Tag Archives: Better You Go Home novel

The Vegan on the Road – Conferences #amwriting

The month of October is upon us, and I am prepping for November’s writing rumble, NaNoWriMo. This month, my column will be devoted to NaNo Prep. I’ll be sharing my tricks for creating the characters I hope to write, building their world, and creating the structure of the plot that complicates their lives.

the vegan on the road - LIRF10022022As we progress into November, we will make that prep work into a coherent book.

For me, September is conference month. This year, my two regular conferences were in-person rather than virtual. I confess to feeling wary about large public gatherings and the possibility of catching a virus. In years prior to the pandemic, I regularly spent much of October and November suffering from severe respiratory illnesses. But I went, masked, and keeping my distance.

So far, I haven’t come down with anything other than my usual autumn allergies. While most attendees went unmasked, I wasn’t the only masked bandit at the ball.

The first conference of the month was the Southwest Washington Writers’ Conference, which I blogged on several weeks ago. I was on a panel there, and also had the chance to sit in on several fantastic seminars on creativity offered by sci-fi/fantasy author Jeff Wheeler.

Last week I attended the Pacific Northwest Writers’ Association’s annual conference. That was an intensive three-day dive into the craft of writing. I focused my limited attention span on two brilliant multi-part seminars, offered by two vastly different presenters.

better you go homeThree-Part Point of View Seminar was offered by Scott Driscoll, author of Better You Go Home. Scott took a deep dive into the various aspects of narrative point of view (as opposed to character POV.). First, he asked us to consider “to whom do the words belong?” And second, he asked, “From what distance are they speaking?”

Besides writing gripping fiction, Scott teaches the craft of writing fiction at the University of Washington. He showed that even within a piece appearing to have a specific narrative voice (such as close third-person or omniscient), there will be viewpoint texture—it will be subtle, but it will be there. Within one paragraph, the immediate point of view can briefly draw us out or move us in closer, yet still remain consistent overall.

In parts two and three he looked at psychic distance, and then at narrative distance. He offered examples of each to illustrate how they operate independently of each other. I liked that he offered good examples demonstrating how the point-of view choices we make (even the tiny phrasing choices within a paragraph) determine the angle from which the reader views the story.

One book Scott offers examples from is Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. I mention this book because it’s relevant to future articles I’ve planned which detail several ways to structure a collection of short stories.

The information I am slowly absorbing from Scott Driscoll’s seminars and handouts will be an area of focus for me when I get to the revision stage, most likely in December or January. And lucky for us, he has kindly agreed to clarify questions I will surely have, ensuring the information I offer here will be correct.

The other multi-part seminar I attended was offered by none other than Damon Suede, romance author and also the author of Verbalize and Activate, two of my most well-used reference books. Damon’s Two-Part Trope Seminar was hilarious and educational, firing me with insights into the difference between tropes and cliches.

We will be talking about this distinction off and on over the next month as we begin laying the groundwork for a new novel (or short story).

Scott Driscoll and Damon Suede both offered an incredible amount of information in the brief time they had. Their styles of delivery are radically different.

Scott is the quintessential Northwesterner, with a relaxed style of teaching. He is entertaining and delivers a lot of information in a thought-provoking way. I have learned much of what I know about literary structure from Scott.

Now I’m working on finetuning voice in one of my nearly finished projects. Fortunately, Scott makes handouts available to his students, so that is really good for the way I learn.

activateDamon Suede, on the other hand, is fireworks. If you aren’t prepared for it, the amount of information he delivers can be overwhelming. His handouts are thorough and closely follow the content of his classes, which is essential for me as I have trouble learning without visual aids.

I enjoy both virtual and in-person conferences because I learn something new about my own writing with every seminar I attend. I can’t stress this enough—don’t ignore the importance of continuing to self-educate if you are committed to writing.

Read in multiple genres and dissect those books. What did you love? What did you hate? Was there a section where the prose stirred the secret poet in you?

What emotions did you experience along with the characters? Conversely, why did it leave you flat?

When you want to go deeper into the craft of writing, a good writer’s conference can inspire you to look at your own work with a slightly different eye. The speakers and authors giving seminars will make or break a conference. One positive you will always take away is this: you will gain strength and meet other writers in your area. Those connections are gold.

One last point about attending conferences—at large Regional conferences like PNWA you can get appointments to pitch your work to agents. Pitching is a good learning experience even if you intend to go indie. It never hurts to know the market you are writing for and pitching to an agent is a good way to find out what the big publishers are looking for.

So how do conferences work if you are vegan or have dietary allergies? It all depends on who is catering the event.

The Southwest Washington Writers’ Conference in Centralia offered a wonderful vegan/gluten free meal, for both days of the event. Not only that, but I was also able to commute and sleep at home which is always a bonus.

For me, conferences where I must stay in a hotel do have one downside—the food.

Hotel banquet catering rarely offers a nice vegan option. Usually they lump gluten-free and vegan into one unpalatable punishment meal, and the banquet at this year’s PNWA conference was no exception.

I wasn’t surprised by that, despite discovering that the restaurant at the Hyatt Regency in Renton offered a beautifully prepared grilled cauliflower meal. In my heart, I feared the banquet would be awful for any vegan or gluten-free people.

It was.

A pile of pasty lumps of something claiming to be gnocchi with a spicy-but-otherwise-tasteless tomato sauce had been hastily plopped into the center of a plate. Adding insult to the injury (love that cliché) they scattered a few stems of woody chickweed over it for decoration.

The day after I arrived home, the hotel made the mistake of emailing a survey, asking me how I felt about my overall experience there.

Aside from the banquet and the dessert night, it was great.

food and drinkUnfortunately (for them) on that survey, there was a box where we could write detailed opinions about the catering. I’m a writer, so I took advantage of that opportunity.

Will my treatise help the next poor starving vegan/gluten-free person who is subjected to that kind of biased and indifferent treatment?

I don’t know, but I enjoyed writing it as much as I enjoyed the conference overall.

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#amwriting: the struggle is the story

A point that was raised on another blog I follow is something many authors struggle with: devising the complicating events that raise levels of risk for the protagonist, and also for the antagonist. A compelling story evolves when the antagonist is strong, but not omnipotent. The protagonist must also be stronger than she thought she was, but still not omnipotent.

Small hindrances must occur between the larger events, frustrating the journey. These things delay the protagonist, and sometimes send them down the wrong path, but as each is overcome the reader feels a small sense of satisfaction. Following the protagonist as he/she is negotiating these detours is what makes the story captivating, in my opinion.

If you have a story of any length, short or long, you can’t have people sitting around idly chit-chatting. Conversations must have a purpose, and be designed to advance the plot. Information emerges that the protagonist (or antagonist) must know. The reader discovers this at the same time as the characters.

Better You Go Home Scott DriscollIn the literary novel Better You Go Home by Scott Driscoll, Chico Lenoch, a Seattle attorney, is desperately ill and needs a family member to donate a kidney. None of his family members here locally are suitable donors. He has always wondered about his family in the Czech Republic, which his father won’t discuss, and has recently discovered he has a half-sister still living there. He journeys there to find his sister, and in the process, he unearths the secrets his father and mother left behind. As each terrible secret is revealed, hindrances arise. Danger, political fallout, personal vendettas, and a growing concern for his sister conspire with Chico’s failing health to keep him from achieving his goal.

If the path had been easy, Chico’s story would have been an exploration of a man with a problem, but not real exciting. Because of the roadblocks, it’s a taut thriller, and his journey comes to an unexpected and electrifying conclusion.

TA patch of Dry Skin, Stephen Swartzhis notion of making the path difficult is explored well in  Stephen Swartz’s literary fantasy, A Dry Patch of Skin. The story opens in Croatia but moves to Oklahoma. This tale is a fantasy in the sense it’s an exploration of vampirism, but is literary and gripping in its plausibility. Two of my favorite lines of all time are in the opening chapters of this novel:

Mirrors are such odd devices, and whoever invented them should have been killed. They purport to show us the true state of affairs and yet everything is distorted.

The protagonist, a man of Hungarian descent, named Stefan Székely, has a disturbing genetic skin condition and embarks on a quest to find a cure, desperate to somehow salvage his relationship with Penny. He has a job as a phlebotomist, which allows him to conceal his ailment, but eventually he is unable to hide it. Many roadblocks arise, interfering with Stefan’s success, forcing him to seek a cure in Budapest, but even that trip is fraught with frustrations. Because of those hindrances, the tension builds toward the end, making for a gripping read. The novel ends in an unexpected fashion and is one that stayed with me for a long time after.

Both these novels detail a seemingly ordinary thing—a person dealing with a life-threatening illness, both seeking a cure that seems like it should be easy but which becomes virtually impossible. In both novels, the roadblocks and detours along the journey create compelling narratives I found impossible to put down.

e.m. forster plot memeBoth are set in a contemporary setting, and both have surprising endings that could only have been arrived at because of the roadblocks and hindrances placed in the paths of the protagonists.

This is why we can’t make it easy for our characters. The struggle is the story.

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