Deep South Con 50 didn’t officially start until Friday, but for myself and my fellow novel workshop participants, our convention experience started Thursday night with a lecture by editor Lou Anders of Pyr Books.
Lou’s talk, “Using a Character-Based Screenwriting Formula for Novel Writing,” was fantastic. I had listened to his talk about using screenwriting on the Writing Excuses podcast, but his lecture at the workshop was more in-depth. At the end of his presentation, I felt like I had learned completely new elements of screenplay storytelling that I had not encountered in my graduate classes or in my readings. I’d highly recommend the podcast, and if you have a chance to attend one of Lou’s screenwriting lectures don’t pass it up.
After Lou’s lecture, the entire workshop group walked across the street to the public library to hear Gregory Benford’s talk. The admission tickets were $10 to the event, but as workshop participants our tickets were comped (free!).
Once Gregory Benford’s talk ended, most of the workshop participants headed over to the con suite in the hotel for free beers and snacks. I wound up talking to some of my fellow local writers, like Louise Herring-Jones. We’d met a time or two at the SF Writers and Cake Appreciation Society critique group, but Deep South Con was the first time we really got to sit down and get to know each other. I also got a chance to meet one of my Deep South Con novel workshop group mates, April Steed, whose novel has an amazing thematic idea. I can’t wait to see what she does with it. And I spent a few minutes geeking out about belly dancing with Julia Mandala, who performed with Ravenar during the opening ceremonies.
Friday the novel workshop split into two groups. Each one was led by a professional editor. My group was helmed by Toni Weisskopf of Baen Books, and the other by Lou Anders of Pyr. Each group had eight workshop participants who had each submitted up to the first 5,000 words of their novel and up to a 5 page synopsis of the rest of the book. We started our critiques at 10AM, and went until 4PM with a short break for lunch.
This was my first time in a novel workshop, and my first time attempting to write a novel. It was really instructive to read my workshopmates’ stories and hear everyone’s critiques. One common piece of advice – slow down. Novels are much longer than short stories; you’ve got tons of time. Really get us into the scene by specific description and mood-setting.
As far as my personal novel submission and critiques, it was extremely helpful to me to hear my fellow writers’ suggestions on my main character’s motivation and for world building. As a first-time novel writer, this early feedback has given me the confidence and direction I need to continue writing a first draft.
Scott Hancock, who won the Deep South Con 50 short story contest, was in my group. He made the most amazing critique packets I have ever seen.
The packet contained a copy of Southern Fried Sci-Fi and Jambalaya Genres (a chapbook published by the Huntsville SF writers group in 2001), my workshop submission with notes in the margins, and a copy of the typed notes for all of the workshop stories.
Scott is an amazingly friendly person and a wonderful writer. He had an account of his meeting with Dr. Von Braun published in the Deep South Con program book, but you can also read it here.
At the end of the day on Friday, Toni gave a lecture on world-building which included a group exercise. We went through the rubric together – where does the energy come from? Where does the water come from? Which family member do we want to focus on? What about the arts and entertainment in this culture? And in five minutes, we’d created an interesting, layered world ripe for a story.
Then Lou and Toni answered our questions about submitting novels to agents and/or presses. Some stray notes:
- Don’t invest everything in one book. Set it aside/submit and move on.
- Look in Locus Magazine at the books sold page for tips on which agents you might want to work with.
- Joshua at Jabberwoky – Blog: Awful Agent
- Sometimes it takes 10-15 years of rejection head banging to learn to write to a market.
- Slushpile – mostly B+ when you want As
- It is worth a cut of your money for the services that publishers provide.
Before we disbanded, we each received a copy of the essay “Style, Substance, and Other Illusions” by Gregory Benford.
The best part of the novel writing workshop was meeting my fellow writers. I never ran out of people to talk to the entire weekend. After the panels there would invariably be a small group of workshop participants gathered in the back of the room talking, and because I’d been in the workshop I felt confident in going up and chatting with them.
In the hallways, the con suite, and at room parties, I had great conversations not just about writing, but about specific stories that we had written. Nancy S. Brandt told me what it was like to publish a genre book through a small press. Zan Oliver was a blast to hang out with in the party rooms, and she told great stories about New Orleans. And Alice and I people-watched from the balcony and talked about learning and re-learning.
It was a wonderful, hearty dose of writer camaraderie.