i'll have takeout

Saturday, the conference opened with a local success story panel: it seems that having babies stimulates creativity. 

This (kind of) amazes me.  When Miss Kristina was a babe, I was on a seesaw between being so sleep-deprived I could not see straight, and being so absorbed in the mysterious whorls of her ears, that I could no more have written a novel than I could have skated to Taiwan.

But I did write.  I wrote poetry to my daughter, I wrote letters to other mothers, I wrote a family-oreinted column on a now-defunct website.

And this was a message that came up over and over during the conference, from writers, editors, and agents.  I’m sure if I had asked the bartender, even he would have backed the refrain.

Takeaway #1 Write, write, and then write some more.

Then the agent/editor/art director panel: they were serious and funny by turns, especially when asked about the future of publishing.  But they did NOT communicate fear – they all believe in books and the role of books in our world. As (i think it was) Elizabeth Parisi said, you won’t see us curling up in bed with our kids to read a goodnight story from a Kindle. 

Ellen Hopkins (breakout session and a keyone address on Sunday) spoke about writing the darker stuff, and writing to the universal: teens want to love and be loved.  Writing on the edge keeps the work current: young people in the middle of those issues see themselves on the page, and others have their eyes opened to the complexity of those issues.

Takeaway #2 If you are going to write for young people, you must LOVE your audience: know them and love them.

Ellen also talked about the state of publishing.  Last week, her editor was let go, along with many others in the industry.  Ack.  If Ellen Hopkins’ editor isn’t safe, who is?

On the subject of trends: after wizards, vampires, werewolves, and zombies, apparantly mer-people are next.  Don’t go there.

Takeaway #3 It is no longer enough to write a good book: you must write a great book, the best book you possibly can.

Michael Stearns spoke about plot issues, saying that plot is not so much an event as it is complication.  He offered 13 questions to ask of a plot. (I think this might be the content he promised to put here – I feel like I know the secret handshake now.)  Most of these are designed to increase suspense, tension, and the page-turning urgency that gets your book read.

My favourite was the last one: have you been as mean as possible to your characters?  Make them suffer, be merciless: this will give your reader an emotional connection to the character.

Krista Marino (from Delacorte Press) said that she needs to fall in love with a book and its narrator.  She has to feel the passion and energy that will fuel her fight for the characters on the long road to publication.  She also needs to understand what the author is trying to say: the market/pitch for this book.

Takeaway #4 The writer must work harder on the book before sending it out, so that the editor doesn’t have to.  Free up the editor’s energy to be excited for your project.

The first pages panel, with Michael Stearns and Sarah Shumway  (Katherine Tegan Books) was a great final session, although my page wasn’t read (darn!)  Even so, their off-the-cuff comments were helpful to me, and i’ll look at my manuscript with fresh eyes this week.

Some specific points: complete the thought – follow through and explore ideas; don’t use too much detail or backstory at one time; raise questions on the first page, but don’t confuse; let the reader get close to the main character quickly.  And of course, voice.  Which leads to… 

Grand Conference Takeaway:  Voice, voice, voice.

Voice needs to be clear from the beginning. Voice needs to be consistent, compelling, casual (rather than formal, esp. for a teen/child narrator).

Beautiful writing will not cover for an indistinct voice.  But a well-drawn character with a compelling voice – whether cunning, cheeky, or charming – can make an agent/editor willing to turn the page and work with you.  (Yes, they really said all those words that start with C.) 


listening to: Dave Matthews Band, Everyday

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