Saturday, Nov. 3, writers from all over the Valley of the Sun and beyond gathered in Avondale, Ariz., to learn more about honing their craft. The one-day 2012 Avondale Writers Conference held at the Avondale Civic Center, 11465 W. Civic Center Drive in Avondale, featured numerous speakers and the opportunity to pitch to agents.
Elizabeth Kral of Surprise is a non-published writer currently working on a novel. Before the first session, she looked forward to what the day would bring. “Hopefully, this gives you guidance toward whatever goals you have in your writing aspirations.”
Kicking off the event was keynote speaker Gordon Warnock, presenting the topic “Never Give Up—Never Surrender: Publishing Successfully in Today’s Market.” Warnock recounted how, a year shy of graduating from college, he switched fields to study creative writing. Though he “loved every minute” of it, he had no clue what he wanted to do with it. He accepted an internship with Andrea Hurst & Associates Literary Management and soon found he was having fun. He is there today as a senior agent. “More than just working with books, I’m working with people,” he said. “I consider it a privilege to be working with authors.” The publishing industry is in the midst of much change, but that doesn’t bother Warnock, who believes getting upset about change is a waste of energy. “I personally think that now is the best time to be a writer,” he said, adding that the question is “not if but how will I get published.” There are many options open to an author today, and not all of them require an agent. “You need to find what is the best fit for you.” That can even be self-publishing, which he said “is not really a dirty word anymore.” He believes writers need to know three things about selling a book: What is it you’re writing, what are your goals and what are your abilities?
Another morning presenter was Gale Leach, who spoke about “Creating Characters Your Readers Will Love.” Leach is the author of “Bruce and the Road to Courage,” “Bruce and the Road to Honesty” and “Bruce and the Road to Justice,” an award-winning series for middle-grade children that has been adopted as part of the school curriculum in both Arizona and California. Leach noted that good fictional characters must be both believable and interesting. Where do ideas for characters come from? Sometimes ideas come from observing people you know or even strangers, Leach said. She suggested carrying a notebook with you to record details you can later use for your stories. Other ideas, she said, can come from asking, “What if?” Even Leach’s dreams have been a source of character ideas. Why is good characterization so important? “Good fiction requires a good plot,” Leach said, “but compelling characters are what your reader will remember when they close your book.”
Author of “Gifts of Sisterhood” and founder/president of the Scottsdale Society of Women Writers, Patricia L. Brooks shared her ideas on how to write “The Ideal Query Letter.” Brooks is the author of “Gifts of Sisterhood” and holds a master’s degree in organizational management. Through Brooks Goldmann Publishing, she also helps writers get through the maze of publishing to launch their books. Brooks noted that there are four parts to a query letter: the hook, the mini-synopsis, the writer’s bio and the close. Because your goal is to elicit an invitation from an agent to submit your book, she suggested personalizing the query letter according to the agent’s guidelines, which she said are readily accessible online.
Over two separate sessions, Ekta Garg covered “What Is an Editor and Why Is One Necessary?” and “How Do Editors Help and How to Find a Good One.” Garg holds a master’s degree in magazine publishing and has been editing since 2005. “An editor,” she said, “is someone with training and experience who can help a writer refine his/her work.” Though an editor will rewrite sentences if necessary, if an editor ends up rewriting a third to a half of the manuscript, the editor is no longer an editor but has become a ghostwriter. Garg noted that one reason an editor is necessary is that “it’s difficult, if not impossible, to properly edit your own work.” An editor can help fix problems in the manuscript, such as misuse of point of view or use of passive verbs. Garg suggested some good ways of finding an editor are by word of mouth, by attending conferences and workshops and by searching online.
Rebecca Carey Lyles spoke on “The Call and Challenge of Writing for the Christian Market.” For more than 30 years, Lyles has written articles and stories for Christian publications, as well as secular magazines and newspapers and a variety of corporate and government publications. She is the author of “Winds of Wyoming” and has a sequel, “Winds of Freedom,” in the works. In addition, she has written “It’s a God Thing!” and “On a Wing and a Prayer,” nonfiction books having to do with prison and street ministries. Lyles spoke about the call to write for the Christian market and gave some reasons why we write: to present truth, to teach, to fight evil, to encourage, to salve wounds and to relay themes from scripture. Her handout includes resources for writing for the Christian market, such as market guides, national organizations for writers and how-to books.
Vernie Roseke of Surprise came to the conference because she is writing a Christian book and “trying to figure out how to get it published.” After attending Rebecca Lyles’ presentation, Roseke said, “That was the best one yet.” She found Lyles’ handout with lots of suggestions “very well put together.”
Afternoon keynote speaker Maralys Wills closed with the topic “Writing—The Thing You Do for Love Instead of Money.” Earlier in the day, she also spoke on “Ten Ways to Upgrade Your Manuscript” and “Turning Your Real Life Experiences into a Story.” Wills, who studied at Stanford and UCLA, has taught college-level novel writing for the past 22 years and is the author of 12 books in six different genres. “Why would you want to write,” she asked, when there’s “so little chance to get rich, to make a living?” Her answer: “There are so many satisfactions that don’t have anything to do with money.” She noted that “when you write, you don’t get rich, but you live richly,” and that “you get to live the best of your life twice.” She told how research for her techno-thriller “Scatterpath” took her to the National Transportation Safety Board and McDonnell Douglas. The latter even gave her a private tour. And Wills still loves writing. “Without writing, most of my life would have just disappeared,” she said. “Even better,” she added, writing “kind of helps keep your brain young.”
Other presenters included the following:
Vincent A. Alascia, speaking on “Points of View”
Drusilla Campbell, speaking on “Don’t Waste Time—Start Right”
Bob Duckles, speaking on “Tools for Self-Editing”
Ann I. Goldfarb, speaking on “Recognizing and Developing Mood in Writing” and “Using the Elements of Suspense to Engage Your Readers”
Eveline Horelle Dailey, speaking on “Elements of Style When Publishing”
Michael Larsen, speaking on “Three Keys to Succeeding as a Writer Faster and More Easily Than Ever”
Greg Lundberg speaking on on “How to Publish an E-book for $350 or Less”
Darlene Quinn, speaking on “Time Management and How to Get Published”
Christopher Wilke, speaking on “What Makes a Good Cover Design”
At the end of the day, Kevin Thorson of Phoenix said he would highly recommend the conference to everybody who’s interested in being a writer and in being published. “I feel like I’ve been under a waterfall of information.” He called the event “a great opportunity to meet people who are doing what you want to do.”
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