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Monday, October 24, 2005

A WEEKEND IN LITERARY LAND

"You can declare at the very start that it's impossible to write a novel nowadays, but then, behind your back so to speak, give birth to a whopper, a novel to end all novels."
Gunter Grass (1927 -) The Tin Drum (1959) bk 7 "The Wide Skirt"

This weekend was the Surrey International Writer's Conference (www.siwc.com) and I was a volunteer (mainly because, being a poor full-time writer I can never afford to attend it otherwise.) I was thrilled with the jobs I was given: to introduce several of the authors and agents for their workshops. I was also able to attend a few of the workshops where I was either a door monitor or just sitting in. I made a lot of notes, and will include them here to share the information with you other writers who sometimes visit my blog site.

I introduced Deirdre Knight of the Knight Agency. This is what she had to say about the Author/Agent Relationship:
There will be several good agents, so start with the right person. Keep a good personality fit. You want someone who likes the full scope of what you are doing. Agents are the managers of your careers. Regarding blogs: Blogs help you equip yourself better.

I monitored and sat in on an exception lecture by Michael Slade, crime/suspense writer. Interestingly, this is his pen name. He also co-writes with his daughter. He used to be a lawyer and is a dynamic speaker as well as a high-impact writer!
Suspense: How to Avoid the Mistakes That Break It.
Keep the reader on the edge of their seat. Start with action, explain later. Hook the reader with the first line. Every chapter ends with a hook too.
Write the last sentence in the book before you write the first one. Then you know where the payoff goes and the plot will all move to this point.
Make it tough for your hero. Give him a worthy villain.

I introduced a B.C. author who writes Memoirs. This is what Luanne Armstrong had to say:
Memoirs are a best-selling genre these days. You can make a brilliant story out of ordinary life. ("Pilgrim at Tinker Creek" by Annie Dillard was an example of this.
Attention to details is important in a memoir. Involve the reader. Turn the focus on to ordinary things. The memorist's job is to get under the story: What happened? Why? Ask yourself "What is the story beneath your story?"

At the workshop for "Why Anne Boleyn is the Poster Girl for Historical Fiction" I introduced agent Irene Goodman. She told us: The story must capture the imagination of the reader. Write with authenticity. Write what comes from the deepest part of you.
The time for historical fiction has never been better than now. Her agency looks for stories with strong, interesting women heroines drawn from real historical characters. (The agency also handles other genres.)

It was quite a thrill for me to be chosen as the introducers for three best-selling authors:
Jean Auel, Diana Gabaldon and Terry Brooks for the workshop: "Worlds that Were and Worlds that Might Have Been" This was a panel discussion with a lot of input from the audience. Here's some of the comments the authors made:
Terry Brooks, author of the best-selling Magic Kingdom series -- "The Sword of Shannara" etc.
On World-building: It has to resonate in a way to make sense. There must be a level of believablity - a willing suspension of disbelief. He says he outlines everything but doesn't necessarily do a lot of research.

Jean Auel ("The Earth's Children" series, most notably "Clan of the Cave Bear")
says she starts with a story idea, researching and makes lots of notes, and then makes a bare outline. She is still using the origianal draft of "Clan of the Cave Bear" to build on her newest novel in the series (book six).

Diana Gabaldon, author of the best-selling "Outlander" series, warns that researching can be a pitfall for historical writers. (Be careful you aren't just researching and not writing!) Research and writing feed off each other. Interesting pieces of information can trigger plot ideas.
She writes in bits an dpieces (randomly) rather than in a linear way.

They all said: Keep working at something! You need to keep writing! Trust your instincts!

Both Diana Gabaldon and Jack Whyte, a B.C. writer, are very popular presenters at the Surrey Conference. I was pleased to be able to introduce Jack Whyte for his interesting workshop on "Description". Jack Whyte has a series of books about the Arthurian legends and Roman Britain and is currently writing a series on the Knights Templar. One thing he emphasized was: Don't over-describe. Description is crucially important. Set the scene and sescribe what is visually relevant. In "telling" you have to "show" Don't use complicated words. Keep it simple. Don't give too much detail. Leave something to the reader's own imagination.

I also attended a workshop on Blogging: A Writer's Tool by Teresa Nielsen Hayden, an editor.
Blogging helps you break out of writer's block. It keeps you in touch with other writers and puts your words out there. She says she always replies to comments on her blog site!

I sat in on two workshops with author Jessica Morrell. One was "Nail the Ending" in which she pointed out: The final lines are important. Make your ending satisfying to the reader. Spectacular endings may seem false. Keep your work true to itself.

In the lecture : "Bullies, Bastards, and Bitches -- Bad Guys in Fiction" she suggested:
Work on the back story of the antagonist or villain. Create a plot so the secrets of the back story come up toward the end of the story. She went over the various types of antagonists and their personality flaws, traits etc. She said an unlikeable antagonist is difficult to pull off and has to have an extreme personality. (such as Don Corlioni). Anti Heros are somewhere between villain and protagonist and often seen as an outsider. (Willie Loman). Is he redeemable?
Multiple point of view works best when you have unlikable protagonists in your story. The come-uppance in your story can't be contrived. Usually the unlikable character brings himself /herself down. Show your characters are like us, not unlike us, by presenting their back-story. Where did they go wrong? What made them into the kind of person they are now?

I found this workshop relevant to my own novel in that I have a multiple point of view with many of the historical characters portrayed as anti-heros - and one distinct villain! In fact, I created a couple of fictional 'heros' for my novel because so many of the key players in the fall of Alexander's dynasty were anti-heros or antagonists. This particular lecture also gave me some good insights and ideas for strengthening the real heros of my novel. I have also built up the characters of several of the women involved because historians gave them bad press and in researching their lives I realized what strong women they really were. In fact, there's a couple of them who deserve books of their own!

It was a great conference and I was so glad I was able to participate, although it would have been even more excellent had we been invited into the lunches (especially the genre lunch) and dinners. We did manage to schmooze a ticket for the Saturday dinner with the keynote speaker award winning author Jennifer Cruisie. And on Sunday we sat in on the keynote address by Diana Gabaldon who is a delightful person.

I came home yesterday (Sunday) totally exhausted, my head full of ideas, burning with inspiration. So this week I am determine to focus entirely on my novel writing, although I'm happy to learn the teacher's strike is over so my night-school classes will resume this week too.
Lots to write. So little time! Better get to work right now!

"Really, the writer doesn't want success. He knows he has a short span of life, that the day will come when he must pass through the wall of oblivion, and he wants to leave a scratch on that wall - 'Kilroy Was Here' - that somebody a hundred, or a thousand years later will see."
William Faulkner (1897-1962) From "Faulkner in the University (1959) session 8


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