SiWC Workshops – Sharing What I Learned pt 1

Surrey International Writers’ Conference
#SiWC17

I’ll have to break this into 2 parts. One on writing, one on the business of writing (branding and self-publishing.)

So let’s look at the writing.

Don Maass, the master teacher of all things writerish, taught a workshop on Pacing Beyond Plot.

He’s got an amazing book out on The Emotional Craft of Fiction and, of course, Writing the Breakout Novel and I would highly recommend buying them, taking them out of the library or borrowing them from a friend (and never returning it).

Don Maass, master teacher of the writerly arts. #SiWC17

Mr. Maass wanted us to move away from pacing as simply plotting, to pacing as an emotional journey of our characters and their character arcs.

That growth, that movement, that change is compelling. Like a good car chase, it moves the plot forward and engages the reader.

I don’t know why, but that really struck me.

As he went through a ton of exercises, I thought, damn, I did that in Yager’s War. And that. And I totally nailed that one, too. But there were scenes (if I am totally honest with myself), where I realized, you know what, I didn’t nail it.

For me, it was the slower scenes. Where the character gets from point A to B. Now I could skip those but I used them to add character conflict and some interaction with the locations (since I firmly believe in making the location a character as well). But what if I kicked that up a notch and thought a LOT harder on how my character develops in that scene? Wouldn’t that make it better?

I think so.

So whenever a scene has low tension, I’mma gonna look at it again and see if I can create MORE emotional movement.

Should be fun.

**********

Robert Dugoni

Robert Dugoni. – Another great teacher, workshopper, and highly entertaining writer. His workshop –  The First 3 Pages. (I didn’t get a chance to take his editing one, but if someone did, could they please send me their notes.)

From RD, I learned just why those first pages are important.

Let’s face it, agents and editors are SUPER busy people, so they are looking for a reason to put that manuscript down and catch up on an episode of Stranger Things. So it has to be tight, it has to be completely mistake-free and the best writing you can do.

Making it our best work increases the chance of someone reading it.

So he asked us, does the first sentence hook the reader? Do you establish what type of book it is quickly? (A romance, mystery, SF etc). Do you engage our senses, quickly? Do you have action in the 1st 3 pages? Movement? Dialogue? Do you have someone important come on stage? Have you taken us into your world? Have you engaged us? Hooked us?

It’s a lot to do, but basically the idea is to make it amazing.

But the biggest thing I got out of the workshop was something I have to learn in life.

Just because I can, doesn’t mean I should.

Just because I can climb up the side of a ruined castle to reach the top, doesn’t mean I should. Just because I can start a novel with dialogue like Nelson DeVille did, doesn’t mean I should. Be aware that, as new writers, we simply have to be the best.

So if you’ve heard over and over again that you should never start a story with dialogue and you counter, hey, Ah, Bobberino, like, Stephen King did that in Firestarter, then ask yourself, first, are you Stephen King? Then ask yourself, should you have dialogue in the opening if you know a whole butt-load of agents and editors might reject it right there? Then ask yourself, if you still want to do it, why did the great writer’s do it, cuz they sure as hell had a reason why.

There are no rules in writing except the ones that work.

But you have to make it work.

**********

Michael Slade – check out his books and tell me they don’t give you the shivers

From the great storyteller, Michael Slade, I heard three things I need to remember.

  • For authentic characters or scenes, look to your own life. Remember the smells, the sounds, the way time played out. Go deep. Especially when you need to create chilling fiction, use what scares you.
  • A hero is only as good as the villain. Make the villain epic and you’ll force your hero to be epic as well. But give that villain something human. Hitler’s dog. Lector’s culture. Joker’s humor.
  • The more we like your character, the more we’ll worry when they’re in danger.

There was so, so much more that these fine presenters taught, so if you attend the conference next year, please check them out.

If you like what I’m writing about, take a look at my About a Stepdad Blog. Sorry for the double posts if you’re following both, I’ll be fixing that with my new website.

Don Maass teaser video

Robert Dugoni teaser video on writing.

Robert Dugoni in Writer’s Digest.

Michael Slade website, which is scary and cool.

Surrey International Writers’ Conference 2017

Post #183

Writer’s Tears. I have filled bottles.

(First of all, my apologies if you read this already on About a Stepdad. There’s a good reason for the dual post or at least a good excuse. See below.)

Being an unpublished writer can be frustrating. It’s one of the few jobs where you won’t get a pat on the back. There are no annual reviews. No bonuses. No Christmas Parties.

It’s tough to stay motivated. Harder to stay positive.

But going to the Surrey International Writers’ Conference gave me the chance to re-energize, to refocus, to learn to be a better writer, and even attend a staff party.

Plus, I would get a chance to pitch my novel to an agent or editor. Face-to-face. No interns in the way, no 150 emails before yours. Just you and an agent.

However, my wife, aka the-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World, will attest to the fact that I wasn’t super excited about going this year. I moped and grumped and shuffled around like a 10-year-old being forced to eat vegetables while doing homework.

But once I got there, the energy, the workshops, and the enthusiasm of the people there turned me around.

I listened to experts, I pitched my heart out, I even got a case of chatty-Joe and talked to other writers.

Of the three people I pitched Yager’s War to, all three were interested and wanted to see more of it. All were so nice and very understanding at my Joe-ish way of pitching things.

One even took the time to ask me about me and hey, we all know there’s nothing I love better than talking about me. When did you realize you wanted to be a writer? What was your first book? What are you reading now? Where do you see yourself in 10 years? Why did you move to Vancouver? Why are you crying?

Honestly, I learned so much, had a great time, and came away ready to charge the dragon again, my cape singed and tattered, my armor dented, but my sword sharp and my moral restored.

So what’s in the future?

First, I’ll pass along some super valuable information and links in my next blog. Man, I tell you, all the workshops I took were solid gold and I hope to pass along a small fraction of what I learned.

Second, I realized I’m unable to hold down two blogs, so I will merge my two lives into one and create something amazing. Like spaghetti and meatballs becoming the greatest meal of all time.

Third, I need a new website. I’ll post more on that next week, but it’s a daunting task so I’ve enlisted a very creative, very knowledgeable person to help me out. I’m super excited about this one.

Forth, I’m going to create a newsletter. It’s an odd and very difficult thing for me to do, but it should mean that I can connect to people directly. No more signing up for WordPress. No more having to log into the FB to find me, (cuz I know that’s why everyone logs in.) All my blogs will be sent directly to you with an electronic hug.

Lastly, I’ll definitely be asking for help. Help with the novel – like recipes, pictures, and thoughts. I’ll need help with making sure I put my best printed-foot forward – like everyone taking a hard look at my query or at what would make you buy a novel.  I’ll need help with step-daddying, and look forward to everyone’s helpful suggestions.

Surrey International Writers’ Conference
#SiWC17

See, this is what happens when you get inspired at SIWC#17.

You create a lot of work for yourself.

 

SiWC – The Best of Times (Plus more cool links!)

Ah, that Budda guy, he knew what he was talking about.

Ah, that Budda guy, he knew what he was talking about.

Ever have one of those days that just goes right?

I don’t often get them.

I usually get the type of day where you have to get a boy to an early morning hockey practice and set your alarm for 5pm instead of 5am practice, then, already late, you hit every red light on the way, then forgot some vital piece of hockey gear like the jock, then you have to race back, but find you didn’t fill up the car and HAVE to get gas or you’re not making it home, then you find your credit card is maxed and you only have nickels and dimes to pay for gas, but you put in $1.35 anyway and race off only to return to a completely empty room because the team has been relocated to another dressing room and you have to go room to room carrying a jock and asking, has anyone seen ma boi?

No?

Well, try it sometime.

But it wasn’t one of those days at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference. Everything went my way. I managed to get an additional agent appointment early in the day and still had one tucked away for the afternoon. So, after my success with the first agent, the incredibly nice Elizabeth Winick Rubinstein, President and senior agent at McIntosh & Otis, I saw another opening.

A great read from a great author, Michael Slade

A great read from a great author, Michael Slade

Not with an agent, but with a writer who has always given me great advice. The great storyteller Michael Slade.

So I booked a moment with him, a ten-minute session called a blue pencil (where an author looks at your work, gives you criticism, then you go home and cry a lot). But I wanted his opinion on the opening of my book, especially since I had plans to submit it for a public reading on Saturday and didn’t want to be that guy who gets his stuff read and has agents rolling their eyes and shaking their heads and wondering why they make the effort to come out.

However, Mr. Slade loved the writing and went through the first chapter step-by-step remarking on all the things I’d done right. He only had one suggestion, but that one was bang on (and as soon as I left, I made that change right away.) But as much fun as that was, (and it was FUN), he didn’t have any appointments afterward so we talked about war and fathers and writing and all sorts of things.

For about over an hour!

Like we were long, lost friends.

They had to kick us out for lunch, but it was so incredible to have that time with someone who’s farther down the road than me as a writer and such a great storyteller.

Then it was back to work. I needed to find another agent at lunch, the best writing coach I’ve seen and perennial favorite at SiWC, Don Maass, but by the time I arrived, the whole ballroom was filled to capacity and I couldn’t spot him. So I ate my lunch, chatted with my writer’s group, chatted with people in line, chatted with a few of the people seated at our table, then when lunch ended, I began my search again.

Luckily, someone had nabbed him before he could leave!

Again, I felt so nervous as I approached him. I trembled like an 11-year-old girl about to meet Scott Helman (look him up, I had to!).

It’s that fight or flight thing. I really wanted to run and hide in my basement, snuggle under a blanket and read my books in the pool of lamplight, but I had put on my big boy pants and needed to do big boys things.

I marched over and sat beside him. Like an awkward orangutan fidgeting with everything he could get his hands on, I waited until he had finished talking to others, then with only minutes left before he had to rush off to a workshop or scheduled interviews, I threw my pitch at him with all the skill of someone just clubbed in the head with a baseball bat.

But he liked it. He wanted to see the entire manuscript. Entire. Manuscript!

Win!

The editor I saw after that, while challenging me on if my story was a mystery or thriller, wanted to see 50 pages after I was done sweating and mumbling.

Win!

Not a pretty one, but a win never-the-less.

Anne Frank - Who cannot be moved by her story?

Same thing happened when I pitched at the end of the day to Irene Goodman, who was so very kind and understanding at my complete inability to form complete sentences at that point.

She loved my story’s connection to the holocaust and we shared our moving experiences from when we visited Anne Frank’s house or the holocaust memorial museums.

Another win!

I went home exhausted and so excited.

But an even bigger win was to come. Not a sale, cuz those things don’t happen at conferences, but something I’ll remember forever. In a good way.

******

More links!

Writer – Michael Slade (check out his books here!)

Agent – Don Maass (His new book on writing, The Emotional Craft of Fiction is coming out in January, Here. But he has some amazing writing books already out.)

Agent – Elizabeth Winick Rubinstein

Agent – Irene Goodman (a great article hereIf You Want to Be a Writer, Be a Writer)

 

 

 

 

 

Back home to the Surrey briar patch

5 writers members at SIWC 2010 with James Scott Bell and Carolyn Swayze

This weekend, the 5 writers join the hundreds of other aspiring writers – and the generous agents, editors, publishers and bestselling authors who support us – at our favourite annual literary get-together: the Surrey International Writers’ Conference.

Why do we love Surrey? Well, like B’rer Rabbit and the briar patch, we were born and bred here, so our brave critique group members know no fear at SIWC. Not at our blue pencils. Not at our pitches. Not even at SIWC Idol. It’s all part of the learning curve – and besides there’s a very nice bar where we can always drown our sorrows when necessary.

Three of us at SIWC 2009 with writing buddy Jo Cooper

Here at the event that’s been called “the best writers’ conference in North America” by presenters and participants alike, we get to take master classes with the best of the best, like authors Jack Whyte, Hallie Ephron, Michael Slade and Robert Sawyer. We get to pitch top agents like Don Maass, Nephele Tempest, Jill Marr and Dean Cooke. We get to learn from great editors, film industry professionals, social media experts and writers in all genres (far too many to mention here, but it’s a weekend full of awesome talent).

So how did our writing group start? A few years ago, our group’s founder (and now famous bestselling author!), Sean Slater, decided to cherry-pick some likely co-conspirators from among the local writers he met at SIWC to form a critique group. Since that time, there have been a few changes in membership, including Sean’s “graduation” to the big leagues, but the spirit of mutual support is still alive and well.

Sean’s first published crime novel in his Jacob Striker series was The Survivor (2011, Simon & Schuster), which was nominated for the Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Novel. It was translated into multiple languages and has sold like hotcakes in Canada, Great Britain and Europe. His first success was quickly followed by a second Jacob Striker outing, Snakes & Ladders, and Sean now awaits the publication of book number three. Oh, and did we mention that Sean is also a police officer who managed to establish himself front-and-centre on the bookshelves of several countries while holding down one of the world’s toughest jobs?

Sean, you’re our hero.

And fortunately for our group of 5 writers (the ones who have not yet been published), Sean still acts as our informal advisor, provides inspiration, and came up with the kick-ass idea of having us all write brand new novels to a deadline – triggering this 5 Writers 5 Novels 5 Months madness.

Gee, thanks, Sean. We think.

Seriously, though, Sean was right. After a couple of years critiquing each others’ works-in-progress in 30-page monthly increments (and producing several completed first draft novels along the way), the 5 writers needed a shake-up. We all love to write, but we’ll love getting published even better. This game is not for the passive. We needed to kick it up a notch … demand more of ourselves … re-kindle that fire in the belly that makes you uncomfortable, keeps you up at night, pushes you to do more than you ever thought you could. Yessirree. The 5 writers challenge is all that and more.

Paula and Joe with our muse at SIWC 2010

The question is: will we survive it?

(Note that Sean is a very generous guy, and readily shares his experiences with aspiring writers. Visit his website, www.seanslaterbooks.com, not only for the latest on his novels and his soaring career, but also for advice on getting published and other writing challenges.)

But back to SIWC. For those of you who might be reading this blog while attending the conference, we’d love to hear from you. Tap us on the shoulder if you see one of us. Leave a comment on our blog and tell us what you think. And by all means follow us as we slog and blog our way forward to “The End” by our self-imposed deadline of February 5, 2013.

Karalee, Helga, Silk and Paula at SIWC 2010 Idol

And even though the 5 writers are, at this moment, still unpublished wannabes – like many other SIWC attendees – we offer our own advice from our writing group experience. Look around you. Are you seeing some of the same faces at all the workshops you attend? Introduce yourself. You may be talking to a fellow writer who can become a friend, an inspiration, maybe even a member of your future critique group. Having the support of a like-minded, and demanding, group really does help spark the courage needed to take on both creative risks and crazy commitments.

We hope all who attend SIWC 2012 really do take away the courage, inspiration and commitment needed to be a better writer. A published writer. We want to sincerely thank all the organizers, the volunteers, and the mentors who share their knowledge and time with us at this wonderful conference.

Write on!