The 65th annual Philadelphia Writers Conference, held June 7th through the 9th in the Wyndham Hotel in the historic district of the city, began on a miserable, rainy day — I could barely see the skyline on the drive to Philadelphia Friday morning — but the rest of the weekend the weather was lovely. Those of us at the conference, however, didn’t experience much of that weather because the variety of top-notch workshops kept us engrossed inside throughout the long weekend.
As Kerry Gans mentioned in Philadelphia Writers Conference — Day One, opening speaker Ed Rendell — former Pennsylvania governor, Philadelphia mayor and district attorney, as well as author of A Nation of Wusses — inspired the attendees with his wit, frankness, and encouragement, urging writers to find the balance in their lives that gives them time to write among all the other necessary daily activities. Ed began writing his book during his final few months as governor, writing a little bit every day. When he finished the book, in spite of his celebrity, he received a number of rejections before finding a publisher, so he advised writers to never give up: “If you love it, keep doing it.”
The first three-day workshop I attended was Poetry I, led by poet, teacher, and editor Leonard Gontarek. Since I am more a novelist than a poet, I like to attend poetry workshops because I have a lot more to learn in that form. Also, though poetry and prose are distinct methods of expression, many tips for one can be applied to both. Fewer people attend the poetry workshops, but the smaller group size lends itself to more give-and-take discussions. In this workshop Leonard Gontarek emphasized the four essential parts of a poem: the title, the first line, the last line, and the body. All parts are connected, and all are essential. We discussed the ideal title, one that relates to or enhances the content of the poem and also draws the reader into the poem. We looked at a variety of poems, giving particular attention to their titles and first and last lines.
One beneficial opportunity the Philadelphia Writers Conference — PWC — gives attendees is the chance to have their works critiqued by the workshop presenters. I had submitted a poem that I felt still needed some work but I couldn’t figure out what it needed. Unfortunately, due to a glitch in the online submission system, Leonard had not received it. He did, however, offer to critique it if I brought in a copy. I truly appreciate not only his constructive comments but also his taking the time during the conference to do the critiquing. This is one more example of the writing community’s wonderful fellowship and willingness to share and help one another.
After lunch I joined the large group attending the three-day workshop Act Like a Writer: Becoming the Public Face of Your Career, led by best-selling author Jonathan Maberry and author and actor Keith Strunk. Jonathan stressed that while writing is an art, publishing is a business — and the business is the way an author connects to a reader. People who come to see an author are coming to see someone who is a celebrity to them, and thus authors should be prepared to meet the fans’ expectations and to do that in a way that’s interesting and enjoyable. All fans, even the most annoying ones, should be treated with appreciation; the last thing any celebrity should do is disrespect the audience.
Among the many things discussed in this workshop were maintaining a back-and-forth relationship with your agent, etiquette for authors on panels and at book signings, and how to give a good author reading. Here
are some of the many tips Jonathan and Keith gave for choosing a selection for an author reading:
- choose the selection based on the particular audience you will be addressing
- choose a selection that will leave them wanting more
- choose a selection with dialogue and/or action
- shorter is better
- if the selection you choose is not the beginning of the book, give a little background information to set the scene for the audience
- end with something they’ll remember
My next afternoon three-day workshop was Novel — Focus on Character with author Solomon Jones. Solomon’s stirring reading from the beginning of Pipe Dream, and on another day, from The Last Confession gave us all evidence of his expertise in developing compelling characters. His method of developing the plot of a story springs from the characters he creates. He believes that plot must evolve from the relationships among the characters but cautions that an author should “reveal the character over the course of the story,” not all at once. Solomon had so much information to give us that we ran overtime each day, but we didn’t mind.
After giving us a basic list of character attributes, Solomon had us crafting characters and sharing what we’d created. On the final day, Solomon asked five people for descriptions of characters they had created. Together, the group refined the details of these characters and put together the outline of a story idea based on those characters and the relationships we created among them. It was a great experience and a lot of fun.
More to come tomorrow in Philadelphia Writers Conference 2013 – Photo Gallery and Tips from Workshops, Part II. You can also check out Kerry Gans’ posts about each day of the conference: Philadelphia Writers Conference — Day One, Philadelphia Writers Conference — Day Two, and Philadelphia Writers Conference — Day Three and my post Photos and Tips from the 2013 Philadelphia Writers Conference.