Writing Show: From Page to Stage and Screen

Since I had missed the last Writing Show, I made sure to come to this one, especially since it will be on hiatus next month, returning in August.

Before I get to the main event, I’ll mention that I renewed my membership with James River Writers , and was rewarded with a mug (pictured below). Also, during intermission I spoke with Steve from Fountain Books who manned the bookstand at the back of the auditorium. He sold me on purchasing the novel Let the Right One In, written by John Lindqvist (now a motion picture written by John Lindqvist). Though very dark and disturbing, Steve enjoyed it thoroughly. What interested me was that it involves a vampire and I’m ever on the lookout for quality vampire novels since I’m writing my own. Among the scores I’ve read over the years, only a few have been enjoyable for me. The last two I’ve read were The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova and Fledgling by Octavia Butler. They were excellent and hopefully Let the Right One In will make a positive trend. I’ve put it at the top of my reading list.

James River Writers mug.
James River Writers mug.

Since I had missed the last Writing Show, I made sure to come to this one, especially since it will be on hiatus next month, returning in August. Given the topic — stage and screen writing — I didn’t expect to be as interested as I was. Typical of these monthly events, the speakers were first rate. The panelists included the bearded storyteller Clay Chapman, writer/director Bryan Doerris and screenwriter Megan Holley (Sunshine Cleaning), with Michael Cordell moderating (his debut in this capacity, I think).

More so than previous Shows, the panelists really engaged each other in conversation, countering, underscoring or querying what another panelist just said. At one point, Mr. Doerris lamented America’s waning love of theater. He cited that less than nine percent of Americans attended a play last year, though they have a hearty appetite for cinema.

At this point, it occurred to me perhaps a reason for why people prefer movies over plays. Movies are effortless. They explain it all to you. There isn’t much left to the imagination. In theater, all that’s needed are the actors and the audience (Mr. Chapman’s point). Stage performers engage the audience, thus each performance is unique. With little scenery and props, if any at all, the actors speak, gesture, direct their eyes, move about the stage in ways that can make the audience believe they’re in a pub or on the moon. Their minds fill in what’s unheard and unseen. Much like books.

Writing Show: Building a Writing Career

I attended the James River Writers monthly Writing Show last night and I thought it was the best of the year.

I attended the James River Writers monthly Writing Show last night and I thought it was the best of the year. For those who haven’t been to one, they are convivial and fairly informal. Before each show, there is registration and a reception where attendees can make new friends and gab with old ones, made easier with wine, cheese and crackers. All are there to help each other. Books, often selected to reflect the evening’s theme, are for sale from local bookseller Fountain Books. When the show begins, there are introductory remarks and plugs for upcoming events, followed by a JRW board member sitting with the panelists to lead the topic’s discussion. After the intermission, there is a Q&A between the audience and the panelists.

The topic last night, Building a Writing Career, covered ways to get an agent and get published. An evergreen topic for writers. Ready to help were the panelists: Mary Flinn of Blackbird online journal; Thom Didato of failbetter.com; and author Colleen Curran. JRW board member Virginia Pye moderated.

Here are my notes, attributing the panelist where I can:

Mary answered the question, How to improve your writing: Keep writing and reading writers whom you admire; glue yourself to your seat and don’t get up until you’ve finished.

MFA (Master of Fine Arts) programs are a great place to hone your craft and put your name out there. The caveat being that such programs aren’t cheap and one must weigh what you put into the program with what you can reasonably expect to get out of it.

All panelists agreed that you need to research your market and the publishers (houses, journals, etc.). Mary recommended the Poets & Writers web site as a resource for finding suitable places for your work. Either Colleen or Thom recommended Duotrope as well.

On this, Colleen held up a index card organizer and shared her method. She kept a index card for each publisher, writing their address, who was published in their magazines, which ones she submitted work to, rejection slips and notes of encouragement.

Thom admitted that often agents and editors are looking for reasons not to read queries and manuscripts. So don’t give them one! A sure-fire way of sabotaging yourself is by not following the guidelines for submission. Colleen advised that writers avoid “walker” sentences. The character walked to the door. It’s filler. Make each sentence count by making them purposeful. Wow them with the first line.

Then the discussion turned to conferences as another avenue for improving your craft and finding an agent. Thom suggested that you should go for the love of writing and forming friendships and not the expectation of being discovered. Though certainly conferences vary in their focus. Some may be oriented toward craft while others cover the business side.

Attendance was great, probably between 90 and 100.