Conference Report

From my diary: Shoes hurt my feet! Was that why I was so exhausted from the flights from Indianapolis to Madison? (I will remember my distress and use it for a character in my current novel.) A soft-voiced cabby, using a gentle horn to alert absent-minded drivers, took me to the conference hotel where I found food (and different shoes) as soon as I could.

I spent most of last week at the Writers’ Institute in Madison, Wisconsin. The high point of my experience was a master class, “Building Suspense,” offered by Chicago crime thriller writer, Libby Fischer Hellman. Using film examples, Hellman guided us through memorable scenes of suspense, as exemplified by the car scene in Double Indemnity with Barbara Stanwyck (Phyllis) and Fred MacMurray (Walter), where after dumping Phyllis’s husband’s body, the getaway car wouldn’t start. Time and a balky engine work against the protagonists. Suspense. Then the car starts.

Hellman asked attendees to bring a paperback novel and five different-colored markers to the class. She introduced us to mystery writer Nancy Pickard’s template for analyzing chapter structure. I brought Lisa Scottoline’s Keep Quiet to analyze. Pickard’s template is called CASTS (Conflict, Action, Surprise, Turn, Sensory Details). Using colored pens, one goes through each chapter marking CASTS components, i.e., here’s where the author shows conflict (red pen), here’s where she shows action (green pen), etc. Scottoline’s first chapter met the challenge, and since it was a spectacularly suspenseful novel, I’m sure the other chapters did too.

Interestingly, Nancy Pickard is presenting a day-long workshop to Speed City Sisters in Crime members later this month. I plan to go and learn more.

Another master class, “Writing Masterful Scenes,” presented by Ann Garvin and Tim Storm, was also helpful. Among my notes: Make reader feel. Trickle in backstory. Novel is driven by the want of characters. Plot is yearning, challenge or goal. Each sentence is expensive real estate in story. Writing is all manipulation.

In another workshop, the presenter advocated spending eleven months creating and filling in an outline, and then writing the novel in a month. Don’t think that would work for me. Though I start with the bones of an outline (including the ending), through interaction with one another, my characters come alive and grow the story.

On Sunday, the last day of the conference, I attended “Is This a Club Which I Want to Belong To: A Literary Agent Addresses the Writing Life.” Paul S. Levine shared his wisdom on far-ranging aspects of writing. Most men don’t read books, he told us. Seventy percent of all books are sold at Costco, Walmart, and Target. Most editors-in-chief are men. Most editors are women. He had advice for screenwriters: Don’t try to sell screenplays. Instead, get the story published as a book. Hollywood wants somebody else to say yes first.

Throughout the conference, I made notes to self. Post about conference (X). Change photo on website, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Rewrite first line of Chapter I of current novel.

Authors talked about the need to find writing time. I plan to find someone to clean my house, mow the yard, and help with landscaping.

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2 Responses to Conference Report

  1. 70% of books are sold at Walmart, Target and Costco? Totally wrong! I’ve never read anything close to claiming that. How could that be when every reputable source says Amazon alone has roughly 50% of the print book market?

    “When it comes to print book sales for the major publishers, Amazon represents roughly 50% of the pie; wholesalers, libraries, and specialty accounts are 25%; Barnes & Noble is in the teens; and independent bookstores are about 6-8% of the print book market. ”


  2. Lynne Handy says:

    When Levine made the statement, many of us expressed alarm. He referred to the statement several times, so I didn’t misquote. Jane Friedman was also at the conference. If I recall, she was a keynote speaker and talked about marketing. I attend conferences, hoping for up-to-date information. Obviously, Levine wasn’t up-to-date.


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