January 27, 2009
Once Upon A Crime in Minneapolis recently hosted a fabulous panel discussion with writers Mary Logue, K J Erickson, and Ellen Hart. Presenting to a packed room, the three well-known authors covered topics from knowing one's characters, to writing a series. Here are some nuggets I jotted down (blending the voices of the three, who are old friends who often finish each other's thoughts):
On writing: When the writing is flowing, it's like being in a groove, and you know it's working so it feels great; the novel takes on a shape, becoming a living thing, growing organically, or like fractal. For the three, a writing group has been essential for their growth as writers, and as a balm for the solitary task of writing.
The great puzzle: If, as according to Malcolm Gladwell, it takes 10,000 hours to master any particular thing, how is it that an author's first book is often their best? Conversely, why does it take so long for some authors to become well known?
On characters: They take on their own lives. When writing a series, you get to know them over time, and you realize different things about them. Of course, you can always throw a little conflict in their paths to shake things up for them—and for you, as well.
On agents and editors: They should act as advocates for readers, understand the market, and are ideally there to help the writer do their best work.
The publishing industry: there are natural cycles to it, small presses will grow as bigger presses struggle, technological changes have to be embraced, that there's still—beyond the blockbusters that every publisher seeks—a need for diverse, interesting writing; the big presses will always need to seek out new, good books.
KJ closed the evening with a passionate plea for both readers and writers to understand the important role of independent bookstores, whose staff actually read and recommend books to customers, and sponsor author events.