By Debby Giusti
Although I have eight books in print and two more contracted, there’s so much more I need to learn about writing. That’s the reason I attend conferences. The workshops provide tips and information that help me improve my craft and, hopefully, create better stories. Networking with industry professionals is invaluable, as well, but what I treasure most is time spent with Seekers and Seeker friends!
As most of you know, the Romance Writers of America National Conference was held three weeks ago in New York City. I flew in early to see the sights and met up with Grammar Diva Darlene Buchholz. My editor Emily Rodmell had suggested seeing the New York skyline from the Top of the Rock so we started with a panoramic view of Manhattan from the Observation Deck, 70 stories above the city. From there we visited St. Patrick’s Cathedral and had a late afternoon snack at Rockefeller Square.
The next day, Darlene and Janet Dean and I climbed onto a chartered van and toured the city and the harbor. O’Nell, a Brooklyn native, was our guide and gave us an up close and personal look at Manhattan, its history and people. The most memorable sights were Lady Liberty and the World Trade Center.
On Tuesday, Janet and I braved the subway and headed for the Love Inspired offices located in the Woolworth Building. Commissioned by five and dime mogul Frank W. Woolworth in 1910, the 57-floor skyscraper—one of the oldest in the city--is a National Historic Landmark and sits across from Park Place and City Hall, not far from the Brooklyn Bridge. The lobby, shaped in the form of a cross, has a vaulted ceiling with inlaid mosaics that reminded me more of a gilded ballroom than an office building. Entering the narrow wooden elevator that was state-of-the-art in its day, we headed to the 10th floor.
Executive editor Joan Marlow Golan gave us a warm welcome and Senior Editor Tina James showed us around the suite as she explained the steps our manuscripts take from submission to publication. My hat's off to the entire Love Inspired team and the fantastic books they publish. Seeing their small offices and the piles of manuscripts waiting their review made me appreciate how hard they work.
The “Readers for Life” Literacy Autographing was Tuesday evening. The line of fans waiting to buy books snaked out of the hotel and down Times Square. More than $47,000 was raised for literacy thanks to everyone who participated.
Wednesday morning, I attended the Oklahoma Romance Writers award ceremony and was thrilled to receive the National Readers’ Choice Award in the traditional category for KILLER HEADLINE. Contest coordinator Silver James presented a plaque to me and had plaques for my agent and editor, as well. Thank you, Oklahoma Outlaws!
At eleven A.M., the LI editors hosted a Meet and Greet for their authors. Some tips if you’re submitting to LI, remember the hero and heroine need to meet in the beginning of the first chapter. Include their goals, motivation and conflict and give the reader a sense of where the story is headed by the end of chapter one. Currently, the editors are looking for historicals, including Regencies. For LI, they’d like to see more medical stories. LIS is well stocked at the current time, but that doesn’t mean you can’t submit. LI accepts unagented submissions. See their website for guidelines, http://www.eharlequin.com/.
Wednesday afternoon, I attended “Up All Night,” a workshop with suspense authors Harlan Coben and Lisa Jackson. Coben shared aspects of his writing life with tongue-in-cheek humor that kept me smiling. “Part of my job,” he said deadpan, “is to convince my wife that I have one.”
Talking about suspense stories, Coben said he doesn’t “do murder.” Instead he prefers disappearances because there’s always hope. When and if that hope is dashed, the characters—and thus readers—experience gut-wrenching pain.
Jackson writes a 35 to 75 page synopsis, which she calls the “bare bones skeleton of the plot,” before she starts a book. Harlan doesn’t outline and, at the onset, only knows the beginning and where the story is apt to end up.
Calling herself a “fat writer” because she's wordy, Jackson admits she can’t spell and doesn’t have a big vocabulary, but she is a storyteller.
Coben says fear motivates writers. If you’re comfortable with your work, you’re dead. To be a real writer, you need "perspiration, inspiration and desperation."
“Don’t let anything get in the way of writing,” Coben challenges. Not even research, which he calls an excuse for not writing. “I’m always trying to look at things at a different angle and do the unexpected that fits.” More advice from Cohen: “Never chase the dollar, chase the reader’s heart.”
“The best way to improve,” according to Jackson, “is to write the next book.” She revises as she writes in what she calls a two-steps forward, one-step back fashion. After typing The End, she sends the manuscript to her sister, who tells her what works and what doesn’t.
Coben also uses a forward-back pattern. He writes 75 pages and then edits his work. At the end, he reads the entire manuscript out loud!
Bright and early Thursday morning, I attended Nina Bruhns and Kieran Kramer’s workshop on the late Blake Snyder’s system of story structure. I had the privilege of hearing Snyder speak a number of years ago and highly recommend his book, SAVE THE CAT. Nina and Kieran said, “Keep it primal.” Write about universal themes or needs or desires that resonate with readers.
Later that day, I attended Michael Hauge’s “Uniting Plot Structure and Character Arc” workshop followed by “From Identity to Essence: Love Stories and Transformation.” I’ve attended a number of Hauge’s workshops and took a weekend-long class with him last year, but I never tire of hearing him speak. His book, WRITING SCREENPLAYS THAT SELL, is a great reference. Mine is dog-eared. I also recommend his DVD, “The Hero’s Two Journeys.”
A few Hauge highlights:
The hero’s outer journey needs to be visible. Romance is inner conflict heavy. A story is stronger if there are visible obstacles. What does the hero want? You must be able to picture what it looks like.
Conversely, the hero’s inner journey is invisible and is an inner journey of transformation. That inner journey is the change from living in fear to living courageously.
When discussing characters, Hauge asks the following questions:
What is the hero’s longing or need?
What is the hero’s wound?
What is the hero’s belief?
What is the hero’s fear?
What is the hero’s identity?
What is the hero’s essence?
Hauge says, “The identity is the false self the character presents to the world to protect her from the fear that grows out of the belief created by the wound that occurred before the story begins.” (That’s a mouthful! LOL) Take away the emotional protection to find the person she really is. The inner journey is the transformation from living fully in her identity to living fully in her essence.
The Award Ceremony Friday night was a gala event. Lucky me, I got to sit with Seekers Tina Radcliffe and Cara Lynn James. After the ceremony, I joined Janet Dean and Mary Connealy at The View, a revolving restaurant at the top of the Marriott Marquis, for a last look at New York in lights.
The conference was great, the city was fun, reconnecting with friends was special, but by the end of the week, I was ready to head to the airport. I agree with Dorothy, in the Wizard of Oz, “There’s no place like home.”
So good seeing many of you in New York. Share your highlights of the conference or information you’ve picked up at writing workshops around the country so we can all benefit. Leave a comment and your email to be entered in the drawing for THE OFFICER’S SECRET, the first book in my Military Investigations series, and THE OFFICER'S SECRET T-shirt, which features my Prayer for Our Military. Size XL, it's perfect for a pool cover-up or nightshirt.
Breakfast is on me and we’re eating New York style: bagels and lox. First one to comment starts the coffee, please!
Wishing you abundant blessings,