By Helen Raine
In around April last year, I had just finished my first novel. At least, I thought I had. And then I attended the Kauai Writers Conference.
About ten minutes into the first presentation, I had a list of about twenty improvements. Then the next panelist threw in structure and story arc. A Best-Selling-Author talked about pacing and character development. And it turned out that even my ruddy punctuation needed some work (I’m British, what can I say? You Americans must have missed the quotations memo). My list got longer and the idea of imminent publication more distant.
That might sound a teensy bit depressing, but it was the best thing that could have possibly happened to me. The book just wasn’t ready. It was a prototype, a rough draft, a beginning, covered in scratches and bashed up at the edges. But the expert speakers were the balm it needed, a bit of tough love to straighten it out and make it fly again.
And the conference offered exactly the kind of support that I needed too. I’d been working away on the book in a little vacuum, emerging, bleary eyed, to bounce plot ideas off my husband who is mainly into zombie movies and therefore of limited help unless you want your hero’s throat bitten out. At KWC, there were dozens of people, going through the same thing as me; wrestling with their wayward characters and trying to rescue storylines that kept nose-diving off the Na Pali cliffs. Not only could the attendees nod sympathetically at these issues, there were real-live-published-writers who could tell you how they solved those problems, and agents who could advise you (in the nicest possible way), at which point they would have stopped reading your masterpiece and exactly why that was.
The speakers were also clear on the reality of publishing today. It’s no good sending off the apple of your literary eye to an agent, sitting back and waiting for the money to flood in. They will google you and you will be found wanting or, quite possibly, entirely absent from the web-o-sphere. We had seminars on setting up author platforms, self-publishing, social media and more. Being an author is no longer just about writing a half decent manuscript. Getting it out there is what it’s all about.
I’d like to say that I went home, polished up the book, whipped up a webpage and am now on track to be a best selling author, mixing with the Hollywood elite as I sell the rights to the movie script. Sadly, it would not be entirely true. The book is still a work in progress and my celebrity experience remains limited to spotting Pierce Brosnan on the beach at Haena. But I am so much further forward in terms of creating a book that actually works. (I do have a webpage though!)
I’ll be back at the conference this time – there’s still so much more to learn from the other writers and from the speakers. If you have the vaguest inclination to write, or a byte-marked manuscript tumbling around in your hard drive, KWC is the catalyst you need to make it great. I’ll see you there.
Author’s note: other key considerations - the muffins were really excellent; the coffee was unlimited; and did I mention the venue is on the beach? On the most beautiful island in the world? You should probably just book now.
Our member, Jean Rhude, pictured receiving an award for her memoir-in-progress, shared this great article with me today. Follow the link. It'll be well worth your time!
A Memoir is Not a Status Update
By: Joe Clifford
I recently got back from teaching my two-day workshop at the Kauai Writers Conference. Two long twelve-hour days, jammed packed with instruction, learning and socializing, as I wowed the crowd with such titillating titles as “Crime & Mystery: Breaking Apart the Mystery and Planting the Clues”; “Using Past Troubles for Future Gains”; “How to Make Setting a Character in Your Novel”; “15 Ways to Escape a Turkish Prison with Only a Bar of Soap and a Dream”
(we never got to that last one). Dorky writer stuff that I just love.
At the end of the first day, I had a bitching headache. I’m talking whole face aching, thundering in the dome, pulsating artery pain. By the time I returned to the hotel room, Justine had finished the day's adventures with the boy, who was already passed out asleep. One look at my face, she asked what was wrong.
“I think I have a headache from smiling too much,” I said. “I’m not used to using those facial muscles.” Happiness for that gentleman hurts.
I think my cover was blown this weekend. You all know how much I pride myself on my negativity, my ability, to quote Mike TV of Get Set Go, to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory
. I work really hard to stay unhappy. It’s what I do. It’s who I am. It is how I identify myself, how I have for a long, long time. But for too long now, everything has been coming my way.
Way back in the Salad Days, my buddy, Matt, and I went tripping on mushrooms in the Marin Headlands. And as the heavy, cold fog descended with the midnight gloam, blanketing heath and hill, the trip started out pretty shitty. But then that Santana song came on the radio
, and everything was OK. Because when you are tripping on ’shrooms, a good or bad trip sometimes comes down to the song the DJ plays at that moment.
Older now, I leave less to chance in my life. I remember once saying to a counselor in rehab that I was “at the mercy of my moods.” Seemed there was so little I could do to shake off a funk. If I woke up that day “on the wrong side of the bed,” I lacked the requisite coping skills to change it. Makes sense. Up until that point, I had been regulating my mood with narcotics. One pills makes you small. One pill makes you tall. Sometimes it's just best to call it quits.
A little up. A little down. I simply had never learned how to control how I felt through healthier channels. Of course these days life is a pretty sweet fruit
, mostly because I have carved out a living that does not involve my wearing pants.
The great thing about the Kauai Writers Conference
, besides its being held on one of the most beautiful places on Earth and sponsored by some of the nicest people I've ever met, was how much I felt I was able to help others, namely other writers. You all know I am no fan of the hippy. I’m not into yoga.
I don’t worry about radioactive fish, I vaccinate my kid; and even though I know climate change is very real and a very bad thing, I mostly champion resolution because I can’t stand the Right’s ridiculous denial of the issue. In short, I’m a strange bird. A leftie whose veggie diesel bug runs on hate.
How could anyone be unhappy with these two?
My lovely wife, Justine, says my misery is all schtick. She may be right. Don’t forget, I’m the same dude with “Peace, Love, and Understanding”
on his (massive) biceps (and, kids, grammar lesson one of the day: even if it is only one arm, it is “biceps,” never “bicep”). There was a time when I believed in the better parts of man, but the years of hard living and abuse stomped all that love, hope and positivity out of me.
I realized this weekend there might still be a shred of optimism left. I’ll admit: I drank a little of the Kool-Aid
. The writers I had the privilege of teaching were so hungry, receptive, so talented, from all walks of life, with such open spirits and positive attitudes. And the tie that bound them all together was how earnestly they desired get their work into the world. I only wanted to spare them the rejection I suffered. And I knew how to help. And I wanted
to help. Which is weird because I think it springs from an authentic place in my cold, black heart.
I once published a hilarious, tongue-in-cheek piece in Helix
magazine by Dan Jewett
, which featured 30+ mean-spirited witticisms. Dan and I lived in San Francisco together, where the constant stream of do-gooding conspired to create contrarian tendencies. The umpteenth request for “kind buds" makes you want to scream! Eventually, you just want to watch the world burn
. One of lines in Dan’s essay was “When you stop to help other people, you have wasted your time and resources.” (Another: “If you own more than 3 cats you may be insane.”) And I promise, my fellow misanthropes, I still loathe humanity. In general. But to a man? I'm sorry. I love the fuckers. I really, really do. And I especially
love those who remind me of me.
Standing at the lectern (grammar lesson two, kids: we stand on
a podium, in front of
the lectern), seeing how much I was helping, goddamn, it made me feel good. I love teaching
, pure and simple. And I am good at it.
It wasn’t long ago, I was sitting in that crowd, listening to another author, probably David Corbett
, thinking, “Man, if I can just get what he has, I’ll be happy.” Of course it doesn’t work that way. Just getting published doesn’t make one “happy.”
But I do believe being a part of some bigger thing nourishes the soul. Giving back what I’ve been given. Universal reciprocity. Helping others the way I’ve been helped. This isn’t purely selfless. On its own it isn’t even necessarily a “good” thing. I mean, I don’t think of it like that. It is just our responsibility, man, each and every one of us: to leave this world a better place than we found it; to be part of the solution, not the problem; to practice kindness over cruelty; to eschew self-serving malice and greed in favor of empathy and charity.
So either my worse fears are coming true and I am becoming a dirty, stinking hippy—no, until I stop showering and start bathing in patchouli, boning strangers with STDs atop some crappy metal sculpture at Burning Man
, howling about my “life changing experience,” I’ll choose to view it another way. In a field of sorrow and pain, where the path of the righteous man is offset by douchebags like Dick Cheney and his ilk, I am just trying real hard to be the shepherd
By: Bettejo Dux
There is a river. It’s called Amazon. On that river, the best book I ever wrote, Children of the Extinction, drifts like a golden straw in a torrential library so vast, and overflowing with debris, it boggles.
When The Scam, my humorous novel, flew to New York in 1985, it snagged a New York Agent. it was a fledgling trying its wings in the biggest apple tree in America. In those days my books began on long, yellow, legal scratched and scarred with lead from loaded pencils, then typed on pristine sheets of paper on a portable typewriter my husband had taken to college. He often laughed and said I married him because he had one.
Bill wanted to be the writer but, it turned out, I was. Why I started so late in life (I was 24) is another story. As I advanced through the ranks, he bragged to pals I was a budding Dorothy Parker. Most of my first published works were humor. Humor’s hard to write, hard to sell, but I was pretty good at it. I got jobs in the writing business, a Windward-side weekly, the Pali Press, then uptown for the Honolulu Star Bulletin/Advertiser Sunday paper. I also acted professionally, at the Hilton, where I excelled as a comedian. Love making people laugh.
Then Kauai. One of the loveliest islands in the world. A third world country - sugar was king - with a different idea of what the wife of a department head - a knight at the table - should be. Spout party line. Don’t rock boat. Give and go to parties. Play the game. I didn’t excel at the party/game playing level and spoke my mind. Neither publishing nor theater was at its peak. Back to writing meant: letters; columns; political, peace and environmental criticism. The Garden Island Newspaper's wonderful editors and staff became my friends.
After my husband died, I self-published The Scam, a timeless, funny piece about hippies in the 60′s -- which is why New York didn’t publish it. “Wouldn’t touch the 60′s with a ten foot pole,” said they in1985. Today - 2014 - they will. The good old days remembered. The future plundered with religious end-of-the- world vicious madness.
Which brings us to EXTINCTION. The mess we’ve made of this planet, this island, is heartbreaking stuff. Kauai in the future. A future gone bad. An apocalyptic time, “They were the best of men at the worst of times,” says the narrator of this sad tale.
Today to get published one must first get a NY agent and the odds against that are 30,000 to one. I won’t put my horse in that race, but I’m compelled to tell the truth. To write my heart out in a whole new game. Computers. Words on a screen flashing through cyber like ET through space.
By Jai Roberts
The steely sky pisses on me as I run through the parking lot for the main entrance of the courtyard Marriott. At least I won’t miss the usual Memorial Day family barbeque; with this weather, it will certainly be cancelled. Spending the weekend inside on Kauai might not be such a bad idea after all. Late, as usual, I bolt for the doors of the Paddle Room just as they swing shut. Surprise! The room is full of people! Rows of cloth covered banquet tables with over 50 people (most of them I don’t even know, already seated pens in hand) face an orchid laden podium. I had anticipated our usual Wokians (Write-On Kauai) group but this is so much bigger. Everything is so professional looking, even a welcome folder with my own name on it!
Deciding to be a part of the writer’s conference and spend a whole weekend learning what writers do to be successful was something I fell into without much forethought. Here I was a, novice with a few blogs under my belt, part of a very serious weekend with real writers and presenters. I felt a little intimidated but excited too.
After a beautiful Hawaiian chant and blessing, Jill Landis, the keynote speaker, hit the stage. One thing about being at this writer’s convention, the quality of the presentations is outstanding. Kind of makes sense when you think about it -- which I had not. I have read a few of Jills books; they make great beach reads. I love that they are set on Kauai and have copious amounts of drama. Her first words were you have to be a little crazy to do this, totally crazy to stay with this but if you can’t do anything else even though it is not easy, don’t quit. She tells us to learn our craft, learn how to write...learn about texture and point of view, who is telling the story. Tell the story!
Jill speaks fast and peppers her speech with fun euphemisms. She tells us it is good to join a writers group but to remember not to defend our work, but to go home and change it or leave it. Opinions, she says, are like assholes. Everyone has one. I love that her message is one of just do it, find your rhythm, find what works for you. If you only write one page a day at the end of a year you will have a 365 page book! If you decide in the middle of a book that your character is the wrong sex don’t go back and change it perform an immediate sex operation and continue writing, get it down, keep going revisions can come later. She talks like she writes -- fast, furious and funny. If you have read her books, you know, you just can’t put them down. I love her advice that whatever drama you have going on in your story make it worse!
Next up is Joe Clifford, young, good looking in a bad-boy, haven’t shaved for a week kind of way; Joe talks even faster and is all over the place. I am immediately enticed, lost and mesmerized all at the same time. To make matters worse he mumbles and I can hardly hear him! I do pick up that he is a crime writer and believes that
setting is supremely important; that we have to set up the scene to tell the story. I like that he is talking about memoir, something I am striving to write. In fact I have recently sketched out my very first page. I love that he gives us an exercise to write out a setting and that I get to read mine. Somehow, I have never realized just how important setting is to storytelling.
After lunch, during which time it was fun to meet other writers from across the Island and the ocean, Elisabeth Kracht from Kimberly Cameron and Associates instructs us on how to write the perfect Query letter to get our work seen by a publishing house. She emphasizes that you need to make your work stand out to an agent. Also, you have to follow the rules of your genre and not expect too much at first. It is difficult finding a publisher. Less then 1% of writers ever do and it will likely take many submissions before any kind of success. Social media expertise, having your own blog and published short stories she considers pretty much essential for acceptance. I thought it interesting that the thousands of manuscripts she needs to screen yearly she must read away from her work on evenings and weekends. They do not represent part of her job description!
A Read-a-Palooza of participants’ work follows. The experts critique the works and give valuable feedback to the writers. By the time we break my head is swimming. This writing game is quite involved and who knew there were all these rules to follow? One thing is certain, at the end of the day I am more jazzed about writing then ever before.
The evening session by our own Kauai Writer Tom Corson-Knoles is titled “Exploding the Myths About Self Publishing.” Unfortunately I am too bushed to attend. Word on the floor the next morning is that the session was awesome and really informative. I am sorry to have missed it.
Sunday dawns rainy and overcast again. This time I arrive on time and ready to go. The morning session with Liz titled “101 things to Check before Submitting Your Manuscript” could be a book in itself. Joe follows with an entertaining scenario on “How to Make your Clues” add up! He says if you get stuck have someone enter the room with a gun! Also be a good thief and steal all the good ideas you read about in other books and make them your own. Another of his tips is to have a pen and paper ready when reading or just everywhere you are to jot down your ideas. Do not let them get away!
I am touched by how friendly and accessible Jill, Liz, Joe and Tom are. They really have poured their hearts into their presentations and are helpful and engaging whenever we talk. Jill invites us to email her for a character sheet. I do and it arrives the next day. Joe invites us to friend his Facebook page and subscribe to his blog. Best of all Liz tell us to mention that we attended the Kauai Writers Conference and she will give us special consideration when we submit work to her.
As the day winds down I look out the front picture windows of the Paddle Room. Ten or so fancy-dressed umbrella-toting guests have gathered chatting in the rain oceanfront. Here comes the bride and groom braving the raindrops. The servers are hastily wiping off the chairs neatly spaced facing the view. Just as the minister arrives the clouds part and a gorgeous double rainbow appears as the wedding ceremony unfolds. The scene is set!
The people that made this weekend possible my neighbors, David and Hiyaguha, Christophher , David Dinner, Camile and Rick and the presenters take the stage to loud clapping from all the participants. It was truly a memorable experience for all of us and we are all feeling grateful. Our hopes and prayers are that it becomes and annual event.
In the end we learn that the hardest profession on earth is to be a published author. Even if we do get published we likely will not be able to make a living from our work alone. Very few people get to do that. Maybe I’m crazy, but my interest in writing has only grown stronger over the weekend. I know I will leave pens and paper all over the house to capture my ideas and random thoughts. I will steal from my favorite authors and set up a scene on paper whenever I can. It might not pay but what can you do when you can’t do anything else!
By: Dave Rosenberg
After the Kauai Writers Conference, Liz asked to see some pages from my novel-in-progress. I was dumbfounded. It's one thing to share your work with your writing peers, but quite another to hand it over to a skilled literary agent. I ran to my computer, printed out some pages and committed every rookie mistake that Joe described in one of his great talks. Page numbers got dropped off, I left my own editorial comments in the manuscript, spacing and formatting varied wildly from section to section, section titles were only randomly present. In a word: Oey.
Liz and I are due to talk next week and I wouldn't blame her if she gave me a hiding for my amateurish presentation of my work. The lesson here is to not let excitement or opportunity get the better of you. Far better to be left brained -- attend to the fine details so that your presentation of your work is professional and easy for the agent to get through -- than to take the wrong-brained approach that I did. I can only hope that Liz has the patience to work her way through my pages.