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Monday, November 10, 2008

Not Even in The Top 15

Michigan Literary Fiction Awards results are in. Guess what?  The old version of my novel didn't win.


Anonymous said...

These top 15 are all MFAers. Well, I don't know if ALL are, but I recognized the names of two who are, and I checked two other names (picking at random) and found that - yep! - they both teach in MFA programs. So I extrapolated (I'm a busy man).
And, still, there will be those who insist that it's not a member's only club (being members themselves). Ploughshares is dedicated to publishing their kind.
And their kind are woefully limited in life experience. They mainly know school, in one form or another. What can they write about? Not school. Maybe their dysfunctional family? An affair? Or something that is based on a lot of library/internet research, maybe about an author (like Henry James)? Or something bizarre?
The wide life experiences of writers of the past made them able to create literature out of the varied world around them. I'm presently reading a book written in 1916, by a Japanese writer (translated in the '60's). I can relate more to his world, his people, than I can to the work being published today, in the USA. Think of all those lives Dos Passos created in his teeming USA trilogy. Nobody could do that today.
I believe the decline of literary fiction occurred partly due to the dominance of MFA writers. A dominance that has been gradual, but is now ascendant, at least in the top tier journals. Now we get MFAers writing for other MFAers, and the man/woman on the street could care less.

Anonymous said...

it could be that mfa-ers are more likely to hear about these contests than non-mfa-ers. i noticed this contest requires that entrants have published a book before, and the entrants have to submit their first book and they don't get it back! yikes! that's the worst entry fee i ever heard of.

Writer, Rejected said...

Seriously. I never actually thought about it; just sent off my precious out-of-print copy (pile getting lower), but I don't think I'm going to do it next year. Seems like a waste, when you put it so succinctly.

Anonymous said...

First anonymous poster: the phrase is "couldn't care less," not "could care less."

Anonymous said...

To the first anonymous: Sure, the list of finalists is dominated by MFA faculty who submitted stories that appealed to the editors who themselves are MFAs. But the U of Mich Press contest is peanuts, and I doubt that many non-MFAs submitted in the first place. My impression is that non-MFA types tend to submit to NY agents rather than small presses because they need a higher payoff to justify the time spent writing when they have other work to attend to. But those with MFAs and cushy teaching posts are already paid to write, so it doesn't matter if they submit to low-stakes presses (such as this one) where there is less competion. I don't know what happens to MFAs who don't land teaching jobs, I guess they're screwed and in a lot of debt.

Anonymous said...

To the nitpicker. My main points still stand.
The phrases are interchangeable and are understood either way. I like the version I used.
I also like "I should be so lucky." Which can be used by non-MFA writers who submit to Ploughshares (and other "elite" journals).

Steve said...

Anybody who thinks a teaching post is cushy has another think coming.

Besides that: most profs I've known have been serious, dedicated, hard-working, generous with their time and friendly.

Now, are they occasionally snarky, lazy, belligerent? Certainly. But not more so than anybody else.

In the words of Amy Poehler: "Jealous!"

Anonymous said...

Who said anything about the personalities of MFA profs, Steve?
Anonymous pointed out that MFA faculty are more likely to settle for a small press publications and are therefore over-represented in the submitter pool at small presses.

And MFA teaching jobs ARE cushy, like a down feather mattress covered in whipped cream! Soft and fluffy like your own writing.

Anonymous said...

Putting words in all-caps ALWAYS makes you right.

Well argued.

Then the cliched image to bring the point home. Wow. I consider myself served.

E. said...

Jesus God, the MFA crap again. I am so fucking sick of this argument -- frighteningly similar to the anti-intellectualism of the outgoing neocon fearmongers -- that to actually study a subject is to somehow limit one's ability in that subject, to stifle one's worldview, and to fail to be a real, authentic, genuine "artist" (or American, if you like).

For the umpteenth time, people: MFA programs do not program writers to write in a certain way--to value or emulate particular elements or style or forms--any more than individuals not in MFA programs train themselves by reading what they admire and growing as a result of the exposure. I challenge anyone to try to sculpt another writer's voice by way of instruction, discussion, and critique; it is impossible. Sure, it's possible to imitate, but imitation is not sustainable.

Furthermore, who says the finalists in this contest are recent MFA grads? Could it be they graduated ten, twenty years ago? It could. Who says they earned their degrees when they were in their tender twenties? It may be that, like me and many of my fellow MFA classmates, they are in their thirties, forties, fifties, sixties. But even if they're not... Extrapolator Anon, you know *nothing* about these people, least of all the extent of their personal life experiences. Paint with a broad brush much?

As for being in debt: I'm not, because I have a full ride. Elitist luck? No; I worked to be admitted, and I'm working my ass off in the program as a writer and a TA. Most MFA programs offer at least partial funding; most students manage to sidestep this mythic mountain of debt I keep reading about. The fact that I'm lucky to be doing this doesn't make me a hack writer. I've carved out time at great personal sacrifice to devote myself to writing. After my three years are up, it's back to writing between the margins of a fulltime job, just like I did before.

There are a lot of reasons to whine about the state of publishing. People who dedicate themselves to studying the art are not one of those reasons.

If you're going to make an argument, make it original and cogent, will you please?

Anonymous said...

hey woo-hoo! the comment wars are on. Steve that you behind the marshmallow cannon? where's w,r to take sides when you need her?

Anonymous said...

Fartbox honey, the race to the bottom began long before you or anyone felt a poop coming. I have some peices of toast if you'd care to make a sandwich out of it.

Writer, Rejected said...

And someone wonders why I don't join in?


rmellis said...

Ah, it's like the good old days around here!

Anonymous said...

The sounds and smells of the barnyard, rmellis. Writers at it again!
I think a lot of non-MFAers submit to these contests (and pony up with the fees). An example is W/R. They might as well throw their money down a rat's hole.
As for E, she wants an "original and cogent" argument. So someone can't point out another example that supports a fact?
Course, she's in an MFA program. Isn't it such a surprise that she's defending them!
She displays a cookie cutter mentality, and this makes her incapable of seeing beyond prescribed limits. All she can give is a knee jerk reaction. She's exactly the right person to be teaching young writers.
She also has a potty mouth.

Writer, Rejected said...

I don't think this is any more of a waste of money than any other award/contest/prize, to which I've submitted my work. And I've actually won some of them. I've been a finalist in ones in which you'd expect only MFA-ers to make a good showing. It's all a crap shoot, but in my mind you gotta be in it to win it.

That said, I've made a recent decision to stop submitting to these things, but probably only because I may have an editor at a mainstream publishing house interested in my novel. If I didn't, I'd probably be as desperate as always...and, as you can tell from this blog, that's pretty desperate.

E. said...

I do have a potty mouth, and I apologize for shooting it off in the house of the very gracious Writer Rejected.

To Anon:

I am not "teaching young writers." I am not teaching at all; I don't plan to teach.

A cookie-cutter mentality? Incapable of seeing beyond prescribed limits? You get that because I'm in an MFA program, or because my view is different from yours? Gotta be one or the other, because those are the only two things you know about me.

I also have a fine arts degree in theatre, which, by your flawed logic, defines me as a pedestrian practitioner in that field, as well.

Jeez, I'm glad I didn't study music beyond the college level, otherwise I'd have somehow limited myself to mediocrity in yet a third artistic endeavor.

Can't bear to imagine if I'd had painterly aspirations and pursued them through education... heartbreak!

Facts I welcome; it's the specious conclusions that prompt me to dismiss the arguments as wrongheaded.

Also, you're mean.

Anonymous said...

Me, mean? I guess my comment did have a mean tone. But you went after me pretty hard, E. And your opening line - well, it put me in a negative mood.
We'll simply never appreciate whatever truth there is in each other's POV, so let's leave it at that.
Did you see the movie "The Heiress"? A really intelligent script. At the end someone asks the Olivia de Havilland character, "How can you be so cruel?" She answers, "I've been taught by masters."