Autumn Stephens is uniquely qualified to judge the ANA entries as an author, writing instructor, co-editor of The East Bay Monthly magazine, and former book reviewer for the San Francisco Chronicle. She has also written for The New York Times, SF magazine, and numerous Bay Area publications. (More about Autumn at The Jury.)What do you look for in a great story?
Style, style, style. No cliches. Surprises that work. A deep sense of envy, wishing I'd written it myself. The desire to read the story again.
What will you focus on when looking for hidden treasures in ANA?
Originality, coherence, and goosebumps on my forearms.
Have you ever participated in a writing contest yourself?
Every time I submit something that I hope will be published, it's like entering a contest, with the same happy possibility (until otherwise notified) that something delightful is likely to happen. That said, I would never enter a contest where you have to pay to enter--in an ideal world, writers would be paid for their work, rather than paying to do it.
Which book is on your nightstand at the moment?
To borrow a line from the incomparable Fran Lebowitz, "I have far too many books to fit on a nightstand."
Nonetheless: Intoxicated by Illness by Anatole Broyard, The Collected Stories by Grace Paley, The Florist's Daughter by Patricia Hampl, The Wilder Life by Wendy McClare, No Footprints by Susan Dunlap, 1984 by Haruki Murakami, Loving Frank by Nancy Horan, Sentence: A Journal of Prose Poetics, several back issues of The New Yorker, and a staggering build-up of "Week in Review" and "Sunday Styles" sections from The New York Times.
How can authors best take advantage of social media?
Get friends to promote you. They'll usually do a much better job than you could, and you won't have to do any "shameless self-promotion" whatsoever.
Which current author really understands how to maintain a relationship with their readers?
I do admire novelist Ann Patchett for launching an independent bookstore in Nashville because she wanted her hometown to have one—and she, unlike most other people who love books and bookstores, had the money to do it.
Are you going to be a tough juror?
I think of myself as a reasonably kind person; certainly I'm not out to destroy anyone's ego. In fact, in my work as a writing teacher, a lot of what I do is taping shattered egos back together. Most people write better from a place of self-confidence. So before offering suggestions for improvement, I like point out what is strong or at least trending in a promising direction. But when grown-up writers are willingly submitting their work to public scrutiny, and where the goal is, in part, to advance literature, why would a juror be anything but tough?
This is the first part of a two-part interview with Autumn. Watch for the second half to be posted later in the contest!