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End of Melbourne Writers Festival

As well as a beguiling name, Wells Tower has one of those author photos that promise much. It has the look of someone who is either hurt or about to throw a punch. His Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned is a blistering collection of short stories where you want to hear precisely what inflection the author puts on every word.

His Friday free session was packed with folks who couldn't get one of the limited places in his Sunday workshop and although he spoke quietly he didn't disappoint. He was most interesting on his writing method citing the internet as 'lethal to writing and reading', because of its distracting power. He described his ideal writing day as creative fiction for breakfast when he's fresh, then giving the afternoon over to journalism then in the evening working on his screenwriting which he reckons comes easy to him. Sleep wasn't part of the equation.

He emphaised the importance of revision by talking about the need the 'grad school' wisdom that that you begin thinking revision "is like cleaning up after the party, but you learn that revision is the party". Except for Wells there is no party. His hard work ethic and dazzling writing made me put a small note over my desk: WWWD (What would Wells do?) to stop me from goofing off on the web instead of writing.

On Sunday there was a late (but free) addition to the program in the form of a chat with US editors hastily named "Are you a writer interested in submitting work to American magazines?". It just so happened I was, so I found myself in an audience of 50-odd other "interested" folks. Jessa Crispin characterised her Bookslut as for intelligent people "who won't be adjusting their monocle or putting on a faux British accent" while reading. She was intersted in writers with enthusiam and sincerity to write about books.

McSweeney's publisher Eli Horowitz and The Believer editor Heidi Julavits talked enthusiastically about their publications. They found it difficult to characterise the kinds of writing they were after (Eli was influenced by some crocodile jerky he'd just been given and said he'd accept anything to do with crocodiles right now), but welcomed submissions. The Believer has 'a pathetically long lead time' of six months which means timely articles require a lot of organisation. Julavits pointed to the themed issues (around art, music and film) as good targets for publication and talked about her bias against the first person pronoun especially when the author intervenes in the story needlessly.

A useful side point for publishers was that both areas had a good base of subscribers (Eli estimated that McSweeney's Quarterly had "about 8,000 subscribers" and "around 5,000" sales through bookstores). It means they know they're going to sell enough to pay the printer so they can swerve clear of advertising and can concentrate on content.

As the festival rolls up its banner for another year, it's exciting to think of next year's fest with new director Steve Grimwade at the helm.

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