Thursday, March 27, 2014

Left Coast Crime Conference

I am sort of a conference junkie. In my previous professional life, it was expected that I attend and present research at several conferences a year. I always loved it. The kissing, the hugging, the renewal of old friendships, the introduction to new friends! And the chance to learn! What’s not to like?

In my current professional life as author, I have total control over what my life looks like from work schedule to continuing education to purchased resources to conference attendance. No more mandates from on high. I take on-line and in-person classes. I buy every writing book on Amazon. And I attend conferences. (But not yet as a presenter.)

An editor told me a bit more than a year ago that I needed to stop taking general writing classes and attending general writing conferences. I needed to focus attention instead, spending my time and money, on genre-specific resources. To that end, I attended my first-ever Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA) conference last July. Spectacular. I learned so much, and I am returning this July to get more.

At that conference, I was told that I had to attend the Left Coast Crime (LCC) conference. So I did. I got home last Sunday evening from that conference. Again, I learned a lot, but it was different.

PSWA is a craft-focused conference. Public safety workers in a range of fields present their expertise so you can bring a level of authenticity to your mysteries. You learn about DNA and how that is used (and abused in TV shows), what a vice cop does on the beat, and how to spin out clues at the right pace.

LCC is primarily a fan conference. There are lots of writers in attendance, but the majority of registrants are fans of mystery writing and writers. Thus, the sessions were geared to fans and how authors do what they do in their books. It may sound like a subtle difference between writing craft sessions and sessions for fans, but it is huge.

For example, I attended one session on what makes villains memorable. The panelists all described their villains and what made them villainous. As a writer, it was my responsibility to translate that into a craft lesson to see what lessons I could learn to apply to my own books. My brain got a workout!

Of course, in keeping with my major interest, I ate up, so to speak, the session by culinary mystery writers! And I was shocked to learn that several don’t cook or enjoy cooking but they like writing culinary mysteries.

Also a thrill was seeing Mission Impastable for sale at a conference bookstore for the first time. That is a rush!

And spending the day before the conference in an all-day writing workshop geared to authors was a special treat, especially since the fabulous presenters, Jan Burke and Jerrilyn Farmer, surprised us with a special session with Sue Grafton.

Oh, and did I mention the great bonding time Oak Tree Press authors had with publisher Billie Johnson at our own special session one afternoon?

There is much to be said for attending writing conferences featuring both tangible and intangible rewards. So where are you headed for your next conference? Maybe I’ll see you there.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Word Choice and Voice

Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule.   Stephen King

Don't use words too big for the subject. Don't say 'infinitely' when you mean 'very'; otherwise you'll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.   C.S. Lewis

Say all you have to say in the fewest possible words, or your reader will be sure to skip them; and in the plainest possible words or he will certainly misunderstand them.    John Ruskin

Word choice. Which words do I choose and use? Why?

I’ve had mixed reviews from critique partners about vocabulary level in my various works. The range is from “I had to look up words. That interrupts the story. Lose the big words.” to “I love that you don’t insult my intelligence by talking down to me. Keep using vocabulary that challenges me.”

Truly, it is not that I am trying to demonstrate my facility with logo-gymnastics, but that’s the way I talk. The first word that comes to mind is what I type. I don’t sit with the thesaurus open and at the ready to insert an arcane word in place of a pedestrian one. Rather, why use a phrase when a single word would do?

Unless that language level is inconsistent with the character. Well, duh! That elusive characteristic of "voice" is, in part, signaled by word choice. Language identifies us.

When I have a character with education, why not have her use the language level she would use in real life? Oh, I know that if she sprinkles too many high-vocabulary words in, she will distract. But where is the line between voice illustrated through language level and interrupting the reader. I hate to think that readers’ vocabulary levels are so low they would avoid my great (!) books just because I have a character using less common words.

I hate to think that good vocabularies belong only to literary fiction. Genre fiction, commercial fiction—why can’t those characters be literate as well?

Okay. I do have a good vocabulary. I admit to being proud of that. But demonstrating language facility is not, should not be, tantamount to bragging or driving away readers. I remember the first time I read Sophie’s Choice (William Styron). Not only did the story fully engage me, but I had to look up a couple of words in the dictionary. Me, looking up words! I loved it!

I am a word game nut. I read the dictionary for fun. My favorite all-time Christmas present from DH was the compact version of the Oxford English Dictionary. Etymologies make me swoon. We’re always saying, “Let’s look it up.”

I LOVE WORDS! That passion showed through in my work with kids over 39 years. What a legacy to pass on, that words are cool. Why can’t I do that in my writing as well. In Streetwalker (my erotic romance), I have a character obsessed with words even though she is not educated.

So, Dear Reader, hang on for the ride. The vocabulary level in my works may be higher than some. But when I write, the right word comes to mind. I don’t go “dictionary diving” to find an obtuse way to say the same thing. If you might need a dictionary once or twice, enjoy the joy of words and the way they roll around on your tongue and in your mind.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Take Your Writing Vitamins

Everyone knows that a healthy mind in a healthy body blah blah blah. So you take care of yourself, right? Riiiigghtt!

Exercise, eat right, take the supplements you need. So we go for balanced meals, cut out the fast food, and snack on fruits and veggies. And we ingest our calcium, krill oil, and multi-vitamin for Vitamins A, B, C, D and the rest of the alphabetic iteration.

But exercise? For some of us, that’s harder. Our job is to plant our seat (not seed) and let words flow forth. Umm. That didn’t come out (this is getting worse) quite right. But you know what I mean.

Our job is to sit there until we’ve met some pre-established objective--number of pages, number of words, working out a knotty scene, and so on. Getting to the gym or even taking a walk can be tough to schedule in. There’s always one more blog to write, one more set of Twitter postings, one more scene that’s really close to coming together-maybe, sorta, kinda.

Not much I can do about that, but during the writing process I can assure you that taking your writing vitamins will help you be more productive. Just as you want your body fit, your writing soul also needs attention. Here are your writing vitamins so you can crank it out.

One of the most important writing vitamins for accomplishment is Vitamin G. Setting Goals gives you a target, a focus, a raison d’etre for writing. Intermediate and long-term Goals keep you on track.

Using Vitamin L--Learn--probably happens naturally for you every day. But be more mindful of your Learning about your craft or writing business and share it on your blog. Let others know what you have found out about writing. Writing is a mode of Learning (Janet Emig). When you write about what you learn, you cement it for yourself.

Vitamin S may be the most important one. Show up for work. Yes, writing is your work, your job, even if a second one at this point. Without recognizing that commitment to job responsibility, you can easily find reasons to not write. Trust me, writing every day, without fail, will result in Vitamin G having its full effect.

Vitamin P must be taken with Vitamin S. Protect your writing time. Be ruthless. Bargain. Lie (oh, not really). Do what it takes for you to be able to Show up and accomplish your Goals.

Vitamin M will aid your production by making you more efficient. Move at least every two hours. The data about sitting is really devastating! We need to stand and move when possible. Set a timer (I have to because I lose track of time) and take a potty or beverage break. Walk around the house. Jog in place. Return phone call and walk around as you talk. MOVE!

And your last writing vitamin is Vitamin I. Ignore writing advice (except for this, of course). Should you plot to within an inch of the scenes or should you get “in the flow” and let it roll? Should you stick with one genre and get really good at that one or bounce among genres depending on your interests and the stories batting at your head? Ignore any advice that doesn’t feel right with this story at this time. That is not to say that you can’t read others’ suggestions. Sure pick their brains. But remember, there is NO one way to write a book. Or someone would have found it and everyone would use it. So ignore what doesn’t mesh. And incorporate what does.

What are your writing vitamins? Attend to your writing health as much as that of your body and mind.