Friday, February 8, 2013

Brilliant Guests


As some of you may know, I’m the president of my local Romance Writers of America chapter. We’re a very small group, less than two dozen members. But! We are lucky that we are just over the hills – the Santa Cruz Mountains – of the Silicon Valley RWA Chapter. And they’re pretty big. Also Black Diamonds in the Bay Area, etc.

Which means we don’t hold conferences or host big names (can’t pay for them, for one thing), but we are close to chapters that can bring these people to our area. So, I’ve attended a Donald Maas all day workshop, a Deb Dixon workshop and an Angela James workshop.

We also have a fair amount of writers within reach. And those? We tempt them to come and talk to us, plus we have several published writers in our chapter. We try to host someone every other month, though this year, my new VP opted to get speakers the first half of the year and we’ll work on writing the second half. Plus our holiday party and a few months off during the summer, when we’re at big conferences.

So, why am I babbling about this?

Well, we had Tina Folsom late last year and invited members from the other chapters and did pretty well. She’s local to the Bay Area. And a last week, we had Shelley Bates come speak to us. Hal knows Shelley, since she teaches a master class at Seton University. I know her from doing Steampunk workshops with her last year at Clockwork Alchemy, in San Jose.

She lives up on the ridge of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Shelley also writes as Adina Senft. Amish romance. And she does well! She self publishes a YA Steampunk series and she does well! And the woman is brilliant. She held all dozen of us mesmerized.

Her topic was “World Building Through Your Characters’ Eyes.”

I have the notes I took. Not many, but I do have the hand out. And she covered character perception and home and how to use setting to work inward and reveal and…and…and… If only my brain could make use of this information!

I sat center, I watched, I listened! I understood! But I couldn’t relate what she was saying to what I do, period. I honestly couldn’t think of examples from what I write, or how I could do this or that…nada.

Her words went in one ear and out the other. Understood and fondled, but they made no connection to my inner writer. I talked with her after and finally found a metaphor I could use to understand her talk with us.

She was talking about the soundtrack! The motif of characters, the underlying layer that builds, adds but isn’t intrusive. It carries the story forward and helps the reader taste the richness, the spice…experience the magic under the words. Thru words! But not in-your-reader’s -face, let-me-explain-this words.

I can understand a soundtrack, the subtle nature. How it adds without distraction.

I can’t decipher Shelley’s presentation. I’m simply blind that way. I don’t know if it’s my superstitious nature, (I suspect it is), but I have a block when it comes to using the wonderful aspects of teachers like Shelley.

Luckily, she’s very understanding and actually, when we did the panels together, we complement each other’s techniques quite well. She’s a plotter, a planner, a creatively detailed writer. I’m a wild card.

I attend lecture, workshops, conferences…and I listen. I pay attention. With my creative writing mind acting like a four-year-old, fingers in ears, singing la-la-la-la-la. My intuitive mind is very present. I can analyze, discuss the topic in regards to other books, or movies…but not my writing.
 

Terri has seen this. I am so damned oblivious.

I hope that eventually, the information seeps into what I do…without my having to think too deeply on it.

Because I’m an idiot and fear that if I totally understand what I do, I won’t be able to do it anymore. I need to believe it’s magic.

How about you? Are you able to make the connection between what you write and what you learn in lectures? Does it come together for you all at once? During? After? Ever?

48 comments:

MsHellion said...

I can usually analyze OTHER people's works, but not mine. It's almost a matter of being too close to it. But sometimes I think this boils down to asking the right questions specific to YOUR story you're writing. Many of these things you're talking about--they have the general questions (what does your character want?)--which is huge, but if it's not specific, you suddenly don't know. If I ask what does Adam want? Half the time I don't know...but if you asked me what some other character wanted, I'd know...

I think part of it is that I trust the writer to relay the story so I don't have to worry about making it big enough or good enough. It's all on them. As writers, we get all twisted up that this has to be PHENOMENAL, that we keep cutting ourselves off when we state goals or wants of our characters because, "That's not good enough. No one is going to care about that."

Terri Osburn said...

I'm processing a new hire and dealing with pay stubs (Yay! It's pay day!) but I'll get over here as soon as I can.

(No, it is NOT pay day on this ship. Y'all are unpaid volunteers, in case you haven't figured that out by now.)

Terri Osburn said...

Now I've read the blog. I'm the same way on many topics, but for me, it's how the information is presented. There is something about how Crusie presents a lesson (usually on her blog) where it just clicks for me. Another writer/instructor could try teaching me the same thing, but no click.

I still try, and I've attended more workshops and taking more ecourses than I can count. But never do I sit down to write and consciously think, "I'm going to apply that lesson right here."

I've no idea if I'm using what I've learned, but I must be. Which is the magic. I totally believe in it. Happens to me a lot lately. An author read my book to give a quote and was so enthusiastic, she quoted my own lines back to me in an email. It. Was. Weird.

I just kept thinking, "Where did all those good lines come from?" It's magic!

Maureen said...

It's alive! Yes, my ass kicking cold has kept me in bed most of the morning but I finally managed to sneak out of the covers to my laptop.

This is a truly miserable virus. Don't catch it. That may be the wisest thing I say all day.

Now, Hels, I think you're right. If I, as a writer, decide this has to be a phenomenal book, it has to make children laugh and nuns weep and brave men jump off bridges... (boggles the mind to think of that particular book...)

Anyway!

Yeah, what you said. The whole idea that every time we write, some bit of the wisdoms imparted to us through workshop and workbook will trickle into our blood and make it to the page...just a little bit at a time! Don't wait for the flood, it will just kill you and you'll die of bloodloss.

Maureen said...

I'm not on meds.

P. Kirby said...

Terri. I did payroll yesterday. Fortunately, it's straightforward, not like the last job where every hour had to be tracked to a project--nightmare. (And no, I'm technically not an accountant. More like a warm body who can use Quickbooks.) Point, being, I feel your pain.

I don't bother much with writing advice, workshops, etc., anymore. Not because I know it all. Definitely don't. But because while I process the information well enough, I rarely consciously apply it to my writing.

To this day, the single more effective tool for improving my own writing is critiquing and/or reviewing the work of others. (This, btw, also includes analysis of movies, even if it's just a discussion with my DH, apres show.)

I really find that by regularly dissecting what did and didn't work in a novel or movie, my eye for flaws in my own work sharpens. Heh. Or at least, I think it does.

This is also why I publicly post (GR) reviews of nearly every book I read, even the ones I hate or DNFed. Because this forces me to write a cogent (or die trying) explanation of my reason for the book's high or low rating.

The only value I see in workshops is the opportunity to just get out and hang with others from Team Writer.

Maureen said...

Now, Terri is an aberration. Everything slips into her and mixes with her brain juice and then flies across her pages. The more she writes, the more I read it.

She's gonna win a RITA one day.

I'm gonna end up with a rabid small group of followers who dress up like pirates and stalk me at conventions. But Terri? She's gonna win a RITA.

I do wish I could get at the wisdom the teachers impart. I think I do, I'm just scared to believe it and find myself trying to do it and wearing cement shoes, looking up at the surface of the water.

Again, I'm not on meds. I should be, but high blood pressure means standard stuff can't be taken and I've been too sick to go get anything. I hope to take a short trip to the pharmacy today.

Terri Osburn said...

If Eloisa James has yet to win a RITA in nearly 20 tries, I do not hold out much hope. (Though I'm totally holding out hope for Eloisa this year. Fingers crossed she finally gets her long-overdue award in Atlanta!)

Are you telling me that spouse of yours couldn't be bothered to stop at the pharmacy??

Maureen said...

Pat, that is a sneaky way to work it out... I'm really proud of you! Figure out why something doesn't work or does work and let that seep into the writer awareness...

Pardon me, had to go sneeze...

Uh, where was I? Oh, yeah...it's sneaky. Like you're making the muse work but it thinks this is all fun.

Sneaky! Sneaky! Sneaky!

Terri Osburn said...

And I meant to repeat to Hellie the phrase she repeats to me all the time. It doesn't have to be huge to everyone else, it only has to be huge to that character. That's the trick.

It's not the end of the world if my hero loses his job at the law firm, but it's a huge ass deal to him. So long as I make that clear on the page, then the reader will feel what he feels and that's all we have to do.

Make the reader feel it.

Maureen said...

It's not his fault, I forgot to ask. If I don't make it out today, he'll stop and pick up some stuff for me. He was even looking on the internet for the best stuff to take...

Well, Terri, you aren't competing in historical romance...you'll win faster than Eloisa. I have no doubt whatsoever.

Marnee Bailey said...

This made me think of my years teaching. Everyone has different learning styles. Different things work for different teachers, and different techniques work better with different students. Just because it didn't resonate with you or you couldn't apply it to your process doesn't mean anything. I know I've taken a bunch of classes and read a bunch of books now and some of them work great for me. Usually, if the presenter is a plotter/planner, etc, it works best for me. Since that's kinda how I roll. I've had some workshops/classes where the teacher is a little too abstract for me.

And I'm half way through Ter's most recent and you're right; she'll win a RITA.

Maureen said...

But...but...but...?

No world ending drama? No uber villains and...

No, it's okay. That's just my stuff.

I like looking at it that way. It's perspective and being true to your world, whether it's the office or the planet.

Terri Osburn said...

Pat, I should have been more clear. All I do is pass out the stubs. Our lovely (and stressed) payroll person up at corporate does all that nasty stuff. Thank Bob.

Chance, it works the same for you sometimes. Considering Emily thought she was in a weird dream and would wake up any time, it didn't really matter if the whole thing imploded. But it did to her because of her experience in that world. You had to make her feel the urgency before the reader could feel it, and you did that.

Even before the big ice queen thing.

Terri Osburn said...

Thanks, Marn! And that's another reason I could never be a teacher.

How are you guys doing up there? Is the blizzard hitting you too?

Maureen said...

Marn, I love learning and for the most part, don't regret any workshop I've ever gone to. I end up taking notes and understanding what is being imparted and generally, I find it fascinating. I just don't get how it relates to anything I do. I end up, at one point or another, wondering what is wrong with, a)my story or b)me, that I can't see the relation.

I feel like someday, I'll be sitting around a table with a bunch of other geriatric writers and suddenly, it will all fall into place. I'll crawl out of my wheelchair, stand...my panties will fall off...and I won't care...and I'll raise my crinkle old face and smile.

Then I'll die.

Oh, well.

Maureen said...

Honestly, Nemo? You guys are being threatened by a blizzard named Nemo? What's next, hurricane Dori?

Marnee Bailey said...

We're just getting a lot of rain right now. THe snow comes tonight. I think the worst of it is going to miss us. I think we're only supposed to get 3-6. It'll be the wet packy kind so it'll be fun for the boys.

Right now, I'm curled up in the house with a big pot of chili in the crock pot. Yum.

Terri Osburn said...

I wondered that same thing. Since when do they name snow storms?! Checked out weather.com and in an article that said "Why we named the storm" there was no answer. Just that Nemo means from the valley in Greek and "nobody" in Latin. But no reason why they picked any name at all.

Makes no sense. And storm of the century? No. Every storm cannot be the storm of the century. Not when we're having them every two months.

Maureen said...

Yeah, but storm of the week just doesn't sound so cool...

Maureen said...

I haven't reached the hurricane in your book, Ter. What did you call it?

Terri Osburn said...

Oh, that would be Hurricane Ingrid. She was nice enough to move out to sea and not do a full hit on land. But even with a near miss, when it's a hurricane, it's still a lot of rain, hail, and high winds.

MsHellion said...

I'm glad your hurricane was so accommodating, Terri. *LOL*

Terri Osburn said...

She got them into bed, so she did her job. LOL!

Marnee Bailey said...

She got them into bed, so she did her job. LOL!

My kinda hurricane.

Maureen said...

Man, you missed a chance to name a hurricane. Hurricane Isabelle!
Hurricane Bumblebee!
Hurricane Macie!

If I ever name a hurricane, it will be Hurricane ... I better think about this. I do have family members who read my blog now and then...

MsHellion said...

Hurricane Bumblebee would probably be VERY apt.

I imagine if Isabelle had her own weather pattern named for her, it'd be something like "heat and humidity" because the heat makes you overly dramatic and you're too tired to go out and do anything productive because you're a hostage of the heat. *LOL*

Maureen said...

I'd never be a hurricane. I'd be a tropical depression.

MsHellion said...

I should add that the time I met Isabelle I did not find her be particularly dramatic per se--only that teenagers CAN by reputation be very draining, which Terri occasionally opines. And I find heat to be very draining. *LOL*

I myself would probably be named after a thunderstorm. I'd have microbursts of fury that blow things up and out of control, gray storminess that hints at bad weather ahead, lightning strike sarcasm that can leave someone dead on their feet if they're in the wrong spot at the wrong time, and thunder grumbles that sound ferocious but actually the least problematic--and in the end, there's a rainbow I leave in your wake so you know you survived and are grateful for the experience.

Maureen said...

Ha! Thunderstorm Fran... When you're absolutely desperate for rain...and a good scare!

Terri Osburn said...

There was already a nasty Hurricane Isabel back in 2003. Did quite a bit of damage so I knew people would remember. (Except the pirates, clearly.) Hit a couple days before I came here for the first time so there was no electricity when I arrived for vacation. Fun!

I'd think of Fran more as a tornado. Whips up with little to no warning (sound the sirens!) and leaves a path of destruction in its wake. LOL! But only on a bad day, of course.

A tropical depression. LMAO!! That cracked me up!

Marnee Bailey said...

Tropical depression. LOL!!

I'm amused that they called it Nemo. I've been humming, "Just keep Swimming, just keep swimming" to myself all day.

Maureen said...

I saw a post last night on Facebook...on little Nemo, trying to look fierce. It's just hard to take a storm seriously that's named after a Disney clown fish...

Terri Osburn said...

I saw someone suggest it's for Captain Nemo, but either way, WHY NAME A SNOW STORM??

This is really bothering me. LOL!

Maureen said...

Is it actually a blizzard? How does one go from a storm to a blizzard?

Terri Osburn said...

The wind makes it a blizzard, and this puppy is packing a punch. The wind will be the real problem. Two feet of snow with no wind is just annoying. Two feet of snow with 70 mph wind is a bitch.

Maureen said...

And actually if it's after Captain Nemo...wouldn't that fit a tidal wave better?

Terri Osburn said...

Just found an article on why they named it at all and this is my favorite line.

"He mentioned another common-sense reason for the names: “The fact is that Twitter needs a hashtag.”

Ha! Check it out. The National Weather Service is not happy about this naming thing. http://mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/07/a-fish-er-storm-named-nemo/

Maureen said...

So, they didn't name it?

Maureen said...

Oh, that was interesting.... Darned Weather Channel. It's all Jim Cantore's fault!

Terri Osburn said...

I can't believe they've named 13 other storms and this is the only one I've heard. Wasn't the Halloween one Frankenstorm or something?

On a side note: I just got my cover!! It's SO PRETTY!

Terri Osburn said...

And we have totally hijacked your blog to talk about the weather. LOL! Sorry!

Marnee Bailey said...

LOL!! And now we're going to talk about your cover!!

When can we see it?

Maureen said...

Well, there is a creative element to naming storms...
And yes, may we see your cover? Puh-leeeeese!

Terri Osburn said...

Mo, you already have it. :)

I'll share but it's still top secret for now!

Maureen said...

;-)

Marnee Bailey said...

Pretty please!!!

Terri Osburn said...

It's on the way! I'm happy dancing around my office. LOL!