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Southwest Writers Workshop Draws Key Editors, Agents

Pub Date: Aug 1, 1997 | Columnist: Susan Mary Malone

"Story telling is bungee-jumping in emotional form."

–Christopher Vogler, Fox 2000

Southwest Writers Workshop Draws Key Editors, Agents

Insights and tips from the 15th Annual Conference

Page One of Two

Southwest Writers Workshop, one of the nation's largest, ended its three-day annual conference August 17 with a record attendance of 500 editors, agents and writers. The 15th annual event was held in the Hilton at Albuquerque, New Mexico, but will be moved to the Albuquerque Convention Center next year to accommodate its growing popularity.

Under the theme, "To dream, to dare, to do," the 1997 conference was highlighted by 19 editors from major publishing houses, eight literary agents and a host of successful authors.

Jacquelyn Mitchard, author of the bestseller, The Deep end of the Ocean (Viking Press), gave an inspirational keynote address. Her book has been optioned for film by Peter Guber, in partnership with Michelle Pfeiffer's production company, Via Rosa.

Featured speakers included Tony Hillerman, author of 24 books, including five bestsellers; Christopher Vogler, director of development at Fox 2000, a new division of 20th Century Fox, and Erika Holzer, author of Eye for an Eye, a suspense thriller published by Tor Books, produced last year as a Paramount Pictures feature starring Sally Field.

Here are highlights and insight tips from a series of outstanding workshop sessions:

Session Reports By Susan Malone

Authorlink! Associate Editor

 

General Fiction: New Maps for the Writer's Journey

Christopher Vogler

Director of development, Fox 2000, a division of 20th Century Fox

Vogler developed the feature films Courage under Fire, One Fine Day, and Volcano. He is the author of The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Storytellers and Screenwriters. "Storytelling is bungee-jumping in emotional form," said Christopher Vogler as he mapped out a clear step-by-step path to effective storytelling for both books and films. Using myths, models, and diverse symbolism, Vogler correlated the story's dramatic plot points to the twelve stages of the hero's journey, emphasizing strong character development.

"Studio Execs. want to see characters change and develop," Vogler said, "but not a wholescale change." He recommended a realistic character arc, where the hero doesn't completely change his or her nature, but rather experiments, and then comes back to center, if not to the exact same place. The ideas of polarity and opposition run through good characterization, Vogler said, causing conflict and friction.

But be careful, he cautioned, against letting the audience get ahead of you. "People know the predictable patterns. Mess them up some."

Vogler then began the twelve-stage journey.

Number One, "The Ordinary World" or the entrance to the tale, opens Act one, establishes the prime directive, and also foreshadows the end. "The Call to Adventure" begins the second stage , closely followed by "The Refusal of the Call", where the hero or another character questions the sanity of the quest. Then comes "The Meeting with the Mentor", which can be another character, or one's own intuition.

Stage Five, "Crossing the Threshold", occurs at a major plot point, and the juncture of Acts One and Two. Here, the commitment to the journey has been made. In Stage Six, "Tests, Allies, and Enemies", the hero experiences low-key tests, and learns about the new world. In the seventh, "Approach to the inmost Cave", the hero tests the opposing defenses, and in the eighth, "Going into the Depths", he faces his greatest fear. Stage Nine, "Rebirth", is the reward stage, and leads into the tenth, "The Road Back," or the turn for home.

The last act begins with Stage Eleven, "The Resurrection", and encompasses the supreme ordeal. Here, at the threshold of home, the hero is confronted with the supreme test, and all that he or she has learned up to this point comes into play. It provides the story's climax. And Stage Twelve, "The Return with the Elixir", is the denouement.

"Every good story has to put some fear into you," Vogler said. And the best ones, he added, bring you back to where you started from, which is now a different place. Science Fiction: SF & Fantasy: What is the Difference? Robert Vardeman

Author of 40 fantasy novels, 18 science fiction novels, and more than 50 series westerns.

"In hard science fiction, science itself is a background character, a part of the story," Vardeman began. It encompasses the hard sciences–physics, chemistry, biology, etc. It's hard to write, he added, and you must know your science. Also, only one impossible element should be in the story.

Soft science fiction on the other hand contains the non-reproducible sciences–sociology, psychology, etc.–and doesn't have the cause and effect of the former. "Most science fiction falls into the soft category," Vardeman stated.

Pure Fantasy covers the "quest" type books, and the main questions concern how the person interacts with the fantasy element. "Horror and fantasy go hand in bloody glove together," he added.

"Fantasy is easier in one way," Vardeman said. "If you slip up, you can say, 'well in my world . . . ' But in a way it's harder, because your world has to be consistent; there has to be a reason behind it, and you have to make it believable."

After all, he concluded, "You have created an entire world."

 

Ten Things Not to Do When Trying to Get Published

Laurie Chittenden

Associate Editor, Simon and Schuster

After beginning as an editorial assistant at Hyperion, Chittendon left after one year to work for Simon and Schuster where she acquired The Christmas Box and Timepiece. When making a decision to buy a manuscript, Chittendon asks two questions: "Is this a book I believe in?" And, "Is this a book you would be buried with on your chest?" In other words, she must be passionate about the books she buys.

Chittendon then listed ten things not to do when submitting:

Do not solicit more than one editor at the same publishing house at one time. Do not send on disk. Do not sent old manuscripts, and don't send via fax. Do not solicit an editor without knowing the novels they publish. Do not pressure, threaten, or bribe an editor. Do not forget to include all pertinent material: Fiction–whole manuscript; author bio; other publications; awards; reviews of previous work; blurbs from other well-known authors. Non-fiction–detailed outline; lecture schedule; sample chapters (one may be sufficient); bio; clips; reviews. Don't submit anything hand-written. Use correct format. Do not overexpose project in the media (mainly in non-fiction). Don't quote from other agents or editors who have rejected the manuscript, no matter how kindly. Don't forget about getting an agent.

And a bonus, number 11). Don't forget the value of editorial assistants' opinions. They're often more willing to spend time developing a writer.

She also listed 10 things she looks for in authors:

Dedicated to the message of goal of the project. Conveys the message of the project well both verbally and on paper. Somebody who's flexible and patient. Responsible, follows direction, meets deadlines. Organized. Listens and takes criticism well. Accessible personality and message. An author who is planning to write more, and develop a career. Knowledgeable about subject matter. Good writer who pays attention to detail and goes the extra mile.

Chittendon said she's most interested in well-composed and commercial plots, women's and ethnic issues. She's also looking for narrative non-fiction, pop culture, and books about creative connecting in relationships.

 

What Makes Suspense Work?

David Highfill

Senior Editor, G.P. Putnam's Sons

Highfill has been an editor for 10 years, specializing in mystery, suspense and mainstream fiction, and narrative nonfiction (biography and memoir, history, investigative journalism). "We're living in the golden age of mystery right now," Highfill began. "Forty to fifty mysteries are published each month. We're becoming much more aware. And Mystery readers want to be taken to a new place."

Highfill said he looks for three basic and universal things in fiction:

First, Narrative drive. This relates to basic story-telling ability, he said, and is about pace. It keeps you turning pages. "Narrative Drive has to do with what you choose to tell, and when you choose to tell it," he added.

Next, Highfill wants a Hitchcockian sense of surprise or inversion. He looks for stories where the writer has laid solid groundwork, and then thinks it out creatively.

And third is the desire to feel something. Highfill seeks writers who "create the emotional element and the emotional payoff."

The trend is toward bigger thrillers these days–intense, where the essential relationships are in danger. Science is also hot in mysteries, he said, Crichton-like works, with different, unusual subjects. Also, women in mysteries and thrillers–a woman going into what was once a man's world, such as medicine, the law, the military.

Putnam specializes in commercial fiction, and publishes mostly fiction. Highfill is looking for the darker, more dangerous mysteries, thrillers with style, great voices, and beautifully written work.

Copyright, Authorlink! 1997