Thursday, October 13, 2016

Creatures, Crimes, and Creativity

The Creatures, Crimes, and Creativity conference shifted its venue this year from Hunt Valley to Columbia MD, a moved I applauded immediately as it shortened my travel by more than half. This prompted The Beloved Spouse to come with, which inspired us to get a room so there would be no conflicts over how much one of us (okay, me) would spend at the bar.

This was my third C3, and easily the best from my perspective. A distillation of panels follows:

Friday 1:00 Writing Outside the Box: Crossing Genre Lines to Tell Your Story. Dana King, moderator
The organizers showed remarkable—maybe even foolhardy—courage by opening the conference with me moderating a panel. Not just any panel. I brought my hard-boiled, gritty crime fiction sensitivities to moderate two others whose self-descriptions include “paranormal, horror, and romantic suspense” and “romance, paranormal thrillers, and science fiction.” Panelists Sandra R. Webster and B.R. Kingsolver showed great good will and remarkable patience and we put on what I heard was a pretty good show.

Friday 2:00 Mysteries – Noir, Cozy, Police Procedural, Detective, etc. What makes them so different? Allan Ansorge, moderator
My reward for surviving the moderator’s gig was getting to share a panel with Donna Andrews and Mille Mack. Allan Ansorge had to do the heavy lifting this time. I got to run my mouth and let him worry about keeping things moving, which he did admirably. If the audience had half as much fun as I did, they left happy.

Friday 3:00 Reed Farrel Coleman: Lessons From a Lifetime of Writing
“Master classes” such as this can often devolve into discussions—or rants--about the publishing industry. Reed didn’t ignore this altogether, but made it plain the craft must always come first. Some salient points I hope my notes did justice to (understanding each point had fuller discussion):
  • Writers are in the entertainment business. Never forget that, regardless of genre.
  • He doesn’t believe writer’s block exists, at least not for beginners. Pretentiousness does, however. Have you ever heard of professor’s block? Lawyer’s block? Garbage man’s block?
  • He always looked at writing as his job, no matter what paid the bills at a given time. (A poetry teacher once made the class raise their hands and take an oath that they would always think of themselves as writers no matter what else they were doing.) Among the things that paid the bills were selling baby food and cars (not simultaneously), freight forwarder, and delivering heating oil.
  • No one should ever say they “want to be a writer.” You just be a writer. It’s not like astronaut or cop or lawyer, where you have to be certified.
  • This is your job. You have to do it every day.
  • Few people can tell you “yes.” Many can tell you “no.” Editors aren’t fired for saying “no.” They’re fired for saying “yes” to something that doesn’t work out
  • The best way to get better is to be honest with yourself about when you’re doing your best work.
  • It’s hard for you to tell if your book is good; you’re too close to it. All you can tell is if you did your best.
  • When deciding to accept editorial advice, always remember: in the end, it’s not the editor’s name that goes on the book.
  • The problems with a book are usually in the seeds. He reads the entire book every day before starting to write, at least for the first 25 – 50 pages. Hemingway and Daniel Woodrell read the whole book every day before starting with new work.
  • Copy editors should never correct grammar inside quotation marks unless it’s unintelligible.
  • Always know what the book is about before writing it so you can stay on track. You can always go on a detour or take a siding, but you have to know the primary direction.
  • Ideas don’t sustain books. Good writing sustains books.
  • He takes a week off after finishing a draft before starting edits.
Yeah, that’s a lot; it was an action-packed 45 minutes. That said, educational benefits aside it was a treat to see someone so obviously enthused about his profession.

Friday 4:00 Humor: What is and Isn’t. Belinda Gordon, moderator.
As could be expected from the title, this was great fun.

Jeff Markowitz never cuts a funny scene because it “gets in the way of the story.” If he thinks the scene is funny enough, he’ll re-write the story.

Donna Andrews: There will always be someone who doesn’t think something is funny. (Editor’s Note: I was not aware Donna knew my second wife.)

Donna Andrews: Comedic timing comes from precise wording.

Leaving a scene short of the punchline then coming back much later is a favorite technique of Jeff Markowitz.

Allan Ansorge: The best way to write comedy is with something plausible but impossible. It can be bizarre but will work if you sell it properly. He also thinks his reader’s letters are often funnier than what he wrote.

Keynote Speaker: Reed Farrel Coleman
Among the joys of any C3 con is the opportunity to have dinner together, as the registration fee includes all meals. Reed Farrel Coleman served as after dinner speaker on Friday. His talk covered some of the same ground as the 3:00 session, but with a different slant. By the end everyone—including readers—was primed to get some writing done.

Saturday 9:45 Violence in Genre Fiction: What’s the secret of writing a great fight scene? Michael Black, moderator.
Talk about hitting the ground running.
Reed Farrel Coleman: Real fights generally occur when one guy is pretty sure he can take the
other, or someone’s tempter explodes. They last about two punches, then both parties wind up on the ground for a test of wills.

Craig Robertson: Fights are like sex. The buildup is key and they last longer in fiction than in life.

Craig Robertson: Describing a fight should be less about the technique than in getting the reader involved in the action.

Reed Farrel Coleman: Footwork is key in a fight. When he has a technique question, he calls Tom Schreck, a fellow writer who is also a boxing judge. (Editor’s Note: Tom Schreck is a fine writer in his own right. His Duffy Dombrowski series is great fun.)

Reed Farrel Coleman: Knowing how to choke someone is a good way to overcome a size disadvantage. A person will pass out long before they die.

Reed Farrell Coleman: You can’t sustain a fight scene as long in a book as you can in a movie.

Craig Robertson: The less I show, the more people get scared. Readers fill in the blanks with what scares them.

Both Reed and Craig agree that movies do a disservice to the aftermath of a fight. A person hit hard in the head does not remember getting hit. Fights have consequences even for the winner. Writers need to tailor the fight scenes so the characters involved can still do what’s required of them in subsequent scenes. PTSD is an issue no matter who wins the fight. Repercussions are always present. Psychological trauma can result even when nothing bad happens physically.

I need a break. We’ll have more next week.

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