On June 3rd, 4th and 5th I led a workshop in at the Philadelphia Writers' Conference in Writing Fiction for Kids and Teens. I’m used to teaching 2 or 3-hour classes, so I wasn’t sure how much I could impart to students in hour-long segments. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I can, indeed, squeeze a lot in! Handouts worked well, board charts were effective, and I made sure to have lots of interaction with my students, who contributed unique ideas and questions.
I loved my attendees’ enthusiasm and intelligence. Most people had already written at least part of a manuscript and were savvy about the requirements of their genre. Many in the group rose valiantly to my challenge of writing the dreaded 2-line elevator pitch. They are writing all kinds of cool stuff: space operas, high fantasy and snappy realistic YA to name just a few. The thoughtful Kerry Gans blogged about her experience here.
I sat in on Kelly Simmon’s last class on Plot. Kelly is a popular writer of suspenseful fiction. She drew a chart depicting the various kinds of writers: dreamer, outliner, driven worker bee, and what I call “pantser.” I agree with her feeling that most writers should "dream" more before they begin the writing process. That means not only conceptualizing your story and the characters that will inhabit it, but it also means doing many free-writes and prewriting. Free-writing from the antagonist’s POV as well.
Marie Lamba, an expert in publicizing her books, lectured on Marketing. And the agent panel did not disappoint. Agent Stacia Decker, from Donald Maass Literary spoke of her love for suspense and crime fiction. Stacia reps one of my absolute fave writers, Cherie Priest. Frances Collin and her co-agent, Sarah Yake, who rep a wide range of fiction, shared their thoughts on the digital revolution and ePubbing. One believes that the age of paper books is almost over, while the other (ironically the younger of the two) believes that both will be around for many years.
Gregory Frost, fantasy author of Shadowbridge led a 3-segment class on Character. I squeaked into the last class, where he had the whole room laughing about a fictitious character they created en masse. The fictitious man was a single firefighter, and lapsed Catholic who played bagpipes and sported a flame tattoo. Woo boy, lookout! I particularly appreciated Gregory’s insightful take on the literary potency of the symbolic self versus the real self. In other words, the “gap” in self-perception that could make a basically moral man rationalize his crime such as murder. The vast gulf between how one sees oneself and one’s actual actions in the world can be huge, and ripe material for fiction.
Eileen D’Angelo, Carol Sabik-Jaffe, Catherine DePino and Don Lafferty did a great job of organizing the conference, and making people feel welcome. If I forgot anyone, I thank you too. Eileen and I can be seen in the above photo. Hey, what do you want for a low-light scene shot with an iPhone 4? I had to run out before I could get more photos, and I confess, I missed the keynote speaker Solomon Jones, though I heard he was rousing. My excuse was that my brother’s rock band was playing that night up in Bluebell. It’s awesome that he put together a bunch of musicians who happen to be high-level accountants! Who knew accountants could rock out? Anyway, my brother John’s drumming was great, and the pulled pork and baked beans were tasty.
All-in-all, I had a wonderful time at the PWC meeting people, and talking shop with fellow teachers and students. If you’re a writer near the Philly area, do consider going. If you’re not, I recommend attending another writing conference. It helps motivate, inspire and build your writing community. Have you attended a writing conference or retreat? What was your favorite one so far, and what was the most valuable thing you learned from it?