Thursday, October 1, 2015

Creatures, Crime, and Creativity Conference - 2015

Another Creatures, Crime, and Creativity conference (C3) is in the books, and, while a conflict with the Baltimore Book Fair held attendance to below previous levels, artistic success was once again achieved. A few personal highlights:

F. Paul Wilson, creator of the Repairman Jack books (and more others than I have space to mention) made a several excellent points in his Friday speech, two of which we should all heed. He has no problem with publishers passing up quality fiction in order to publish the flavor of the day. (Think Snooki from Jersey Shore, link to her book consciously not provided.) They have bills to pay. We all get that. What he can’t abide is how those same publishers present themselves as gatekeepers to save readers from “the tsunami of self-published trash,” when they are perfectly willing to print any level of trash if they think they can turn a profit with it. (Anyone remember Dennis Rodman’s book?)

Dana Kollman (Towson University) and John French (Baltimore Crime Scene Investigator) gave a fascinating and entertaining talk on what CSI shows get wrong. (Damn near everything.) I pride myself on knowing better than these shows, and still found a couple of things to fix in the work-in-progress; a major plot point in the next book also needs work. (John gave me a couple of suggestions I can use in place of what I’d thought was a good idea until he blew it up in my face.)

A sobering thought: when first started to use DNA in rape cases in rape cases, 20% of convictions were overturned. No one thought the rapes didn’t happen; they just got the wrong guy. Something for death penalty advocates to remember.

Among the most interesting things they’ve pulled fingerprints from: a feather, an egg, a tomato, and a gun that had been submerged for 25 years.

Heather Graham put the attendees of her master class to work writing their own story. She gave 15 minutes to come up with something that began with this sentence: The blood dripped slowly down the wall. The story had to include four characters: a cop, a firefighter, a stripper, and a model. Four adjectives also had to appear in conjunction with them: bald, peg-legged, tall, and hideous. Eight volunteers read what they came up with, and the end results ran the gamut from hard-boiled crime to vampires to comedy. (Anyone who missed Marge Phillips’s contribution is sorry, whether you know it or not.)

I shared a panel with Sandra Campbell and Weldon Burge to talk about plotting vs. pantsing. Weldon and I were avowed plotters; Sandra described herself as a plantser. (Half plotter, half pantser.) By the end of the panel we were all plantsers. So it goes. Not wanting to speak for anyone else, but I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Many thanks to Sandra and Weldon for a great time.

F. Paul Wilson’s master class was a recap of his career, used as an object lesson for what to do—and sometimes not do—with a writing career. Best story: when shifting genres to write Virgin (about the Virgin Mary retuning to Earth), he wrote under his wife’s name: Mary Elizabeth Murphy. (Can’t get much more Catholic than that.) The dedication read: To my beloved husband, without whom this book would not have been possible. When asked if she minded, he said no; she did all the signings and had a ball.

Great example of show vs. tell: Don’t say the man was cheap. Show him stealing the pennies from the tray at the convenience store. Wilson calls the first draft “the vomit draft,” and never edits until that’s finished. He also advocates short sentences and paragraphs, and provides a compelling reason: readers who get lost in a long, complex paragraph and have to retrace their steps are out of the story, which is always bad news.

There was, of course, much more. The opportunities to mingle were many, and we ruled the bar. I’m already signed up for next year, to be held at the Sheraton in Columbia MD. See you there.

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