Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Genres to pitch at the conference

The editors and agents coming to the 2010 Write Stuff conference represent a wide array of genres. If your work is represented on this list, there will be at least one publishing professional you can pitch to!

Speculative fiction
Science fiction (2)
Fantasy (3)
Young adult (3)
Middle grade (2)
Psychological suspense
Mysteries (2)
Romance (2)
Paranormal romance (2)
Romantic suspense
Women's fiction (2)
Literary fiction (2)
"Smart" commercial fiction

Narrative non-fiction (3)
History (2)
Science (2)
Women's issues

Unsure of what genre your work fits into? The following links might help.
Fiction genre definitions (go to "Info for writers")
Fiction genres (listed)
Fiction genres (Wikipedia)
Children's genres
Romance genres

If you hoped to pitch at The Write Stuff conference and don't see your genre listed: don't give up! We are working to replace one agent who had to cancel and your genre may yet show up. Here are a few things you could do if it doesn't:

  • Thoroughly research the books these agents have represented. They may not have listed your genre as one they are currently seeking, but that doesn't mean they haven't gotten behind such a book in the past.
  • Network with the agents at the welcome reception. The publishing community is a small world and when agents are asked about projects they don't represent they have been known to refer our conferees to other representatives at their agency, other agencies, or publishing companies that do.
  • Sign up to pitch to an editor or agent who represents work that sounds close to yours ("memoir,"  for example, could be a form of "narrative nonfiction") and hope they can point you in the right direction.
  • There are good reasons agents and editors list genres. This is a subjective business, and they can't be all things to all writers, so agents and editors list genres they typically resonate with. They also list genres for which they have good sales connections at publishing houses. They also may list genres they know they don't want, and we must respect that. But these industry professionals will be at our conference as a resource to you, so if you find yourself at breakfast or in the lunch line next to an agent or editor, feel free to pick his/her brain about the best way to further your career.
Read more about our agents and editors soon—full conference website is on the way!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Professionalism is the ticket for this small press editor

This week Write Stuff conference co-chair Tammy Burke interviewed editor Renee Rocco, who with husband Frank Rocco owns Lyrical Press, a small general fiction publisher based in New York. Write Stuff conferees may request an opportunity to pitch their work to Renee. Although Lyrical Press is actively seeking erotica and romance and paranormal sub-genres, they welcome all submissions (including action-adventure, fantasy, historical, horror, humor, mystery, science fiction) except screenplays, young adult and poetry works. At this time Lyrical Press is closed to self-published and/or previously published works and will not consider works longer than 100,000 words.

Tammy Burke: What writing qualities do you look for in an author? What do you admire? What are your pet peeves?

Renee Rocco: I look for professionalism, above all else. An author who treats their writing as a career is open to constructive criticisms that will result in better story structure, richer settings and stronger characterization. I admire writers who respect that publishing is a business and seek to grow in storytelling ability. As for a pet peeve... I’d say writers who call their books/characters their "children." When a writer makes the decision to publish their work, that's exactly what it becomes. Work. They need to look at their writing as the foundation for their career and not get in their own way by being "motherly" toward their written words. Those words are the tools of their careers.

T: What tip would you give a new author trying to get published?

R: Always present yourself in a professional manner. Follow submission guidelines. Be open to constructive criticism from critique partners, publishers, editors or friends. If you're blocking constructive criticism and only open to praise, how can you ever learn your writing weaknesses and improve upon them?


T: Where do you see the publishing industry going in the future?

B: As kids who are born and bred on computers grown up into eager readers, I see publishing heading toward a more digital era. We're already pointed in that direction, but I really do see digital books gaining momentum and popularity in the years to come. I also see print never leaving us—thankfully! But as technology advances, publishers would be best served to find ways to keep up with whatever the future holds by way of digital reading. 

T: How do you prefer to receive submissions? Do you prefer established authors over new authors? And how likely is it that a new author will join your stable?

R: I personally love to find that shining new voice. I was given the chance of a lifetime when I was offered my first publishing contract, and I love giving a new author that same chance. Although having an established voice join Lyrical Press is just as rewarding. With the help of the Internet, authors have a wealth of knowledge at their fingertips and can learn plenty about any given publisher prior to submitting. Each submission, to me, is an honor, since it means an author trusts Lyrical enough to publish their work. I never take any submission for granted and we truly do give everyone a fighting chance at impressing us at the submission stage.

T: What are your expectations for an author’s business and promotional skills?

R: I expect an author to act as the business they are. Lyrical expects them to go out to the public and prove to readers their work deserves to be seen. Authors like that make Frank and I take notice. It motivates us to help them promote. In this day and age—and with small presses especially—authors can't sit back and think their books will sell themselves. Publishers won’t throw opportunities their way if they lack the motivation to so much as secure a website for themselves. That smacks of bad business and trust me: publishers notice that as well.

T: What do you like to read for your own pleasure? What are some of your favorite authors and books?

R: My favorite book is Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. I love all things medieval, so I mainly read historicals for pleasure. And paranormals. I'm still a sucker for a good vampire story—pardon the pun!

Happy holidays everybody! Watch this blog and the GLVWG Yahoo Group for news about the conference website, which will soon go live. Write Stuff registration opens in 25 days!

Monday, December 7, 2009

David Wilk on his favorite topic: Publishing

If you are an author serious about selling your work in today’s ever-changing market, mark these two Write Stuff conference sessions by David Wilk as “must see”: “The Writer as Entrepreneur” and “The New Rules for Writers Who Want to Master New Media Tools and Online Marketing.”

From his home base in southern Connecticut, David operates Creative Management Partners, which provides authors with a full suite of publishing services, from editorial to sales and marketing. His role morphs according to his client’s needs: one day he might help a client develop a marketing or self-publishing strategy, and the next he might execute that client’s plans for him/her, all or in part.

Simply put, David is a publisher who has functioned under many different guises. He has owned or operated at least six different publishing imprints at various times in his life, as well as managed imprints for companies for whom he worked. He has been closely involved in the publishing of hundreds of titles as distributor, sales or marketing manager, or publishing consultant, including a number of best sellers. Print, electronic publishing, digital marketing strategies—David has done it all. Working with writers and publishers to help them connect with readers is his primary work. Writing and editing words in any media remains his primary passion.

What follows is an interview Conference Chair Kathryn Craft conducted with David.

Kathryn: Writers attend The Write Stuff to learn more about craft, to network, and to beef up their publishing industry IQ. Let’s start with a definition. With so much of the industry in flux, how would you define “publishing”?

David: Publishing is the interface between the writer and the reader, whatever that looks like in practice. I’m coming to The Write Stuff conference to help writers understand how the business of publishing works now and what they need to do if they want to make their way in the latest and still evolving ecosystem of books and readers.

K: How did you educate yourself in so many areas of the publishing industry?

D: Learning by doing. I have been involved in writing, editing, publishing, book wholesaling, distribution, sales, marketing, and online business going back to 1970. I am deeply interested in every aspect of the business of books and its meaning and impact on our culture.

K: Are you a writer? If so, what is/are your area(s) of interest?

D: I have always been most interested in writing poetry and experimental prose and continue to write sporadically. These days my writing tends more toward the expository—explorations of culture, technology and change, as well as political involvement with issues relating to ecology and climate change.

More from David, including his involvement with a New York Times bestseller, in next week’s blog.

Readers: do you have questions about how your own project fits into today’s publishing industry? Do you wonder how the future will affect writers, e-publishing, e-reading, royalties, the role of agents? Do you want help developing a strategy for marketing or self-promotion? Do you wonder whether self-publishing would work for you? Then you’ll want to talk to David. As a Write Stuff conferee, this opportunity is available—for FREE! While he doesn’t want to talk about specifics of writing, he will give opinions on subjects, concepts, and marketability for the first five conferees to sign up for a ten-minute consultation with him. So don’t delay—make sure your Write Stuff registration is postmarked January 15!

And watch for an announcement—the conference website will soon go live!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Another agent -- and he's building his list!

The Write Stuff is happy to welcome Evan Goldfried, who joined Jill Grinberg Literary Management, a boutique agency based in New York, in May 2009. The agency is best known for its award winning and bestselling children's and young adult list, which includes Scott Westerfeld (Leviathan), Garth Nix (The Seventh Tower), Catherine Gilbert Murdock (Front and Center), and the Bemelmans Estate for the Madeline series. But they also represent a diverse mix of adult fiction and nonfiction authors, such as biographer, New York Times bestseller and National Book Award finalist T.J. Stiles (The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt). Evan came to JGLM after five years at the William Morris Agency, where he sold both domestic and foreign rights after years of working with many of the agency's clients.

In October he stopped by the Absolute Write Water Cooler to say hello to the online writing community, and wrote:

“I'm here at JGLM building my client list, and I'm looking primarily for fiction. I recently submitted my first project with JGLM, which sold at auction for six figures, so I'm off to a good start! My passion has always been fantasy (urban and epic) and speculative fiction for both adults and YA/middle grade. I particularly love a story that's set in our time, but tweaks reality just slightly, be it time travel (Ken Grimwood, one of my favorites) or vampires. I've also become, thanks to Christina Dodd, Charlaine Harris, and JR Ward, a fan of paranormal romance. I'm also a fan of suspense/mysteries/spy thrillers.”

Evan has also been a lifetime lover of graphic novels.

Since literary agents are uber-busy—and we wouldn’t want to be responsible for keeping Evan from a manuscript, would we?—click here to read The 7 Question Interview with Evan Goldfried at WritingRaw.com, which covers the basics and more.

His opening is music to an aspiring author’s ears: “Let me start by saying that I am actively building my client list, and welcome queries.” I’m sure you’ll want to read more!

Click here to read about his six-figure deal with Del Ray for author Kevin Hearne's urban fantasy trilogy.

We look forward to hosting Evan at The Write Stuff.

Days until registration opens: 47!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Jordan Sonnenblick returns to The Write Stuff a well published author

By Kathryn Craft

It is a special thing to witness the birth of the career of a really good writer. Those of us who attended the first year of GLVWG’s Writer’s Cafe were able to do so. It was there that Jordan Sonnenblick, a middle school English teacher, read from his first book, DRUMS, GIRLS & DANGEROUS PIE. Jordan says he was as surprised as anybody when the book took off: it received several starred reviews and was named to the American Library Association’s Teens’ Top Ten List. Since then, the book has sold over 300,000 copies and been translated into eleven foreign languages. The Italian translation won the prestigious Premio Cento prize.

Soon Jordan held the Writer’s CafĂ© spellbound while reading from the opening of his second novel, NOTES FROM THE MIDNIGHT DRIVER, which went on to become an ALA Best Book for Young Adults. Some of you may recall the premise: a teen begs attention from his dysfunctional parents by taking his mother’s car, crashing it while driving drunk to the house of his father’s girlfriend (his third-grade teacher, no less), then slumping from the car only to puke on a cop’s shoes. For these unfortunate choices Alex, a jazz guitarist who is typically a good kid, must fulfill a most unusual community service: he must play companion to the Egbert P. Johnson Memorial Home for the Aged's most cantankerous resident, Solomon Lewis.

Alex's voice is a hoot, yet the tone never downplays the serious situations—and the bond that grows between these two during the end stages of Sol’s life will touch readers both young and adult. Jordan’s third book, ZEN AND THE ART OF FAKING IT, was a BookSense Pick and a Family Circle Book of the Month. He has since written three middle grade books. His new YA title, AFTER EVER AFTER—the sequel to DRUMS—will be published in February by Scholastic.

It has taken three years of invitations to jive schedules, but Jordan will be joining us as our featured young adult and middle grade presenter for the 2010 conference. Pretty cool, huh?

Conference Chair Kathryn Craft recently spoke with Jordan about his work.

Kathryn: NOTES FROM THE MIDNIGHT DRIVER, among other things, is about the consequences of drunk driving. Your first book was about a character whose life is reeling from his little brother's cancer diagnosis. So you haven't shied away from the tougher situations teens might face today. Did you encounter any obstacles with your publishers about this subject matter? What kind of feedback have you gotten from your readers?

Jordan: I have to say, my publishers have been hugely supportive of my work and everything in it. In all honesty, when I started my first book (DRUMS, GIRLS AND DANGEROUS PIE), a lot of my friends thought I was nuts when I told them I was writing a funny book about childhood cancer. Once the book came out and sold really well, though, that all went away. Now my readers expect to laugh and cry when they pick up one of my books, and I would expect to hear criticism if I didn't deliver that high-intensity experience.

K: I love the reluctant relationship between Alec and crotchety Mr. Lewis, the patient he is "sentenced" to be a companion to. Did you have a relationship with an older person that was important to your own growth?

J: Oh, yes. Solomon Lewis's personality is completely modeled on the persona of my maternal grandfather. I adored Grampa Sol, but he had a biting wit and a flashing temper. I tried to capture both my grandfather's great warmth and his difficult side in the book, which was hard. You want to paint this flattering picture of a person you love so much, but part of his lovability was his crotchety nature.

K: Have the books you've written since then continued to explore difficult issues?

J: Well, all of my teen books have. I have also written the DODGER AND ME trilogy for elementary-school readers. Those books are considerably lighter.

K: I love the voices of your characters. Are they hard to come by?

J: No, I have absolutely no trouble regressing back to my teen self. In fact, when I got my first book advance, my wife congratulated me on finally putting my immaturity to good use. And I know she meant that in the warmest possible way!

K: You used to be around kids all the time as a middle school English teacher, but now you write full-time. Is it any harder to come up with characters and plot ideas now that you are shut away in an office?

J: So far, I've been okay in that regard. I would say the source of my inspiration has shifted, and that now maybe 60% of my stuff comes from my own children. The main trouble with being shut away in an office all day is that one has to be careful not to get hugely fat. Other than that, it's been all good!

K: Alex plays guitar, and your author photo shows you with a guitar. Can you really play it? Does your interest in music feed your creativity as a writer?

J: Yes, I can really play the guitar, bass and drums. I don't know if that feeds my writing, but I think all inspiration comes from the same place—whatever that is!

Monday, November 16, 2009

An interview with Tracy MacNish: Part II

This post conclude's Dianna Sinovic's two-part interview with Tracy MacNish, author of four darkly romantic historical novels with Kensington Publishing. Tracy will speak at the Write Stuff conference on March 26-27, 2010. Her most recent release, STEALING MIDNIGHT, was given a Top Pick by Romantic Times Magazine, and has received excellent reviews. Her previous novel, VEILED PASSIONS, was also awarded a Top Pick and went on to be nominated for Best British Isles Set Novel of 2008.

Dianna: You have had a string of novels published over the last several years. First, congratulations on your success! Did it take you long to find an agent or publisher? How did you find that person?

Tracy: Thanks! It was a long road getting here. It took me four years to complete my first novel and three years of rejection to secure an agent. BUT—it only took my agent two months to sell my first two-book deal.

Moral of the story: Keep going. Keep trying. You will never get accepted if you don’t risk rejection. And come on – the rejection’s not so bad. It makes you tougher and wiser and a well-seasoned writer.
As for finding the right agent, even though I know it’s expensive, I do recommend pitching at writers’ conferences. It’s the very best way to connect with an agent, and most of them will ask you to send your proposal package to them by way of courtesy. Make sure to write “requested material” on the envelope and to thank them for their time in person and also in your cover letter. Be polite, be professional, and submit only your very best work.

D: Brent Monahan was your mentor. Please talk about your experiences with him—how did he encourage and/or shape your fiction writing? Do you recommend mentoring in general?

T: Brent Monahan taught me how to write a book. I came to him knowing how to turn a phrase, how to tell a story, and how to write strong “scenes,” but Brent taught me how to make them hang together within the structure of a novel. 

As for how he encouraged me – he put time into me. Brent is a busy man. He writes plays, novels, musical textbooks, screen plays, and musicals, as well as teaching writing on the university level, teaching music for specially chosen students, acting on stage, and singing professionally. This list doesn’t include his hobbies, his family, and his private time. Suffice it to be said that I didn’t want to make him feel as though the time that he put into me was wasted. I wanted to work to the potential that he saw in me, and the fact that he saw potential at all was encouragement in and of itself.

I do recommend mentoring in general, if you happen upon the right fit, as Brent and I did. I was, and am, extremely respectful of Brent’s incredible wealth of knowledge, as well as his talent, his creative mind, and his intelligence. That said, I still wrote MY book, and he let me do so. A great mentor, such as Brent, knows that the writer is ultimately in charge, and that while he is there to teach and guide, he isn’t there to take the reins or change the writer’s vision of the story.

D: What authors have been influential to your work? What books are on your nightstand right now?

T: I admire Kathleen E. Woodiwiss a great deal. I grew up on her books, and they made me fall in love with romance.

Right now I’m re-reading Siddhartha, a book that I turn to whenever I need reminding that it’s all about the journey. When I’m done I’m not sure where I’m going to start. My work office has a small library that they’re closing down and there are about 500 books that are all mine for the taking.  I’ve been bringing a box filled with books home with me every day… and it’s awesome.  ‘Free books’ – is there a better phrase known to the Nerd populace?

My bookcases at home are already full and I have no idea where I’ll keep this bounty, but I’m taking them home, anyway. My master plan is to have my husband line our bedroom in floor to ceiling built-in bookcases so I can sleep and wake in my own private library, but he’s not digging the idea. I guess (until I get my way) I’ll add them to the stacks in my office and be glad we don’t live on an unstable fault line. 
D: Please talk a bit about your daily writing routine. You mentioned in your blog that you recently got a job – what is it? How have you modified your writing schedule to accommodate?

T: When I’m writing a book, I write every day, or at least make a valiant attempt. If the words are coming hard, I do edits and research. When I’m not into a book, as I’m not right now, I don’t write much at all but do an enormous amount of reading.

Yeah, I got a job. (sigh) I’m leasing apartments – which is interesting most days.  There are certainly a lot of characters there, to say the least. As far as a regular job goes, it’s a pretty good gig. The money’s good, the people I work with are cool, and I get benefits. The only downside is the constant exhaustion.   
As for writing while working full time… well, it’s not easy, that’s for sure. Right now I am trying to write a bit on the weekends, but that hasn’t been going well because my family and friends actually want to see me at some point. But I have a book I really, really want to write, so my new plan is to begin rolling out of bed at 5 or 5:30 so I can get a few pages in before it’s time to get ready for work.
This plan, by the way, is highly experimental. Touch base with me in March at the conference, and I’ll let you know how it’s working out for me. 

Friday, November 6, 2009

Tracy MacNish brings spark of desire to The Write Stuff

Tracy MacNish, author of four darkly romantic historical novels with Kensington Publishing, will speak at the Write Stuff conference on March 26-27, 2010. Her most recent release, STEALING MIDNIGHT, was given a Top Pick by Romantic Times Magazine, and has received excellent reviews. Her previous novel, VEILED PASSIONS, was also awarded a Top Pick and went on to be nominated for Best British Isles Set Novel of 2008. What follows is an excerpt from an interview conducted by Dianna Sinovic.

Dianna: What will you speak about at the 2010 Write Stuff conference?

Tracy: Passion and sexual tension. It will be fun, I think – I was considering holding a contest to see who could count how many times I blush in 50 minutes. But in all seriousness, it makes for better character development if you can work those aspects of human behavior into your stories. It doesn’t matter what genre you’re writing in—your characters, if they are human, will feel desire. Depicting emotions isn’t always easy, so I think this workshop will be really useful for anyone who wants to include a little passion in his or her stories, but isn’t quite sure how to do so without crossing over into lurid territory.

The second session will cover creating time and place, and this is the most important of all the aspects of good storytelling. After all, your setting is the chassis that your story rides upon, and it affects every single aspect of your characters’ thoughts, dress, speech, actions, reactions, and so forth. One cannot underestimate the presence of setting; it is the main character of your novel, hidden in plain sight on every page. In this session we’ll be doing more than covering books that do it well; we’ll be dissecting actual passages to see exactly what works, what doesn’t, and why. 

D: Why did you choose historical romance as your genre? You also write short fiction, as well?

T: I adore love stories. I also love learning about history, and get so excited when I read something that makes me think, “what if….” 

I think stories about the human condition are the most interesting of all and find myself disconnected from books that don’t have enough “feeling” in them. I like romances because they end well, and it’s my opinion that real life offers enough opportunities for bad, sad, open-ended, wistful, or just downright depressing endings. 

I read everything, but when it comes time to write, I am particularly drawn to the stories of peoples’ lives: how they got to where they are, what they want, who they love, and how they work through their troubles. No other genre gives a writer as much freedom to explore those dimensions better than romance, and I love how the romance genre has so many sub-genres. There really is no limit to what kind of stories one can write—under the umbrella of romance, there is a place for any story of any subject matter.

As for short fiction, I write short stories when I have an idea that’s not big enough for a book but too urgent to dismiss. I’m delighted to have a short story coming out in the Mad Poets Review in November 2009. It’s a dark, strange, metaphoric tale titled Never Mind What Sheep Say. I’m thrilled to see it alongside poetry, even though that’s not where I would have imagined it would end up.

D: Tell me how you approach historical research for your novels. Do you travel? Do Web-based research? Use reference books? How long does it take you?

T: Traveling to do research isn’t a luxury I can afford now, and certainly wasn’t possible when I was first starting out. Books are the best resource, in my opinion—the Internet is a great tool, but I make sure to find the same information in at least three places before accepting it as truth.

I pretty much read until I’m ready to start writing, which for me is decided when the characters in my head become defined and begin speaking to each other. That’s when the words go to paper, and from there I research as I go, basically looking up what I don’t know as I’m immersed in the story. I like to know enough to get the setting right before I start, the milieu, to understand the vernacular, the currency, the modes of dress and how they lived, and to offer verisimilitude.

The important thing for a beginning writer to keep in mind, however, is not to let what you don’t know prevent you from beginning, because it’s easy to get mired in research and to let it delay you from the work of actually writing your story. I know a would-be writer who has three filing cabinets full of well-documented research, but whose book has yet to be started.

Nora Roberts said it best:  “I can fix a broken page, but I can’t fix a blank one.”

More from Tracy in next week's post!
Do Tracy's sessions intrigue you? Days until The Write Stuff registration opens: 70!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Our first agent revealed!

Kim Lionetti joined BookEnds, LLC as a literary agent in 2004 after working eight years as an editor at Berkley Publishing. On both sides of her publishing career, Kim says she’s heard hundreds of pitches—"some fabulous, some horribly bad and most just plain forgettable." In that time, she’s gotten a pretty good idea of what every perfect pitch needs and how to avoid the awkward silences and blank stares. In her session, “Pitching Dos And Don’ts,” to be held before the welcome reception at The Write Stuff from 7-8 pm on Friday, March 26, Kim will outline for conferees the most common pitching pitfalls and how to avoid them, as well as the best approaches for making a great, lasting impression on a publishing professional.

We were able to make this connection through GLVWG member Katherine Ramsland, who worked with Kim on a few of her books. Here’s what Katherine had to say about the experience:
“I've worked with Kim Lionetti on several projects. She was my editor for THE FORENSIC SCIENCE OF CSI and THE SCIENCE OF COLD CASE FILES, both of which she initiated, and which led to her husband Lance suggesting THE SCIENCE OF VAMPIRES. She loves gruesome stories as much as I do and I was so sad when she left editing to become an agent. I still am. She was always thinking of some project to do, and there aren't many editors like that. The one that we're both proud of was INTO THE DEVIL'S DEN, which she agented for my two co-authors, and which won the New Mexico Book of the Year award last year. I was pleased that she invited me into it and I hope that Kim and I will do something like that again in the future. She has great judgment and whoever gets her as an agent is very lucky.”
Kim, like the other agents and editors attending our conference, will be available to meet with conferees who are ready to pitch either completed fiction or memoir manuscripts or completed nonfiction proposals. One appointment per registered conferee is available at no additional cost on a first come, first served basis. Conferees can select a specific agent or editor on their registration form. Registration opens January 15.

Kim represents women’s fiction, young adult, and most genres of romance (with the exception of inspirational), in addition to mysteries and some nonfiction. You can follow Kim on Facebook or Twitter and learn more about BookEnds at www.bookends-inc.com or www.bookendslitagency.blogspot.com.

We’ll be featuring an interview with Kim in a future post!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Bill Kent on his passion for mystery

"To me, a mystery is a journey to the truth, a defiant, triumphant insistence that human beings can use their brains to solve the big questions of superstition, crime, punishment and redemption."
~Bill Kent

Today we feature the last part of conference chair Kathryn Craft's interview with Write Stuff 2010 presenter Bill Kent.

Kathryn: What about your interests/attributes led you to the mystery genre?

Bill: I started off enthralled with science fiction and fantasy, and I still am. I consider it imaginative literature, that is, writing in which the quality of the author's imagination, and the author's ability to stimulate the reader's imagination, bring us to a sense of wonder about who we are and the universe we inhabit.

I approached mysteries and thrillers as a way of adapting experiences I had as a journalist. Art Bourgeau, a mystery writer who owns the Whodunnit bookstore in Philadelphia, loaded me up with authors I should read, and to my early love for Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie and John D. MacDonald I added stories by Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammet, Donald Westlake, James Ellroy, Robert Parker, Ed McBain, Lawrence Block, Ross Thomas, Robert Campbell and even Mickey Spillane, whose crude storytelling had its powerful moments. From there I went to Sue Grafton, Walter Mosley, and many others. To me, a mystery is a journey to the truth, a defiant, triumphant insistence that human beings can use their brains to solve the big questions of superstition, crime, punishment and redemption.

K: I know you have a love for a well-developed character, but you also write in a plot-heavy genre. Do you have a particular plotting device you use, such as index cards, outline, wall diagram, etc.?

B: The best device is no device. You start somewhere, end up somewhere else. Though the journey is never a straight line, it should feel as if it has been worth the trip. The best description I ever heard of plotting came from a man I consider to be master of it: Lawrence Block. "I know my characters, I come up with a setting and then I go away. I get lost and find my way back." He meant this literally and metaphorically. Block lives in New York City but does most of his writing while traveling. Some of his best work has given us a view of a placeless America of sprawling suburbs, modular motels off highway interchanges, fast food meals and killers who look like anyone else you'd see in a shopping mall.

Before I start a novel, I usually have a good idea of the hero and a few good scenes and maybe a glimpse of the ending. Usually, but not always. Sometimes I just let the characters show me what they want to do. My goal in plotting is to have things that happen flow purposefully, and have the action adhere to a logic that is believable within the context of the story. What that means in plain speaking is the best plots are plots that you don't notice: you're swept along and you don't look back.

Next post will include an agent announcement!
Days until Write Stuff registration opens: 84! 

Friday, October 16, 2009

The mysteries of publishing

Here's another excerpt from a recent interview with journalist, author, critic, and Write Stuff 2010 presenter Bill Kent, conducted by conference chair Kathryn Craft.

Kathryn: Many aspiring authors believe that once they've got their foot in the door of the publishing industry that the rest of their career will take care of itself. But is this realistic? Can you comment on some common setbacks?

Bill: We all want just a few things to happen when our books are published: good reviews, strong sales and enough enthusiasm from our publisher to take us to the next book deal. But an inept review, slow sales, and a publisher whose promotion staff fails to read the books the company is printing that season are not career setbacks. These and other publishing pratfalls (such as not finding your book in a store on the publication date, or doing a group signing with a writer whose behavior turns off the book buyers) are certainly frustrating. They are emotionally wounding to those of us who love what we do and think of our books like children, and want others to love them as much as we do. And they can be devastating for those who expect publication to make qualitative changes in their lives--you know, the people who think, "I'll be a real writer when I have a best seller and my book is being made into a movie."

You don't need to be a published author to arrive at the truth about who you are and what really matters to you. The great thing about writing, and the practice of any other art, is that it shows you things about yourself that you wouldn't see any other way. Every poem, every article, every book you write teaches you something, regardless of how eager you might be to learn. This process, by which you deepen your understanding of yourself, your relationship with others, and your values, is part of the larger mystery of why it is you feel compelled to string words together. This mystery cannot be explained or lightly dismissed as a yearning for acceptance or need for money.

Publication may bring some readers to your work, but it has very little to with the qualitative experience a reader has when he or she discovers your work. As much as we would like our writing judged on its merits, a published book is bought and sold in a fashion that is alarmingly similar to canned peas on a supermarket shelf.

Instead of sharing a story about how frustrating publication can be, I'd rather tell you about a moment I had in a library, when I saw a person pick my book off the shelf and check it out. I didn't say or do anything to draw attention to myself as the book's author. Rather, I remembered how I felt, when I was younger, when I went into libraries and bookstores to find writing that really, really pleased me, by people I had never met, but wanted to become.

It was a moment when I reminded myself that some wishes really do come true.

K: If you could give one piece of advice to those who write and want to be published but don't have a clue about how to do so, would it be?

B: It would be to develop a strategy for not going crazy while dealing with agents, editors and publishers. You can find out how to get published: the procedures and formalities are in every "how to get published" book. What isn't mentioned is how easy it is to give up, or assume that you're worthless if [an agent] rejects your work. I've discovered relatively late in life that when I begin to worry about how the publishing industry might respond to my work, I suffer. I become so anxious about rejection and acceptance that the thing that makes writing happen, dies. Or, I start revising before I'm finished, and make so many changes that it takes even longer to finish the book.

What really matters is the act of writing. That is, finding a time (and place of free of distractions) to practice your art regularly. It's so easy to believe that a powerful agent, a perceptive editor, an expensive promotional campaign, a book selected by Oprah’s Book Club, or lucrative movie deal are the measures of success. They're not. Success for a writer is having the opportunity to write, because the act of writing changes everything, or, at least, has the potential to do so. Success for a professional writer is having the guts to stick with it and finishing what you start, even if you can't bear to put "The End" on the last page of the manuscript. The rest, as they say, is history, which, contrary to the clichĂ©, isn't written by the winners, or the losers. History is written by the survivors who, even if they don't live out their natural lives, had the strength and determination to share them with us.

Next post: Bill talks about his passion for mysteries.
Days until Write Stuff 2010 registration opens: 92!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Sustaining your career

It's time to introduce another Write Stuff 2010 presenter! Meet Bill Kent from Philadelphia. Bill is a journalist (including Washington Post, Philadelphia Inquirer), writing teacher (University of Pennsylvania, Temple University), critic (New York Times Book Review), and author of seven crime and mystery novels as well as two non-fiction books. The following is an excerpt from an interview with Bill conducted by conference chair Kathryn Craft.

Kathryn: You have a long and varied resume. What do you consider, so far, to be the highest peaks of your writing career?

Bill: The best moments occur when you're not thinking about your career, when you feel privileged, if not blessed, for having had an amazing experience and then being able to share it with people. You get a double whammy: the genuine, unique experience and the peak that happens when you've turned that experience into a work of art. All experiences, good, bad, boring, indifferent, painful, shocking, ecstatic, neurotic--have that potential. When I say work of art, I include all writing. We forget what an astonishing gift we've been given, until we give it away.

But you asked for a peak: I met a Philadelphia political insider who read one of my novels in which I discussed how corrupt things are, and said, "How did you know?" I didn't tell him that I made the stuff up. I just mentioned that I did research.

K: Do you find that your fiction and nonfiction/journalism feed one another?

B: They don't feed on each other as much as they are different voices in a larger, narrative tune. I'm aware that many writers specialize. Some of our greatest literary masters can't pound out a basic newspaper inverted pyramid lede, and many journalists are so dazzled by what they've personally experienced that they can't find their way to the greater truth that fiction provides. I can do both and, in doing so, I tend to avoid authors who include too much research in their novels. If I want journalism, or fun facts, I know where to get them. What I love to do in my fiction is fake facts, come up with things that should be true, might be true, could be true.

K: I once heard you say that the time to do research is when you are looking to start a new project. Why do you say this? And has this technique worked for you?

B: What I said was, the time to do research is when you are bored with what you're doing, or when the fire that burns to tell a story has been reduced to a few flickering cinders. The goal of research, then, is not to find out the facts about an aspect of reality so you can better trick the reader into believing the lies you're telling are true, but, rather, to invest in your own curiosity, your own spirit of adventure so that you may rediscover the sense of wonder, or experience an imaginative lift, or get a glimpse of the "wild side" and wallow in that soaring emotional epiphany that makes it easier to go back to your writing.

No techniques work all the time. Too much research can overwhelm the story. Say you want to tell people about all the cool things that happened when you went to Toronto. People who want to know about cool things in Toronto can get them elsewhere. What people want from a novel is a sense of being in a city that could be Toronto, even if the street names are different, the skyline is unrecognizable and the people don't say "ay" and "aboot."

For more from this interview with Bill Kent, check out the October print issue of GLVWG Offline or stay tuned for next week's post!

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.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Get Write Stuff news delivered to your desktop!

Welcome to "All The Write Stuff," the blog that will keep you up to date on new developments about The Write Stuff 2010, the 17th annual conference of the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group! We're  eager to tell you what we have in store. But first, some technical stuff for those of you who would like to receive updates without having to type http://glvwgwritersconference.blogspot.com into your browser each time you want to see if we've posted something new.

Anyone can do this
You can bookmark the blog just like you would any web page so you can return to it with just one click. But wait: Joan knew something about the conference before you did! How did she find out...

Mac Users
Just so happens that Joan is on a Mac. If you are too, and are using Safari as your web browser, Safari has a built-in RSS reader. RSS = Real Simple Syndication. Our blog is set up to provide an RSS feed that Safari can receive; you'll know this has happened when you type our blog address into the Safari browser and see the RSS icon on the right side of the address bar. (Wait--you're there right now--see the icon?)
     1. If you click on that icon you'll see a new page with your list of feeds in it (if you've never used it before, there won't be any). This is the RSS page. If you want to keep up-to-date with all the latest Write Stuff news, scan the options in the right-hand sidebar of this RSS page for "bookmark this page." In the bookmarks dialogue box that comes up, you can choose to put the RSS feed right in your bookmarks bar. Then, as new updates occur, Safari will display the number of unread posts next to the bookmark. When you're at your computer and notice that a new feed has been added, click on the bookmark icon and the feed page will drop down so you can start reading.
     2. If you use Apple Mail you can get the feed to show up under "RSS" in your sidebar on that page, if you prefer. You can set that up from the same RSS page you had open in step "a" above. Simply select "Subscribe in Mail" from the action list and the blog feed will be added to the list of RSS feeds at the bottom of the left-hand sidebar.
     3. Confused? Here's a handy link that will explain things better if you need more help establishing your feed, or if you'd like to know more about how to customize your Safari RSS page.

PC Users
But Frank wants to follow, too, and he's on a PC! If you are too, and use Internet Explorer, the feed icon looks different but the process is quite similar. Here's a brief article that explains the specifics. There are too many PC mail programs to give instructions on how to add an RSS or Atom feed to them all. Consult the help menu in your e-mail program to see if there's a way to get the feed to show up there.

Already using a feed reader?
If you use one of the popular news aggregators on your home page, such as My Yahoo!, Google Reader, or Newsgator, or if you already follow blogs on services such as Bloglines or Netvibes, you can add a subscription to this blog through the "Subscribe" button on the left sidebar of this blog page. Alternatively, clicking on the "Atom" button should take you to your browser's feed page, where you can add the subscription as per the Mac and PC instructions above.

If you are already using a type of feed reader not listed above, type in either of the following two URLs to add this blog's feeds to your list:

 Atom 1.0: http://glvwgwritersconference.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default 
RSS 2.0: http://glvwgwritersconference.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default?alt=rss

That should do the trick. Whew! Can you tell yet how very much we want to keep in touch? Now we can get on to the fun stuff—The Write Stuff! We've got all sorts of things we are eager to share, including conference news updates, presenter interviews, deadline reminders, that all-important list of agents and editors, and conference tips. And by following your choice of the above instructions, that info will get delivered right to your desktop as it becomes available.

Thanks for joining us, and let the countdown begin--140 days until registration opens!