Willamette Writers Meeting with Tex Thompson – June 6th

    The June 6th Willamette Writers meeting was a wonderful time to be in community with one of my very favorite presenters from last year’s conference, Tex Thompson. Tex is a one-woman community, as paradoxical as that phrase might sound. From the moment she stepped on stage, she had the audience riveted, chuckling along to her witty humor and self-deprecating jokes. If anything rang true about that presentation, it was that Tex is someone you want on your side, and fortunately, she already is.

The presentation focused on how writers can promote and market themselves, a topic that has become more and more important as the entire publishing landscape shifts into an entirely different geography (think west of I-5 after “the big one,” that’s what’s going on here). From start to finish, writers have to be more aware than ever about what it is they’re writing, who it appeals to, why, and how this work can get to that audience. Teams of marketing agents no longer do all the work to promote your book; more and more often, the writer must take ownership of these aspects of publishing.

Tex did not tramp the same old tropes normally tossed around at seminars like these – i.e. develop your presence on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. Rather, Tex gave the audience a formula for understanding our work in relation to the other passions of our lives, providing exercises that reinforce just how pervasive our passions are. And pervasive is a good thing because if you’re a fan of Firefly – like Tex is and as I am and as many others in that room and thousands more in this city and hundreds of thousands more are across this country (and that’s a vast understatement), then you already have your “in”. You have your way to relate what you’ve created, which may have some Firefly-esque themes, to others who would want to read it.

She also provided us a few nuts and bolts of what we can do in regards to self-promotion that doesn’t follow what you’ve heard already. Take your passions and write about them. Create a blog. Submit a magazine article. Write a review and post it on Goodreads (you were going to read that book anyway, right? Why not write a review about it and maybe get a few followers?). Some other ideas took me by surprise: organize an event. Sponsor a contest or fellowship. Create a group around what you’re passionate for. You get the idea – self-promotion does not have to be all about me, this book, me, this story, me…while your listener begins to stare off into space, eyes glazing as she mentally calculates just how far she can get away from you and how fast. Self-promotion can be all about doing the things you love, sharing them in a variety of ways, and building community with and for people who are your built-in audience.

Tex provided a road-map to the logline we can shoot out to an agent, and not surprisingly, it follows very closely the formula DongWon Song shared in his seminar a few months back: “My work will appeal to fans of X, written in the style of Y.” Also key, make sure your book comps come from within the past 5 years because agents or publishers want to know that you know what’s going on outside the little “word cave” you otherwise hole yourself up in.

The seminar wasn’t all fun and games, though, which is to say that it was all fun, but Tex doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities of this life we’ve committed ourselves to. She just piles enough humor on top to make them palatable. Did you know that 80% of published books are considered financial failures? That most books don’t even earn back the advances given to authors? I didn’t. But Tex said this, and I put a star by it in my notebook, “Success can’t be guaranteed. Let it be a byproduct of living a life you’re proud of.”

While you may never schmooze your way to the best-seller list or find yourself giving an interview to Terri Gross or accepting a Pulitzer, you can still do what you love, love doing it for as long as it’s good, and perhaps a little bit of success will find you along the way.

Now for the best part – Tex will be at our very own Willamette Writers’ Conference and I can already tell you I’ll be there, front and center, and I may even bust out my cowboy boots for fun.

Willamette Writers’ Conference – Day 3

Willamette Writers

Controlling Story Layers with ED ACE – Eric Witchey

Eric Witchey’s seminar on story layers was another of those “aha!” seminars, just like Larry Brooks’ the day before. In addition, Eric was incredibly generous with the resources he provided to attendees in the shape of an entire craft booklet to assist with understanding story layers. Again, your best resource is to visit Eric Witchey’s website and try to find a seminar you can attend.

To break it down a bit, story layers is the concept that a story is driven by emotion – wow, big surprise, right? While we can all acknowledge that story is drive by emotion, what we may not understand – or be doing yet in our writing – is moving through the story layers completely. Here it is: Emotion drives Decision. Decision drives Action. Action leads to Conflict. And Conflict results in Emotion. The cycle starts all over again with the new Emotion. Characters in our stories are constantly moving through this process, and may even be engaging in more than one ED ACE cycle.

For more on this, and so find one of Eric’s seminars, go to his website: Eric Witchey

Rx for Middle Maladies – Jessica Morrell

Unfortunately, the demons that live in our computers corrupted Jessica’s file for this presentation, but we nonetheless had an engaging discussion and were able to still learn much about the vital role performed by the middle of our novels, what we often think of as Act II.

Act II should start with the First Plot Point – a moment of major fall-out for the character in which everything changes and the protagonist must make a change or decision. We then begin climbing the mountain of rising action as more and more trials come into play and threaten the protagonist’s ability to achieve his or her goals. Act II is also where the subplots should play out. Allies will appear in Act II. Act II continues until the crisis – the moment when all hope seems lost and the protagonist hits bottom.

Besides the above beats that we want to hit in Act II, the over arching theme of Act II should be the continual denial of the goal, the rising of the stakes, and pushing the protagonist into deeper, darker places, often resulting in the narrator making mistakes and crossing a moral line. Overall, Act II is about playing keep-away with your protagonist and creating situations that further heighten just how badly the protagonist wants something while simultaneously making it feel as if he or she will never achieve it.

To learn more about Jessica, visit her website through the link I provided on Day 1.

 

Punching Up Your Prose: Part I and II – Tex Thompson

Listening to Tex Thomspon for 2 hours and being continually captivated by her genius and entertained by her constant wit and humor was worth the conference fee alone. Tex was absolutely riveting in her discussion of punching up our prose. Using her knowledge of rhetorical devices, Tex explained how we can use various techniques to make our prose more vivid, eye-catching, and ear-popping. As Tex herself said, these are the techniques that keep readers seeking out the “eargasms” in our writing.

One of Tex’s points about sentence structure and length was that “excellent writing should look like interval training.” We should use the length and structure of our sentences to underscore what’s happening in the story. Short choppy sentences = action. Long winding sentences = description/exposition. We can use positions of emphasis to help readers follow our meaning: the last thing in the sentence is the most important; the first thing is the second most; and the middle of a sentence is for the least important. Alternately, we can flip that expectation on its head and hide important information in the middle of a sentence (such as a clue in a mystery or thriller), or we can flip the expectation on its head to catch the reader’s attention.

Tex is another of this year’s presenters that I cannot speak of highly enough. I strongly recommend reading her work and keeping an eye out for any workshops or seminars where she is teaching. You can learn more about Tex at: Tex Thompson