Blog: Dan Wickett

It has been said that you should write to be understood. Dan Wickett, executive director and publisher of Dzanc Books, an independent press and literary advocate, offers up resources for those tangled in the oft-solitary pursuit of creative writing, and speaks to how writers impact our economic, social, and cultural issues.

Post 1: Dzanc Books Defined

Hello, I'm Dan Wickett.  I thought I'd use this first post as a brief introduction so you'll understand where my guest posts are coming from this week.

I was born and raised in Michigan, born in Detroit and have lived within an hour or so of the city my entire life.  I attended the University of Michigan, getting a BS in statistics.  I worked in the automotive supply industry for nearly two decades.  And now I run a non-profit publishing house, Dzanc Books.

Dzanc Books was created in 2006 to advance great writing and champion those writers who don't fit neatly into the marketing niches of for-profit presses and to advance literary readership and advocacy across the country. As a non-profit 501(c)3 organization, Dzanc:

  • Publishes innovative and award-winning literary fiction, including short story collections and novels by accomplished and award-winning writers such as Roy Kesey, Yannick Murphy, Peter Markus, Hesh Kestin, Kyle Minor, Michael Czyzniejewski, Suzanne Burns, Peter Selgin, Laura van den Berg, Robert Lopez, Dawn Raffel, Jeff Parker, Terese Svoboda, and Henning Koch
  • Supports several editorially-independent imprints and literary journals, including Black Lawrence Press, OV Books, Keyhole Press, Starcherone, Monkeybicycle, and Absinthe: New European Writing
  • Publishes The Collagist, a monthly online literary journal launched in August 2009
  • Provides low-cost writing instruction to beginning and emerging writers by connecting them with accomplished authors through the innovative Dzanc Creative Writing Sessions
Beyond Dzanc Books, I have also run the Emerging Writers Network since early 2000.  The mission there is to develop a community of emerging writers, established writers in need of wider recognition, and readers of literary fiction.  Over the years I've probably reviewed over 500 books and interviewed hundreds of authors or editors of literary journals.  I've been a big proponent of National Short Story Month and helped out with the early years of the Ann Arbor Book Festival.  As you can probably guess, I value the written word quite a bit.

Of the projects that Dzanc Books runs, the one with the most local impact is probably the Dzanc Writer-in-Residence Program.  With this program, we pay to have a local writer go into a school once per week for the duration of the school year.  They'll work with a specific teacher or two, and with the same class(es) of students week after week, developing a rapport with the kids and working with them on their creative writing and reading skills.  At the end of the school year, an anthology of student work is put together, as the writer will work with the students on writing, revising, self-editing, etc.  When possible, a reading is set up at a local store or business so that they may read their work in public.  We've run these residencies at Community H.S., Ypsilanti H.S., the Mack Open School, Thurston Elementary School, and Greenhills to date and continue to explore other schools in the Washtenaw County area.

It's my belief that if we can get children interested in reading and writing, that not only will their reading and writing skills flourish, but so will schoolwork in general, as well as the development of the type of imagination that might go on to discover cures for diseases, or create technology that allows us to do things previously unheard of, or eliminate hunger across the world.  It's why I think organizations like Dzanc Books are so important and in need of support.

At Dzanc Books we also find ways for writers that may not be part of a group such as an MFA program, or a writer's club, to find help at a reasonable cost.  We do this both online, with our Dzanc Creative Writing Sessions, which pair up a writer with a more established and published writer, or an editor, and allows the writer to get a critique on their work at a very inexpensive rate.

Another means is through what we've developed as National Workshop Day or Dzanc Day.  This day we set up physical workshops, led again by established authors and editors, in cities all across the country.

On Saturday, April 9, 2011, Dzanc Books will hold its second annual National Workshop Day, better known as Dzanc Day. Consisting of dozens of creative writing workshops in almost as many cities, Dzanc Day provides local, affordable two-to-four hour sessions led by professional writers, authors, and editors, all open to attendance by the public for a very affordable fee. Sessions are conducted in fiction, poetry, and non-fiction, and are generally suitable for writers of all levels.

In addition to being a great way for participants to receive instruction, get inspired, and meet other local writers, Dzanc Day also helps to partially fund our many charitable endeavors, including the Dzanc Prize, which recognizes one writer annually for both literary excellence and service to his or her community, and our Writer in Residence Program, which places professional writers into classrooms to provide creative writing instructions to public school students who could not otherwise afford the opportunity. It's thanks to our workshop leaders' generous donations of their time and talents that we're able to continue to support and grow these programs, and your signing up for Dzanc Day will ensure their success in the future.

This year, Dzanc Day falls on Saturday, April 9, 2011, and we hope you'll consider joining one of our many workshops across the country. Workshops start at just $30 for two hours of instruction, a rate dramatically lower than many of our volunteers would normally charge.

Please browse the map to find a workshop close to you, and be sure to sign up as soon as possible, as space may be limited in some locations. We look forward to having you in our workshops, and to hopefully one day reading the great story or poem or essay you worked on during your session. Good luck, and have a great time!

There are two such sessions in the SE Michigan area:

"More Creative Plots, Deeper Characters"

Royal Oak Public Library, 222 East 11 Mile Road, Royal Oak  10am-12pm

This workshop examines the traditional sections of a short story (beginning, middle, end) and shows how an understanding of each of these aspects of structure can result in more creative plots and deeper characters. Through a series of discussions and prompts, we'll lead attendees through techniques that can expand the possibilities of their writing.

Workshop Leaders:
Joe Ponepinto is an editor with the Los Angeles Review and holds an MFA in fiction. His short stories and criticism are published or pending in a variety of journals, most recently Vestal Review, Apalachee Review, Stymie, Tottenville Review, and, of course, LAR. Joe is a former journalist and business owner, and has taught at the community college level.

Gwendolyn Jerris is the founder and leader of the fiction writing group Writers by the Woods, which meets in Beverly Hills, MI. She has a BA in creative writing from Antioch College and a Secondary (6-12) English and history teaching certificate from Wayne State University. She's in her 3rd term at Goddard College, earning an MFA in fiction. She is currently working on a novel and a collection of short stories.

Cost: $30

"The Villain in Your Hero, and Vice Versa: Upping the Stakes in Short Fiction"

Sweetwaters Coffee and Tea, 123 West Washington, Ann Arbor  3-5pm

Do your stories lack the dramatic momentum you admire in your favorite short stories? Are your heroes introspective observers of life rather than dynamic actors in the drama? Are your villains stuck in the rut of a type? A dose of pride, greed, or lust could be just what's needed to light the fire in your hero, while a glimmer of charity, humility, and kindness could kindle complexity in your villain. This fiction writing workshop will examine how to up the stakes in fiction by examining your main actors' motivations and personalities. Though a series of exercises and class discussions, we'll see how uncovering classic failings in your hero and classic virtues in your villain can enliven your story and lead to unexpected insights and outcomes. Bring to class one of your short stories that you feel is "stuck". If you don't have a story in progress, you'll get a substantial start on a new story in class.

Workshop Leader:

Laura Hulthen Thomas teaches creative writing at the University of Michigan's Residential College. Her short fiction has appeared in Orchid: A Literary Review, Oleander Review, The Cimarron Review, and Nimrod International Journal. Her story "Bones on Bois Blanc" is forthcoming in Ghost Writers, an anthology of ghost stories by Michigan authors, due to be published in spring 2011 by Wayne State University Press. Laura lives in Ann Arbor with her husband and two sons.

Cost: $30