Sunday, April 17, 2011

In other words, be human

An unshaven man approached the podium, nervously shuffled his papers and took a deep breath. He looked out at us and admitted he had never given a keynote address before. "So, in other words, you're all busting my cherry."

Yesterday's Conversations and Connections literary conference yesterday was rather like Steve Almond's hilarious yet depressing keynote address -- filled with enthusiasm for writing and yet a little disheartening in the reminder of how hard it is to be human, particularly the weird humans that writers tend to be. A strange but ultimately inspiring combination, for if we weren't so strange and conflicted, there wouldn't be much to write about! And it was certainly exciting to discuss writing with some talented, charming people. I figured I'd share a few highlights:

- A 79-year old Greek immigrant who is a retired engineer and has written a fictionalized memoir asked me if I worked aside from writing. I said yes and he replied, "Good. You have to go out and live." I thought that was a nice reminder, if not universally applicable.

- Give yourself a break and be kind to yourself. As Steve Almond put it, "Set the bar a little lower." You don't have to be a superstar to be a success - making good decisions about your writing is hard enough.

- With regard to point of view in a story, once you as the author have established it, get out of the way. No need to say, "she thought" or "she remembered" because the reader is already with that character.

- A quote from Steve Almond's book, "This Won't Take But a Minute Honey," which is really cool and he only sells in person:

... Readers are drawn to stories not because of your dazzling prose, but because they wish to immerse themselves in a world of danger. More precisely, in the heart of a particular character on the brink of emotional tumult. It doesn't especially matter what your heroine cares about, as long as she cares a lot.

- Oh, and for goodness sake, follow directions when submitting to literary magazines. Editors are human too and with all the demands on their time they can use all the kindness we can give, starting with accomodating their individual submission systems.

I bought The Calligrapher's Daughter at the conference yesterday because the author, Eugenia Kim, is a local and was participating in a panel. I'm excited to read it!

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Princess Nijma

Princess Nijma