Five Questions for Laurie Panther, Tomorrow’s Featured Member

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Lately we’ve been doing interviews with the guest we asked to come speak to the club, but we also want you to have a chance to get to know our fellow Berkeley CWC members. It’s not only our guests who have something to contribute, our members are capable, interesting and knowledgeable. Our meeting is mostly a chance for us to share our insights and struggles.

That brings us to this month’s featured member, Laurie Panther.

Laurie Panther holds a master’s degree in education and an Administrative Credential in Educational Leadership for Social Justice.  In her personal life, she has served in many capacities in both twelve-step recovery groups, as well as for Adult Survivors of Child Abuse; and has maintained twenty-nine years of sobriety and abstinence from drugs. She gives workshops on recovery and empowerment (for example, this upcoming workshop). Panther writes poetry and has performed a one-woman show about her life in several venues (see Laurie’s story about the “pussy bushes” at the Moth). She blogs about these topics at Mixed Girl Survival School

Five Questions for Featured Member Laurie Panther

1. What’s the most important piece of writing advice that you could give to other writers?

Don’t be afraid to let other people read what you write. When you get lots of feedback, you can find trends to validate observations, and you won’t take each one of a few as the be-all and end-all. Less devastating. Also be prepared to revise—a lot!

2. When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A housewife (because my mother worked and emotionally neglected her children) and a writer (because I could express my unspeakable emotional truths as child). I began journaling when I was 11 years old.

3. If you could truly be the writer you wanted to be, what would your career look like?

My writing would be published by a reputable house, and after hot sales of the memoir style, I’d write in other genres, such as “self-help” and parenting—all focused on helping people identify and overcome the damage of trauma (sex abuse, child abuse, neglect, depression, anxiety, etc.) I would also travel to share my writing, as well as providing workshops & and individual consultations.

4. What other writers inspire you?

Female writers inspire me. Especially ones who capture the struggles of sexuality, repressions, overcoming barriers. Of the classic female English novelists: the Bronte Sisters, Virginia Woolf, and Kate Chopin come to mind, and from the modern women writers: Barbara Kingsolver (Poisonwood Bible is one of my all time favorites), Ann Pachett, and gritty memoir and memoir style writers: Jeannette Walls, Dorothy Allison, and Toni Morrison.

5. What do you think of the writing business these days?

I really miss the art in writing. It used to be that the people who were born with the ability to communicate their burning inner fire or insights were sought after by publishers and taken in and nurtured. Or less talented people could labor and hone their skills, achieving a fair chance that a publisher would give them a shot. But now, talent doesn’t seem to play much of a role. There’s so much crap being published and sold at Barnes & Noble, and people will read the latest crap displayed on the tables and buy more “in the series.” Access to a good publishing house, and the support they used to offer the writers is gone. The self-promoting that writers have to engage in has moved the craft aspect from the page to the internet manipulation game. It feels like prostitution to me, or a marathon where the most dogged win and not the most talented. When experts come to us with the great idea that instead of writing what we are moved to write, we should research what is selling and write what will get published—art has died.

At this Sunday’s meeting, Laurie Panther will be present to read from her memoir: Mixed Girl, Trauma Oncologist: How I Cured the Soul Sickness That Ate My Family Alive. A life-long East Bay native, Laurie’s story covers how her mixed race family, with adopted children from orphanages around the world, navigated the 50s, 60s and beyond. Laurie unpacks trauma, her inspiring efforts to survive, and how she broke the chain of dysfunction. We hope you’ll join us. Our featured guest will be Joe Clifford and as usual there will be coffee, snacks, marketing advice and craft discussion groups. 

 

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Interview with Acquisitions Editor and Author Joe Clifford, our Feature for This Sunday’s Metting

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It’s an interview with this Sunday’s featured guest, Joe Clifford. Joe is acquisitions editor for Gutter Books and the author of several books, including Junkie Love and the Jay Porter Thriller Series, as well as editor of Trouble in the Heartland: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Bruce Springsteen and Just to Watch Them Die: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Johnny Cash.

Clifford’s success wasn’t smooth sailing. He overcame a a ten-year heroin and methamphetamine addiction, which culminated with felony arrests, overdoses, and homelessness. He found his light as he fought through the darkness to recovery.  Skating the edge of insanity is a concept that Clifford is familiar with and lays it all bare in his memoir.

Interview conducted by Berkeley CWC member Cristina Deptula.

Cristina Deptula: Your life seems to have been one wild adventure! What would you say to people who feel they should be working on developing their writing craft but are in a season of life where they really struggle to put keys to the keyboard, as you probably were when you were homeless?

Joe Clifford: Read! You can always find books (even on the side of the road). Long before I was a writer, I was a reader, and most great writers will tell you they’ve read way more than they’ve written. Of course one of the wrinkles is that as you start writing professionally, the time for reading for pleasure gets seriously cut into! You’re always reading for work, in one way or another. Also, writing is more than just the writing; it’s observing, practicing craft. I used to scribble poems on napkins when I was homeless, think about the scenes I was seeing, imagining the stories. Of course, this is in retrospect. When I was living on the streets and in skid row hotels, I wasn’t actively outlining novels; although I did always believe the material would, somehow, turn into art.

CD: You’ve edited anthologies of crime fiction inspired by Bruce Springsteen and Johnny Cash songs. What do you think in their music speaks to writers, and are there songwriters out there today who could have a similar effect on writers?

JC: I LOVE this question! I wrote in the introduction to Trouble in the Heartland (the Springsteen anthology) that if I had to pick one author as the most influential in my life, it would be the Boss. And the reason is simple. When I was a teenager, I rebelled and fought authority like a lot of kids, and this meant not doing homework, which included reading. In my defense, while I am certain Across Five Aprils is a wonderful book, to an angry sixteen-year-old, stuck “in a town full of losers,” it didn’t speak to me. Springsteen did. So he was part of my formative artistic years. I was studying story structure without realizing it. What Springsteen can do in a single line (“Remember all the movies Terry we’d go and see / trying to walk like the heroes we thought he had to be / and after all this time to find we’re just like all the rest . . .”) what it takes most authors three-hundred pages to do.

As for the best songwriter storytellers today? For my money: Brian Fallon and Craig Finn. But there are a bunch: Micah Schnabel, Travis Meadows, Frank Turner, and, yes, Taylor Swift!

Memoirist Joe Clifford

Join Joe Clifford this Sunday at Preservation Park in Oakland

CD: I notice that not long after coming out of homelessness, you went back to school and earned a MFA. Would you recommend that for other writers? Do you think that the degree adds to a writer’s career development?

JC: You mean going to school over being homeless? Definitely! But, seriously, without my MFA, I am not publishing books today. Just how my mind works. I had a tough time with causality, which is paramount to structuring a novel. I could do scenes; I couldn’t connect them the way one needs to propel a novel. And where I went to get my masters, Florida International University, is one of the few that actively promotes genre, since it’s a way to both write and make money.

CD: What drew you to crime/detective fiction?

JC: After I wrote Junkie Love, I’d told the story of my addiction, and I didn’t want to write the same book over and over. It seemed to me that, with my background, crime was the next logical place to go. Criminals, cops, lowlifes, junkies. As you can imagine, I saw a lot of stuff out there that would make for great stories! Plus, like I mentioned, FIU had several terrific mystery, thriller writers, like Les Standiford and James W. Hall, teaching there.

CD: In your blog you mention that the gatekeeper system of publishing has drawbacks but you “don’t want to criticize it because you don’t see any alternative.” Why do you say that, and what are your feelings about self-publishing? What do you recommend for authors who have trouble finding agents and publishers?

JC: There’re a number of reasons. The first being, no one wants to listen to a published writer complain about how hard it is to get published! Ultimately, though, there is no great conspiracy to keep good writers from going unpublished. The problem with the gatekeeper system, for writers, is that it can feel like it moves way too slowly. I still believe that if you are good enough and keep at it, your work will get out there. The timetable just stinks sometimes. It’s very hard to put your heart and soul into a book and then sit around and wait for the process to play out. My feeling on self-publishing is, more times than not, it’s counterproductive. Self-publishing doesn’t just mean the author getting the book into print themselves; it means he or she is responsible for all of it—the promotion, the booking events, the distribution, etc. And, yeah, when you are at an indie you can do a lot of that yourself anyway, but you still have a certified label behind you. Which means more reviews, a certain level of respect; and I don’t say this for any other reason than this can mean more sales. And not sales for money’s sake (although that part is nice). The bigger issue: once a book is published, traditional or self-published, it becomes part of your permanent record. If an author “only” sells 1,000 copies of a book, the next time he or she approaches an agent or a new house, whatever, those numbers come with them. Simply put, it’s very hard to move tens of thousands on your own.


Ask Joe your own questions at this Sunday’s monthly meeting. He will speak to how the truth will set us free in any genre, and any project. In his road to redemption, Joe has become a successful writer, editor and anthologist.   Clifford will share the lessons he has learned, insecurities about his success, and his insights of utilizing our struggles to become our strengths. He will be joined by featured CWC member Laurie Panther.

Joe’s writing can be found at JoeClifford.com. Find out about Laurie Panther at mixedgirlsurvivalschool.com

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Featured Member: Poet Fred Dodsworth

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Fred Dodsworth will open for Amos White’s The Art of Giving Live Readings tomorrow. We asked him a few questions… this is what he said!

What’s the most important piece of writing advice that you could give to other writers? It’s hard to start writing but if you don’t start everything anyone might tell you about writing become wasted words.

What one thing has helped promote your writing most? Actually taking the time to promote yourself. That means submitting everyplace you can. I learned this in sales. You don’t make a sale unless you make a pitch and if you make enough pitches you’re guaranteed to make a sale.

What are your writing habits? I really learned to write in a newsroom. At the time I was pulling down about $70,000 a year as an editor and my new boss, the Executive Editor wanted to fire me but he couldn’t so he tried to drive me out by making me a front page columnist [column one above the fold, six times a week]. I liked the money so I worked in the middle of the complete madhouse of a major daily, folks on the phone shouting, several TVs running, people standing around chatting about their work or this sex lives, and did what had to be done. A year later I took my first creative writing class. My writing habit is simple. I type on a computer anywhere I can but only when I have a goal. I know I need to write everyday and I write whenever I sit down to write, whether I’m on a computer in an office or on a composition note book (I buy them on sale for 50¢ to $1 each) but .

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? I wanted to grow up. As I grew older my goal became moving away from home. I first moved out when I was 15. I had my first salary job at 14 and shortly thereafter I moved out.

If you could truly be the writer you wanted to be, what would your career look like? I’d be Joyce Carol Oates, able and willing to write every day relentlessly. When I do that it scares me. I lose touch with everything else for days at a time.

What other writers inspire you? George Elliot, John Gardner, Virginia Woolf, Aimee Bender, Haruki Murakami, Alain Robbe-Grillet (le voyeur), Miguel de Cervantes, Mary Gaitskill, Julie Otsuka (Buddha in the Attic), Leslie Marmon Silko (Ceremony), so many.

Come hear Fred read his poetry tomorrow!

An Interview with This Sunday’s Guest, Amos White

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amos-white-thumb.jpgFive Questions for Haiku Poet Amos White

Amos White is an awarded American haiku poet and author, producer and activist, recognized for his vivid literary imagery and breathless poetic interpretations. Amos is published in several national and international reviews and anthologies. He is Founder and Host of the Heart of the Muse creative’s salon, Executive Producer and Host of Beyond Words: Jazz+Poetry show; Producer of the Oakland Haiku and Poetry Festival; President of Bay Area Generations literary reading series.

Member and book publicist Cristina Deptula interviewed him for the California Writers Club.

Meet Amos this Sunday, when he is our featured guest for our April monthly meeting at Preservation Park.

CD: Out of all possible forms of poetry, what drew you to haiku?

AW: In 1987, my haiku was referred to Assistant Professor. Shelly Fenno, a visiting professor in Wittenberg’s East Asian Studies Department. Word was, she had studied under the foremost US authority on haiku at the time. I had just graduated and was working at The Ohio State University as Assistant to the Dean of Humanities. I had dreams of getting published in the New Yorker or Playboy (the highest paying magazine at the time).

After an arranged meeting to discuss a focus on the Japanese art of haiku, Professor Fenno encouraged me to read the works of Matsuo Basho. She also let out that a haiku contest was being held for the Department and the winning entries were to be published in The Witt, the University literary periodical.

I drove 55 minutes from Columbus to Springfield with those three haiku to personally submit them at 5 p.m. on the day they were due. The result some days later lay indelibly on me for years thereafter. The phone rang to inform me that The East Asian Studies Journal had published my haiku and I had been selected its contest winner.

Amos White will be speaking at our April event

CD: You mentioned that you want a poet elected president. What sort of unique approach to governing do you think a poet would bring? And how do you think that poetry and art speaks to the practical issues our country faces?

AW: It is my deepest belief that one who presides over others in governance is best served, and best serves, when they have the poetry of their people and of the stories that compose their land’s narrative at heart. Poets know this best. They can carry a kernel of hope in but a metaphor and feed the hearts and souls of millions with the feathered edge of their words. Such empathy begets a selfish humility—not to parrot the fears of the misguided, nor to pimp the most vulnerable, nor preen when satellites watching, nor crow in Capitol columns, but to reflect without hubris or reflex in times of crisis or great national stress, and to draw upon the image of the institution to frame one’s thought and policy, as a sound of the commons.

CD: I know that you’re a runner as well as a writer. Annie Dillard wrote about running in her memoir and linked it to her writing as a parallel form of discipline. I was a runner myself for a few years—do you notice that it helps your writing, helps you think? Do writers tend to be drawn to running?

Amos White pull quoteAW: I last ran the week my first son was born. Time to time now, I find myself buying a new pair of joggers and thinking about the throb of thighs and pangs of cold air pulled tween pursed lips.

I do not know if writers or poets are drawn to running. I do hear often that many take walks, and since we live in the most beautiful place on earth, here in the San Francisco Bay Area, we can find ourselves, bay side on sandy encinal lined beaches of Alameda to the salmon flecked creeks of Sausal and Dimond and Strawberry Creeks, to the peaks that bear spent lava and amaze those who dare lose themselves if but for a few hours wrapped in a Redwood’s embrace.

CD: Do you prefer to write pieces to be read aloud, or read silently, and why?

AW: I have never contemplated this. I write because an experience from without has moved me within, and that feeling within I want to share so precisely shape that you know where I’ve been.

CDIt’s become a cliché that poetry can’t sell, that poets have to have day jobs, that people don’t often read and think they can’t understand poetry. So in today’s world, how and where can a writer who’s primarily a poet have an influence? Or should a writer just write and not worry about their influence?

AW: Poets have influence because they are poets. To be a poet is our point of differentiation. Poet means “maker.” We make worlds from words and we make futures when we fashion and code our images to page or mindful listeners. We capture time to memorialize an occasion or celebration or to give rise to our eyes cast low from forgetting the meaning of horizon, it is a gift to be able to share so little that can mean so much to so many in so few words. To write *is* to influence: the world, and yet the universe itself has changed, and Heidegger’s cat rolls twice on pages and screens with every dappled character that only we poets dreamed to be that was not there moments before.

 

Join Us This Sunday, April 15, When Amos Speaks to the Berkeley CWC on The Art of Giving Live Readings

Come hear this engaging and educational speaker to learn how the subtleties of tone and time can move an audience with but a word. Find out how to find open mic readings and learn to perform like a pro. Amos will teach us the dos and don’ts of reading etiquette and even how to host your own literary readings. Bring a small poem or a written paragraph of fiction, nonfiction, etc. to practice reading aloud.

Learn more or Say you’re coming on Facebook.

About Amos White: about.me/amoswhite or follow him on Facebook.

 

An Interview with Sunday’s Speaker, Jacqueline Luckett

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Jacqueline LuckettJacqueline Luckett Gives Us a Preview on Writing Great Characters Grounded in Reality

This Sunday in Preservation Park, Jacqueline Luckett will speak to the club on writing stronger characters. Luckett’s two novels are Passing Love and Searching for Tina Turner, and she writes essays in the Huffington Post and Best Women’s Travel Writing 2011.

CWC member and journalist Cristina Deptula asked her some questions so we can get to know her better.

CD: You talked about living authentically in an old blog post on your website, about having personal values even if you don’t consciously think about them a lot. Did developing and articulating your own values help you do the same for your characters, or vice versa?

JL: My characters are people with values, that may or may not parallel my own. I try to include characters, male and female, with values and action that are the opposite of my own.

CD: What are some examples of grounded, developed characters in contemporary or classic fiction?

JL: Pecola, in Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye believes that having blue eyes will make her happy. Every action she takes grounds her to this belief. Lotto and Mathilde, husband and wife in Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies, steadfastly hold on to their perceptions of themselves and each other. My own character, Ruby, in Passing Love, believes her life will be better in Paris, no matter the personal cost. She’s dogged, persistent, and focused.

Every action these characters take is a result of his/her character development, physically and emotionally.

CD: How can you learn to write about a character unlike yourself without falling into stereotypes?

I took a class from Junot Diaz years ago. He suggested trying to write yourself as a character with a scar or disfiguration. How that character approaches the world will create a new character different from self.

I’m a black woman over fifty. Does that mean that I can only write characters who are black women over 50? Of course, not. It’s our job as writers to observe, to dig into our memories and to write past the first idea that comes to mind. That’s where being a great observer of people comes in. If your mother called father to dinner many times before he finally came to the table, what does this characteristic say about your mother? How does the father’s response distinguish him? The traits aren’t gender specific. They’re great traits that distinguish and deepen a character. We can twist those traits into characteristics that, alone or in combination, can avoid stereotyping. Mix things up.

Preservation Park

Preservation Park, where Jacqueline Luckett will speak this Sunday

CD: Does every characteristic you give a character have to relate somehow to the plot, or can it work to develop a character just for the sake of having them be more well rounded or letting the readers get to know them better?

Not necessarily. Just as in life, we run into people who are interesting, but irrelevant to whatever we’re doing at the moment, so too are incidental characters in a story who pop up on a protagonist’s journey. They hold our interest, enliven our stories, and create a three-dimensional world.

Right now, I’m reading Since We Fell by Dennis Lehane. In a party scene, he lists the names of five or six attendees who may be important to the main character’s enjoyment of the celebration. We only know their names. The guests blend together and probably won’t be seen again. There’s one character, in the scene a woman, who’s described in a couple of sentences. She holds a baby on her hip, she’s striking, and, the characteristic that really stands out for me, she struggles with her newly adopted English language. This character stands out.

CD: I’ve heard talks on how to create unique and individual characters before. Is creating a character who’s grounded in reality kind of the same idea? Will a character who’s grounded in the reality of an actual and realistic person be more likely to be interesting?

Not if the actual person isn’t interesting. Even if they’re real, a writer may have to give him/her characteristics to make them engaging, appealing and give readers a reason to stick with a story.

When I speak of characters grounded in reality, I don’t mean the everyday reality of incidents. I’m talking about characteristics that make people real and credible: a person who itches all the time, a man who sings in the BART station but nowhere else, a person who cannot look another in the eye, someone who voices the same complaint every day of her life.


Jacqueline Luckett has an MFA in Screenwriting from the University of California, Riverside. Luckett frequently speaks to various organizations about discovering her passion, her path to successful publication, and advice for new writers seeking to move forward in their careers. The Bay Area native lives in Oakland and travels frequently to nurture her passion for photography, exotic foods, and in search of another city that mesmerizes her as much as Paris. Learn more about her at JacquelineLuckett.com, or come to this Sunday’s meeting.

Luckett is the highlight of our schedule, but be sure to get to the meeting early to take advantage of our group discussions on craft and marketing. Coffee and snacks are included.

See the full schedule for Sunday’s meeting here.

Interview with Joel Friedlander on Indie Publishing

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Berkeley CWC volunteer Cristina Deptula caught up with the speaker of this Sunday’s meeting for some questions about independent publishing. If you don’t know Joel, he is an award-winning book designer, blogger, and writer. He speaks regularly at industry events and is the author of A Self-Publisher’s Companion and coauthor of The Self-Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide. Joel is a columnist for Publishers Weekly, and was named by Writer’s Digest as one of the 10 people to follow in book publishing. He runs a number of helpful websites such as TheBookMakers.com, offering full service book production for authors and publishers.

Come out to our Sunday meeting to ask Joel your own questions about indie book publishing.

Joel-2014-headshot 300xHow does an author decide when to self publish and when to seek an agent and a traditional publisher? What sorts of books do you think are best served by each form of publication?

​Several elements go into this decision. Traditional publishers will be looking for books that will be sufficiently profitable to justify the expense of publishing them. Some authors may not want to wait the 1 to 3 years this process takes, and others want more control of their publications than is afforded in typical publishing contracts. Authors who have ready access to an audience for their books, or who are innately entrepreneurial, are likely to have the best results from self-publishing.

What are some big mistakes to avoid when self-publishing that make your book look unprofessional?

​The worst mistake is to publish a book with an “amateur” cover. It will mark your book as an amateur production before anyone even has a chance to open the book.​ Similarly, publishing a book that hasn’t been edited by a professional book editor isn’t a good practice.

What are some tips to make your self-published book stand out?

​Again, do yourself a favor and hire a professional cover designer and editor. Beyond that, look at the market you are entering. What does your book contribute that is not available? Does it do something better than any other books in the market? Or do it better, more extensively, or in greater depth? Why do people need this book?​

How can authors get self-published books noticed by media and bookstores? Are there hacks to the process or is it still a matter of calling and emailing place after place and dropping off copies?

​There’s no shortcut to marketing a book. Self-publishers can run review campaigns to print, electronic, and online media just like any other publisher. They can advertise on social media sites, build community through blogging or sharing their stories. There are no “magic bullets.” Most self-publishers will not have the assets to attempt a national marketing campaign with offset-printed books, a marketing budget, and a national distributor, all of which are necessary to go beyond consigning books to your local bookstores.​

What’s worth spending good money on as an author and where can a self-publishing author save cash?

​Use free reviews before you pay for any. You can find cover designers who charge very reasonable fees. Editing and cover design are the places to spend your cash. Use a template for your book interior, it will save you a lot of time and money with designers and formatters.​ Partner with other authors who publish books that appeal to the same audience and run promotions where you split the cost. Develop a blog and grow an email list, nothing you can do will pay off as well.

Whether or not you have questions for Joel, we hope to see you this Sunday at our monthly meeting at Preservation Park. Remember, though Joel speaks at 3:15, the meeting starts at noon with support groups to help you resolve issues in your writing or your book marketing…or just network with other writers over tasty snacks and coffee. Doesn’t your writing career deserve a little time this week?

november-Joel Friedlander-Author-Platform-Branding-Monetization

 

An Interview with Sunday’s Speaker: Laurie Ann Doyle, Dialogue and You

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We caught up with Laurie Ann Doyle before she speaks for the club this Sunday. At our monthly meeting, she’ll be talking all about writing better dialogue. Doyle knows her stuff: she’s been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and won the Alligator Juniper National Fiction Award. Her work has been published in The Los Angeles Review, Timber, Jabberwock Review, Road Story, Arroyo Literary Review, Under the Sun Magazine, and many other journals. She teaches creative writing at the San Francisco Writers Grotto and UC Berkeley Extension, where she received the Honored Instructor award. Learn more at her site, LaurieAnnDoyle.com.

We hope you will bring all pressing craft questions to this Sunday’s meeting. Until then, our social media chair Cristina Deptula asked her some questions.


Cristina Deptula: I see your new book, World Gone Missing, is a collection of stories about people who go missing, or disappear from our lives, in one way or another. How did you select that theme?

The truth is I didn’t select that theme as much as it picked me. Before I had even a thought of a book in my brain, my brother-in-law went missing. Decades later, sadly he still hasn’t reappeared. Though the opening story in World Gone Missing—“Bigger Than Life”—has a similar through-line, I completely fictionalized the characters and specific plot points. What remains true to life is the feeling you get when a loved one seems to vanish into thin air. The best way I can describe it is a sinking, helpless sensation. As the years wore on, I began to see my brother-in-law in new ways. I appreciated his subtle kindnesses and sharp wit, along with his sometimes brash and irrational nature. Thought I’m not sure this would have changed anything, I wish I could have been more compassionate.

As I finished the “Bigger Than Life” story and embarked on others, I realized that losing a loved one can trigger many conflicted feelings, and conflict is at the heart of fiction. Sometimes a person’s absence can free up a character to do things they’d never done before, wonderful things. Sometimes they find it almost impossible to move on. This realization got me going and in this book I’ve explored both the loss and liberation that absence can bring. But I had to get a chunk of stories written before that unifying theme floated up.

What makes dialogue good? So many people stumble over their words and not everyone speaks in an interesting way.

I love writing dialogue, and there’s a lot of what I hope is interesting dialogue in World Gone Missing. The tricky thing is that dialogue in fiction and memoir should sound like authentic speech, even though it’s not. Strong dialogue is distilled, rather than transcribed, speech. If you tape record people talking, you’ll hear lots of “filler” words: um, uh, yeah, etc. On the page, this needs to be edited out.

At my October 15 Dialogue Workshop, we’ll talk about the importance of giving the reader only the most dramatic elements of what was said. Usually less is more. Consider keeping your sentences or phrases short. The Russian author Anton Chekhov advised, “A line of dialogue should always leave the sense that more could have been said.” Depending on your character, you don’t have to necessarily be grammatically correct or eloquent. Quirky is great! If within character, use of profanity is also fine.

Consider the difference between “It’s a pleasure to meet you”—vs.—“Hey man, what’s up?” Or “I feel unwell”—vs.—I feel like crap.” Good dialogue accomplishes many things at once; it reveals the character and their relationships, creates tension, advances plot, and modulates the story’s pace.
On fascinating aspect of dialogue is that people often don’t mean what they say, or avoid the “real” subject. Strong dialogue also creates subtext, or the unspoken meaning underneath the words on the pages. Consider what your characters are not saying, where they are not finishing their sentences or falling completely silent. What is the implicit tension, as well as the explicit tension?

If you’re coming to this Sunday’s meeting to meet Laurie Ann Doyle, don’t forget we’re at a new location: Preservation Park.

Your workshop covers dialogue in both fiction and memoir. How do you think the ability to craft good dialogue could benefit the nonfiction author?

Dialogue is every bit as important in memoir as it is in fiction, because it’s vital in creating compelling drama and powerful scenes. In a nonfiction piece, you don’t have to accurately reflect every word that was said. It’s fine to reconstruct the conversation and give us the gist, including the most dramatic elements, as I discuss above. The key is to stay true to the people you are portraying and how they expressed themselves.

If you need more information, consider talking with a relative or friend, or reading old letters. If appropriate, you could even eavesdrop. Base your dialogue on the knowledge of the people you’re portraying. If they swore, include swear words. If they were excessively polite, craft your dialogue to show that. Again, work to stay true to the experience of them and yourself.

On October 15, we’ll go into greater depth on all this, and you’ll have a chance to try out some new dialogue techniques in a free-write exercise yourself.

Join us this Sunday at Preservation Park to meet Laurie Ann Doyle and learn all her tricks for writing terrific dialog.

 

 

 

 

 

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