Monthly Archives: January 2012

Remember When Genre Was Genre: Digesting the Writer’s Digest Conference 2012 (Part 2)

All of the speakers at the Writer’s Digest Conference that I attended last weekend were excellent.  One of them who stands out in my mind is Donald Maass, who spoke about writing for the 21st Century.  I thought he was going to tell us to write about robots or the aging baby-boomers.  But he was talking more about the way to write a book rather than on a particular topic.

For example, Maass led us through some questions to ask ourselves about our novels.  What is something that would blow your novel sideways?  What is the main character’s one unshakeable belief?  How can we become dead Swedish authors?

He had us write down the one thing that we cannot bear to write down, one thing that we cannot say even to ourselves.  After checking that no one was looking over my shoulder, I jotted down my one thing and covered it hastily with my hand.  I saw what Maass was doing.  He was showing us how to bring emotion into our books, how to make the reader feel something.  What my novel needed, obviously, was for the main character to confront people who keep sitting there sniffling instead of blowing their noses.

Maass also made a prophecy; that cross-genre novels would be big in the 21st Century.  Like crossing paranormal with family epic.  Terrorist with romance.  Ketchup with mayonnaise (the last few are my examples).  In describing the book that people are looking for in the 21st Century, he kept using the words “high intensity” and “emotional,” and said that we should try to show a change occurring over many steps.

Maass’ talk was so electrifying that I was taking notes even before the audience members had finished telling their personal stories disguised as questions.  The notes were for a novel—a novel that was going to blow the doors off every library in the world.  A novel that would be open, face down, on nightstands everywhere.  A novel that would sit on everyone’s shelf from sea to shining sea.

And then I remembered that the novel of the 21st Century would be just electrons and computer code.

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Remember Life Before Memory Sticks: Digesting the Writer’s Digest Conference (Part 1)

This past weekend I attended the Writer’s Digest Conference at the Sheraton Hotel in Midtown Manhattan.  It just so happened that there was another Sheraton Hotel directly across the street.  Two Sheraton Hotels facing each other [caution: double spoiler alert], like the identical twin white mega churches at the end of Wayne’s World 2, during its parody of the end of The Graduate.

After I’d finished my coffee and noticed that the lecture I was attending, “Growing Bananas In Your Old DVD Player: An Introduction,” did not seem to have very much to do with writing and publishing and other ways to work in jeans and long t-shirts.  I wanted my money back, but all refunds had to be in banana seeds.

I was fortunately able to make the three lectures by author A.J. Jacobs, agent Donald Maass, and Chuck Sambuchino, an editor for Writer’s Digest Books (an imprint of F+W Media).  A.J. spoke about some approaches to writing about yourself in the 21st Century.  I started to think of myself as a robot, with a Pentium brain and a 75-page Terms and Conditions.  Then Donald Maass—known by some as simply, “Don”—talked about breaking through genre boundaries, and right then and there I began outlining a generational epic based on a family of extreme couponers.

The last speaker of the night was Chuck, who showed the attendees how to write the perfect pitch.  To write a pitch, he said, and I’m paraphrasing here, you have to make your book sound like the back of a DVD.  I wanted to ask him if the emergence of Blu-Ray discs required any adjustments to pitches, but the microphone was in the middle of the room, and to get to it I would have had to squeeze in between table and probably would have knocked some coats off of the backs of chairs.

The highlight of the evening came, however, from a question from a member of the audience.  The vigorous conference attendee said, “Now, let’s just say I’m pitching one of these agents tomorrow, and let’s just say I have a memory stick with my completed work on it.  At what point might be able to slip my stick into the agent’s hands?”  When the laughter died down, Chuck looked at the man, and advised him to not put any sticks into any agents’ hands. 

You just couldn’t achieve a public-speaking moment like that 10 years ago.

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Remember When Television Screens Weren’t Measured in Acres?

This weekend I am attending the Writer’s Digest Conference in New York.  It is my first conference, so I’m a little nervous about what to do and whether I’ll like the lunch that the conference agenda has promised me.  Is it okay to take notes at a writers conference?  At most times it is considered weird to take notes around other people.  But maybe this will be a conference where everyone will be taking notes…taking notes on people taking notes.

Remember when TV screens weren’t all flat and measured in acres, and people didn’t throw terms like “refresh rate” and “1080p” and “contrast ratio”?

I do.

One day, a long, long time ago, I was in an electronics store, staring at a 32-inch Magnovox TV, with screen-in-screen, sleep timer, and a remote control.  It looked enormous.  The TV’s screen was like a movie screen.  Whatever was being shown on it enveloped me, wrapped me up in it its arms.  I wondered how I, suburban peasant, could ever hope to possess something so magnificent.  I looked at the price tag.  It said $750.  I sighed, lowered my head, and walked away to whichever parent had pulled the shorter straw that morning.

Twenty years later I’m standing in my friend’s backyard.  It is summer, and he is hosting a barbecue to celebrate the day the Americans defeated the British by tossing M-80s and shooting bottle rockets at them.  Katy Perry has decided not to dye her hair avocado, and so there is nothing to talk about except televisions.

“Yeah, just got one myself,” my friend says, straightening his stance and expanding his chest.  He turns aside and gazes through the double glass sliding doors, into his den, to the television that doesn’t so much hang on the wall as be the wall itself.  He gets choked up and looks like he’s about to cry tears of happiness.  He shakes his head and smiles.

“How big is yours?” he asks me when he’s recollected himself.

“What?”

“How big is your TV?”

“Oh, my TV.  Uh, 32 inches, I think.”

“Really?”  He looks embarrassed for me. He pats me on the shoulder and walks away.  I decide that maybe it is time for me to get a new tube.

Except televisions aren’t made with tubes anymore.  I learned this during the six months of studying televisions and television technology, a mandatory course for all television purchases in my state (exemptions for veterans and celebrities).

This past weekend, my moment arrived.  The local electronics behemoth was running a special on TVs for $750, the lowest price I’d ever seen for something that still distorted the space-time continuum.  I ran to the store and announced to the first salesperson I found, “I want to buy a television!”  I thought these were magic words.  I thought I was going to be welcomed with open arms and champagne.  But instead he pointed to a long line of humans—a line of disappointed humans—and said I had to wait on that line if I wanted to ask any questions before making a purchase.

As I waited on the line I had a lot of time to look at the televisions on display.  All the TVs looked the same to me.  Only some were bigger than others, or came with a family living inside.

A salesperson caught me looking at a 46-inch LCD.  “That’s a nice picture,” he said.  “Yes,” I agreed, “it is a nice picture.”  I didn’t really care about the picture.  I was transfixed by a school of fluorescent fish that was airing on this fish channel, which apparently broadcast to this TV alone.

“It’s nothing compared to the LED,” he said.

I replied that I did not know there was a difference.

“Oh yeah, man, there’s like a HUGE difference.  I mean, I don’t want to talk you out of something if you’ve made up your mind.  But just check out those two TVs side-by-side.  The one on the left is an LED.  The one on the right is an LCD.  Now look, see that that cat there?”  We were watching a commercial for cat litter on both TVs simultaneously.  “See the black splotches in that cat’s fur when she scratches in the box?  See the difference?”

Not wishing to fight, I squinted like I was squishing around a glass of fine wine, and said that I did see the difference.  But then, I really did start to see the difference.  The LED had brighter colors, sharper images, darker darks, wrinklier wrinkles.  My mind was made up.  I would get an LED.  There was just one last thing I wanted to know.

“How come the LED is $100 more than the LCD?”

“I’m sorry, sir,” he said, “but I’m not allowed to answer questions.  If you have questions, you’ll have to wait on that line over there.”

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