This week let’s talk about pathways.
Out of the three authors present on the shortlist, who do you think is the most likely to make as a mainstream author?
Amy Short brought us a powerfully understated vignette of racism in the USA, notable for its relevance even today. Cam Dang reminded us of the importance of second chances, of the unsung heroes and tragic misfortunes that can change a life forever, while Lydia Trethewey took us to very different time and place, an agropunk folk tale about post anthropocene survivors eeking out a living, and the choices they are forced into for survival.
As a microcosm, these three stories embody what it is to be NiTH, all approaching the same question with different answers, or is it the same answer with different questions? What’s clear is that through each moment of reading we are gifted the opportunity to glimpse universal meaning through the particulars. As stories swirl through our shortlists leaping off the computer screen into our hearts and minds, we’re forging new pathways into familiar territory, and treading old paths into the unknown.
As part of the Sydney Writers Festival last week, I was fortunate enough to attend a day of talks on publishing, the writing industry & new ways of making books work. The day was organised by the New South Wales Writers Center (Thanks Sherry!), and guests represented many different aspects of the publishing world, from editors and agents to speakers, celebrities, poets and authors both self published and traditional.
For me, there were three big takeaways for me from this series of discussions.
A) A tension exists between the publishing world and the role of fiction.
B) There’s no one true path to publishing success
C) Needle is ahead of the curve in digital production and publications.
A) A Tension Exists Between The Publishing World And The Role Of Fiction.
Sydney Writers Festival is but one of hundreds of international writers festivals around the world that generate millions of dollars in ticket sales, lectures, book sales, workshops, panels and media events. It is a huge logistical undertaking, spanning locations all over the city, with people flying from all over the world to be a part of it. And yet the key take away is… There’s no money in books.
No doubt, under the current model, an author looking to make a living out of their writing has to be, statistically speaking, an outlier. Which makes me question, how much value is there in learning from someone who’s path to success is predicted on a sort of anomaly. In this world the barrier between author and audience is huge, even worse, what makes a good story is how much is sells, and how well it’s marketed. Not how well it is written.
How would you value each of today’s stories? Did you feel something when you read it? Is it worth a cup of coffee? A sandwich? Something more?
B) There’s No One True Path To Success
How we define our own success as writers is a question we each have to ask ourselves. Why do we do it? Success might be a walking a path previously not accessible, like the characters in Amy Short’s Braids & Ribbons. Or it might be abandoning safety to forge a new path, like Tirion in Lydia Trethewey’s Yellow Ghosts, or, as in Cam Dang’s People Like Us, success might simply mean survival in the face of insurmountable odds.
C) Needle Is Ahead Of The Curve
Though all the speakers were enlightening in some way, it was clear to me that nobody is really doing what we are doing, the way we are doing it. The digital production groups fell either into more lightweight traditional publishing efforts or sadly, in one case, a resignation to corporate interests with the writer as the creative talent no longer questioning social injustice, but helping to mask it. One presenter, on why artists should work for corporate interests, suggested Leonardo Da Vinci did plenty of corporate work, and if it’s good enough for Da Vinci, it’s good enough for you. Apparently unaware that the Roman Empire wasn’t a particularly democratic place.
As a writer, how would you approach working for a company, ethically and creatively? It’s a tough thing to work out, but I take comfort in the fact that I can usually find answers to life’s big questions by reading a few shortlisted stories.
To me, that’s the real value of fiction.
Our winner this week is Cam Dang for People Like Us. Well done Cam! You really touched our hearts with another wonderful effort, and thoroughly deserved the win 🙂
Up next we kick off something special, Part 1 of ‘To The Nines’. A serialised award that we hope will engage both writers and readers for many awards to come.
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