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Entries in feminism (2)


Writers on Wednesday -- literary agent Christina Shideler

  1. Hooray! After a whirlwind of writing and getting my latest proposal ready to launch, finishing up the kids' homeschool portfolios for the state evaluator and adding Sampson to our family, I can return to my regular blog postings. I haven't forgotten about Monday Musing--I have been tossing one around in my head about how caffeine is to those of us approaching forty, what beer was in our twenties, and of course I have bene compiling photos and musings for my weekly dog blog. As far as Favorites on Friday, right now my favorite thing is Mrs. Meyer's geranium scented all purpose cleaner--I'm housebreaking a rather clueless puppy.

    But what's really exciting is to return to the Writers on Wednesday series. This week Christina Shideler, a literary agent with LMQ who has been representing me for three years, agreed to answer a few questions from the other side of the industry, a peek inside agency doors. I have enjoyed getting to know her this year and appreciate her keen editorial skills and finding out more about what makes her tick. She calls it soapboxing--I call it passion, and it's refreshing to see someone caring so much about what they do. Enjoy!

    1. What was the first book you ever loved?


There were two books I was obsessed with as a child, and both in distinctly different ways. The Secret Garden was absoluely the book that most sparked my imagination as a child. I would walk through the lightly wooded area near my grandmother's house and endlessly hope and imagine that I would stumble upon a beautiful hidden world like that. It immersed me completely.


There was also a book that I adored as an objet. It's called Marguerite Go Wash Your Feet illustrated by Wallace Tripp. It's a fun little book full of old limericks, poems and one liners with fantastic illustrations. The wit of it all really captured me as a child. I could really get lost in all of the intricacies of his drawings. It's the one book from my childhood that I still have.


2) Here it is--the question you're probably sick of: What do you see as the future of the hands-on, paper and ink book in the new world of e-readers? 


Well, it's an important question, and one we are on the cusp of figuring out. Of course I, like any literary nerd, desperately want to dig my heels into the sand and hold onto a tangible book until it crumbles into dust but it's just not possible! I think trends are telling us that, at least in the short term, more commercial works will be read largely as e-books, while more literary works will continue to be consumed in book form. Those that love aesthetics enough to obsess about literary fiction are not going to let that attention to art fall when it comes to the package containing the work.


Still, I think it's probably inevitable that eventually most works will be digital, but I do think that's further off than some doomsdayers would have you believe. And, I think we're likely to see a “slow readers” movement (think slow food, etc.) who champion books as beautiful objects. McSweeney's has done this with great success, and I've been heartedned by the success of something like Anne Carson's Nox, which is this beautifully packaged book art work. So it'll be interesting to see one trend pushing for books to become more artful even as the majority become just words on a screen. Still, there are certainly exciting things about e-books, of course! I think Electric Literature is doing a really great job of getting viral attention for top notch fiction in making their one sentence animation videos, and while I fear enchanced e-books because I feel like reading should be a solitary, reflective activity, it can be used effectively to enrich the work by providing context. So we'll see! I'm optimistic, though, that the art of the physical book won't die, it will just be somewhat marginalized and exaggerated.


3) What has been the most surprising thing you have learned while working in a literary agency?


How much of a good faith industry publishing is! I think some writers (understandably, given the heaps of rejection they face) think of agents and publishing as a bunch of grumpy, arms-crossed critics who are arrogantly trying to keep people out of their literary theme park. But, no! The most surprising thing to me was how desperately we all want to fall in love with new work. Believe me, we read query letters and manuscripts hoping to connect with your work and dying to love it. There are a lot of heavy sighs around the office when something just doesn't quite come together for us. We have to be tough, because there's so much work out there, and it's impossible to sell something and support it through publication and beyond unless you love it. But we want so desperately to love it and are trying every day to find something amazing.


4) What is your best advice for a new writer trying to get his query noticed?


A few things! Most importantly, I'd say do your research and try and target your query appropriately. Check the acknowledgments of a few books you love and see the agent's name. Referencing other work the agent has done and ensuring that it's up their alley wins you a lot of points. It shows you're serious.


The other big, more nebulous thing, is to communicate what your work is really about. I was just talking to an intern of mine the other day about how a lot of writers at the querying phase aren't good at articulating the deeper themes their work addresses. It's such a huge draw when an author is able to summarize the plot expertly and then give a sentence or two about what's at the heart of the novel. Is it, at its heart, a story about isolation in the digital age? Is it the anti-Americna dream story? Is it about what generations of secrets can do to a family? Remember, you've got to sell this book over and over again—from the querying stage, to editors, and finally to readers. Spend the time thinking and writing carefully about what it's really about before querying agents!


5) What author would you most like to have lunch with? Why?


Oh dear, probably Miranda July because she does everything and I feel like she reached into my brain with her short story collection and put it through some machine that turns brains into words. She is fabulous.


6. Top 5 books of all time?


This is tough!


No One Belongs Here More Than You- Miranda July (see above about brain to paper machine)

Love is a Dog From Hell (poems) by Charles Bukwoski (he may have been a terrible mysogynist but he was the king of one liners)

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

Bluets by Maggie Nelson (a recent addition and amazing!)

The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner


7) What's on your nightstand now?


So, so many things! I just finished Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, which was excellent. I've been in the middle of The Means of Reproduction by Michelle Goldberg for a while (feminism!) and am at last reading George Bush, Dark Prince of Love by Lydia Millet. To read: The End by Salvatore Scibona, Ship Fever by Andrea Barrett and many, many others!


8. What great question didn't I ask that I should have?


How do you feel about the state of women writers?


I really hope and think that we're at a turning point for women writers in this country. As a young feminist and a lover of women writers, it is incredibly frustrating to me that an industry that is majority women continues with the same male-centric biases from generations past. There has been a lot of deserved hub bub this year about the lack of recognition of some really excellent women writers, including VIDA's excellent report on the percentage of women's contributions to top literary magazines. And I am often disheartened at how publishers attempt to push women writers into commercial women's fiction territory, often trivializing a lot of the strength of their prose. We, as an industry, definitely need to move to elevate more women writers and package their books in a way appropriate to their content.


It's a particular mission of mine to find and get published “quirky” women writers; those whose voice falls welll outside of the expectations of a woman writer. Writers like Lynne Tillman, Yiyun Li and Lydia Millet who write female characters that are not classically sympathetic, and certainly are not the intuitive, emotive martyrs women characters one so often finds in fiction. And I think we're on the cusp of this. My meetings with young editors certainly leads me to believe that a new generation is fed up with the male-centric aesthetic that's led writing in this country for so long and we're eager to change it.

* *** * 

Bio:  Christina Shideler was born and raised in Texas, and no she does not have an accent.  After a stint living in France and drinking away a portion of her 20s in Austin, she moved to New York to finally do something she loves. Having started her career at Europa Editions, she now works at Lippincott Massie McQuilkin with her lovely colleagues and dog/mascot Mammoth, who is the luckiest dog in New York.  She is a vintage clothing fanatic, low-level connoisseur of scotches and sparkling wine, and a deep lover of science, though fiction has always had her heart.

Writers on Wednesday--Diane Lockward

Today, on International Women's Day, I am excited to welcome a first here to Writers on Wednesday- a female poet. On the site SheWrites, a gathering place for female writers, members received messages encouraging us to shout out another female writer today, to promote the success of women. I am happy to shine a light on Diane Lockward with her essay on her unique journey to poetry and following that, publishing success. This is a tribute to never giving up, to the value of all the elements listed in her title below. Enjoy!


Patience, Persistence, Belief, and a Bit of Serendipity



I'm in a place of high excitement these days. Temptation by Water, my third full-length poetry collection, was released several months ago. That hardly seems possible when not too long ago I wondered if I'd ever have a first full-length collection.


I am not one of those poets who has stories about what a splendid poet she was in third grade. No sixth grade teacher encouraged me to gather my poems into homemade booklets. No high school English teacher recognized my gift for words. I served as editor of no literary journal in college. In short, I was without any early poetic promise whatsoever. But then, I never had a single teacher who asked me to write a poem, never had an opportunity to fall in love with poetry until years after I'd graduated college, had taught high school English for four years, married, produced three children, then decided, in spite of my lusterless undergraduate performance, to apply to graduate school. And they took me in. There I discovered, quite to my astonishment, that I had a brain! I also discovered poetry—not the writing of it, but the study of it. I fell in love with, of all things, Renaissance poetry. I could not get enough of John Donne.


When I graduated, I returned to teaching. Several years later I saw an advertisement in the English Journal. William Stafford was writing a poetry textbook for high school students, and he wanted teachers to volunteer to test the assignments. What the heck, I thought, and volunteered. Every two weeks for the next six months I received one or two poetry prompts. From the very first one, I was hooked. I had never experienced anything so emotionally intense. Poems danced around in my head all day and often all night. I tucked drafts inside my grade book and worked on them during lunch. Poetry became an irresistible temptation. Then to reel me in even deeper, Stafford took one of my poems, an acrostic, as a sample poem for his textbook, Getting the Knack: 20 Poetry Writing Exercises (NCTE). In 1992, that poem, aptly titled “Serendipity,” became my first published poem.


I wanted more. I spent weekends going to workshops and readings. During summer vacations, I attended the Frost Place Conference, the Catskills workshop, and the Fine Arts Work Center. I worked with poets who encouraged me to believe I could be a poet. I began sending my poems out for publication. Every once in a while some editor took a poem. Then an entire year went by with no editor taking anything, but that didn't stop me—I told you I was hooked. I've never minded the inevitable rejections all that much. Early on I developed a theory that it takes twenty rejections to get an acceptance, so I viewed each rejection as just one step closer to an acceptance.


As acceptances started coming in again, I stepped up my game and aimed higher. In 1997, Beloit Poetry Journal took two of my poems. I was thrilled. That was by far the most prestigious journal I'd been in. The people at Poetry Daily saw the poems and sent me a letter—they were in their early days and still using snail mail—asking permission to feature both poems. When “Vegetable Love” appeared, it was sandwiched in between poems by Tom Lux and Pablo Neruda. Not bad. When “My Husband Discovers Poetry” appeared, Garrison Keillor spotted it and featured it on The Writer's Almanac.


I also won a local contest in 1997. My prize was the publication of a first chapbook, Against Perfection. Of course, that set me to thinking that if I could have a chapbook, maybe I could have a book. I put a manuscript together and began sending it out to contests. I spent a significant amount of money on postage. I spent a lot of time waiting. For the first few years, I received only rejections. Each summer I devoted a few weeks to revising the manuscript, taking out what seemed to be the weaker poems and substituting with what I hoped were stronger poems. Every new poem I wrote was headed for that manuscript. Then I had a semi-finalist response from Sarabande. Not an acceptance but enough to encourage the belief that if I just persisted it would happen for me. But six more semi-finalist or finalist spots and it still hadn't happened. The initial thrill of the gee-I-almost-made-it had worn off, and I was feeling like I'd never get beyond that one manuscript. Not to mention the money flying out the door.


In 2001, I decided to leave teaching and spend my days living as a writer. That summer I took another workshop in Provincetown. One day I checked my email and found a message from some guy in Kentucky who wanted my snail mail address. Hm, whatever for? But his name was vaguely familiar, so I sent the address. When I returned home, there was a letter from that guy, a publisher, inviting me to submit a manuscript if I had not yet published a first book. I remembered why the name had seemed familiar. The publisher used to be the editor of Wind Magazine where two of my poems had previously been finalists in the journal's yearly contest. Since then, he had begun his own small press, Wind Publications, and was publishing books by poets from Kentucky and the Appalachian region. He’d remembered my name from the contest and had been following my work. When he wanted to expand his roster beyond his established region, he’d decided to contact me. And that’s how, in 2003, my first book, Eve's Red Dress, came into the world.


In retrospect, I am grateful that no one ever took those earlier incarnations of the manuscript. I know there were poems in them that I subsequently would have wanted to suck out with a vacuum cleaner. I am also grateful to have ended up where I did as my publisher stuck with me for the second book, What Feeds Us, and now for the third. That rarely happens with contest wins.


Now I'd be grateful for some new poems. I find myself in that odd state that's a mixture of exhilaration over the new book and anxiety about the next one. Right now the folder is pretty empty and the blank page leers at me. I need some self-imposed discipline. I need the thrill of creating, of laying down those words, of getting high on the poems, of capitulating to temptation. I want that back. And I'm going to get it. Patience, persistence, belief, and a bit of serendipity.


Bio: Diane Lockward is the author of three poetry books, most recently, Temptation by Water. Her previous books are What Feeds Us, which received the 2006 Quentin R. Howard Poetry Prize, and Eve's Red Dress. Her poems have been  included in such anthologies as Poetry Daily: 360 Poems from the World's Most Popular Poetry Website and Garrison Keillor's Good Poems for Hard Times, and have been published in such journals as Harvard Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, and Prairie Schooner. Her work has also been featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, and The Writer's Almanac. She lives in northern New Jersey. 


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