Author2Author: Sarah Willis & Maureen McHugh

I’m afraid that I’ve been sitting on this transcript of the Author2Author exchange between Maureen McHugh and Sarah Willis for way too long—between going on that festival tour, then trying to relaunch a column as soon as I got back. But enough of my excuses, let’s just get right to the dialogue, and discover what makes this pair of writers such a good fit.

sarahwillis.jpgSarah Willis: I was thinking about how we met at the Cajun Sushi Hamsters (a Cleveland science fiction writer’s group), and what a wild experience that was with some 22 members critiquing my first attempt at a novel, a 400-page SF story with a neuropsychiatrist as a narrator. (What was I thinking??) It didn’t take me too long to figure out that what I write best is more mainstream, and I left the group and started a writer’s group with just a few people that met at my house once a month. I didn’t know you very well then, and when you asked to join our group I was both surprised and a little terrified.

You were a real writer with published short stories and an award winning novel, China Mountain Zhang. I had, at that time, published one short story, and was frankly in awe of you. I thought you’d upset the apple cart. You’ve been in our group, what, thirteen years now? I can’t even imagine it without you. So here’s the question: Why did you want to be in both writer’s groups, and how does a writer’s group help you?


Maureen McHugh: Sarah, the fact that you were nervous surprises me. I thought I was writing genre fiction and you were writing the real thing. You had this spare, beautiful way with prose. Funny how we see ourselves versus how others see us. I wasn’t at all surprised when you left the Cajun Sushi Hamsters because while they’re a great group, they seemed interested in different things than your fiction. I guess I felt as if I had a foot in both camps. I wrote stuff that was ostensibly genre, but I’d studied fiction writing at New York University under writers like Robert Stone, Alyx Kates Shulman and Edmund White.

I feel tremendous loyalty to the Hamsters and to the East Side Writers. I guess I’m in two writer’s groups because I felt so strongly that I was suspended between genre and non-genre fiction. That was before slipstream was what it is today, before people like Michael Chabon and Suzanna Clarke and Jonathan Lethem were writing across what felt to me to be very difficult barriers. Now I feel as if what the two groups have is not so much genre/non-genre as just different sensibilities. On the rare occasion I’ve had a story critiqued by both groups, their takes were often extremely different. I don’t think one was right and the other wrong, just that they offered different perspectives on the story.

I think writer’s groups, like cities and people, have personalities. Now I’d hate to give one up because I genuinely like them both.


26 October 2005 | author2author |

New York Times Nonsense, Part II

posted by Pearl Abraham

There is something very neurotic going on at the NYT Book Announcer (a.k.a. the NYTB Review), whose editor determines first not to review much fiction, and this in the face of predictions of doom for fiction, then reviews only fiction by writers who are already widely known, and this week decides to publish an essay titled “Publish and Perish,” by Elizabeth Royte, that jeers at the lives of these very writers whom they have ignored. How is it that after having a hand in the perishing of these books, the Book Announcer gets to, parasitically, still live off them by writing about the results of their policy? Could it be that all this is part of a plan to generate controversy on behalf of the NYTBA, in other words, as advised by their publicist, in order to gain readers? They’ve done it before, about a year ago, with the gratuitous Wendy Shalit essay on Jewish writing.

And then, strangely, some of the facts in this Royte essay aren’t entirely based in fact. Honest publicists don’t usually take on novels that are already published, but require at least a 6-month lead. And, as it happens, it is often publishers who employ these outside publicists. And so on.

24 October 2005 | theory |

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