Day One at the Tucson Festival of Books

The big story today unfortunately was the weather. It was cool and rained on and off, depressing the turnout and driving the crowd under shelter at times.

We closed down our table a few minutes early because it started to rain on my books. Nevertheless, we did very well, including two customers who made my day–one was a friend who bought 5 copies of Last Stop on Desolation Ridge for her bookclub to read. The other was someone who had read The Expendable Man because someone who had purchased it last year had loaned it to her. She liked it enough to buy Last Stop. That’s the kind of story that writers die, kill and pray for.

I only got to one workshop today–three fiction writers talking about writing and their latest books (what else?). The panelists were Ann Hood, Alice LaPlante and Bill Roorbach.

I often learn something about myself from these sessions. Today I learned I’m an adder-oner as opposed to a taker-offer. Some writers write 600 pages and then edit that down to a reasonable size. I do the opposite. I create the framework or foundation and add the finishing touches in the editing stage. (Some might say I need to add more meat to the bones of my stories and they’d be right.)

Here’s a sample of comments from today’s panelists that I found interesting.

When asked how they manage to write effectively about complex topics, all three agreed you need to start with what you know. From there it’s a matter of extrapolation. One gave as an example hearing the writers for Grey’s Anatomy–who are not doctors–explain how they do it. Since the show is about the people and not medicine, they write that part first, then add in the needed medical aspects.

How much does the writer owe the reader when writing about complex topics–medicine or any scientific matter, psychological conditions, etc.? Again, they all agreed, one needs to be accurate to a point, but readers have to be willing to tolerate leaps of faith in the interest of the story.

I can identify with that approach. I introduce a medical procedure that is pure fiction in The Expendable Man. It allows me, however, to move my character one step of the way to recovering his life, which is more important to me (and the reader, I hope) than whether the procedure is fact or fiction.

Finally, I liked Ann Hood’s tip for new writers: THINK MORE and WRITE LESS. She says she spends months thinking through her story before she starts writing. That may not work with everyone, but in general I endorse the concept. I’ve been playing around with an idea for a new novel for a couple of months now and I may not start working on it for several months more, but that doesn’t mean I’m not making progress. I set the framework (see above) and am now thinking the story through bit by bit. If the finished story comes close to the quality of writing produced by Ann Hood, I’ll be extremely happy.

Heading back to the Book Festival tomorrow for three exciting workshops–the weather be damned.

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