Wednesday, June 21, 2023

The Joys of Talking Writer to Writer

by Janis Patterson

Last week I got a kind of vacation - The Husband and I drove up to a secluded Arkansas hideaway where we had been invited to stay as part of an invitation for me to speak at a local writers’ group. Aside from an almost hurricane-force storm that flooded the area and cut short our holiday, it was a great trip.

Though I used to do it often, I had not spoken to a group of live people in a very long time (drat the covid crazies!) and was a little nervous, but that went away as soon as we got to the meeting. The ladies (all were ladies) were so warm and welcoming it was heartening. Best of all, they were all so anxious to learn.

There were only two published authors in the group - the leader, a long-time multi-published professional whom I have admired for years, and one member who had recently self-published a book she probably shouldn’t have in its current form. As I said, what was wonderful was how everyone wanted to learn.

Considering everyone’s overwhelming newbie status I started at the very beginning. The problems and perils and protocols of traditional publishing. The dangers both artistic and financial lurking in vanity/’assisted’ publishing. The risks, rewards and hard work of self-publishing. By the time I finished with that they were looking a little shell-shocked, but I’m not sorry. Being an author is so much more than sitting at a desk and writing stories. Sometimes it seems as if that is the easiest part! Writers both published and aspirant have to know about the nuts and bolts of publishing - all kinds of publishing. They want to be published but most of them have no idea of the realities of the business. 

And one of the biggest realities of the business is to sell something by any method you should have something decent to sell - although some of the more rapacious vanity houses will ‘publish’ any sort of trash, as will some untutored self-publishers. So I switched the lecture to writing. I stressed the importance of knowing what you’re doing - knowing how to use your tools, those tools being spelling, grammar, punctuation, tense, and all the other parts of language. We covered where and how to use proper English (definitely in the prose/descriptive portions) and when dialect/bad grammar is acceptable, such as in quotes or interior thoughts, where you can do pretty much what you want - but only if it is congruent with the status/etc of the character himself. In other words, you don’t have a duchess talking like a dockworker unless there is a solid reason in the story for it!

Then we went on to the construction of the story. How once you create a world - whatever it is - you have to stay true to the rules of that world throughout the story. Person, tense, general atmosphere, pacing, quotes from other works, allusions, prologues/epilogues... there wasn’t a tool or technique that we didn’t touch on. We also discussed plagiarism, info dumps, alliteration and everything else we could think of.

Of course, although we touched on so many things, those things were necessarily light and fleeting. It is no small exercise to condense 40+ years of experience (good and bad) into a 50 minute talk. Plus, since this group of writers was primarily interested in mysteries, there was a lively discussion about exactly what is a cozy mystery. No, we didn’t come to a pithy single sentence consensus, though the ladies now know more about cozies than they did before.

All in all, it was a great experience and the ladies, obviously being gluttons for punishment, said they want me back. I can’t wait.

UPDATE : For those of you who are following my republishing blitz, my Regency romance novella SARACEN’S GIFT - #13, which means everything is right on schedule! - releases today, June 21! The blitz is now officially half over!