  That is, does the story give the impression that the writer has considered the tone of the story, the sound of the language, the rhythm, the rhyme, and the pacing of the prose?

9.  Is there enough material to sustain the story over 300 pages?  Does the story being told warrant a book, or is it better told in an essay?

That’s it!  Pretty extensive, huh? 

Now I better go actually read some of the manuscripts.  In truth, I’ve looked through all 10 submissions to the workshop I’ll be leading and I’m very excited.  The work at the Mayborn is generally at a very high level, and this year looks no different.

Power Writing and Creativity Finale: The Last Three Keys

622pxdry_martini And so now it is Friday, and I’ve been on the go all day and I’m about to go to Happy Hour.  But could I leave to drink a Martini without finishing up the series on creativity?  No, I could not.  So here are the last three keys.

(You’ll find links to all the previous posts at the end of this one.)

10.  Keep going.  I know.  Duh.  But it is depressingly easy to quit when a block arises or a rejection comes in the mail or someone says something mean about your work.  But don’t let the bastards get you down–writing all the time is the best revenge.  Not writing well, or publishing well.  Just writing.  So keep at it.  You’ll break through that block, the next letter will be an acceptance to a prestigious publication and the mean person will get hit by a car–not injured, because we can’t wish ill on people.  Just shaken up enough so that they are no longer mean.

11.  Take a break.  Just the wee-est bit contradictory today, aren’t I?  Well creativity is a contradictory activity, too.  While you must commit to keeping going in the face of all odds, you must also learn to take breaks once in awhile.  Let the work compost.  Don’t force it.  Sometimes walking away for a few minutes or even a whole day (see Anne Wayman’s post on taking time off here) can be the pause that refreshes.  Just don’t let a break turn into procrastination.

12.  Let it go.  Ah, how good it feels to finish a piece of work, know that you’ve done all that you can do, and then release it out to the world with no attachments or expectations.  At least that is the ideal. Doesn’t always happen that way, but we can continue to try.  It is all too easy to hang on to a creative project and not let it take its rightful journey into the world–whether it is a novel seeking a publisher, an essay needing a home in a magazine, or a blog post.  It is all too easy to find yourself slowing down as you near the end of the project, or for blocks to suddenly appear when all was smooth sailing before.  Sometimes this can happen because of a reluctance to let the pages go.  But what good are they going to do the world locked away on your computer, or in a drawer where nobody can find them?  Send you babies out and let them find their homes.  The energy of that will come back to you in surprising ways.

Letting go is a suitable stopping point for this series on creativity.  Its a favorite topic of mine, however, and so I’ll no doubt be posting on it again from time to time.  Here are the links to the first five parts:

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Part Five

You know where I’m off to now.