Friday, February 25, 2011

Explore the Tween Genre with P.G. Kain

by Donna Brennan

Kids who are too old for chapter books but not quite ready for teen books are part of the huge (and growing) audience for tween books. Author P.G. Kain is right at home in this vast market, and his session will acclimate you to this expansive environment.

Donna: What ages are tween books marketed for?

PG: Generally between 9 and 14, but this is an age group where reading levels can really vary. Not all nine year olds are the same and not all fourteen year olds are the same. But now that I think of it not all 35 year olds are the same either so I’m not sure this is a good answer.

D:  What made you decide to write for this age group?

PG:  For years I had worked with a very successful international best selling women’s fiction author. I ghosted some of her work and we worked together on other parts. She suddenly died so it became impossible to remain her ghost. For a while I considered continuing to work in women’s fiction but my agent at the time suggested writing a YA novel so I took one of the concepts I had come up with for adults and tweaked it to become a YA concept. When we started shopping it around we got an offer from a tween imprint that seemed to be a good fit and we took it. If I had known back then that seventh grade would play such an important part in my life, I would have paid more attention.

I really love writing for tweens because they are deeply dedicated readers. When they love a book, they let you know and when a character does something they don’t like, they also let you know. It’s a little like Misery but without the kidnapping and sledgehammers, at least not yet. I fell in love with books when I was a tween and reading was such a apart of my life at that age. It’s really a joy to have an impact on kids in this way.

The added bonus that was a total surprise to me was the community of tween and YA writers.  I’ve become friends with so many talented writers and we really encourage and support each other. Some, like Madeleine George (Looks) or Carley Moore (The Stalker Chronicles), I’ve known for years in other careers. But others, like Taylor Morris (Hello Gorgeous, BFF Break Up) and Julia DeVillers (Liberty Porter, Trading Faces), I’ve met while writing and publishing and we have become fierce advocates of each other’s work. See, I’m even plugging their books in this response.

D:  Very often YA and tween books appeal to an older audience as well. Do you get fan mail from grown-ups? Do many of your students at NYU read your books?

PG:  Yes. All the time. Sometimes I get email from parents who tell me how much their daughters loved the books and that made them read the book also. I write in first-person girl so people often assume I am a woman before they meet me. I here Flaubert had this problem too before he started a Facebook page. Once I got an email that said something like, “Dear Ms. Kain -- You are probably very surprised to get an email from a guy in his thirties…” Well, the surprise was on him.

Sometimes adults are little surprised to find out that the person writing for 13 year-old girls is NOT actually a 13 year-old girl but the truth is NONE of the writers I know working with this group are 13 year-old girls either so we are all mostly stuck using our imaginations, Teen Vogue, and Google.

D:  How much of your own tween/teen-years can be found in the pages of your books?

PG:  All of it. I basically used all of the same streets and icons from the suburb I grew up in in New Jersey. A few years ago I got an email from a mother who had read my book because her daughter had given it to her. She wrote to tell me that she had recognized all of the places, streets and people and then got out her yearbook to confirm everything. It turns out we went to elementary school together. I had always thought I would change those things but then I never did.

I’m often asked if characters are based on people and I think that’s hard to do. Certainly aspects of characters are there but writers need their characters to do so much in the service of the novel that it is hard to stay true to an actual person.

D:  What are some tips you can offer to make our readers care about our characters?

PG:  My current series starts off with a very unlikeable character. This girl is mean and has the ambition of a soviet gymnast behind the Iron Curtain! I really understood her so I liked her just fine but when I shared this draft with other people they found the character off-putting. I think readers care about characters when they understand them. I think characters can do awful things but if you show why that character believes what they are doing is right, it helps develop empathy. On my next draft I did more to explain why this character was so ambitious and why she felt she had no other options and this really help make the character more likeable. She still does awful things but as a reader you understand why she does them.

I learned this from my cat Biscuit. Sometimes he bites but he usually does this when he wants attention so I’ve learned to hate the biting and not the feline.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


by Jon Gibbs

Jon:  How important is research for a novel, as opposed to non-fiction?

Jonathan: Research is key to fiction. All novels have a nonfiction backstory. Everything from JURASSIC PARK (dinosaurs, genetics, the operation of zoological gardens, paleontology) to TWILIGHT (vampire and werewolf folklore; blood typing, the geography of Washington State). Obviously some books need more than others. I build a lot of science into my novels. In THE DRAGON FACTORY (St. Martin’s Griffin), I did a ton of research on a wide range of topics: transgenics, gene therapy, eugenics, diseases of poverty, diseases of ethnicity, water purification for bottled water, weapons, military tactics, the death camps, the Holocaust, cloning, and more.

If you had to sum up the key to good research in one sentence, what would it be?

Research broadens and deepens fiction and grounds it in reality, which makes the fantastical elements easier to accept.

What's the best thing about collaborating on projects like Wanted Undead or Alive and They Bite?

If two of you are researching something like vampire beliefs, werewolf trials, or ghost hunting, it’s all a lot less weird. And a lot more fun. Also, working with Janice Gable Bashman was terrific. She’s a superb researcher and writer, and a good friend.

What's the worst?

Haven’t hit that point yet.

What do you remember about the first writing conference you ever attended?

It was the 2000 Philadelphia Writers Conference. I’d been doing magazine work for over twenty years and I’d become bored. I really didn’t know many other writers. Then I went to that writer’s conference and for days I was surrounded by nothing BUT writers. It was like a starving vampire diving into a lake of blood. Okay, weird image, but there it is. I now know that a writer needs to be around other writers, and to be part of a writing community. Not only did attending that event supercharge me, it gave me the focus and excitement to build my career in a whole new direction. By 2005 I was writing fiction, I got an agent, and since then my career has gone vertical. I credit the writers conference experience with a lot of that.

Which stage of the writing process do you enjoy the most, and why?

The actual writing. I love it. I get to play in my own imagination all day long…and then get paid for it. How cool is that? The other part I love is interacting with readers. I like to keep the lines of communication open between me and the folks who read my stories. On Facebook, Twitter, at signings and cons, via message boards, and every other way that comes up. I’ve even started ‘meeting’ with book groups around the country via Skype. To me…they’re the other kids in the playground.

What changes, if any, do you expect to see in the publishing industry over the next few years?

We’re definitely going more in the direction of e-publishing. We’ll be seeing a boom in e-stories, and probably some e-only books by first time authors, or authors in smaller genres (like cozies, westerns, etc.). I also think magazines are going to virtually vanish in print in favor of magazines on iPads, e-readers, etc.

Congratulations on your recent nominations for this year's Bram Stoker Award (Best novel: Rot and Ruin and Best 
non-fiction: Wanted Undead or Alive). You've already won twice before. How much impact do awards like these have on a writer's career?

The most important thing is how validating it is to a writer to win an award such as ‘Best First Novel’. As far as the impact…it’s definitely there. It’s there starting with a nomination and it carries through. Publishers put it on book jackets, and that sells books. Awards are not always an accurate meter of ‘best’, of course. But they encourage writers to bring their A-game every time they turn out a piece of writing. They’re also good for the industry. They build fun, positive buzz.

Jonathan Maberry is the NY Times bestselling author, multiple Bram Stoker Award winner, and Marvel Comics writer. His recent works include The King of Plagues, Rot & Ruin, and Wanted Undead or Alive. Since 1978 he has sold more than 1200 feature articles, thousands of columns, two plays, greeting cards, technical manuals, how-to books, short stories, and more. His Joe Ledger thrillers have been optioned by Sony Entertainment and are in development for TV. Jonathan is the founder of the Writers Coffeehouse and co-founder of The Liars Club . He is a frequent keynote speaker and guest of honor at writers conferences including BackSpace, PennWriters, The Write Stuff, Central Coast Writers, Liberty States, and many others. Visit him online at, and

Friday, February 18, 2011

New Stuff at The Write Stuff 2011 - Part 2

Tammy Burke, GLVWG’s 2011 Write Stuff Conference Chair, has had business articles published in magazines on the northeast coast and won an award for best mid-length article in 2001. She is currently working on her first YA book Uriah’s Window.

Donna Brennan, GLVWG’s 2011 Conference Co-chair, was a technical writer in the corporate world for over ten years. Four years ago she decided to get serious about her writing career and went in search of a local writers group and writers conferences. She has been a member of the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group for four years and is also a member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW). She has completed one novel and is working on a second. She also has begun writing and submitting short articles for family magazines.

Tori Bond, GLVWG President Ex Officio, writes women’s fiction and humor, has won honorable mention in the 76th Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition and is currently pursuing an MFA in creative writing at Rosemont College.

Tori Bond's interview with Conference Chair, Tammy Burke 

Tori: The Write Stuff conference is in its 18th year. What do you think is the secret to the Write Stuff success? How many years have you been attending the conference and what is your favorite part?

Tammy: My first Write Stuff Conference was in 2009. I remember how impressed I was with it and how hard I fell completely under its charm. I’ve enjoyed being the co-chair in 2010 and it’s thrilling being the conference chair this year. I like every part of the conference particularly the variety of sessions and I learned a lot last year in James N. Frey’s two day preconference workshop but if I had to name my absolute favorite part of the conference, it has to be the networking aspect. I can’t speak for everyone else but I know my family’s eyes tend to glaze over if I talk about writing too much. I find it very gratifying to be around other individuals who understand the “writing bug”.

As to the Write Stuff’s success, I would point to a few key things. One of the most integral reasons is because of the people who work it. No event runs smoothly without the aid of its people and we have a fabulous bunch of volunteers in addition to attracting quality presenters, agents and editors. Other individuals who help the conference with its success are the hotel’s catering manager and staff. They consistently step up to the plate as we increase the quality of our conference. The conference size and setup give conferees more opportunities to network with other writing professionals and we consistently offer a nice variety of topics. I may be biased, but I believe we have one of the best conferences in the northeast.

Tori: What should conferees prepare or bring with them to the pre-conference workshop and/or conference?

Tammy: Besides what I’ve mentioned earlier, I would say for the preconference workshop(s), attendees should bring either their completed manuscript or their work in progress and something to take notes with. Of course for the conference, I would also recommend bringing something to take notes with.

Another thing I’d like to mention, Saturday’s hot lunch is the “Tour of Italy” and if you have dietary restrictions such as tomato and/or gluten allergies you may contact the hotel at 610-266-1000 in order to have your needs accommodated.

Tori: Networking is touted as an important aspect of the conference. What opportunities exist at the Write Stuff for networking with other writers, presenters, agents and editors?

Tammy: As I mentioned earlier, the Write Stuff is set up with various opportunities for conferees to speak with other writers, presenters, agents and editors. Some examples include the Wednesday night informal Happy Hour, the Thursday night Writers Café, the Friday night reception party, scheduled breaks on Saturday, and the bookfair. At my first Write Stuff conference I ended up sitting with one of the editors at the Friday night reception party and was able to have a lengthy conversation. I also spoke to some of the agents as well. So yes, networking opportunities abound along with learning and sharing information.
Hope to see you in March!

Interview with Conference Co-chair Donna Brennan:

Tori Bond: How many years have you been attending the Write Stuff conference and what is your favorite part?

Donna Brennan: I've attended four Write Stuff conferences so far. The conference is how I found out about Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group. I wanted to be a writer and I knew how important it is to attend writing conferences to learn the craft and to meet other writers, so I googled “writer's conference” in PA and NJ. I was thrilled to find one so close to my home and at such a reasonable price. Finding GLVWG and its wonderful members was an added bonus.

I don't have a favorite part of the conference. I get so much out of most of the sessions I attend, but I also enjoy the time spent talking to other aspiring writers and successful authors. Last year was the first time I sat in the page cuts session. It was interesting to see how the panelist's responses to the same piece of writing sometimes varied greatly—but hey, that's how it is out in the larger world. Some editors and agents will love something that another agent or editor rejected.

T: From your experience attending the Write Stuff conference in past years, what advice do you have about getting the most out of the conference?

D: The best way to get the most out of the conference is to plan ahead of time which sessions you will attend.

Take the time to not only look at the subject matter for each session, but look up the presenters online. See what kinds of things they write, what they say on their blog, and even how successful they are. Not every presenter will have an internet presence, but if they do it will help you decide if this is someone from whom you can learn a lot.

Planning ahead of time is especially important if you're meeting with an agent or editor—all of them have websites or blogs you should check out. Look at the kinds of books they have published recently to see if your book is a good fit. If it is, then during your appointment be sure to mention the names of books they have listed that are similar to yours (along with the similarities and differences).

T: The Write Stuff conference is planned and organized by all volunteers, from the Conference Chair and Co-Chair to the room monitors. What do you enjoy about volunteering in this way?

D: One of the things I enjoy about volunteering for the conference is meeting so many other helpful and willing volunteers. I've gotten to know several GLVWG members better than I had from just attending meetings, and I expect I will get to know some more of them better by the time the conference rolls around. It's very encouraging to see how quickly a call for help gets answered.

T: As Co-Chair you take over the reins next year and organize Write Stuff 2012? What motivates you to take on this challenge?

D: As for what motivated me to take on the challenge of Conference Co-Chair, it just seemed like a fun thing to do. I love learning about new things and meeting new people. This is a perfect opportunity to do that. And I wanted to try to get some of the presenters I've seen at other conferences or that I've heard about from other writers to present at Write Stuff.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

New Stuff at The Write Stuff 2011

Tammy Burke, GLVWG’s 2011 Write Stuff
Conference Chair, has had business articles published
 in magazines on the northeast coast and won an award for best mid-length article in 
2001.  She is currently working on her first YA book "Uriah’s Window."

Over drinks after The Write Stuff 2010 conference had just concluded, Tammy Burke, then Conference Co-chair, was already contemplating who she might invite to be the keynote speaker for the 2011 conference. She sighed and said she’d give herself a week off, as if she were being indulgent, before starting work on this year’s conference. Yes, it takes a year and a whole lot of work to plan a successful, well organized Write Stuff conference. Many wondered how she would repeat last year’s success with James Frey as keynote speaker and preconference presenter. Tammy enthusiastically took up the challenge and delivered by booking Donald Maass as keynote speaker and preconference workshop presenter, along with a second preconference workshop with Lisa Rector-Maass, in addition to a whole slate of great presentations by renowned writers and publishing professionals. With The Write Stuff 2011 conference weeks away, Tori Bond, GLVWG President Ex Officio  interviewed Tammy Burke, Conference Chair, and Donna Brennan, Conference Co-chair, to find out what’s new this year, get advice on how to get the most out of the conference, and much more.

Tori Bond: Each year the Write Stuff conference seems to get better and better. What’s new this year?

Tammy Burke: Since our last year’s two day preconference workshop How to Plot Like the Pros by James N. Frey was so well received, we decided to include the preconference workshop again. However, this year it’s been expanded to include three workshops by two well-known presenters. Donald Maass, president of the Donald Maass Literary Agency and well known author and workshop leader will be teaching an 8 hour session Writing the Breakout Novel on Thursday, March 24, 2011 and 4 hour session Fire in Fiction on Friday morning, March 25, 2011. His wife, Lisa Rector-Maass, independent editor and owner of Third Draft NYC will be teaching a four hour Sagging Middle workshop on Friday afternoon, March 25, 2011. The price
we are able to offer these workshops for is exciting as well.

Tori: For anyone that has not registered yet, can you explain the difference between the pre-conference workshops and the conference? Does one have to sign-up for the conference in order to take one or both of the preconference workshops?

Tammy: Let me answer the second question first. No. One does not have to sign up for the conference to sign up for the preconference workshop(s). You can choose to sign up for all three: the conference, the Donald Maass workshops, and the Lisa Rector workshop. Or you can pick and choose as you please among them. The only restriction is the cutoff date of March 12, 2011 or when our venue fills, whichever comes first.

As to the differences between the conference and the preconference workshops, the conference itself offers more variety and activities than the preconference workshops while the preconference workshop runs longer and offers a more in depth concentration of topic discussion and material by renowned workshop leaders.

For example, the conference opens Friday evening, March 25 with a choice of sessions, Tuning Your Pitch: The Essential Notes led by literary agents Blair Hewes and Katie Grimm OR Page Cuts, a limited enrollment session where the participants have the first page of their manuscript read by a moderator and critiqued by a panel of agents, editors and/or published authors. Afterwards, conferees can attend the reception party. Saturday has a great line-up with 11 wonderful presenters for 17 concurrent 50 minute sessions, a two hour workshop with New York Times Bestselling author, Jonathan Maberry and celebrated nonfiction writer, Janice Gable Bashman, keynote speech Writing 21st Century Fiction by Donald Maass, an opportunity to sign up for a 10 minute pitch session with one of our six agents or two editors, along with a Flash Fiction Contest, and Book Fair with giveaways and door prizes.

Tori: Will we see a return of Write Stuff Writers Café on Thursday night? Is there a topic of discussion planned yet?

Tammy: The Writers Café was well received last year and we will repeat it again this year. For those not familiar with the Writers Café, it is a gathering of writers that meet monthly to talk about various aspects of the craft and marketing of writing. We will be holding a Write Stuff version of the Writers Café on Thursday night at 7:30 – 9:30 PM. It is a great time to interact, network, share and learn with fellow writers.

Our moderator, Bart Palamaro, plans on opening the discussion to topics that the attendees wish to discuss. It’s very likely that the conversation will turn to pitches so if you have a pitch you’d like to try out, please bring it along.

Tori: Also last year, the hotel provided a buffet dinner on Friday night, making it possible for conferees to get a quick meal between the end of the workshop and the beginning of Friday night’s activities. Will the hotel provide this again this year? What is the cost and what time will the buffet be available?

Tammy: There is limited time between the end of the preconference workshop and the beginning of the conference which made the buffet dinner at the hotel on Friday night a hit last year. I personally enjoyed last year’s buffet myself. The buffet will be open from 5 – 6:30 pm on Friday, March 25, 2011. The cost will be $16.96 (includes tax and gratuity). Additionally, the hotel offers sandwiches and other quick foods at the front desk for those looking for another option.

Tori: I’ve heard rumor of an activity or social event being planned for conferees that will be at the hotel Wednesday evening, March 23rd. Can you confirm the rumor? What’s being planned?

Tammy: My co-chair, Donna Brennan, and I spoke with the hotel catering manager about doing an informal happy hour Wednesday evening. What we discovered is the hotel runs a happy hour Monday through Friday 5 to 7 with discounted prices on selected appetizers and drinks. We’ve decided to take advantage of the happy hour and invite all those wishing to come out and interact with their fellow conferees before everything kicks off. Please come and join us.

Also as an FYI, Friday night after the conference reception ends, the hotel bar will remain open and there will be a DJ and music.

Tori : What advice would you give to someone new to the Write Stuff conference? For instance, make sure you check out… or don’t be shy about… What’s the best tip you can give to conferees about getting the most out of the conference?

Tammy: Our conference is well know for the quality and the fact that YOU can talk to the presenters, the agents, and editors at the reception party, maybe in line at Saturday lunch, at the book fair, possibly during the scheduled breaks, etc. And with saying that, my first tip is to make the most of the opportunities presented. Not only is this a great environment to learn but also to network. I would recommend preparing a 30 to 60 second elevator speech on what you write (for when you get asked), a handful of business cards (for when you want to trade contact info with someone), and the willingness to get out there and talk with other conferees and presenters.

I also would recommend looking over the schedule and deciding which sessions most appeal to you ahead of time. I know I’m going to have difficulty decided which ones I’m attending. They all look so good. Please be aware that some of the choices have limited enrollment. For example, the Interviewing workshop by Jonathan Maberry and Janice Bashman is now currently full with a waiting list being filled.

And for individuals electing to schedule a pitch appointment with one of our agents or editors, please check out our Tip page.    We also have a great Flash Fiction contest. If you’re interested in entering, the rules are here and even if you choose not to enter the contest, please make it a point to vote for your favorite entry.

Tori Bond, GLVWG President Ex Officio, writes women’s fiction and humor, has won 
honorable mention in the 76th Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition and is currently 
pursuing an MFA in creative writing at Rosemont College.

(to be continued on Friday, February 18, 2011 )  

Also keep in mind - Early bird registration ends February 25, 2011!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Polish Your Pitch & Meet Agent/Editor Chair Kathryn Craft

One of the annual staples and highlights of the Write Stuff conference is the opportunity to pitch to and network with agents and editors. The person in the know about this year’s panel is Agent-Editor Chair Kathryn Craft, a developmental editor at, who writes women’s
fiction and memoir, and was an arts journalist for 19 years. She has spoken about writing and the publication process in person for writers groups, libraries, and schools, and on television and radio as well. She blogs at Healing Through Writing and at The Blood-Red Pencil, where she is a
contributing editor. GLVWG President Ex Officio Tori Bond asked Kathryn to share her tips on pitching at the Write Stuff 2011 conference.

Tori Bond: For those who have signed up for an agent or editor pitch session, what’s the most important thing they can do to prepare for their pitch?

Kathryn Craft: Learn the difference between a pitch and a plot. We’ll be talking about this at the pitching workshop I’ll be giving at Palmer Library on Feb. 26. Many times I heard one of my (many) favorite Write Stuff presenters, Molly Cochran, say: “What’s your book about?—but don’t tell me the plot!” I found that baffling for the longest time, and my first pitch showed it. I went on and on, saying that this happens then that happens, leaving the poor agent to try to collect the pieces into a cogent whole. You, as author, should know the cogent whole! Boil the essence of your book down to two or three sentences. I’ll show you how at the workshop.

For more information the Kathryn Craft workshop, “Learn to Pitch: It's Catching!" Click here.

T: A pitch session is ten minutes long, which doesn’t sound like much time to sell an agent or editor on a book. What advice would you give conferees about making the best of their ten minutes?

K: First, relax. Ten minutes is more than enough time. The pitches at the Philadelphia Writers Conference are five minutes—that, too, is plenty of time, if you have the essence of your book boiled down to two or three intriguing sentences. The idea isn’t to tell all, it’s to make the agent want to hear more.

After introducing yourself, give your initial pitch, then sit back and let what you’ve said sink in a moment. It’s possible this agent just heard 14 other pitches in a row, and there are other conversations going on in the room to distract him, so he might want to ask a follow-up question.  Even if not asked, try to steer the subsequent conversation around to why you’re the perfect person to write this book, because this can be a compelling reason for them to have faith in your ability to write it well. (“I was in Montserrat when the volcano blew, and helped rescue the victims!”)

One last piece of advice: if she says “Sounds great, I’d like to have a look,” and slides you her business card, don’t lose your marbles yet! Continue in a professional vein with this important question: “What would you like me to send?” She might say the first three chapters and synopsis, the first 50 pages, or the whole thing. Then ask, “Would you like me to send a hard copy, or e-mail it as a word attachment? .doc, or .docx?” Many agents are very specific about how they want to receive your materials, and extending yourself this way will make a good impression.  Then, once outside the room, write what they asked for on the back of the business card so you don’t forget. THEN jump up and down!! A request for the full manuscript does not by any means guarantee an offer of representation—but on the other hand, you can’t possibly get published unless you get the manuscript read by the right professionals, and you’ve made a great start!

T: There are other opportunities besides a pitch session to network with agents and editors at the conference. Can you talk about these opportunities and what advice would you give about when and how to approach them?

K: The Friday night party is a good place to talk to agents and editors, but since this is primarily a social occasion, try a softer sell. Start a conversation, show your knowledge of and interest in their work. This could result in an invitation from the agent to tell them about your work—after which, of course, you could say, “May I send you some sample chapters?”—and you’re on your way. You also might honor the social nature of the occasion by saying that you hope to pitch to her this weekend, but couldn’t get an appointment. Might she be able to meet with you sometime during the conference tomorrow? She might just say, “How about now?” Or she might give you a time the next day. The lobby has several comfy conversational groupings that could work for a pitch, as does the hotel restaurant.

In recent years I’ve heard some agents say that it’s not so cool to pitch them at lunch. They are human beings, they’ve been “on” all morning, and they would like to relax and refuel the tank. And breakfast might just be too darn early—frankly, I’ve noticed many agents do not attend our breakfast, so that they aren’t accosted so early. That said, these agents are here to find their next great client, so don’t lose an opportunity at lunch if an agent is sitting right next to you. You might want to think about using one of the soft sell techniques, above. And hopefully it goes without saying: we all deserve privacy in the bathroom! Just don’t wait until the Saturday afternoon social: most of the agents are eager to catch the 3:45 pm bus back to New York.

Here’s a list of genres represented by this year’s line-up of agents and editors. Check it out:

Literary fiction - 4
Literary horror
Literary thrillers
Commercial fiction - 2
Crime fiction (mysteries) - 4
Historical fiction - 2
Women’s fiction - 2
Paranormal romance
Science fiction - 2
Thrillers - 2

Urban fantasy
Inspirational fiction
Young adult - 5
Middle grade - 2
Short story collections
Short fiction
Short story collections
Memoir - 4
Narrative nonfiction - 4
Serious nonfiction - 3


Monday, February 7, 2011

Meet Keith Strunk

Keith Strunk is an actor, teacher, author, co-founder and Managing Director of River Union Stage, and a partner in Interlude Group LLC, a company specializing in training and development.  Keith will present “Writing Dialog That Works” and “The Author as the Storyteller,” at the Write Stuff conference. Tori Bond interviewed Keith about how his acting experience impacts the way he writes and what writers can learn from an actor about writing and self promotion. For Keith’s full bio, click here.

Tori Bond: As a writer who is also an actor, what do you feel is the biggest mistake writers make when writing dialog?  What do actors know about writing scenes that writers often overlook?

Keith Strunk: In a good script, every scene, every sentence, every word should drive the story forward.  Because of this, an actor knows that they have to fully bring each and every word that the author gives them to life.  The question is, how?  The answer lives largely in one word – SPECIFIC.  Every choice made in articulating the words of the author has to be specific.  The worst possible direction an actor gets is, “you’re being too general.”  For an actor, a scene, and the dialogue that drives it, being too general is the kiss of death.  The biggest single mistake I see writers make in writing dialogue for any genre is not being specific regarding objective, point of view, and action.  The hardest thing actors have to do is to take general, poorly written dialogue and make it sound real.  I’ve found that books on screenwriting such as Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting by Syd Fields or Story: Substance, Structure, Style and The Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee provide valuable insight on writing good dialogue regardless of genre.

T: How does your experience and training as an actor impact the way you write?

K: Actors have a passion for fully realizing a character within a story and breathing life into the words of the author.  Our actor’s training gives craft to that passion and sets us free to explore and create living, breathing people from words on a page.  The craft of creating characters lies at the heart of my process as writer.  Characters fascinate me.  Any story that I create starts with them.  I tend to focus on who they are and what drives them well before the pieces of the story fall together.  For me, the story evolves through the very real needs of the characters, which in turn, push the plot points of the story.  I find that I tend to write dialogue scenes first and build out from there.  Even Prallsville Mills and Stockton, my book that captures local oral history is driven by the colorful characters of the town as described in the stories told to me by the locals.

T: In today’s publishing world, writers are required to do most or all of the marketing for their books, forcing them to be public personalities, or as you’ll be presenting at the conference, “Author as the Storyteller.” Many writers are shy introverted types. How can the shy writer begin to put themselves out there more comfortably? Do you have any tricks to help the author as storyteller calm their nerves during a public reading?

K: We are, all of us, characters in our own right.  We each have distinct aspects of our personality that either add to or detract from our “public persona” as authors and writers.  If there is a “trick,” it’s in understanding how our audience or “public” perceives us and using the truthful aspects of ourselves to support that perception.  There is comfort in knowing that the public interacts with a selective portion of ourselves that we choose to share.  We feel less out of control when faced with an audience when we control the content of our “public persona.”  In addition, having a clear sense of our own “story” – beginning, middle, and sequels – gives us more control of the public conversation about and perception of us as authors.  As for nerves, we’ll discuss in the workshop why they are not only necessary, but essential for doing an effective public reading, presentation, or performance.

T: You’ve been quoted in Writer’s Digest January 2011 article “Joining Forces” for being a successful Liar. In that article you stated that being a member of the Liar’s Club has given you clout with agents and editors.  What can other writers glean from the Liars Club model to help them market their books and gain access to agents and editors?

K: In author Marie Lamba’s January 2011 Writer’s Digest article, “Joining Forces,” Jennifer DeChiara of the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency says, “It greatly improves a book’s chances if the author has a solid record of self-promotion.”  Jennifer’s comment makes clear that successful, author-driven promotion is essential in today’s world of publishing.  Although, we all bring any number of skills to the table that are useful in promoting our work, rarely, do we bring ALL the skills needed for success in this realm.  Bring together a number of authors with a diverse set of promotion skills and suddenly self-promotion becomes a lot less onerous and downright fun.  The Liars Club model simply says, “There’s power in numbers.”

T: I’ve attended a Liars Club event which was informative and enjoyable for the audience, but the Liars looked like they were having fun too, while also promoting their books. What is the most enjoyable aspect of being a Liar? What is the most challenging part of book promotion?

K: I think the most challenging part of book promotion can be summed up in three words, “The Long Haul.”  All of us have attended or had events that are successful and fun.  Promoting a book or yourself as an author is made up of ongoing events, signings, leading workshops (yep, I’m self-promoting), talks, book club appearances, interviews, conferences, panel discussions, etc, etc.  It can be an exhausting and, at times, demoralizing long haul if you do it all on your own.  Throw together some like-minded authors, with an optimistic view of the business (this is crucial), an irreverent sense of fun (also crucial), and the ability and drive to get things done, and “the long haul” is still long but the trip is a lot more fun and productive.  As for “the most enjoyable aspect of being a Liar.”  For me it’s the group’s ability to focus on what is possible in an unpredictable and sometimes impossible world.  And the drinks and food, of course.

T: What’s next for you? What writing projects are you working on?

K: The emergence of eBooks as a viable path to publication is creating the same kind of energy as the independent film movement did 30 years ago.  For that reason, I’m exploring publishing my illustrated children’s book, FF Manny Thing and Me, as an eBook.  It’s beautifully illustrated by artist Barry Sharplin and a lot of fun to read out loud.  My partner Laura Swanson and I are working on an adaptation of Shakespeare’s As You Like It for 4th and 5th grade students in River Union Stage’s outreach program (the real thing not watered down).  Finally, I’m working on a YA novel set in a film noir/steampunk world.