A Gathering of Southern Words
Arkansas Writer’s Conference 2002
By Robert L. Hall
The conference this year started off with a bang—a loud bang!
His summation was this: for non-fiction, yes, do the self-publishing again. For fiction, however, no.
Marcia Camp spoke next about Xlibris. Her narration was perhaps more critical, as she ran into a series of editorial problems, which she called in to the publisher. These editorial problems were more serious in her case, as her book was non-fiction, and as a result was impacted sharply by incorrect data in her work.
She was put off mostly by the attitude of the staff when she called in a correction. It appeared that she got “Muffy” or “Buffy,” or some other juvenile staff member to report her corrections to—corrections that were either never entered or incorrectly interpreted on the other end of the phone line by the immature and not book-savvy youngsters working for the company. Exacerbating this problem was the $200 dollar charge the company tries to extract from the author for every editorial change called in. To her credit, this was a charge that Ms. Camp says she adamantly refused to pay.
She, of course, did not recommend Xlibris.
Velda Brotherton was next to the podium. She spoke in a simple, yet clear way to the problem of producing a manuscript in which you “Discover Your Voice.” Topics such as fresh settings, crisp dialogue, focus, pacing, sense of place, sympathetic characters, subplots and turns, foreshadowing, rhythm and tone were discussed, with a follow-up discussion of “Selling Out,” as it is called: in which a writer contrives to write in genre that they are not especially wild about, however injecting tone and voice into it to make it uniquely their own.
Leonard Bishop of Manhattan, Kansas, was the keynote speaker. The topic of his speech was, “Sophisticated Use of Writing Techniques.”
Mr. Bishop generalizes first about writing. He states that one must know the most difficult problems you are having with your short stories or novels. Moving from that point will give you an advantage in writing. Next, have regard for the proprieties: Contacting a slew of agents or editors will do you no good (he tells the audience) if you don’t know what you are doing, no matter how important the contact.
“Not by hope or inspiration,” he declares, waving his hands in the air. “But, by compilation of writing techniques will you be successful. Sophisticated techniques, such as foreshadowing, dialogue, and others must be combined, and these techniques must be invisible to the reader, although the content should not be.”
Imparting the following, he holds the audience spellbound with a few partial gleanings as to literary usage:
The use of narration: brings little incident together—too little for a whole scene.
Documentation: tells background, environmental location, troubles, etc.,
Flashback: a full scene, supporting motivation.
Remembrance: Small insights into a former incident or action (a reference to…what is already known, used to bring the past to the present.)
Then, he went into a tirade about the negativism of today’s writing communities. He quoted the figure of 65,000 books per year being published and told us that the number one enemy of writers was their lack of determination.
In the past, he says, writers that I knew might be terrible people—slobs or rats. But, they wanted to write successfully and that is what drove them to success.
“If you want to be a writer, go ahead and write. Become successful, then you can work on your social skills later,” he suggests, to the howling laughter of the audience gathered there.
“Mostly,” he relates, “Don’t write about ‘Happy People.’ Happy people are boring! I can’t stand to be around happy people all the time. What motivation do they have to step out of their character and grow? They have no reason to get out of their comfort zones. No one wants to read about them!”
Finally, he admonishes: make the first five pages of your work compelling. It is what agents look for, even if they tell you they don’t. They have first readers that only read one page, then second readers that only read a few pages. Only at that point does the agent take a hand in your project, if you are fortunate enough to get that far, that is.
The second day of the conference found us facing the non-fiction author, Mary Worthen. A non-fiction writer, who chose to author a book about her bi-polar daughter, she was awarded an endowment to write her book. This would be grand, one would think. However, she fell into the hands of a publisher who she now regrets having went with--the publisher holding all rights to it. She has to travel around the country, doing television spots in order to garner any money at all for the fruits of her own hands. The descriptions she gives is both saddening and revealing about the business of writing and publishing. In her speech as well as the contract lawyer who preceded her—Mr. Hank Jones, attorney out of Little Rock, we are advised to have a lawyer present at the presentation of any contract and meeting with any principles in an agreement.
In his second address, Leonard Bishop discusses two aspects of writing: details and techniques. Stressing the use of characterization and details, he suggests becoming overly wordy, then editing the details out of our work and revising at a later time. Emphasizing the importance of editing, he chooses the words of Oscar Wilde:
“We must learn to murder our darlings.”
Books must be 1-interesting, 2-dramatic and 3-topical to succeed logically, he says.
As a suggestion, he says that you may have an uncontrollable (or controllable) event, then put your characters under pressure. Immediately, it creates unconventional behavior. Every one who was stereotypical now moves out of their respective ‘comfort zones.’ Then you ‘penetrate their consciousness’ so that they can be examined.
Bishop defines fiction as, “A panoramic view of reality, in which you create your reality in your own way.” One does so by acting out the outer details, and then filling them in. In summation, he stresses that writing is more in the attitude of the writer and not the aptitude. It is only in the wanting to write that we finally will be measured. We need to be desperate to be published in order to succeed.
© 2002, Robert L. Hall, All Rights Reserved