What kind of writer’s workshop would you attend?

I have been named the 2016 Piedmont Laureate and one of the responsibilities of that position is to conduct workshops for other writers in North Carolina. I’ll be doing just that in the months ahead as there are few things I love better than working with other writers and talking about writing. But with the world of writing in flux, and career trajectories no longer predictable, much less known, it’s time to look at exactly what these workshops should entail. I’d like your help with that. With that in mind, if you are a writer of any kind – fiction, non-fiction, short form or long – what kind of workshops centered around writing would you be most likely to attend? What would be most useful to you either personally or professionally? Is there a specific aspect about the craft of writing you would find most useful, or are you more interested in exploring outlets for your writing? While I do not conduct workshops on how to get published – that question is unanswerable at the … [Read more...]

Character Counts Most of All

I went through a reading crisis this year. Every time I sat down to lose myself in a book, I found my attention wandering after just a few pages. I would check my iPhone for messages, stop by Facebook, and then force myself to sit back down and try again. It drove me nuts. Losing myself in a good book has always been my way of taking a needed break from the world. I attributed my problem to a shrinking attention span brought about by cursed social media. I decided anything more than four paragraphs was beyond my interest, thanks to new media, and bemoaned the loss of my ability to enter the pages of other worlds. Needless to say, this did not enhance my participation in my book club or endear me to friends with new books coming out. “Yes, I bought it and can’t wait to read it.” [“God, please don’t ask me how I liked it three months from now.”]   Thus I sealed my fate and kissed reading a full-length book good-bye. And then I picked up “Death Comes to Pemberley” by PD James. … [Read more...]

Empaths and voyeurs and parrots… oh, my!

One clear advantage to getting older is that you care less and less about what other people think. That's why a blog post like this would have been unthinkable 10 years ago. But these days, I am perfectly happy to officially announce that decades of reading has led me to believe that all writers can be divided into three categories: empaths, voyeurs and parrots.  Knowing which type you are can help you better balance your books as a writer, and knowing which one you prefer can help you better choose your books as a reader. Let’s start with empaths. Being an empathy can be downright painful in real life — you are often buffeted about by other people's emotions and motivations. But it is a powerful advantage when you are a writer. The ability to instinctually feel what other people are going through, coupled with the inability to contain your sympathetic emotions, add richness to a writer's characterizations and give their scenes a level of genuineness that can distinguish a good book … [Read more...]

When death is no longer an abstract

Is there any obsession greater than death? No matter how hard we try to hide it, isn’t the popularity of crime fiction an indication that we humans remain, as we have for thousands of years, obsessed with the idea of no longer being here?  We are driven to wonder.... Where do we go? Where do our loved ones go? Do we linger, somehow, in this world? And if it is true that readers of crime fiction are, perhaps, more obsessed with death than most people — what does that say about the writers of crime fiction? Surely, we are the most fascinated by death of all? We spend our days thinking and writing about nothing else. But the truth is that death is benign when you are writing about it. All those words, the plot, the puzzles, the mysteries surrounding it are artificial buffers that protect both the writer and the reader from truly experiencing the ultimate power of death. These buffers allow us to dance around it, poke at it and flirt with its finality without actually feeling the … [Read more...]

Hand Me the Knife

"A successful book is not made of what is in it, but what is left out of it." I came across this quote from Mark Twain this week and loved it. Being a writer has one big advantage  over other occupations: it is one of the few jobs where your age is largely immaterial. But even better than that, as the books pass by, you start to acquire an awesomely-tuned ability to cut the hell out of your prose. The way I write has changed so much since my first book. I have now developed a system where I have a detailed outline to guide me, but then I cut loose and write fast and furiously in wherever direction it takes me, knowing that I will be waiting with my editing knife in hand at the other end. God bless computers and word processing. You can turn the messiest, most meandering manuscripts into a fast-paced, tight story by the time you're done and no one will ever know your book once looked like something you dredged off the ocean bottom and pulled, dripping and covered with seaweed and … [Read more...]

When a Take-Over is Emminent

I am in the midst of writing my fourth Dead Detective book and, while I don't have a title I like enough yet to offer publicly, I am well into the book. As often happens, given all the characters I typically jam into a single book, there is a minor character who has grown in importance with each page I write and who seems determined to take over. I used to say that when this situation occurred, and the author found themselves not in full control of their character, it was subconscious creativity speaking and that a wise author let it happen. Now, I am not so sure. … [Read more...]