Thursday, September 12, 2013

Why Go to a Writers Conference?

Aspiring authors often ask me whether they should go to a writers conference--after all, it is an investment of time and money. I have many reasons that writers should attend conferences, but for the purposes of this post, I'm limiting the list to five.
I could write about going to conferences in general, but instead I'm going to write about going to the Southern California Writers Conference (SCWC), coming up Sept 20-22 in Newport Beach, California (and San Diego, Feb 2014). 
Partly this is because I know this conference the best (I've been teaching workshops there for years), but also because I like the way it's run--the casual, fun vibe of it--and because I've seen it actually work for people, year after year, in so many different ways.
Here's 5 Reasons you should go to SCWC:
#1. Great Workshops/Excellent Teachers
The weekend is full of great workshops--on everything from writing and editing your manuscript, to pitching, selling, & marketing your book. All the workshop leaders are either published authors, working editors or agents, or publishers (some are even all three!). They ALL have something to teach you. Soak it all up!
#2. To Get Feedback
No matter how wonderful your writers group and Beta readers are, it's good to get some more eyes (usually ears, actually) on your project. Go to Read and Critiques and read--and listen... Find out what works, and what doesn't. You might find some Beta readers, too.
#3. To Network with Other Writers
Writing is a solitary sport--it's good to meet others who sit in rooms and type for days on end…You will meet others who share your interests, and some who will introduce you to new ways of writing, thinking, and thinking about writing. After all, these people are your TRIBE. 
#4. To Meet Industry Experts
Even if you don't have Advance Submission slots set up, SCWC gives you plenty of opportunities to meet literary agents, editors, and publishers, not to mention successful published authors. Have a glass of wine at happy hour or dinner or sit down and visit over coffee or lunch. Take time to talk--not just pitch your project--and listen!
#5. To Hang Out in a Cool Place
I probably don't need to explain this one...Come on, it's Southern California. Perfect weather, fabulous setting. You are allowed to have FUN in life, after all--even before you finish your book or get published. Invest in yourself!
I think I've said it all...Hope to see you there.
hasta pronto!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

"Hippie Homeschooling" Has More Spirit Than "American Spirit"; A Double Review

"American Spirit," the debut novel by Dan Kennedy, has gotten lots of press this year, plus plenty of air time on NPR; I assume this is because Dan is the host of the excellent "Moth" storytelling series and a popular radio host. I like his humor and his style so I thought I might like his writing. I bought the book (as a Kindle e-book, for those who care) and read it...
Oddly enough, though I did appreciate Kennedy's writing, I can't recommend his book. It's funny, but the story takes way too long to get going, I never cared about the protagonist, and the humor is so "dark" as to be, well, depressing.
Everyone over the age of 30 (probably even 20) has hit bottom emotionally at one time or another, and depressed people often turn to drink and drugs to "solve" their problems. The protagonist of "American Spirit" does this and we get to watch him wallow at the nadir of his young life--in a passive-aggressive stoned way--for much of the book.
Booklist called the novel "surprisingly beautiful at times..." I really hate this kind of review, since it sounds like one thing and turns out to be, instead, a book that is tedious (un-beautiful, if you will) with a few surprising moments of lovely word-smithing.
As I said, there are moments of humor in "American Spirit", but not as many as in the average Jon Stewart monologue. And the author often goes to lengths that seem quite fanciful to tie up events in the story. Seriously, if dark humor is what you want, and you feel drawn to yuppie angst, there are better books out there.
However, if you'd like to take a journey with a new writer who is not only funny but writes truthfully--and yes, often beautifully--about the times and places we contemporary Americans live in, I recommend the new novel, "Hippie Homeschooling" by Carlton Smith. (Here's a link to the book on Amazon). Set along a western road trip from San Francisco to (among other places) the Salton Sea, Lassen, and even the Four Corners, this novel delivers the goods.
Jerry is an alcoholic whose self-destructive tendencies have landed him in rehab. Once sober, he sets off searching for his runaway son, and soon finds himself traveling with a runaway teenage girl, Lily. Soon Lily's mother joins the misfit travelers on their journey, and the resulting "trip" (and it is trippy, in all senses of the word) is funny, poignant, and true.
Smith has a master's touch for describing locations, even those places we normally whiz on by without a second glance. He also spends time in getting to really know (and let us get to know) the kinds of people that most of us would similarly "whiz on by," dismissing them as "lost causes" and thereby letting ourselves off the hook.
The road trip novel has been done many times, but this author finds new ways to explore the territory--as well as finding actual geographic territory that has seldom been explored. All in all, it is well worth going along for the ride.
"Hippie Homeschooling" was published by Blue West Books, a small publisher I had never heard of before. I'm certainly going to look at their upcoming titles with interest, and I'm quite pleased to hear that Carlton Smith is already at work on a second novel.
There's still time and a few spaces left for those who want to register for SCWC Newport  (Sept 20-22) where I'll be teaching two new workshops and doing the ever-popular "Pitch Witches" workshop with Marla Miller.
hasta pronto!