Tag Archives: Atlanta Writers Club

Publishing Success: Debut Author Susan Crawford Shares Her Story

Susan Crawford

Susan Crawford

In February, Atlanta writer Susan Crawford got the news new authors dream about: a two-book deal with a major publisher after a seven round-seven-bidder auction for the work.

According to Publisher’s Weekly, Carrie Feron at William Morrow took North American rights, for publishers-weeklymid–six figures, to Susan’s debut novel, The Pocket Wife. Agent Jenny Bent described the novel as a “stylish thriller in the tradition of The Silent Wife and Turn of Mind.”

In the novel, Crawford follows a woman, Dana Catrell, whose neighbor is violently murdered. The last person to see the victim, Catrell is experiencing mania brought on by bipolar disorder; unable to remember the fateful day, Catrell must race to clear her name, and stay sane, as she becomes the chief suspect. Crawford teaches creative writing in Atlanta and has won, four times, the Atlanta Writers Club Award.

Here, Susan shares with The Writing Well her journey to this exciting moment in her literary career.

Q. What kind of a storyteller are you? What types of stories that you are drawn to?

SusanCrawfordTo pull readers in to the characters and their surroundings and thoughts as well as the plot, I like to reveal information a bit at a time. I’m drawn to the types of stories I aspire to write – books that absorb me and make me forget I have water boiling on the stove or papers to be graded or my husband waiting for me to call him back.

Q. How long did it take for you to finish your novel? What inspired the story line?
I initially wrote The Pocket Wife in about six months. I did a lot of rewriting, though, so it ended up taking about a year and a half. The story line was inspired by a few things – critique group members suggesting I rev up action in my submissions, my interest in mental health, and by my desire to try writing suspense.

Q. You’ve successfully navigated the terrain of securing first an agent, Jenny Bent, who then helped you secure a two-book deal! What advice can you offer other writers looking to find the right agent for them? How did you know you had a good fit with the Bent Agency?

Jenny Bent of The Bent Agency.

Jenny Bent of The Bent Agency.

I met Jenny at an Atlanta Writers Club conference, so I am somewhat biased in favor of meeting agents face to face. That said, there is an incredible amount of agent information online. Look for those who want the first chapters or pages included with the query; that way they see your book-writing style initially, which might be different from your knack (or lack of knack) for writing query letters. I liked what Jenny had to say when she spoke on the Agents’ Panel at the conference. I also liked her enthusiasm for my book, even though she had me do a lot of rewriting before she took me on as a client. The changes she wanted me to make in my manuscript were changes that greatly improved the book; she was thorough, communicative, and really good at what she does. We clicked.
Q. What was the most surprising about the process of getting a book contract? What do you wish you had known before that you know now that would make that process easier?

I think what most surprised me was how quickly things happened once the book was sent out. Jenny and I were flying through the last-minute edits and within days after she submitted it to editors there was an offer. As for what would have been helpful to know before, there are a few things: Don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone and try something different; have fun with what you’re writing. If you really like a particular agent, do what you can to become a client. If she says, “This doesn’t really work for me the way it is now,” ask what you can do to make it work. Also, knowing the outcome, of course; that would have made the process much easier!

Q. Where are you in terms of the launch date of your novel? What steps are you taking now in the months leading to the launch?

I think Harper Collins is aiming for a launch early next year, 2015. Right now I’m beginning to work on my edits, setting up a web page, and talking up the book to anyone who will listen – friends in book clubs, friends who have other friends in book clubs, librarians, people in line at T.J. Maxx.

Q. How valuable has the Atlanta Writers Club been to your success to date as an author?
The Atlanta Writers Club has been invaluable to me. Before Ginger Collins brought me to my The-Atlanta-Writers-Clubfirst AWC meeting I had no idea how to go about being a published author. The contests, the tips, George Weinstein’s sage advice, the authors’ talks, the workshops, and especially the conferences led me to where I am now. Everyone I’ve encountered at The Atlanta Writers Club has been supportive, helpful and enthusiastic. There’s an energy at every meeting that makes me want to leap out of my seat and run home to write. It’s a fantastic group of people, and I’ve made some very good friends there!

Q. Do you also recommend critique groups?

Critique groups can be productive or not. It really depends on the group. I was lucky. I found a helpful group and then another smaller one more focused on publication. If you do join a critique group, it’s important that its members appreciate your writing, even if it isn’t the sort of story they write or prefer to read. If they find fault with the style, for example, or if you feel like going home and shredding chapters (or them) after meetings, you’re in the wrong group. A good rule of thumb is that if two or more readers think something needs changing, take another look at it.

Q. What’s next for you in terms of a follow up to Pocket Wife? Do you know what story line you’ll be tackling for your second book?

The Pocket Wife was sold as the first in a two-book deal. The second book will also be suspense; it centers on two women and a detective, all impacted by a fatal car accident in different ways. One of the women is the dead man’s widow and the other is his girlfriend. A tangled web.

 

Augusten Burroughs’ Literary Voice: ‘My Most Personal, Deepest Self’

awc100The Atlanta Writers Club recently celebrated its centennial as the Southeast’s leading club devoted to the writing craft.  More than 100 fellow members gathered to look back on the club’s history and hear from past and present presidents.   A highlight of the evening was an appearance by New York Times‘ bestselling author Augusten Burroughs, who kept everyone entertained with his own brand of humor and insights from his writing life and battle with alcoholism.

Burroughs, who was born Christopher Robison, is best known for his 2002 book, Running with RunningwithScissorsScissors, which details his bizarre childhood after his mother sent him to live with her unstable and unorthodox psychiatrist.

In 2006, the book was adapted into a film starring Annette Bening and Alec Baldwin. The accuracy of Burroughs’ depiction of his traumatic early years has come under fire in the media and in a lawsuit that has since been settled out of court. To the assembled Atlanta writers, he was steadfast in the truth of his memoir, sharing that he kept detailed journals.

No one can doubt Burroughs’ talent for putting readers into his frame of mind, or his ability to move people emotionally. Consider these excerpts of his writing;

“Suddenly, this word fills me with a sense of sadness I haven’t felt since childhood. The kind of sadness you feel at the end of summer. When the fireflies are gone, the ponds are all dried up and the plants are wilted. It’s no longer really summer but the air is still too warm and heavy to be fall. It’s the season between seasons. It’s the feeling of something dying.” ― Dry

• “I came to think that maybe God was what you believed in because you needed to feel you weren’t alone. Maybe God was simply that part of yourself that was always there and always strong, even when you were not.”―A Wolf at the Table

• “My mother began to go crazy. Not in a ‘Let’s paint the kitchen red!’ sort of way. But crazy in a ‘gas oven, toothpaste sandwhich, I am God’ sort of way.” ― Running with Scissors: A Memoir

The low-key yet charismatic author also was generous with his time, opening up his one-hour talk to questions from attendees.

“For an author and speaker famed for his humor and offhand glibness, Mr. Burroughs planned his talk to the Atlanta Writers Club (AWC) quite seriously,” observed George Weinstein, AWC Officer Emeritus and author. “He understood his audience and addressed us as literary colleagues. I was impressed by the amount of time he spent answering questions. While he did keep the mood light, he also provided thoughtful responses that revealed insights into the craft and business of writing, which is what the AWC is all about.”

Augusten

I enjoyed getting acquainted with Mr. Burroughs after his talk.

Burroughs urged all of us to “let the words flow” – and to not let self-doubt, self-criticism, or other distractions keep us from the work of writing.  After his appearance, I asked over email how he gets himself back on track during times when there is no writing inspiration to be had — something with which every writer struggles.

“When my writing isn’t going well, I try to understand why. Am I trying to write something that doesn’t belong? Am I approaching the material from the wrong perspective? And sometimes what i do is just continue to write anyway, knowing that I’m having an off-day and hoping that it turns into an ‘on day somewhere along the way,” he says.

When asked what has been the most rewarding part of his journey as a memoir writer, Burroughs said, “Meeting my readers, both here in the states and all over the world. That’s been a wonderful, amazing and humbling experience. It’s also made me more human.”

What should a writer wishing to succeed as a memoirist never forget?

“The truth. A memoirist must never lie to themselves,” Burroughs says. “How much they divulge is another matter. The process of discovering the truth is fascinating and best explored on the page, as opposed to arriving at the keyboard with what believes to be the truth preinstalled in the mind. Often, the truth of ones circumstances resides just behind what one believes our assumes or has been told is true. The memoirist much reach the deeper truth; the truth behind the truth.”

While unable tShelteringSkyo single out a favorite writer or filmmaker, Burroughs did admit to being a fan of actress Debra Winger and the book, The Sheltering Sky, by Paul Bowles. It’s a story about three American travelers adrift in the cities and deserts of North Africa after World War II.  Bowles examines the ways in which Americans’ incomprehension of alien cultures leads to the ultimate destruction of those cultures. In 1990, it was adapted into a film starring Winger.

“I admire the masterful use of language in the book, the way the author creates such a powerful sense of place. It’s a fever-dream of a novel and it truly transports, which I absolutely admire,” he said. “It’s important to read books that fill you with awe.”

Paul Bowles

Paul Bowles

As for that intangible but uniquely distinctive writing attribute known as “voice” that many elevate above even plot and character in a story, Burroughs had this to say:  “If a writer has either created or released a voice that is so compelling and unique, yes, we’re more likely to forgive or even overlook a plot. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis would be an example. There’s not much — if any — plot to this book but the main character is so horribly compelling we continue to turn the page to see what he does next.  In my own case, my literary voice is simply my most personal, deepest self. It’s the voice in my head.”

And that, I believe, is why we will continue to be captivated by Augusten Burroughs’ brand of storytelling.

Author of Girl Trouble Discusses the Craft of Short-story Writing

Some nights, all of the things I know for sure — should be able to count on, like gravity and oxygen and sunrise — lose their power over me. I know who killed Felicia. I caught his eye a half-dozen times in the courtroom and simply understood, felt the guilt baking off of him like a fever, settling on me sick and damp and poisoned.
                 — Excerpt from “Parts,” from Girl Trouble 
 
Holly Goddard Jones, acclaimed author of the short story collection, Girl Trouble, recently spoke with me about her writing heroes, what she loves about short story writing, the challenges of being your own editor, and a few insights into her newest project, a novel she has just completed writing and revising that is set in  Roma, Kentucky — the same locale for her 2009 short story collection.  Jones will speak this Saturday at the Atlanta Writers Club, where she will address framing and issues around point of view.
 
In Girl Trouble, Jones examines small-town Southerners who repeatedly walk the fine line between right and wrong, good and bad, love and violence. In one story, a high school basketball coach learns that his star player is pregnant–with his child.  In another, a depressed widower is forced to decide between the love of a good woman and the love of his own deeply flawed son. The linked stories “Parts” and “Proof of God” offer distinct but equally correct versions of a brutal crime–one from the perspective of the victim’s mother, one from the killer’s. 

 
Q: When did you know you wanted to writer?
 
I was always a reader and always a writer as a kid. As far back as I can remember, I knew that was important to me. In college I thought I was going to be a journalist. I realized once I started taking classes and interning that I liked the writing part a lot more than the reporting part of it. When I transferred to University of Kentucky (with my husband), I became an English major and started taking writing workshops. I really enjoyed it.
 
Q. What is your favorite story from your own writing?
 
The last story in Girl Trouble “Proof of God” – when I do readings, I often read from it. I think one reason I would say that one is my favorite is partly because I felt I managed to execute the vision I had for the story. It’s also one of the stories in the collection that I had to work the hardest on – it took me the longest to get that one right. 
 
Q. Is it hard being your own editor?
 
I think I’m doing better at it — and that’s a recent development. That skill developed for me in being a teacher and reading my students’ stories and having fairly good instincts on where to (make editing suggestions) in a student’s story.  
 
Q. At the end of Girl Trouble, there is a published literary interview where you talk about writing in third person. What types of stories are best suited for third person versus first person?
 
When you want intimate knowledge of your character but the kind of intimacy that only comes from being able to observe the character without the character realizing he or she is being observed, then a really close third person that is textured with the character’s voice is the best way to do it. Especially writing rural southern characters and wanting to give those characters credit for their intellect and give them dignity, it’s easier for me to do that with a close third that’s inflected with the character’s voice than to try to write a really faithful first person perspective because voice on the page feels much more exaggerated.
 
First person is also intimate but it’s a different kind of intimacy. With first person  unless we’re talking a pretty straight stream-of-consciousness, which can feel contrived you are asking questions like “In what circumstances is this character speaking and to whom?” “Can I trust this narrator?” When you have a really close third person intimate perspective, I think you tend to trust the feelings and thoughts because you are not reading them as being filtered by the narrator. 
 
Q. What do you like about short stories as a genre versus novels?
 
It’s been hard to be immersed in a project for years and to not know when I would finish and to not know if I would have anything worth sending out once I finished it. It’s like trying to build a house from the inside-out and you can’t stand outside and look to see what you actually constructed. 
 
With a short story you can get that draft out so much more quickly and see the architecture of it and start envisioning ways you may start fixing it, which is very satisfying.  As a reader, I appreciate the intensity of short stories – how practically every line in the story can be imbued with meaning and be poetic. There’s an intensity in the shorter form that’s really hard to sustain over 300 or 400 pages.
 
I am more of a novel reader than a short story reader but when I want that experience of intensity it’s the short story I go to.
 
Q. You are good at making characters real – how hard is that to do?
 
For me, it’s one of the things I love about writing. It’s getting into a character’s head and getting to know that character’s emotional landscape. This is true for me to the point that I recognize it as a kind of indulgence, going into a character’s head and lingering there for pages. That’s some of the most fun I can have as a writer, but it’s not always as fun for the reader as it is for me.
 
Q. Can you tell me about your novel?
 
A. It’s set in the same town of the short stories in Girl Trouble – Roma. It’s about a woman who goes missing and it’s a mystery unfolding over the course of the novel of what happened to her, who was involved and what are the repercussions of her disappearance on various characters’ lives.  I consider this a literary suspense or literary mystery novel. It doesn’t move the way a mystery novel does but I think it borrows from some of those conventions.
 
Q: Who are your writing heroes?

 

 
I love Margaret Atwood and for the short story, Andre Dubus was really important to the way I formed as a short story writer. His work demonstrated to me that time can move differently. He also was so good at getting into a character’s head and heart in a really meaningful, tender, sincere way. I love Annie Proulx, Lorrie Moore and Cormac McCarthy.  I like grittiness in literature or in the case of Lorrie Moore, that sharp sense of humor. 
 
I’m really drawn to writers who push the boundaries of what literary fiction is – who can borrow from genres such as science fiction, fantasy, the mystery novel. There are so many examples of beautiful works of literature that draw from those genres. I don’t think literary writers should be afraid of [integrating these different writing genres into their writing].