The Latest: A Star-Studded Faculty
by Dave Rosenberg

Once again, our faculty for 2016 will feature world-class authors and literary agents. To date we have commitments from Priya Parmar, Nicolas Delbanco (who will also teach a two-day master class on fiction during the workshops), Jill Landis (our local fiction-writing star), Elena Delbanco (The Silver Swan) and literary agent Andy Ross. Here are their bios:

Priya Parmar 
Click here for Priya's bio

Nicholas Delbanco
Nicholas Delbanco is the Robert Frost Distinguished University Professor of English Language and Literature at the University of Michigan and Chair of the Hopwood Committee. He has published twenty-five books of fiction and non-fiction. His most recent novels are The Count of Concord and Spring and Fall; his most recent works of non-fiction are The Countess of Stanlein Restored and The Lost Suitcase: Reflections on the Literary Life. As editor he has compiled the work of, among others, John Gardner and Bernard Malamud. The long-term Director of the MFA Program as well as the Hopwood Awards Program at the University of Michigan, he has served as Chair of the Fiction Panel for the National Book Awards, received a Guggenheim Fellowship and, twice, a National Endowment for the Arts Writing Fellowship. Professor Delbanco has just completed a teaching text for McGraw-Hill entitled Literature: Craft and Voice, a three-volume Introduction to Literature of which he is the co-editor with Alan Cheuse; in 2004 he published The Sincerest Form: Writiing Fiction by Imitation. His new non-fiction book, Lastingness: The Art of Old Age was published by Grand Central Publishing in 2011.

Jill Landis 
Click here for Jill's bio.

Elena Delbanco
Elena Delbanco has recently published her debut novel The Silver Swan with Other Press at age 70. Before moving to Ann Arbor, she worked at Bennington College in Vermont, where she and her husband, the writer Nicholas Delbanco, together with the late John Gardner, founded the Bennington Writing Workshops. Delbanco has long been engaged in the world of classical music. Her father was the renowned cellist Bernard Greenhouse (of the Beaux Arts Trio), who owned the Countess of Stainlein ex-Paganini Stradivarius violoncello of 1707. The imagined fate of that instrument, upon her father’s death, inspired The Silver Swan. She retired after teaching for twenty-seven years at the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.

Andy Ross
Click here for Andy's bio.


Insights from Agents
by Dave Rosenberg

In researching faculty members for our 2016 conference, we came upon an interview with a variety of prominent literary agents on YouTube. (You'll find it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qL5bcAXTZys.) It is jam-packed with interesting tidbits of information. Here are a few that jumped out at me:

Adaptations of Books for Film
Most of the agents described the process of adapting novels into movies as very frustrating.The question seemed to be, why does a film company option a book when they often don't bother to use most of it in the film script? Interestingly, one of the agents characterized YA authors as having more clout in keeping the film faithful to their books because their fans are much more "rabid" and much more likely to use social media to condemn a movie that isn't faithful to the original.

Demand for Books in Cable TV Industry
The cable TV industry has a much higher demand for books (as the basis of series and specials) than the film industry. However, the TV industry doesn't have a lot of money to spend on books, so the demand doesn't translate into big advances. However, being picked up by TV is probably the best marketing your book can get.

Publishers Chase Trends that Work
Publishers often shy away from fresh, new ideas (e.g. ideas that haven't been proven by the market). But once an idea has been shown to work, publishing companies look for other works that are derivative. That's why we see trends like zombies and vampire books, dystopian novels, and so on.

Memoir
The agents seemed to agree that the memoirs they keep an eye out for are the ones that are written by the subject and which have a literary approach. Much of the discussion involved celebrity memoirs, and quite obviously, fame or notoriety can be of great help in selling a memoir. So developing your author's platform and being able to show that you have an audience is quite important for memoir writers.

The Blogosphere is Critical to the Promotion of Books
Positive reviews  of books in well-followed blogs has more impact on sales than all other media. This is even more the case in YA. In general, having a relationship with your fans through blogs, Twitter, Facebook and social media is critical to successful sales. Knowing who your audience is and interacting with them "informs the rest of the process."

There's much more in the interview and I think you'll find watching it interesting and worth while. Of course, none of this is to diminish the fact that we write because we're committed to telling/discovering our stories. But it can be nice to sell those stories....'Nuff said.
 
 
 by Dave Rosenberg

For some reason, I recently found myself thinking about a poetry course that I took back in the early 2000s. I remember the professor extolling William Carlos Williams' dictum "no ideas but in things." At the time this struck me as an impossibility. How can you express ideas without, well, ideas I wondered? The professor's response was to share two poems, one by Williams and one by Ezra Pound.

The Red Wheelbarrow
William Carlos Williams

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens

In a Station of the Metro
Ezra Pound

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.  

I won't be so bold as to hazard an interpretation, but the one thing I will share is that both poems make me cock my head (perhaps a bit like the white chickens) and think differently about how I experience what I'm reading. I can absolutely experience the red wheel barrow and the passing crowd in the metro station, even though the information provided is so minimal.  What an amazing accomplishment by these poets. And for me, it's not just the words themselves. Even the line breaks are critical to the impact of the images in both poems. They create an emphasis and a rhythm that drives the experience home.

Isn't that what all good writing should do -- catapult the reader into a visceral experience? And if that's true, it seems to me that looking at the tools that poets use learning how to employ them is a great idea for fiction, memoir and nonfiction writers. I researched some examples of "lyrical" fiction writing to illustrate this. Here are a couple of remarkable passages:

First, from Sherman Alexie's "What You Pawn I Will Redeem."

"I wrapped myself in my grandmother’s regalia and breathed her in. I stepped off the sidewalk and into the intersection. Pedestrians stopped. Cars stopped. The city stopped.  They all watched me dance with my grandmother. I was my grandmother, dancing." (Blasphemy, p. 464)

Now, from Jhumpa Lahiri's "A Real Durwan."

"She was sixty-four years old, with hair in a knot no larger than a walnut, and she looked almost as narrow from the front as she did from the side.

"In fact, the only thing that appeared three-dimensional about Boori Ma was her voice: brittle with sorrows, as tart as curds, and shrill enough to grate meat from a coconut."  (p. 70)

The beauty of these prose examples has to do with rhythm, word choice, imagery, and metaphor. Most prose writers focus on things like the story arc, sub plots, character development and the like. At some point in the writing, however, thinking about word choices, the rhythm of sentences, the use of metaphors, and the use of images is also essential. I guess that's an argument that prose writers also need to embrace -- or to develop -- their inner poet.