Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Writers Conferences – 7 Things You Need to Do

Last weekend I spent three and one half delightful days at the Mystery Writers Conference at Book Passage in Corte Madera, California. This was the 20th conference for the store owners Bill and Elaine Petrocelli. It has a reputation for excellence in both guests and attendees, many have gone on to brilliant writing careers and take this opportunity to give back to other writers learning their chops. I recommend it to any mystery/thriller/suspense/detective scribbler out there.

The faculty this year included incredible Martin Cruz Smith, award winning Elizabeth George, D.P. Lyle, Kirk Russell, the delightful Isabel Allende, Cara Black (of Paris fame), Ivy Pochoda, Cornelia Read, Jacqueline Winspear, and of course the ringmaster of this circus, Sheldon Siegel. The list also included technical help from retired FBI agents, firearms experts, and literary agents. Intense, funny, fascinating, inspiring and even instructive, the days went by faster than a 9mm through Jell-O.

What did I learn? Here are seven tips for conferences:
1. Remember to bring a notebook. It needs to have a stiff back or clip it on a clipboard. Many of these conferences don’t have tables so your lap is your only option. Carry extra pens (I like gel types), pencils need sharpening so use pens. Post the date and who the players are at the session on the top of the page, good for later reference. A lot of attendees work directly on computers taking notes, for me this is too confusing and distracting (and complicated with cords and chargers and everything). Transcribe later.

2. Meet as many of the faculty as you can. Don’t get all pushy and try to impress them with your work. In fact don’t even show them anything. Ask questions, try to steal a little of their brain if you can. Watch how they act, someday you might be in their shoes, it’s always good to have a mentor.

3. Meet as many of the attendees as possible. Every one of them has a reason to be there. Some are working on their first book, others maybe their sixth or seventh. Be sincerely interested in what they are doing and they may even listen to what you’re writing about. Pass them a card, get theirs. They might be sitting next to you on stage at some future event.

4. Send thank you notes. Honestly didn’t your mother bring you up right? Send the organizers a note, send the MC a note, and if you have interviews with agents or other faculty send them a brief note as well (I also slip in a business card). A little civility is always appreciated. And I mean a note, handwritten with a stamp – not a Facebook posting or an email (if you can’t get their address I guess an email is marginally okay).

5. Arrive early, stay late; you never know who you might meet. As hard as it is, try to go to all events and discussions. It is a grind especially late on the third day and early Sunday morning. But there might be one nugget of help in your career and it was at the session you missed. You paid for the ride, now take it.

6. Ask questions. Every member of the faculty has been where you are now. They asked questions and learned. Squeeze them for the information, put a hot bright light on them, grill them, make them sweat – it’s good practice.

7. Summarize and store your notes. A few days after the conference pull out the notebook and transcribe your notes. Reorganize the odd string of thoughts you posted. Reflect and add more notes now that you have had time to think about the sessions (and save the old ones). This will help to imprint your brain with what you learned and remember to also go back in a few weeks and look at them again. Add these notes to your writer’s notebook for later reference.

8. Bonus - Buy books written by the authors at the session. There will always be new writers at these sessions, buy their work, read them, try and understand what they talked about and how they applied it to their work. In one session a very successful writer confessed that he liked a book so much he deconstructed it to understand how the author built the story – now that’s dedication to your art!

More Later . . . . . . . .

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Writers Conferences, Should You Go?

Tomorrow I’m off to one of the best writer’s conferences in the west, the Mystery Writers Conference at Book Passage in Corte Madera, Ca. (click here). Now into its twentieth year this one conference can do more to put you back-on-track with your writing and scribbling than any I’ve been to. Kathryn Petrocelli (creator, director, managers and general butt-kicker) exceeds my expectations every year and I know this event won’t disappoint. Her faculty this year includes Isabel Allende, Cara Black, Martin Cruz Smith (yes that man), Sheldon Siegel, and even Jacqueline Winspear. There are also legal experts, literary agents, retired FBI guys, gun experts, and even a judge or two to help get your story tight and right.

Three and one half days of listening, questioning and even one-on-one conferences, all in the middle of one of the Bay Area’s premier book stores, very cool. The conference count is limited so the chances of close conversations are amplified. If there is one part of writing that I like, other than the writing itself, is discovering how others get their job done. What is their inspiration, what motivates them, how do they attack a story, how did they get an agent? There are few conferences that provide these kinds of opportunities. Intimate is the best word to describe it.

In any given year there are hundreds of writers conferences that range from workshops and intense week long classes to the big events put on by the IBPA (Independent Book Publishers Association) and other book publishing organizations. Some conferences gather in hundreds of writers (for a heavy entry fee) for an impersonal few days hanging out with other writer want-a-bees and others are serious with hands-on discussions and analysis. Some are focused on genres (general fiction, thrillers, romance, sci-fi, etc.) and others on the craft itself. There are a lot to choose from. Here’s a good place to start: (Conferences).

What I particularly like is the kick in the seat these gatherings provide. They do reinvigorate the brain cells and can get you back on track. I’ll report back next week with some of the ideas I gleaned from the conference.

More later . . . . . .

Saturday, July 13, 2013

12th Man For Death Book Trailer

Just posted on YouTube the video book trailer for Sharon's latest adventure that spans the globe from San Francisco to Venice. The ultra-rich, their playgrounds, and death. 

Would like to read your comments.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

SmartEdit Redux

Last August I posted this blog about SmartEdit. I had some issues with the software but now, having used it on two more books, I find it very helpful. I have updated that blog with my experience reviewing and analyzing my latest novel.

I am pushing through the editing of Wars Amongst Lovers and even though I have my own specific system of checks and balances I wanted to try something new. Through one of the LinkedIn groups someone suggested that SmartEdit was a great tool to help review and check your work. While I found it interesting it falls well short of what I need or what most writer/editors could use profitably. It is very time consuming.

(I have rethought that last comment and to the contrary, now that I’ve used it a lot, I find it very helpful. I think I misunderstood the real use of the product, it is not a creative software like WORD or PAGES, it’s a review and analysis software. Use the lists of words, phrases, and other input to help clean up overused phrasing and especially adverbs. How many times did I use the word 'only'? To my embarrassment, too many. Easy to find and easy to fix with SmartEdit.)

After you load your manuscript into the platform (save Manuscript as an .rtf file and use that version to load) it does a fairly good job of selecting out phrases, words, and adverbs. Then, in a type face too small to easily read (that’s still true), you can select and replace/fix as needed. WARNING: the work is not saved and from what I can decipher can’t be saved except by selecting all the text and repasting in a new Word file. Such bother. Additionally, it does display this search in the order the book is written – selections are not chronological or even within the same parts of the manuscript, it does not highlight all the elements you are searching, or offer any replacements. I see great potential but it is a long way from being user friendly. It’s worth a look but BEWARE and don’t put your only copy of the manuscript in the thing – you may want to kill if there is a power outage.

(Much of the above is still true, but I am now using the results of the analysis differently. With your manuscript open (use a copy) you can “search/find” words and phrases in the MS and make the changes in the copy. Forget making the changes in the SmartEdit version, it makes reviewing and changes the usual adverbs so much easier. All in all it’s a great editing aid.)

The Challenges of Self-Editing
I am absolutely sure there are gremlins in the Microsoft Word software. I can spend days going through the manuscript, correcting, searching, revising, changing, and even deleting. But when I come back to the MS with fresh eyes, I find even more. The mind is a cruel mistress; it WILL insert missing words as you read (silently or even out loud) and not mention it to anyone. When you go back, pesky conjunctions have fled the scene, s’s and ed’s have been added or deleted, and I am sure some words mysteriously have left to go on vacation. That is why when you are done find a great copy editor. They are worth the money (and Dennis, don’t get any ideas about raising your rates – see Dennis DeRose above) and expertise.

The new book is essentially done; I have a few things on hold (like final professional editing) while I wait for some hopeful meetings with agents later this month. Fingers crossed.

More Later . . . . .

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

So You Want To Be A Writer

Few writers start out as writers, this is a tidbit I’ve picked up from conversations at numerous writer’s conferences, conclaves, and conventions. Almost everyone wants to tell their stories and intentionally and unintentionally end up at a desk with a pad of paper or laptop trying to construct a story that’s been bouncing around in their head for years. I’ve met lawyers and laborers, housewives and housemaids, junior and senior executives, past and present CEO, CFO, CIOs, a taxi driver, psychologists and psychotics, all wanting to write a book. Many eventually finish their project and meet their personal goal -  a finished manuscript. So what if no one reads the thing, for most writers it’s the journey, not the safe arrival. The tougher the road, the more interesting the ride.

Here are a few of the elements of the writer’s world that make it interesting and challenging.

What to write.
Non-fiction or fiction that’s it. True there’s poetry and maybe songs, but let’s just look at these two basic overreaching genres of writing. I am amazed at how often a writer’s first book is a non-fiction work, often stemming from something they are personally or professionally involved in. A lawyer has a dramatic civil case with a great cast of real characters, he writes the story. A scientist finds a bone in the middle of Africa and tells the story. A reporter watching a storm roll up the Atlantic seaboard collects personal stories of the storm’s impact and writes the book. From these success stories they often turn to fiction or both. Start with what you know and build on it. My first book was a non-fiction work on the building of a new American town on the Illinois prairie. It lead to a fiction mystery focusing on the development industry and led to four more mysteries and two novels.

To be very honest I love the research more than the writing itself. A book, even hard core science fiction, requires some type of research. Non-fiction books on city and urban planning will, even today, require hours of library time. Thrillers, especially those with a military background, require correct and accurate information on everything from guns to methods of torture. A romance novel better have the canals of Venice correct if the story is to be true. Dick Francis knew the horseracing industry and the racetrack better than some jockeys – that’s why he was so good. And don’t get me started with lawyers and the courtroom, I mean it, don’t get me started. There are so many ways to get information, so start and keep great notes and a logical way of retrieving the data. Keep a notebook or a journal, take good notes, if you hear a great line write it down, steal it away for later. Keep your ears open to conversations, use them. Your research for one book may be useful in another story. Find a process and stick to it.

The Time Sink
Writing requires time, period. To finish a 100,000 word novel will take the normal writer at least six months for the first draft. Or it might take two years, or at 2,000 words a day two months. A contract with a big five publisher might demand two books a year or one a year, do the math. And it’s just not the writing itself, it’s the research, the rewrites, the emergency run to Starbucks to clear your head, or to the run to BevMore. It’s simple to say find a schedule and stick to it, phooey. Write when you can, try to keep to a schedule, rewrite on airplanes, on the upper deck of a ship, or on a park bench. Don’t make the excuse, “I have to have my special place to write.” That’s just procrastination.

Read Other Work
This is said over and over but it is true. By reading other writers in your genre you pick up on trends and the market, you also gain an innate sense of story timing and phrasing. This is not stealing but akin to learning a new language. When you read other work outside you current preference you open yourself to style and story structure. A good sci-fi story may have a romance – so read romance. Jack Reacher has issues – browse Psychology Today. Nero Wolfe was a gourmand – read Gourmet.

As you build your repertoire and experience some aspects of your writing will get better, your phrasing and dialog will be crisper, the use of adverbs and flowery words will drop, and the attitude of the story itself will strengthen. All for the better.

More Later . . . . . . . .