Tim Jones-Yelvington Reviews Dzanc’s Creative Writing Sessions
A few weeks ago, Dzanc books announced that they’d started a new program called the Dzanc Books Creative Writing Sessions. There was a lot of coverage of this announcement for about a week, and then news fell off. For a while, I didn’t read anything about the program, how it was doing, what it was like, etc., so when I saw that Tim had posted on his blog that he’d signed up for it, and because he’s a regular reader around here, I thought I’d ask for his thoughts.
The following is Tim’s review:
I recently participated (as a mentee) in the Dzanc Creative Writing Sessions (DCWS) program and can’t say enough good things about my experience. For folks who have still not heard about this service (which seems highly unlikely if you read htmlgiant), the DCWS pairs mentees with more experienced writers for one-on-one counseling, advice, feedback, etc. Mentees pay an hourly fee — $20 for one hour, $30 for two hours, or $50 for four hours — and the proceeds benefit Dzanc, a super critical and necessary and important independent publisher and community resource.
I chose Peter Selgin as my mentor. Peter Selgin is a Flannery O’Connor Award winner, teacher (he runs his own workshop program annually in Italy in addition to teaching at many other workshops and conferences) and editor of the lit journal Alimentum (Alimentum is the one where all the stories and poems and such are about food). I chose Peter because –
1. He’s far outside my usual circle. I love my online writing community (communities), but they can become a bit insular. I wanted a really “established” person whose feedback I’d be unlikely to access otherwise.
2. He’s experienced and accomplished in mainstream literary publishing… the particular story on which I sought feedback is one of the most “traditional” things I’ve written — it’s a modernist-ish story about memory and reflection and loss and longing — and I wanted to get a better sense of how effective it was with relation to old school fundamentals like character, plot & pacing, and also of how it might be received if/when I send it somewhere along the lines of, say, Prairie Schooner or Indiana Review.
3. He’s a teacher. Not all experienced writers give useful feedback. Peter Selgin facilitates his own workshop and has written a book about craft. This gave me more trust in his ability to encounter my story on its own terms and recognize what the story might be pushing toward becoming, separate both from myself as writer and Peter as reader.
The mentorship process occured through email. Dan Wickett from Dzanc acted as intermediary… I sent Dan my story along with specific questions I had for Peter. Peter sent the story back shortly thereafter. He used the “track changes” feature in Microsoft Word for line edits and comments on particular sections of the text and enclosed maybe a page and a half of general comments at the end of the document. His feedback was thoughtful and thorough. He brought up similar issues as others who had reviewed the story, but was able to help me better understand what makes these issues issue-y and offer concrete suggestions that I believe will help me move the story “forward” (for lack of a less progressive and linear term). …All that and I still have two more hours of his time to use.
He also compared my story to John Klowles’s “A Separate Peace,” which was both weird and cool. Weird because I’ve never read “A Separate Peace” — the English teachers at my fruity progressive high school assigned shit like Banana Yoshimoto, Tim O’Brien and Maxine Hong Kingston instead of the usual suspects. Cool because “A Separate Peace” is an iconic story about homoerotic boyhood friendship and my story is also about homoerotic boyhood friendship, albeit with the homoerotic part far less sublimated. Also, I’m pretty sure “A Separate Peace” is the kind of book middle schoolers grumble under their breath about having to read, and I think there are far worse things I could strive to do with my life than torture middle schoolers.
I definitely recommend others participate in the program. I feel the level of access to and depth of feedback from experienced folks set the program apart. Dzanc emphasizes that many of the instructors offer similar services as freelancers at much higher rates. And seriously, I can think of few better places for the money to go than Dzanc.