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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Live from New Orleans at Pen To Press Writers Retreat

Hi all! I’ve been in New Orleans for three days now, having possibly the best time ever as a writer and meeting all kinds of cool people. I’m at the Pen to Press Writers Retreat and staying with my friend Marcia Wall, who is cool beyond cool for letting me stay with her for free in her French Quarter walkup. (I’m paying for it with my thighs, though. She lives on the third floor and the stairs are steep.)


What can I say about this thing? First of all, if you’re even slightly interested, GO. Yeah, you have to apply and get accepted and all that, but I’ve learned more about writing COMMERCIAL FICTION, FOR PUBLICATION, than I ever did in my four years of college. See, writing commercial fiction is an entirely different animal from writing papers for ENG 405, Advanced Composition, which is the kind of class where most of us learned how to write. There are rules. Even if you know the rules (which I did, mostly, but not all of them) there are certain fine points you’ve probably missed along the way. This is like a master class in writing commercial fiction. If you’re doing something wrong, the teachers are going to find it and help you fix it. That’s worth every cent this cost me, which was, by the way, plenty.


It’s a little like the difference between going to law school, or at least as I understand the going-of to law school, versus going to paralegal school. I’ve never been to law school but I’ve lived with three different law students at various times. They tell me that in law school, they hand you a bunch of cases about A Concept. They then expect you to wade through these hundreds of pages of material and find out A. what concept you’re supposed to be looking for in the first place, which for me would be the big hurdle, and B. the rights and wrongs of that concept. For example: Here are a bunch of cases about contracts. A. The concept I’m looking for must be due consideration, and B. Due consideration means anything that would induce a reasonable person to enter into the contract.


This is why I never went to law school. (Well, that and not having $90 grand in my back pocket.) Paralegal school is better. In paralegal school, they just flat-out tell you “Hey, due consideration means anything that would induce a reasonable person to enter into the contract, and here’s a bunch of cases where they discuss that.” In short, it’s exactly backward, and a far easier way to learn about the law, if you ask me.


(By the way, if I’m wrong about the definition of due consideration, feel free to correct me. I’m sitting at a gyro café on Royal Street not far from the Hotel Monteleone and kind of in a world of my own, so concepts legal are not lighting up my brain the way they would normally. One of my instructors, Hank Schwaeble, is an attorney, though. Legal jokes have been flying around all week.)


This is a lot like that. Writers often hear, “Omit needless words” as the first commandment of writing commercial fiction. Rarely does anyone get to “how.” We spent the whole first day on “how.” Don’t use attributions other than “said.” Better yet, don’t use attributions at all. Don’t use backstory. Don’t use adverbs. And on and on. I can probably drop my word count by a good ten grand using some of this stuff – not, mind you, that I’m stupid enough to drop my estimate to the agents I’ll be meeting on Friday.


Oh my God, I’m meeting agents on Friday. EEP!! I’m very nervous. But then, I’ve survived three days of having F. Paul Wilson as one of my instructors, and that’s gotta be the equivalent of, like, an aspiring artist getting painting lessons from Picasso. Just not painting my nose by accident has been a victory. But so far so good. So I should be okay.


Everybody wish me luck!!

4 comments:

Marcia Wall said...

Great post and thanks for the 411 NOLA (www.411nola.com) shout out. See you tonight!

Joan said...

Luck! Give 'em heck (or Cameron), sweetie!

K910athrinA_Petrin0 said...

April showers bring May flowers..............................................

JulieAnn said...

Just remember--YOU are a good writer. If someone doesn't fit from P2P, you have plenty more time to find a good fit and plenty of agents to query. Go to as many conferences as you can (I recommend Big Sur Writer's Workshop strongly, despite the eye rolls of Sir Smirks-A-Lot, Hank) It's very hands-on and gritty. In a good way.

Happy Writing!