Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border

Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border
photo by Gene Tunick of Eureka, Montana

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Writer Conference-ing

I'm excited about attending the 20th annual Flathead River Writers Conference this weekend (Oct 2-3) in Kalispell, Montana. I had a conflict and couldn't attend last year. When I've attended in the past, I've always enjoyed meeting new people, learning new "tricks of the trade," and storing up enough enthusiasm to keep writing for another 11 or 12 months.

I was recently involved in a discussion thread for the Writers Etc group (on Facebook) and was asked for advice on what to do at a conference. I surprise myself (and everybody else, no doubt) by coming up with something fairly coherent, which is as follows:

Try to develop a 2-3 sentence "elevator pitch" in case you get some time with an agent or editor, for example at lunch or in a workshop, and if it's appropriate to mention what you're working on. If time allows, ask them how you could improve your pitch. This can be a good way to create a favorable impression.

Conferences are great for making contacts, but don't try to make a deal then and there. After you get home, mail or email a nice letter saying how nice it was to meet him/her at ABC writers conference and you appreciated their guidance on your pitch for "XYZ" work in progress. Then ask if you can send them your first few chapters.

Good luck and have fun.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Critique Danger

One of the best things I’ve done in my journey as a writer was to form a local critique group.

There were a couple of groups in the area, loosely affiliated with the Authors of the Flathead, but they weren’t taking new members. I twisted a couple arms and soon we had three regulars. We decided five or six was an optimal number, and over the last decade we’ve gone through a dozen or more in the last few seats. Now we’ve got five regular contributors plus one guy who’s a talented editor but not writing at the moment.

The critique group gives me the regular deadline I need to keep me on task. The members are great at catching the stupid mistakes I can’t see because I’m too close to my work, and are experts at asking pesky questions like “Why not do XYZ instead?” Because we mostly work in different genres – thrillers, YA, women’s fiction, memoir and who-knows-how-to-classify-Nick – they keep me open to possibilities. More than that, they’re a fantastic support group.

But I have learned to take some comments with a grain of salt. If I hear a criticism from one member, maybe that person’s just having a bad hair day, or doesn’t get my particular genre. If several of the members make the same observation, then obviously I’ve got to seriously evaluate their concern.

One danger is the tendency of members to try nudging a WIP in a different direction because of our preconceived ideas of how it should be written. In editing and making suggestions, it’s critical that we not alter the voice and tone of our fellow writers.

It’s what makes us unique.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Fear of Heights

I used to have a terrible fear of heights. Whether standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon or looking out a window on a skyscraper, I’d get a queasy feeling deep in my gut and a lightheaded sensation between my ears. Don’t even talk to me about airliner takeoffs and landings. But I finally overcame it.

You see, I volunteered for airborne training in the U.S. Army. Jumping out of perfectly good airplanes and all that.

As writers, we all have aspects of our craft that are stronger and weaker than others. Writing dialogue was a real problem for me when I first tried my hand at fiction. Terribly stilted and everybody sounded the same. My critique group pointed this out. Their suggestions: study good dialogue writers and practice a lot.

So I read a lot of Elmore “Dutch” Leonard, Robert B. Parker, Walter Mosley, Carl Hiaasen, Max Barry and Richard Price. Also, I took my faithful yellow pad out to coffee in the morning, and wouldn’t leave the coffee house until I’d written at least a couple pages of dialogue. No narrative. No attributions. Just pure dialogue.

Gradually, I improved Maybe I’m wrong, but now I feel that dialogue has become one of my strengths.

Because I worked at it.