Writer’s Conference Recap

This past weekend I attended the Southwest Florida Romance Writers Super Saturday conference. We got to mix and mingle with other authors, agents & editors at the Friday night dinner and then attend workshops Saturday from 9-4pm. There was a key-note from author Jennifer St. Giles, a lesson on the Art, Craft, and Business of Writing Genre Fiction from Rita Winner Linnea Sinclair (whose book, The Down Home Zombie Blues is being made into a movie right now. If you’ve never heard Linnea speak or taken one of her classes, it’s a real treat . . . she knows her stuff!), then heard from the Editor/Agent Panel (visit my Twitter page to check out my tweets on what they said), and then heard from YA Author Stacey Kade, Adventures in Writing Who You’re Not. By some miracle, I won a three chapter critique from Stacey. Her series, The Ghost and the Goth, are one of my favs:) And it couldn’t have come at a better time because another miracle happened . . . three editors requested my YA:) Harlequin Teen & Sourcebooks both requested the full and TOR requested the first 100 pages. I have two weeks to polish so I haven’t commented as much on other blogs as I’d like (sorry). But on with the show . . . here are some notes from Stacey’s presentation:

•’Write What You Know’ is probably the most common piece of writing advice.
•It’s also likely the most misunderstood. We interpret it too narrowly.
•If we truly limited ourselves to our exact personal experiences, the story world would be a small and horribly boring place.

From Jerome Stern, Making Shapely Fiction: “…your self is made up of many selves—the girl who wanted an older brother, the high school misfit, the college student who dressed in black and wanted to join French club, the woman who fantasizes about what she’d do with her own television talk show. You are, in part, not only persons you once were but also persons you have tried to be, persons you have avoided being, and persons you fear you might be. All these are people you know.”

•High school is incredibly political and very structured. However, each school varies. In my books, Alona has power (initially) because she is popular and pretty. In another school, where academics were the determining factor, she might not have been in the power position.
•When (and where) I went to school, being in the band was the kiss of death socially. For my sister, at a different school and in a different time, it was a social boon to be in the band. 
•When writing YA, I’m looking at the school environment as well as family. School, I think, operates as a substitute family in some cases. You need to know how your character fits in (or does not).
•I think this one of the factors we often overlook, perceiving it (and rightly so) as a sensitive subject. But you can’t accurately portray your character or your character’s world without knowing what role religion plays.
•We’re not always talking traditional religion. Religion is HUGE factor in Star Wars, for example. It’s the light side of the Force vs. the dark.
•If you’re writing about ghosts, angels, witches, you need to be thinking about the religious environment!
•Religions environment is not just about God but about gods, spirituality, ethics, and morality. What drives your character? “To what ‘gods’ are your characters responding? What is their highest aspiration?”
From Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott: “Plot grows out of character. If you focus on who the people in your story are, if you sit and write about two people you know and are getting to know better day by day, something is bound to happen. Characters should not, conversely, serve as pawns for some plot you’ve dreamed up…I say don’t worry about plot. Worry about characters. Let what they say or do reveal who they are, and be involved in their lives, and keep asking yourself, now what happens?Find out what each character cares most about in the world because then you will have discovered what’s at stake. Find a way to express this discovery in action, and then let your people set about finding or holding onto or defending whatever it is. Then you can take them from good to bad and back again, or from bad to good, or from lost to found. But something must be at stake or you will have no tension and your readers will not turn the pages.”
Pretty good notes, right? If you haven’t read Stacey’s books, I highly recommend them. She’s pub’d by Disney Hyperion & the third and final book in the series comes out May 8th *squeeeeaaaal!

14 comments on “Writer’s Conference Recap

  1. Congrats on those requests from editors! It sounds like you’ve been quite busy, but thanks for sharing all this great info.
    I especially appreciate the advice from Anne Lamott, as my plotting always feels like the weakest part of my writing. It is good to know that letting my characters lead the way to answers is the correct solution to this problem. My characters are the reason I write, and what keeps me coming back to my stories.
    I have to agree with the assertion that my characters are all different facets of who I am. Sometimes when they argue with each other it seems they represent my own conscience warring between two sides of a dilemma. Very fun to write!
    Thanks for the great post!

  2. Can you see the envy radiating out my ears? Ha ha.

    What I wouldn’t give to go to a workshop like that. Thank you so much for the notes. It gives me plenty of food for thought.
    I never thought of qualities I’ve tried to avoid translating into qualities I know well. That just opened so many mental doors.

  3. I’m SOOO happy for you to have all those requests for your novel!!!! Been praying since Day 1 for you. It will happen because you have such a massive amount of tenacity that this is your passion and what you WANT, NEED and DESIRE to be doing. Go James! Love ya!

  4. That is all great news Jamie, I am so proud of you for having the energy and the love of writing to keep the passion in your writing and dream of being published. You also have a great support network in Dan, Kaylee and Ashley. That can make all the difference. Glad to hear Kaylee got an ending to her book out of this too!! Keep going…Love MOM

  5. Congratulations on all of your requests! That’s like hitting a goldmine!

    There are a lot of good points in your writing advice. I agree about how some people interpret “write what you know” too narrowly. If everyone only wrote what s/he knew, a lot of great books wouldn’t exist, and we wouldn’t have many genres outside of contemporary. I agree that it gives your writing added authenticity if you’re writing about something you’ve personally experienced (like, say, giving birth, being a grownup, or having a strained relationship with your parents-in-law), but you shouldn’t feel bound to only write about exactly what you know.

    I also love the advice about thinking about religion’s role in a character’s personality. I have a number of religious characters (Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, et al, of various denominations), and their background and faith tends to play a role. I’ve been finishing up a significant rewrite and restructuring of the chronological first of my Atlantic City books, and once again I’m feeling rather sad for my character Laura, whose dream from childhood is to be the first female Pope. And yet, even while she’s now an older woman and long past the time where she could’ve changed her mind about staying single and childfree, she still retains her faith and hope for change instead of feeling bitter she’s never even been able to be a priest and forfeited her chance to have kids.

  6. Jamie, that’s fantastic!!! Huge congrats on your requests! And thanks for all the tips. Bird by Bird is my fave writing manual.

    Best of luck with submissions!! Let me know if you need another pair of eyes. 🙂

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