"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

What day is this?

Finally met Andrew Kaufman. Sweet!
Howdy, Peeps! I'm home from the Southern California Writers' Conference in San Diego, where I spent three glorious days and one semi-conscious morning talking, teaching, learning, and laughing. I barely have a voice left, and my brain feels like pea soup, but I did want to give you a few highlights:

Tameri at High Tea on the Queen Mary
1. My workshops went over really well and they were fun for me to teach. The PowerPoint slides were invaluable, as they kept me on track and slowed my pace enough. In my first workshop, I thought I breezed through everything a little too quickly,  and kept saying so. My buddy Tameri Etherton, who attended the workshop, threatened to smack me if I didn't stop saying that, so I've modified my opinion - my workshop on Rhythm, Pace, and AMUSEment was perfect.

Rick gave out prizes!
2. I learned a lot from attending other workshops. One example: Rick Ochocki taught me some great tools for keeping my writing process flowing. He was referring specifically to NaNoWriMo (National November Writing Month), wherein writers everywhere try to produce 50,000 words in 30 days. This  is something I've tried once and failed miserably at. I don't know that I'll try it again, but I'll certainly use some of the tools.

3. I laughed a lot (and learned) from the conference directors Michael Steven Gregory and Wes Albers. Michael is mostly about film, and when he discusses why certain movies do and don't work, he gives me ideas about why certain books do and don't work, too. And in his new(ish) job as a coordinator for hostage negotiation/standoffs/SWAT activities, Wes gave me some rather fabulous insights into the recent Dorner case, psychological insights I can use in my books.

4. I discovered that if you are hopping from table to table in the bar and you leave your cell phone with one rowdy group, they are happy to take rude pictures on your cell phone. I don't know if they're happy to have said pictures posted on my blog...

Prepare yourself...

They only get worse
There may be more insights and discussions (and rude photos) later in the week, but this is the most I could muster with my thick gooey brain cells, and I didn't want to leave you hanging, wondering how the conference went.

Trust me, it was fabulous!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Passing on my knowledge

Next week is the Southern California Writers' Conference and I'm uber-excited. This organization holds two conferences a year, one in February and one in September, and I attend each one. It is a real working conference.

No sitting in a room in rows of chairs, being spoonfed information until you can't stay awake. This one has you sit down at tables because you might need to take notes or do some kind of writing exercise. Because you're a writer, right?

By the end of the weekend, you're so fired up, you can't wait to implement your new strategies for writing the best damn book in the universe and then letting the universe know about it.

The fun part about this February's conference is that I'm now a member of the staff. On the current schedule, I'll teach a workshop on Friday afternoon to talk about pacing your work, how to find the rhythm of it, and how to give your writing a punch. It's called Rhythm, Pace and AMUSEment. Here's the description:

Perhaps you’ve completed a 90,000 word story. Perhaps you’re still staring at a blank piece of paper. But you’re asking yourself the same question: how do I avoid boring the reader? Whether short or long, a written piece needs lively pacing to keep the reader engaged. No matter what your genre, this workshop will share some of the tools for developing the rhythm in your writing. Learn when to build tension and when to release it, how to increase the risks, and how a punch line can be your best friend.

On Saturday afternoon I'm teaching one of the popular DYI: Do Yourself Independence workshops about Self-Publishing Savvy: Why, How, Where, What You Need to Know. This is what it's about:

Self-publishing is big. It’s easy. Everyone’s doing it. But is it the right course for you? This workshop will give you information to help you ask the right questions and make good choices. You will learn about self-publishing options, their pros and cons, and get resources for finding out more. In this day of Do Yourself Independence, there is no one right answer. You may find there is a different answer for each of your projects. The only “right” answer is to be as informed as possible.

What other workshops are there? Beginning at 9 a.m. until 5 p.m.,  there are at least three 90-minute workshops running all the time. There are also "Read and Critique" sessions, which are helpful in two ways. They are, of course, wonderful for feedback on your work, but most importantly, they are models for how to run a working writers' group. Their rules are the best. "Rogue Sessions" are offered at the end of the day - they are Read & Critique sessions that run from 9 p.m. until everyone is too tired to continue (some of these have gone until 6 the next morning).

There are special speakers first thing in the morning and last thing before the Rogue Sessions start. The speakers are usually not huge names. They have come into the publishing industry fairly recently, during its evolution, and know what we are facing. These speakers have been where we are, remember the hard times and the struggle and can at least show us how they managed it. They inspire us.

I'm telling you, if you live around southern California and are either a writer or are thinking about writing, you need to come. You'll learn so much.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Sunday's inspiration

My dear friend Debbie Emerson Echelberger Haas (whom I will forever associate with 'John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt' in a gigglishly endearing way) pointed to a blog post this morning entitled, "7 Inspirational Quotes That Could Change Your Life." Bryan Hutchinson lists seven quotes and what they have meant to him, and then challenged other bloggers to post quotes that have inspired them.

It's Sunday. How can I resist?

There are a myriad of quotes that have pushed, led, and otherwise guided me throughout my life, from the ache of Frost's Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening and Hughes' A Dream Deferred, to the soul-rousing of Henley's Invictus (why, yes, I AM the master of my fate, thank you). But in the interest of time and space, I shall just list two, one that has steered my life and one that has steered my writing.

"Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death." - Auntie Mame

I saw this movie as a child. My mother was watching it one New Year's Eve, and told me it was a comedy. It is, but it is certainly sad and poignant and other things, too. (Incidentally, my mother thought The Apartment was a comedy, too, because Jack Lemmon was in it and used a tennis racket to strain his spaghetti.)

Here's the funny thing about that movie for me - my family couldn't have been further from the theme if they'd tried. My sad confession here is my parents and I did not enjoy a close relationship. My mother spent most of her time on our couch, watching television. She did very little else, except to insist on living vicariously through me, which made us both unhappy. My dad worked two or three jobs to keep food on the table and was as emotionally absent as he was physically gone.

It might make me inhuman to say I didn't suffer any regrets when they passed away, but how exactly do you regret what was always impossible?

Auntie Mame's pronouncement opened my eyes. Why was I sitting and watching a character fulfill her life, instead of fulfilling my own? It was that seed, planted when I was ten or so, that pushed me as a young woman out of Illinois and into California and away from my mother's strangulating ways.

Here's the trailer for the movie.

"I associate many things with many things." - Katherine Hepburn in Desk Set

It's a trifle of a movie, but I love it, especially the scene where Spencer Tracy is giving Katherine Hepburn an intelligence/memory test.

And her quote explains perfectly how I write. Most writers complain that the question they hate the most is, "Where do you get your ideas?" The answer is where don't we get them? What we see, what we overhear, what we read about, are all fodder for our imaginations. But we're not stenographers, recording the facts as they happen. We take one thing which reminds us of another and blend them into a third.  In this way, we associate many things with many things.

It's a long sequence, but worth it. BTW, if you haven't figured out the last riddle, ask me - I know the answer.

What are some of the quotes that have inspired you? If this post inspires a blog post of your own, feel free to put your link in the comments.

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