Friday, November 16, 2007

Interview with Alexis Santi

Many weeks ago I asked Alexis to see if he'd like to post an interview, and he agreed; we emailed for a while, and after some delay on my part, we finally had something to post. What follows is our discussion about submitting to markets, the founding of his journal Our Stories, the business side of publishing, and what it's like to live in a castle. Alexis graduated from Mason in the spring of '07 (with a concentration in fiction), though I'm sure he'd be quick to point out that he originally enrolled as a poet; it wasn't until after a talk with Bausch, who encouraged him to write fiction, that he switched genres.

You can read another bio of him here at his journal.

Also, look for interviews with Jessica Anthony and Matt Ellsworth in the near future.

And now, on to the interview:

You founded Our Stories in 2006 and released its debut issue that summer, all while working hard to complete your MFA. Since that first issue, I've noticed a few things have changed with the journal: it looks as if your staff has expanded, you've dropped the $20 reading fee for regular submissions, and you've introduced an Emerging Writer Contest with an honorarium of $300 for the winner. Could you describe that transformation for us? What's your experience been like so far working with that unique model (the fact that every submission receives a critical response from your editors)?

Okay, so we started off and really misfired. I really wanted to found a journal that would give feedback. I knew that. I was working for Phoebe and just kind of whipping through stories, hammering out rejections, and I thought, "this is really really stooopid!" and then my next thought was "this is really stooopid, and this is exactly what they do to me too." So that's how it started. So, within a matter of days, I started hammering away at the idea. And my intellectual powerhouse mind did a throw of darts on website names and landed on That was the original name of the journal, and the design was completely different. Pathetic name, no? The design was great but the name, yeah, can't believe I came up with that name. The basic business concept was I would charge people to read their stories, give feedback, and then if I liked their digs, we'd publish them in the journal that was part of entitled Our Stories, because who really wants go around and say, "Yes, GAWD YES, SLUSHSTORIES took my piece on dyslexic mania in the 70's!!" Got me? Sounds a bit confusing doesn't it? Yeah, it sucked. Anytime you need a frickin' road map to get your idea across, you're a lost soul. Lost dog. Lost sailor. Whatever. So we had that site up for about 3 months and I just sat waiting around for someone to be like, "Oooooh this rulez! I'm going to give someone 20 bucks so they can tell me I suck!!?!?!" and low and behold we got zilched. Nada. Not one submission. I had assembled a skeleton crew of reviewers. M. M. De Voe came on early; she did her MFA at Columbia, and I was like, "YES! we got a New Yorker!" She just rocks, by the way; everything that she gets a hold of is really torn to shreds, and she builds it back up. Then I got this guy, JK Mason who is now the Assistant Editor, and he also stepped in during those early days; he'd won a bunch of prizes and is damn sharp. My good friend Josh Campbell who reviews all of my work and is a kick ass reader, and the team was rounded out with Kendra Tuthil, who I had met at Mason. I was really embarrassed because I couldn't pay them anything for doing nothing. So I decided that we had to go free. And in a sense I had to not pay them for their work and asked for that commitment to do it for free. Surprisingly they all stayed on staff. I was really shocked. That was huge. They're the best, most loyal, and caring staff I've ever worked with. They really stuck with it, and they believed in the concept and seeing it through.

So we revamped everything. First to go was the idea, which didn't make any sense anyway, as no one got the joke that I was trying to get across...something like a "your stories aren't slush stories with us," which really sounds too complicated. Then I pumped out a lot of hours playing with design and a new domain name later, we went back up as OurStories (hyperlink). Simple is good. Later we picked up Justin, Ehren and Heidi, who are all great readers as well. So what we do during the open submission periods is give people some general feedback, about a paragraph or so, at the least. During the contests we do these bang-up, professional, kick-ass reviews of stories. HQ shit. 100% pure grade. We work hard for their money and spend a lot of energy giving something back. To me, that's the central part of the journal and the part that will never go away. We started really taking off, well, almost immediately. As soon as people saw that there was a crew of foolios that would actually say something about their work without flat rejecting them, it just caught on like wild fire. I know, I know, I'm getting to the experience itself of reading and reviewing. It's really really rewarding. I love reading, always have, and I get really into dissecting the flaws in stories, making them stronger and attempting to connect to the writers around the world. That's how I see it, and that’s how I see my own writing: an attempt to connect to an audience and have them feel something, be moved by something.

Yeah, I wondered about the "company" mentioned in the preface of the first issue; I couldn't access that site anywhere, and now that makes sense that you've dropped that and stuck with this new version.

So when you say this has "caught on," about how many submissions do you get per reading period?

Been up for a year, and we're growing exponentially. I think that first quarter we got over 100 submissions, and every month we get another 100 submissions more than that coming into our database, so last open period was about 400. The contest, I'm not going to get into that, but we turned a profit, all my readers got paid for their work, which was a great feeling, I reinvested in the website – getting a fancy new database and submission manager, ala One Story – and we were proud to give Joni the $300 bones. Have you read her story? It's really kick ass.

I read Joni Koehler's story and Colin Thornhill's story yesterday and today and enjoyed them both. I haven't gotten to the others yet in the issue, sorry. As for the growing number of submissions, that seems to show how much interest you've received since the new system went into place. What kinds of things have you been doing to promote the journal recently?

To promote the journal we've sent flyers around the country to English departments, paid for some links on, and we send regular emails to a mailing list. Not much. I think it's mostly just word of mouth. We know that the reviews we do have the effect of reaching dozens of others. So it's a bit of "Did you hear about these guys who reject but tell you why?" We get lots of fan mail after we send out rejections, tons of people that want to just let us know their reaction. I'm always worried when I check my email box that someone is going to be like "Hey that review sucked!!” But I haven't gotten one yet, just these emails saying, "Thank you, you have no idea how much that helps me." It really moves me every time to read them. Makes it all worth it. To our writers, and I call them all "our writers" because in a sense they are part of a community, it's akin to therapy. I know we're building because of that. I mean I would go for that, damn, with my own writing I'd like to get some feedback. Maybe I should send my stuff into the journal and give it to one of my staff members, can I do that? I think I'd need to use a fake name, whatcha think? I will hence forth be known as "Garrison Caliente," the Prairie Home Community Cuban. Yeah, that works. Don't laugh, the New Yorker could use a cross between Garrison Keillor and Junot Diaz gracing their pages, might as well be me.

I won't laugh - rumors have it that an Iowa grad recently sold a vampire trilogy to Ballantine for $3.75 million under the pseudonym Jordan Ainsley - so I say go with it.

You mentioned your own writing somewhere in that last response. I was about to ask, really, because it sounds like this journal project is quite big.

How has your own writing been going? You have anything right now, published, forthcoming, or in-progress that you'd like to talk about?

You better laugh Ryan – really – it's the only thing that's going to keep you sane when you graduate and you look at what they pay adjuncts.

Oh hey, my writing I thought we'd get to that. I’m always juggling a few dozen projects at the same time. I started two novels when I was at Mason, in addition to completing a short story collection. I haven't done anything with the stories since turning them in last year. I haven't bothered starting any new stories either since getting the novel bug. That was Bausch's advice, he told me to just get one novel done and then worry about moving back into the short story form when a novel was in the hands of agents. The first novel I started is about a young black boy, by the name of Leland Carter, growing up in Baltimore and the birth of rap music circa late 80's. The kid dies at the hands of two Hopkins students who are white and are, well, for lack of a better term, "wiggers." It's entitled The Leland Carter Incident. I got pretty far on that novel and then set it aside because I fell in love with another project. I recently finished my first novel this summer, and – let me tell you – when you do get done, there is no better feeling in the whole world. It's entitled The Song of the Midnight Rider. It's about a guy who is blackmailed into working for some Hungarian gangsters, transporting drugs up and down the east coast. It was a fun novel to write: fast cars, drugs, rock and roll music and mean Hungarians. That's all done and I've been revising to get it to agents by the end of this month.

The business side of all this becomes frighteningly evident as you decide to try to make a living off of this. I started out joking about adjuncting, and well, yeah that's not the route I'm currently on, and I admire anyone who cuts their teeth at it. Yet, we didn't do MFAs to be adjuncts; we got the degree to fucking write, period. You, well we, really have to be schooled in how to turn our labor into food. We go/went to one of the best MFA programs in the country, seriously, George Mason is one of the top MFA programs in the country. Anyone who tells you different has got to get over not getting into NYU. I read work from writers all around the country, from every major MFA program out there, and there is zero difference between the writing at Mason and the writing at, say, Columbia or Washington, or even Iowa. The big differences are the connections and the ability for you to have agents able and willing to take a look at your stuff. Why not invite agents to Fall for the Book? Have an MFA thesis showcase in the spring? I've been lucky that I have been given some good advice and counsel from friends who have said, "Get the novel done, get your pitch letter ready and we'll send it out to people I know." I mean, I don't remember talking to anyone at Mason about what a pitch letter was, yet alone how to write one...God forbid actually talking about what agent to send it to. Sorry. Tangent. Next?

No, that is a good tangent. I think recently we've had an increased interest among the students to work towards getting publishing help, and Mary Kay Zuravleff, a visiting writer last year, asked her agent to come speak to a class. I've also heard that faculty have specifically worked with students one-on-one to help them best consider how to submit a certain story. So there's definitely an improved focus on that, even though I'd consider Mason to be more "craft-oriented."

So what "route" are you on right now? Obviously not the adjunct one - last I'd heard you were in New York City? What are you doing work-wise?

"Craft-oriented"? You know I want to stick here for a second. That doesn't make any sense. It's a crock of shit. A load. Whatever. You think painters never learn what a gallery is? Or how to approach curators? You think actors don't need to learn how to get into productions? How to nail casting calls? I've heard that "craft-oriented" line before and I think you seriously set back students a good 3-5 years with that sort of hands-off approach towards the business side of all this. I remember we had a class and someone asked bluntly to a professor, "So how do I get an agent?" we were all 3rd years, we were all working on novels and we were pretty bad ass, this professor just said, "oh we're not at that stage yet, let's talk about the craft." Really, that's insulting. I mean, you've worked for Phoebe, you've seen what comes in there, I've seen the work that comes in, and publishers get tons of work that isn't even close in quality as the worst of the first year Mason's students. If a Masters-level program doesn't put in hours to getting our material to the next step, to turning it into food, then the program itself is seriously flawed. So, that's great that Mary Kay brought in an agent for show and tell, but it's not enough. You need an entire course on this shit, negotiations, letters, agents, etc. "Oh Alexis, you're sooo serious!" Yeah, I hear you saying that, but think about what you're saying if you don't think that? It means you're content with just continuing to write and relying on trial and error until you either get lucky or burn out and lose hope.

Back to the question. What am I doing now? Well, since I graduated I had an international translation grant to live in a castle in Romania and work with Romanian literature; that was fun with the exception that the castle didn't have hot water and there were tons of random dogs roaming around in packs and the castle was 30 minutes from the closest cafe where I could get some decent coffee. Hey, it was a Romanian castle, after all. Then I was living in NYC and working for a marketing firm, writing boring technical stuff. The marketing gig paid really well, I worked from home and they quickly found that they didn't have enough to keep me busy. So, for the summer I made lots of money and sat at home every day, wrote my novel and just pretended that I had a really, really good fellowship. Alas, all good things end and the company had some cut backs and their MfAer was on the chopping block. Right now, I'm working on the journal a lot, working on The Song of the Midnight Rider and job searching in upstate NY. I live in Ithaca, where I grew up. For money? Well, their severance package was pretty good and I’ll leave it at that. I would like to teach, really I would, I mean what we do with the journal is essentially teaching — who doesn’t want one of those college gigs teaching creative writing? We're also going to start offering Our Stories regional workshops that our staff will conduct, and an annual writers’ workshop aimed for the summer of 2008. Big plans, keep growing, changing and shaking things up.

That would be nice to have a course that focuses on the business side of things. I wonder how many other programs do something like that already; I'll have to check around. I think that's about all I wanted to cover for now; have you got any last minute thing? It sounds like you're a busy man these days, so thank you again for giving us a chance to hear what's going on with you. Good luck with Our Stories, the novel, and the job search up in Ithaca.

Nothing further on my end, boss. Thanks for the opportunity and write well.


  1. Hey David and Ryan. Scalise. Great work here with the fiction blog. I normally don't leave comments like this (I generally hate them), but this whole debate around Mason being a "craft-oriented" program, that's not geared towards publishing, needs another side.

    From Alexis: "Craft-oriented"? ... That doesn't make any sense. It's a crock of shit...If a Masters level program doesn't put in hours to getting our material to the next step, to turning it into food, then the program itself is seriously flawed. So, that's great that Mary Kay brought in an agent for show and tell, but it's not enough. You need an entire course on this shit, negotiations, letters, agents, etc.. "Oh Alexis, you're sooo serious!" yeah I hear you saying that, but think about what you're saying if you don't think that? It means you're content with just continuing to write and relying on trial and error until you either get lucky or burn out and lose hope.

    Man, there's so much about this attitude that's tremendously problematic. I'm going to start with the idea of a "publishing class." The development level of the writers in this (or I'm guessing any) MFA program are so vast, that offering a publishing class might be corrosive to their development. I was one of these people, convinced that marketable work equaled good work, and if I would have had the opportunity to take a class that told me how to assemble a book proposal, I would have. And it would have been the worst thing for my work, because it would have been putting the cart before the horse. Nearly three years later, I'm a completely different (and better) writer than I was when I got to the program, strictly because I was able to finally put the idea of "turning writing into food" out of my mind, and simply concentrate on the "craft" aspects which--who would have figured--put me in the position to publish essays that I might not have written if I was thinking "book" the whole time.

    My feeling is that when you say that you want a program to "put in hours" to "take your material to the next step," what you are really saying is that you want people to do things for you that you should be doing for yourself. If you think you're novel is "kick ass," then its incumbent upon you to take steps to put it on people's shelves, not MFA faculty. I once heard Dan Menaker, the former EIC of Random House say that "good writers find a way to publish, period," and I'm in the camp that publishing is the natural end to good work. Yes, there are the incidentals: pitch letters, proposals, etc. And there are ample, ample opportunties out there to get that information with minimal fuss and research, none of which require a 15 week class on the stuff.

    For one, fifty bucks gets you a MediaBistro membership and access to any number of transcripts to panel discussions from influential agents and editors about how to prep your manuscript for publishers. Blogs like the now-defunct Miss Snark and The Publishing Spot offer consistent and helpful suggestions about how to do these things as well. Then there is the Summer Publishing Institute at NYU, AWP, and any of the number of writers' conferences each year that provide access to publishing professionals who can give practical advice. (Links to all of these places at the end of this comment.) With all of those options, why should an MFA program tread that same territory?

    So instead, Mason's MFA faculty focuses on making you the writer you intended to be, not the author you intended to be. But the key thing here, is: it's on you to make those things work for yourself, not Bev Lowry or Susan Shreive or Alan Cheuse or Eric Pankey. This idea that they have any responsibility to us other than to help us with our craft is ridiculous. And lazy.

    If you start to "burn out and lose hope" after years of "relying on trial and error," chances are the problems there aren't with the quality of your query letter or proposal, but the actual content of the thing you're shopping around. And that's a craft issue.

    Even so, I know plenty of people right now--established writers--with tremendously well-written manuscripts that can't find a home, regardless of their fine proposals and talented agents and loads of contacts. Its quite possible that Mason's faculty doesn't focus on the "answers" to publishing because there aren't any other than: be good. The rest should take care of itself. If there was a formula, everyone would do it.

    Anyways, that's my feeling about it. Here are links:


    Miss Snark:

    The Publishing Spot:

    The Practicing Writer:

    NYU Summer Publishing Institute:

  2. Ryan and Alexis - this interview is top-notch, touching on many of the questions and issues I've had with the writing life and the program. When considering this blog, the fiction dinners, the mentoring, these interviews, I find myself circling one question - How can I make the writing life work? I'm really happy to see you two considering the same questions, and to read Mike's thoughtful response - it makes me realize that perhaps it's not all about my anxiety disorder.

    When Mary Kay brought her agent in to our class, I remember thinking, this is all really great, for five years from now when I'm a better writer. I know that there are more-than-a-fair number of quality writers in this program who can start putting stuff together for agents. I know I want to get published. But I know I'm not there, yet. And I think the anxiety about wanting to be there makes me ask questions about editors, publishing, agents, etc., even though, as I hear the answer, I'm back in my mind working on the novel itself.

    But I also believe we have a tremendous untapped resevoir of resources in this GMU community. And I think there are a number of things that are so basic to the publishing world that we all should know them by the time we get out - what a basic cover letter looks like, how to market oneself and discover publishing channels, how one can work with an agent or editor, etc. Mike, I had no idea about any of the resources you mentioned. Between the faculty, and current and former students like Mike and Ryan, we have a collection of what-to-do and what-not-to-do when trying to publish. And I want to make sure that when I do finally feel ready to start publishing, I don't retread the same false steps that it seems every young writer makes. Whether it's through a class, or a one-day workshop, or a website/manual, these basic resources need to be identified, collected, and distributed so we can access these resources whenever we do finally need them (and therefore have the space in the meantime to concentrate more on becoming better writers).

    Finally, I do believe part of what keeps attracting me to discussing the publishing/business aspects of the writing life is that these discussions help bring writers, who spend so much time by themselves, together.

    Great response, Mike.

  3. It's a shame Miss Snark isn't blogging.

    I'll post those links, Mike.

    Also The Magic Bullet Q&A at Identity Theory is a good resource.

  4. Miss Snark quit a few months ago, but she's keeping the blog up as a resource. The archives have nearly everything you'd want to know.

    Anyways. That's cool that you guys are posting links like that to the blog. As I find them I will send them along.

    This is an excellent resource for folks, and I'm entirely unsurprised that its headed up by two of the program's best writers. Rather than whine and bitch about what people should have done for you, you guys are actually providing an alternative. Refreshing in this context.

    Here are some other links:

    Publisher's Lunch:

    MediaBistro's GalleyCat:

    Plus, many agents have posted helpful information about how they like to receive manuscripts. Check the LMP (or Literary Marketplace)to get their info:

  5. "My feeling is that when you say that you want a program to "put in hours" to "take your material to the next step," what you are really saying is that you want people to do things for you that you should be doing for yourself. If you think you're novel is "kick ass," then its incumbent upon you to take steps to put it on people's shelves, not MFA faculty. I once heard Dan Menaker, the former EIC of Random House say that "good writers find a way to publish, period," and I'm in the camp that publishing is the natural end to good work. Yes, there are the incidentals: pitch letters, proposals, etc. And there are ample, ample opportunties out there to get that information with minimal fuss and research, none of which require a 15 week class on the stuff."

    I don't think there's much wrong with asking a faculty member to advise you on how to write a pitch letter after you gave the university 40K to write for two years. That's fine you did not have to "write for food for three years in the program" but you wrote for food before, and you will have to write for food afterwards.

    And this "what you are really saying is that you want people to do things for you that you should be doing for yourself." That's about the most cutting, snarky summary I've ever read. Please. Not even worth taking apart.

    15 week class. 7 week class. 3 hours out of thousands. Good job using the absurd argument "you're going to get a degree in the business of writing and throw out the MFA" to make a point.

  6. OK, this is a LONG one.

    I guess the list of resources I listed in my original comment to save people time, money, and worry about what their MFA profs at Mason *aren't* doing for them was a very "cutting" and "snarky" thing to do. I apologize, AES.

    Let me make it up to you.

    I spent a grand total of 10 minutes on the internet, and came up with examples of the "ample" resources available for the cost of a tank of gas.

    For one, here is a passage from the transcript of MediaBistro's talk with Ryan Fisher Harbage--who's been partly responsible for some pretty successful books--on writing pitch letters. It's not "literary" in nature, but I'm sure there are some helpful nuggets here:

    "The pitch letter is how most agents and most editors from agents hope to be queried for the first time. Ideally it's not more than a single page. All of us are going blind through all this reading all day, all night, all the time. So ideally you'll keep your pitch to one page. Who are you, what's the book, why are you qualified to write it. Very simple. You will capture the tone of the book that you're writing. If you're writing some funny guide on how to get into college, I hope you're not because there are a million of those, but, if you are, hopefully your letter's going to be funny. And it's going to be intelligent, it's going to make reference to the subject matter. Hopefully in the letter you'll do your best to capture the tone of the book and of the proposal so that it's a unified idea and concept throughout. I read about a thousand of these things a year. Often I don't get much further than the pitch letter. So in a way, it's really the most important piece of the proposal that you're going to have.

    I make this joke — New York's not Hollywood, but still, in Hollywood, people make these big, fantastic scripts and movies and films and then they like give you their pitch and it's like a Chicken McNugget. It's five words long and that's it, that's all you're going to hear about it and it's so hard to distill the information. The best way to pitch a book really is one sentence: What's the book. Recently I was in an auction to buy this guy's book. He was a crack dealer in San Diego in the 1980s and he went to prison and he learned how to cook and now he's this big celebrity chef. And it's a great story, it's very inspiring. And the great New York/Hollywood pitch for that book was, it's Makes Me Want to Holler meets Kitchen Confidential. Both of those books were big New York Times best sellers. Nathan McCall's book was about surviving street life, coming out on the other side. Growing and developing. Kitchen Confidential was this big expose about these big kitchens and how hectic the restaurant business is. So in the book business, which as many of you probably read, and see, it's a struggling business. We're not rocket scientists. We're just looking for good stories and unfortunately the best tool that we have to predict a book's performance is the precedent of another book. So unlike a lot of businesses that look ahead and estimate and make all kinds of complicated predictions, we just look backwards. Say, oh Harry Potter works so I'm going to take a chance on this fantastic children's story. Or I'm going to say, oh, Kitchen Confidential worked and Makes Me Want to Holler worked and look, here's both of those things in one place. So this is going to work. I'm going to offer for it. And this guy had a great proposal and he got a lot of money and he's off writing his book and his kid's going to go to private school and everybody's happy. Really just like that great pitch, comparisons are really the way to go. I was here for a class last night and this woman's pitch was Gilmore Girls meets The L Word. Great pitch. Everyone knows what these things are. Everyone is excited about these things. They work. Ideally you're going to use a book, sometimes a film is okay. But just compare a couple of things. But please don't say that you're going to write the next Barrel Fever just like David Sedaris did. Some comparisons are really a little wild and grandiose. And I think the best comparisons are books that did well, were fairly recent, but not phenomenal best sellers. Because everybody wants to write the next Da Vinci Code, etc. So those comparisons really mean nothing and often look kind of amateurish. So if you can really get scientific and do a little research on things that are on your topic, your subject, writers that share your style, writers that share your ambitions, those are the best things to compare to. And if you can find out if they were successful or not, often on the paperback edition of a book they say something like national bestseller and New York Times notable book. San Francisco Chronicle book of the year, those kind of things are great, little pieces of evidence to reveal to the public how well the book did and how it was received.

    And I know all of you are probably fantastic readers so it's probably pretty easy for you to put your fingers on what worked and what didn't in your subject. So that's a great pitch. Really again, the pitch letter often is the one thing that someone's actually going to read. So grammar, I mean, this sounds really basic, grammar, punctuation, spellings of people's names, just have to work. I can't tell you how many times I get a letter that says like, Dear some editor's name but another house. I think you would be the perfect editor for this book and it goes right into the recycling bin. There was an agent here last night who said the big turnoff for me in a pitch letter is when it starts out, Dear Sir. Like you really have to know who you're writing to. Another thing to do in a pitch letter is to really tailor it to the person you're sending it to. For example, if you want to write about I don't know, horticulture, this guy Michael Pollan did a great book called The Botany of Desire, it was a best seller, it did very well, and you really like that book and you think your book is comparable to that book, you can look at the acknowledgements and find out who the agent was for that and then go to the LMP and find their address or Google them. I mean there's a million websites with everybody's addresses now. And send them a letter and say, hey, I really loved The Botany of Desire, it was a great book and I thought maybe you would like mine. People really fall for a little bit of flattery. Me too, it's nice, take it. So don't be afraid to do that, to a reasonable degree. Basically agents, the agent that was here last night said she gets a hundred or several hundred things a week, so the first thing she says is, why me? Why should I represent this? So you should tell the agent why they should represent it."

    Now, tell me what's more helpful: RFH's "from-the-agent's POV" breakdown of what he and everyone else is looking for, or an MFA faculty member's suggestions about what might kinda sorta work once you dot the I's and cross the T's on your manuscript some day? So if you want to ask you MFA advisor about pitch letters, you should. But chances are they won't have much to tell you. Writers know how to pitch their projects. Not so much yours.

    So luckily, there's TONS of information out there like this, especially at MediaBistro. And it costs a lot less than the tuition money you'd have to spend to take 3 credits "out of thousands" just to learn how to write a one-page letter.

    Instead you can use those credits to take a class on constructing a scene, managing a narrative, deepening characters, or composing a personal essay. Because that's what MFA faculty knows how to talk about best. And in the end, your ability to do those things will likely be the biggest selling point for your work.

    But if that's not enough, here's a link to the archives of Miss Snark's tag for "query letters", which I found by Googling "Miss Snark Query Letters". It took 23 seconds and cost me zero dollars:

    There's really nothing an MFA faculty member can tell you that isn't somewhere in those two resources. Same goes with proposals, negotiations, etc. This information out there in volumes. You just have to look for it.

    My goal here isn't to be "snarky" or "cutting", but while I agree that Mason isn't a perfect program, I will defend its efforts to prepare its writers the best way they know how. Sometimes its Mary Kay asking her agent to take time out of her day to come do what you call "show and tell." Other times its that huge, massive book festival every fall where grad students have excellent opportunities to dialog with established writers. And sometimes its how Mason brings in visiting writers in each genre every semester to talk about students' work in relation to the world beyond grad school.

    All I'm saying is that its a "lead a horse to water" thing, and you just have to learn how to drink.

  7. I'm in the process of putting up another issue of Our Stories with links to this page which is why I actually bothered reading Mike's response to my interview that is, well, three months old. I haven't cruised to this site to see the comments until last night. While I believe that Mike does have some good points to consider I believe there's more to this than a simple "yes we can discuss it or no we can't."

    While the "do it yourself" vibe that he throws down, is yes--common sense--and much easier than I would ever have imagined, I believe it makes sense to "come across" pitch letters while you're doing an MFA.

    There is no reason why someone who spends three years working on a novel manuscript should never encounter what a pitch letter is, period.

    Now, with that said--I didn't write a novel for three years, I was honing my craft, and I was happy to do that. Happy as a pig rolling in mud, happy as a dog with a bone, happy as a cat with nip, happy as... you get the point.

    Yet, while I can understand that the work that we do at an MFA program remains in a magical place where we work our ass of to create masterpieces, to hone in on the hard work of crafting perfect sentences and I, personally, would never advocate for 1 minute to be taken from that to be put towards the stuff of business, excel spreadsheets and job interviews. We will never turn the MFA program into the MBA program and I truly hope no one took that away from my interview. I was merely trying to illustrate the fact that, yes, we are writers that are trying to make a living off of this. If you can encounter some tips or some way of engaging this included in your MFA degree then all the better. Again, yes, thanks for you posts Mike but I do believe that you are not arguing against the fact that the business of art is not something that is not something that we should find out about, correct? You're just saying, "do it on your own". Forgive me then for illustrating that not everyone is as savvy or as able as you are, which is cool--it's just the way that artists are. Yes, I have been to, I know all about it--we're on the same page here--yet, brother, how many others know, and well--how many of our profs know about it--that know to tell us about it? There are many artists that I came across in my life that had trouble big trouble opening up an attachment. For some of these writers the business act of writing, Media Bistro or not is just another daunting task. Is their work not as good? Not as worthy? Will they struggle to do these things, these little tasks. Note, I am not saying that we should discuss what a good deal is with an agent, or discuss royalities, etc.. though heck, why not?

    Also, please consider the following--this is going to vary across genres. I'm speaking as a fiction writer. Will poets needs the same amount of prep? Non-fiction writers? I don't know, you tell me.

    I, personally, loved earning my degree at Mason. Really. I resent any implication that I was lazy there, or that I am lazy here, in my current writing career. I am not a lazy writer I work damn hard at what I do. What is so hard to believe that you can have both? A craft oriented program that also allows professors to discuss the taboos of publishing? Of their own publishing experiences? I am simply saying that an introduction to the world that we are about to enter as "artists" is not a slap in the face to the "craft" but a way to help writers along. There's nothing threatening about it--it's just something that some could benefit from.

    As far as burn out or lose hope, yes that may be a craft issue but heck, that could be any number of other issues and not having a clue about how to pitch a novel--as your quote Mike suggests some people don't have a clue about--is not a bad idea.

    Being a writer is hard enough and the nature of education is preparation for the next steps you will encounter. It's a good discussion but drop the implications about who I am as a writer--I honestly don't deserve it as all I've ever done is support Mason and my fellow writers as even you Mike, must admit.