Bullets and Butterflies
March 28, 2010
Well, today ended the Writers at the Beach conference for 2010. I'm crossing my fingers there will be a conference in 2011. I'd like to make this an annual event!
Only one workshop today:
Screenwriting Techniques for Fictions Writers (10:30-12:30)
Khris Baxter was the leader of this workshop, and it fit nicely with the earlier workshop of his, Building Dramatic Scenes That Work, that I took Friday morning. The session today focused on structure and how techniques used by screenwriters can be adapted when writing a novel. I was familiar with much of the material (the three-act structure, story arc, the hero's quest), but I still picked up on some key thoughts.
The main thing I took to heart was Khris's statement, "Structure is form, not formula." He's absolutely correct, and even though it may seem simplistic on the surface, I suspect this is something with which many writers (including myself) battle.
The workshop today forced me to rethink the novel I started back in 1987 (yes, I am THAT old!) but never finished. I realize now, the reason I never finished it, despite my laundry list of excuses, is because the novel was never adequately structured. For our writing exercise this morning, Khris had us apply the three-act structure (including an inciting incident and plot point in Act I, the Setup; a midpoint and second plot point in Act II, the Confrontation; and the ultimate climax in Act III, the Resolution) to our current writing project. I couldn't complete the assignment! Even though I KNOW this stuff, I've never actually applied it to the novel!
I would like to resurrect the book I started over 20 years ago, but it will clearly take far more attention to structure than I'd previously planned. Perhaps, back in 1987, I wasn't a mature enough writer (and maybe that's just another excuse).
Regardless, Khris inspired me to reconsider my approach and develop a stronger, better thought-out story structure for the novel.
I guess I learned something today!
March 27, 2010
The second full day of workshops was just as packed as yesterday! Here are the events I attended, again with some thoughts. (I skipped the readings scheduled 10:00-10:45.)
Want: Character and Motivation (11:00-1:15)
The workshop leader was Jami Attenberg, author of the recently released novel The Melting Season and The Kept Man. I was impressed with Jami, not only because of her advice about characterization techniques, but because she was open about the writing business, how she came into it and how she lives the life. Her insights about writing were illuminating.
Jami had us do two writing exercises. I never write well in those situations (“Take 15 minutes to write about this scenario about this character”); I need time to think about the angles on an idea before it gels enough for me to write anything worthwhile. But I was amazed at the quality of work the other participants were able to create in short time!
A couple of things she said rings true to me. When talking about characterization, she said that “thought” (getting into a character’s head) “is where fiction shines, more than any other art form.” I’d never really considered this, but she’s right. Even film can’t go that deep into a character’s psyche. The writer wields great power in this regard.
Another piece of advice I found worth remembering concerned how to get “unstuck” when you’re not sure how a character should handle a plot situation. Jami suggested writing the scene in as many ways as you can think of, every alternative available, and see what works best. Another option is to simply ask people what they would do in a similar situation. Why not?
Lunch on Your Own (1:15-3:00)
The Story of You: Developing a Brand and Web Presence (3:00-5:15)
This was a great workshop, the one I participated in the most during this conference. Franklin Parrish, Creative Director of M19 Media, was the workshop leader. His focus was on defining branding for the freelance writer, and how to translate this branding to a strong Web site. I agreed with Franklin on virtually everything he said today. He’s a sharp guy.
My problem, when it comes to branding my Web site, is that my writing is all over the place (gardening, travel, educational management, suspense and horror fiction, a children’s book) and it’s tough for me to develop a singular brand. Franklin suggested branding myself as “multi-talented” on the umbrella site, and then focusing on branding the other elements separately, all under the umbrella of “me.” I’m still not sure how to pull this off. I think if the main site reveals my personality and style, the rest will fall into place. But, I still need to determine marketing strategies.
Keynote Dinner (6:30-8:15)
A wonderful dinner in the Swan Ballroom tonight. The keynote speaker was Steve Luxenberg, author of Annie’s Ghost.
Just one more day! One more workshop! Then back home, looking forward to next year’s conference!
March 26, 2010
Today was the first day of workshops for the conference. Quite a packed day! Here are the events I attended, with some thoughts.
Building Dramatic Scenes That Work (10:30-12:30)
The workshop leader was Khris Baxter, a screenwriter. Using scenes from film (The Silence of the Lambs, Doubt, When Harry Met Sally, Good Will Hunting), he explained the different ways dramatic scenes are structured for maximum impact, and how fiction writers can use screenwriting techniques to improve their stories. “Dramatic scenes are the true engines of story.”
Another insight I found interesting involved dialogue. Consider point of view in each scene, and use the POV of the character who best drives the scene. Dialogue must (1) reveal character, (2) provide information (exposition), and (3) advance the plot. On the subject of exposition, Khris used a scene from a John Sayles’ film to illustrate the major rule for flashbacks—the scene you flash to must be inherently more dramatic than the originating scene.
Khris said, “We’re in the emotion business, folks.” Write what you feel uncomfortable writing; those things you naturally avoid writing; the hard, visceral stuff you’d rather keep hidden. These are usually the emotions that truly involve the reader, and are the essential content of the strongest dramatic scenes. Dig deep!
Lunch, Opening Remarks, Readings (12:45-2:15)
During lunch, I sat with Joanne Reinbold, founder of the Written Remains Writers Group in Wilmington. I'd like to join such a group, for feedback, networking, and just working with other writers as they hone their craft. I'm seriously considering joining the group. Depends on the time requirements involved. We'll see ...
A Solid Stable Business (2:30-3:45)
This was a roundtable discussion of alternative publishing options (self-publishing, small press, POD, etc.), moderated by Fay Jacobs, a small publisher here in Rehoboth. It became clear during the discussion that writing a book is only a fraction of the work involved if you go it alone with publishing, or even go with a small publisher. Marketing and distribution are major considerations, and should be well planned and orchestrated for any hope for success.
I’m considering self-publishing a gardening book, but I still need to give this idea far more serious thought.
A Conversation With Doug Stewart, Carolyn Parkhurst, and Jami Attenberg (4:00-5:15)
This was another roundtable discussion, this one about agents and their relationships with writers. Doug is the agent for both Carolyn and Jami. Nothing really new here that I didn’t already know, but many others in attendance found this enlightening. All three reiterated time and again that persistence is key to finding an agent. And they all advised finding an agent who loved your work—a fan of your writing—rather than an agent who takes you on just for the $$.
“Meet the Author” Cocktail Party (6:00-7:30)
This took place at Browseabout Books on the main strip in Rehoboth. I grabbed some food, bought two books (that I hope to get signed tomorrow), shared a few conversations, then split. I didn’t stay for the readings. I wanted to get back to my room to write this blog entry and work on a few story ideas I developed during the day.
Looking forward to more learning and networking tomorrow!
March 25, 2010
I’m attending the Writers at the Beach conference at Rehoboth Beach, DE, held at the Atlantic Sands Hotel right on the boardwalk overlooking the ocean. The first thing I did after checking in and going to my fourth-floor room was to open wide the balcony door and gaze out over the waves. It’s chilly and certainly not “beach weather”—but, man, that fresh ocean air is welcome in the lungs! There is definitely something calming, refreshing, maybe even primal about looking out over the ocean, water as far as the eye can see. (I’m sure the locals would say, “Sure, whatever.”)
I came for early registration (the workshops actually start tomorrow) and met Maribeth Fischer, author of the novel The Life You Longed For, founder of the Rehoboth Beach Writer’s Guild, and organizer of this annual conference. Quite a herculean task, judging from what I’ve seen so far. Kudos and thanks to Maribeth for pulling this all together.
Tonight, there was a “meet & greet” in the hotel restaurant for conference attendees. Light food, drinks, live music, and plenty of conversation. There are quite a few people here already! I met a couple, the Hagartys, who make a living selling “virtual land” on the Internet. Long story, but a fascinating one—they actually met long distance online and developed the business. Amanda is writing a fantasy novel. This is her first conference, and I think she’ll learn a lot this weekend to help her along.
I’m pretty sure I will, too! I’m looking forward to a great weekend of workshops and networking with fellow writers, editors, publishers, and agents.
March 11, 2010
Let me tell you a story--a history, actually--of a story.
Back in 2004, I decided to write a short story about a hitman, from the hitman's POV, that takes place in the Chesapeake Bay area. I ended up with a nasty little story titled "Welcome to the Food Chain." I had just sold a story, "Another Highway Fatality," to the Futures Mysterious Anthology Magazine, and the editor at the time was pulling together an anthology. I sent along "Welcome to the Food Chain" and, after a slight rewrite, the editor accepted the story.
Then, about four months later, Futures Mysterious folded its tent; the anthology would never be published. My story was homeless!
I threw "Food Chain" in a drawer for about a year, letting it "ripen." I do this at times so that I can, at some point, resurrect the story and examine it with different eyes. On second perusal, I thought the story still had legs. So, I rewrote it a bit more, then sent the story back to market. (more…)
March 10, 2010
The March/April issue of Gardening How-To magazine contains my article, "Colorful Cauliflower." I've written for the magazine many times over the past five years or so, and the editor, Amy Sitze, and her staff are superb and a joy to work with. This time, they outdid themeselves! The graphics and photos accompanying the article are beautiful and perfectly complement what I've written. I particularly like the photo of various colored heads of cauliflower arranged almost like something you'd see in a flower market. Wow! Cauliflower never looked so good!
Here is a short online sidebar, The Origin of Orange Cauliflower, that I wrote for the article.
If you don't already subscribe to Gardening How-To ... well, you should. Simply join the National Home Gardening Club, and you'll not only receive a subscription but a wide range of other services--including access to the forums and archives. Well worth the membership dues.