Wednesday, September 30, 2009

James N. Frey's favorite thrillers

When James N. Frey released HOW TO WRITE A DAMN GOOD MYSTERY in 2004, Booklist wrote the following review:

From the author of HOW TO WRITE A DAMN GOOD NOVEL (1987) comes a companion volume aimed at would-be mystery writers. Frey doesn't believe in those collections "of tips on what to do and what not to do," arguing that they give the false impression that writing good fiction is merely a matter of mixing ingredients in the right proportions. Instead, Frey maintains, the key to a good mystery isn't picking clues and getting the technical stuff right; it's a matter of finding the right people to tell your story, finding the right words to frame it, finding the right sequence of events to maximize suspense. Frey also spends time on an important but frequently neglected aspect of the writerly trade: the audience. Who reads mysteries, and what do they expect from them? Meanwhile, he tackles the nuts and bolts in a particularly clever manner, by guiding the reader through the creation of a virtual novel, which he calls Murder in Montana. This approach proves eminently practical and rich in details. A must for budding crime-fiction authors.

"The creation of a virtual novel"--that's the same instructional method Jim will be employing with those of us who attend his two-day pre-conference workshop, "How to Plot Like the Pros." In his next book, due out in March, this internationally bestselling author on the writer's craft turns his attention to his other favorite genre: thrillers.

As a follow-up question to her interview with 2010 Write Stuff keynote James N. Frey, conference chair Kathryn Craft asked what were some of his favorite thrillers, examples from which we might reasonably expect to find in his new book, HOW TO WRITE A DAMN GOOD THRILLER. Here’s the list he provided.*

The Day of the Jackal (film based on novel by Frederick Forsyth)
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (film based on novel by John le Carre)
The Ipcress File (film based on novel by Len Deighton)
A Funeral in Berlin (film based on novel by Len Deighton)
Jaws (film based on novel by Peter Benchley)
The Hand that Rocks the Cradle (film based on novel by Robert Tine)
Psycho (Hitchock film based on novel by Robert Bloch)
Gaslight (film adapted from Patrick Hamilton’s play Gas Light)
The Sixth Sense (film written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan)
Black Sunday (film based on novel by Thomas Harris)
Alien (Ridley Scott film)
Cape Fear (Martin Scorsese film)
Charlie Varick (film based on novel by John Reese)
The Invasion of the Body Snatchers (based on novel by Jack Finney)
Misery (film based on novel by Stephen King)
Hombre (film based on novel by Elmore Leonard)
Charade (film with Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn)
The Naked Prey (Corenl Wilde film)
Play Misty for Me (Clint Eastwood film)
The Scarlet Pimpernel (films based on novel by Baroness Orczy)
Dead Calm (film based on novel by Charles Williams)
The Exorcist (film based on novel by William Peter Blatty)
Dr. Strangelove (Stanley Kubrick film)
The Boys from Brazil (film based on novel by Ira Levin)
Seven Days in May (film based on novel by Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Bailey II)
Eye of the Needle (film based on Ken Follett’s novel STORM ISLAND)

*Note: For the sake of expediency, many authors who write “how to” books for writers use films as examples.

If you have a favorite thriller not on this list, feel free to post a comment.

Countdown update: 107 days until conference registration opens!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

An Interview with James N. Frey, Part II

Here is more of 2010 Write Stuff Conference Chair Kathryn Craft’s interview with keynote James N. Frey.

Kathryn: Other than "writer" and "writing teacher," what other jobs have you had? Do you have other hobbies/interests you enjoy?

Jim: I was once a claims adjuster, worked on submarines, sold insurance, worked in a hospital... I eventually went to college, did graduate work in English Lit and Psychology and quit both because they took time away from writing. I advise young writers to fill a sea chest full of great books and join the merchant marines, see the world and write.

I have a sailboat; in my spare time I sail on the San Francisco Bay [Jim is on left in photo]. I enjoy teaching my 4-year-old granddaughter how to box. When she was two and a half a kid in preschool bit her and she knocked him cold with a right cross, so she’s 1-0 with a TKO.

K: In your opinion, what is the hardest concept for budding authors to grasp?

J: That fiction is not reality, that you need conflict; and you need to “show don’t tell.” I tell new writers that they should without exception always, at every point in their story, be telling about “a well motivated character overcoming obstacles in pursuit of a goal.”

K: What is the most rewarding aspect of your work as a writing teacher?

J: When by all your endless explanations and drawing diagrams and making up example after example, of showing examples written by masters, and begging and pleading for them to listen, and when they don’t, yelling and hurling insults and obscenities at them, and then, alas, exhausted and panting for air you finally crack through the thick concrete in their brains and the light dawns, then the reward comes: you can see it in their eyes, damn, they just got it!

K: What were the last three books that won a bid for your attention, and what drew you in?

J: I’ve just finished L.A. REX, a violent Urban Thriller. I read it because a friend recommended it. Great tough-guy prose, but the plot is out of control. Before that I read WAR AND PEACE for the third time because it’s so great it gives me the shivers. Before that I read a couple of thrillers because they were best sellers and I was writing HOW TO WRITE A DAMN GOOD THRILLER (that’s coming out in March) and I thought I could use them as examples of damn good thrillers, but I couldn’t, they were both crap. People aren’t reading because nowadays there’s a lot of bad writing, bad editing, and over-hyping of crap.

Thanks, Jim! In the next post: a list of James N. Frey’s favorite thrillers.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Interview with James Frey: Part I

Here is the first part of a recent interview Conference Chair Kathryn Craft conducted with Write Stuff 2010 keynote James N. Frey.

Kathryn: You have built a career helping writers achieve their dreams. Who were the writers or writing teachers who inspired you?

Jim: My mentor is Lester Gorn, whom I met in 1969 when he taught at U.C. Berkeley Extension in San Francisco. He did a manuscript analysis--he’d read your manuscript three times and critique it for $65. Then I took his regular Saturday workshop for about ten years. He was a real tiger who could growl the plaster off the ceiling; your job was to shut up and listen. He still is a tiger. He’s now 93 and reads my drafts so long as I agree to stay after and clean the blood off the walls.

Kathryn: What was the genesis of your first "How To" writing book?

Jim: I started my own workshop by renting a room at the YWCA on Sutter Street in San Francisco on Thursday nights right after I sold my first novel. I started HOW TO WRITE A DAMN GOOD NOVEL as handouts for my students.

K: Did you know from a young age that you would become a writer?

J: Yes. It was like I was a writer in a former life. I used to spend hours scribbling long before I could write, age three or so. I tried to do a novel at age 7. It was pretty bad, no plot. The characters were not nuanced.

K: Have you found that writers tend to share similar attributes? If so, what are they? Do you fit the profile?

J: Most writers either had parents that encouraged them to exercise their imagination--‘yes honey, I see the angel in the dust ball’--or had a horrible trauma in their childhood that drove them into their imagination. There is nothing quite as good for stimulating the creative nature of a writer as whacking them aside the head and sticking them in a garbage can for a day or two. Most writers had ugly childhoods, horrible to live through, but it’s an endless supply of material. My mother died in a botched surgical operation when I was five. My mind went down the rabbit hole soon after and has not come back yet.

My mind being down the rabbit hole when I was a kid, I spent most of my waking hours drawing crude story cartoons. I achieved the lowest grade point average in the history of Jamesville-Dewitt High School [near Syracuse, NY]: 68%. A record that still stands. Highest grade, 72 in Drivers Ed. An English teacher once asked me what I wanted to do when got out of school. I told her I was going to be writer. She had a grand mal seizure.

When I was in Junior College they started up a literary magazine. For the first issue they printed four stories. They had five submissions. Mine was the reject.

K: The world is going digital; we are inundated with media vying for our shrinking attention spans; and polls show fewer people reading even as manuscripts are piling up on agents' desks at record numbers. What do today's writers have to keep in mind to successfully achieve publication?

J: A killer attitude. You’re looking for that one agent or editor in a hundred or two hundred that shares your sensibility. Write what you feel passionate about and you will find an editor that shares your passion.

More of this interview with James N. Frey in the next blog post!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Fiction Writers: A pre-con workshop you won't want to miss!

A huge draw at this year’s conference will be James N. Frey’s two-full-day pre-conference workshop, “How to Plot Like the Pros.” On Thursday, March 25 and Friday, March 26, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Frey will give attendees the craft information they need to plot with confidence, while at the same time leading them through the practical application of this material.

With Jim's guidance, workshop attendees will jointly build a plot outline for an entire novel.

“The reason I need two days is that it takes me that long to get through the material,” he says. “I use the participants’ input to create a story step by step and discuss the elements as we go. When I do these plotting workshops, people usually get a lot out of them.” Jim has posted testimonials from past students at his web site.

We are able to offer the two-day workshop for $115, which will include a morning coffee/tea station and a box lunch. Workshoppers needn’t worry about missing a moment of the conference, as the opening conference activities begin at 6:30 pm Friday  for those attending a Page Cuts session (more about those in a future post) or 7 pm if you are attending the session on how to pitch to an agent or editor. The welcome reception follows these two activities at 8:30-10 pm. Registration fees for the conference itself have not changed since last year and are noted in the “Quick Facts” sidebar to the left.

Due to the nature of this workshop, Jim has told us that he can accommodate 60-75 participants before his ability to interact with those present would start to diminish. Because we want to promote a quality experience, the conference organizers have established a cut-off number of 60 participants. Because we needed extra room for box lunch choices, you’ll need to fill out separate registration forms for the workshop and the conference this year, and attach separate checks. Registration begins on January 15. That's in 129 days!

In next week's post: an interview with James N. Frey.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The keynote revealed!

We are thrilled to announce that the keynote for our 2010 conference will be internationally acclaimed creative writing teacher and workshop leader James N. Frey, the author of HOW TO WRITE A DAMN GOOD NOVEL; HOW TO WRITE A DAMN GOOD NOVEL II; THE KEY: WRITING DAMN GOOD FICTION USING THE POWER OF MYTH; HOW TO WRITE A DAMN GOOD MYSTERY; and the forthcoming HOW TO WRITE A DAMN GOOD THRILLER. He is also an award-winning playwright and the author of nine novels, including the Edgar Award-nominated THE LONG WAY TO DIE and WINTER OF THE WOLVES, a Literary Guild selection.

[One of his works of fiction was not the controversial memoir A MILLION LITTLE PIECES—that’s another James Frey.]

Jim’s workshops have been an enduring attraction at the Oregon Writers Colony, the Heartland Writers, the University of California Extensions novel writing workshop, the California Writers Club Conference, and the Santa Barbara Writers Conference, where former GLVWG member Barbara Howett got to know him. Her recommendation led us to him. We are most excited to host this rare East Coast appearance!
Frey’s keynote will be “The Writer’s Life: The Power and the Passion.” In addition, Frey will speak at the conference on two great topics: “The Power of Knowing Your Premise” and “How to Write Damn Good Prose.” He is looking forward to meeting conferees at the Friday night Welcome Reception: “When I go to conferences I always spend time with the writers,” he says. “I enjoy meeting them and sharing war stories.” He has also offered to serve as a Page Cuts panelist, and will regale those who share his passion for mysteries and thrillers with insider information at an informal genre chat.
But that’s not even half of it... More in the next post.