Sunday, January 30, 2011

Roanoke Regional Writers Conference

The Fourth Annual Roanoke Regional Writers conference sponsored by Hollins University came off only one glitch that I saw last Friday and Saturday. Sold out, the conference brought together writers and teachers, readers and students in a day-an-a-half immersion in all things writing.

Lake Writers and Valley Writers were well represented. Four from Lake Writers and eleven from Valley Writers (I think it was eleven) listened intently to the speakers. Here, Sally Roseveare (Lake Writers) and Jim Morrison (both) sit in the front row, with Dick Raymond (both), Donna Knox (Valley Writers) and Bob Sandy (Valley Writers) in the back row listen to a session on what we should reveal on our blogs.

First, the glitch. The coffee. Never, ever, ever provide dreadful coffee to a group of bleary-eyed writers. Many had been up much of the night working on their materials. They (and I) were lusting for good, strong coffee to kick-start the gray cells. Instead, the first pot was thin as tea. The second pot was stronger but tasted odd. So, most of us relied on bottled water, which was tasty, to energize our brains without the benefit of a caffeine-induced buzz.

Why do we go to these conferences? First, networking. Getting reconnected with old friends from previous conferences. Meeting new friends, including on Facebook friend who is now a "real" friend. Taking away tidbits to improve our writing, make us look at the world in a slightly different way.

The most productive sessions were on what to look for in a publishing contract, telling lies and writing fiction, and media writing. The attention placed on blogging--how to, when to, what to, why to--sparked more thoughts about this blog. I learned that I'm not supposed to use it to promote a book. Well, that's not a problem. Yet. I'll deal with that when I have a book ready for publication.

Thanks to Dan Smith for his tireless work in pulling this conference together. It is a year-long labor of love. And thanks to Hollins for hosting it again and providing many of its faculty to teach the classes.

Will I go again? You bet. Sign me up for next year!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Beach Reading Leads to Research Request

My husband Terry and I just got back for a few days in Florida where, of course, I did some reading. I'm always curious about what others are reading in airports, poolside and on the beach. I saw a lot of thrillers and mysteries (Clancy, Patterson, Child et al), romances, plenty of The Girl Who... and me. What was I reading?

The The Virus Hunter by C.J. Peters. Yes, it's heavy shit, but it's valuable research for my next Mad Max book. It was a fabulous read about Dr. Peters's 30-year career chasing hot viruses (think Ebola) around the world.

I've been doing a lot of reading lately about viruses (viri?) lately. In Max 3, Max and her grandson Alex will be put in jeopardy when an unknown disease spreads through a small town and a hospital nearby.

Max is not scientist. She's a grandmother. She will be as stumped as the reader is about what's happening.

So, I need to be sure the limited science I'll be using is possible.

I've read several books about viruses, including Gina Kolata's Flu, Richard Preston's The Demon in the Freezer and The Hot Zone, Pamela Nagami's The Woman With a Worm in Her Head, and several others. I have just enough information to be dangerous. I don't want to sound stupid, so I need help.

Does anyone know a virologist who would be willing to answer some basic questions?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Dealing with Emptiness

Back in October, I went to the James River Writers Conference and listened to a session with Dean King, Richmond best selling author, on writing history. I normally do not read historical fiction, nor do I pick up historical books for the heck of it.

At the time, I was struggling with how to describe a landscape swept clean. Nothing there. Nada. Zip. Nil. But how to show such destruction, such isolation? How do you describe the absence of something rather than the presence of something?

At this particular session, King talked about his bestseller Skeletons on the Zahara: A True Story of Survival. Set in 1815, the book follows the story of twelve America sailors shipwrecked off the coast of West Africa, captured, enslaved and driven into the desert. I talked with King after the session and asked him many questions about dealing with bare landscapes.

King does a terrific job of describing how the desert is barren and yet not barren. There is life there, if you know how to look for it.

From King's descriptions I learned how to describe the landscape in which my main character will find herself in Mad Max 2. I think I can fill the nothingness with small life forms, with sounds and smells, with the rubble of destruction.

Thank you, Dean King, for suggesting that your book might be an inspiration. It was and is.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Borders Delaying Payments to Publishers

For all my published and yet-to-be-published friends, I wanted to call your attention to an article on New Year's Eve in the Wall Street Journal.

The article was a cautionary tale. Borders is trying to restructure its debt because it's in financial deep water. It has a cash-flow problem, meaning money is coming in but not enough to pay publishers for shipping the stores products to sell. This could turn into a vicious circle. If the big-box stores don't receive books to put on the shelves, authors won't sell books. And if the big-box stores sell books but don't pay the publishers for them, do you think authors will receive royalties?

I've been in business for over 35 years. Even I know that if I don't pay my suppliers under the terms and conditions of our contracts, I wouldn't be able to order more materials. The same holds true for authors. I for one am going to watch this very carefully.

This helps make the case for e-publishing.