Wow. W-o-w. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in a writing workshop. I forgot just how incredibly intense they can be. I don’t mean people being mean about your writing or anything like that, I just mean it takes a huge amount of psychic/emotional energy to a) write something, b) read it aloud to other writers, and c) discuss it at length. Whew!
I read two chapters of my Creek Family novel to a really fantastic group of mystery writers this weekend at Oregon Writers Colony. I got so much out of the group’s critique and feel so fortunate because I would never have searched out a mystery workshop for myself. But this must have been divine intervention because it was just what I needed. And Dorothy Blackcrow Mack, our teacher, was awesome. I hope to be like her when I grow up. I highly recommend taking a class with her if you get the chance. I’m going to read all her books now.
I write literary fiction. I define that as fiction that is character-driven. Mysteries, thrillers, westerns, and romances are plot-driven. The best literary novels are also very strong on plot, but by and large, they are not totally defined by their plot. Of course, all of these boundaries can be blurred, and the best fictions do so masterfully.
When you read so much in a certain genre (like say, literary fiction), chances are you will know intuitively about that genre’s conventions; if you ever try to write fiction, you will very likely end up writing literary fiction. This is another way of saying “write the kind of book that you like to read,” something one often hears from writing teachers.
But I’m here to tell you that after you have spent many years writing in your chosen genre, go try something new. Go to a mystery writers workshop, for example, and have your ass kicked around by questions about plot, pacing, and premise. I wish I had taken this workshop five years ago! It would have saved me a lot of time. But alas, those’re chapters under the bridge.
In addition to working on my novel and participating in the workshop sessions, I managed two long walks on the beach and some reading in How to Write a Damn Good Novel by James N. Frey and Revising by David Michael Kaplan.
My next steps are to put my Creek Family novel away for a very long time. It’s the Mt. Everest of first novels and I realize–now that I have finished drafting it–that perhaps it wasn’t the best mountain to climb for my first ascent up the noveling mountain. As my best friend said to me on the phone last night, there’s a very good reason there are all those other, smaller mountains around Mt. Everest: you’re supposed to cut your teeth on them to get the experience you need to successfully summit Mt. Everest (pardon the mixed metaphors). So, while the Creeks are “marinating,” as one of my teachers used to say, I’m going to continue drafting my Rock Star novel, which I started last year. I’m going to spend a lot more time up front thinking about plotting, pacing, and premise, and hope that this smaller mountain will be a little easier for me.
Like I said, w-o-w.
But, you ask, what about the food? Well, I’m making this (sans garlic and hot spices) and eating this right now as I write…comfort food for decompressing.