Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Writer's Conference

2012 Willamette Writers Conference
August 3-5

The Willamette Writers Conference brochure is available. It contains the schedule of workshops plus bios for the presenters, agents, and editors in attendance. Conference attendees may sign up for individual or group pitches. The workshops cover fiction genres, nonfiction, and film. Registration opens May 1.

The Airport Sheraton once again hosts the conference (one of the largest in the US). Based on my past attendance, the hotel staff do a phenomenal job managing the demands of the large crowd. The Sheraton offers room discounts for conference attendees, and it's accessible by mass transit.

If you can't afford the conference fee -- volunteer! Each workshop has a volunteer room monitor who gets to listen to the presentation for free for the price of making sure the presenter has everything he or she needs.

Word of advice for attendees and volunteers:  have your "elevator pitch" ready. The ubiquitous conversation opener at the conference is "What are you writing?" The person asking may be another aspiring author, an agent, or an editor. The opportunity to pitch your project may occur at any time.

I haven't decided if I will attend this year. Once again I have nothing to pitch. I've stalled out on Galactic Empress, and I'm reworking my approach to The Adventure of the Blood Stone. There are several workshops I'd like to attend. Each time a go to the conference a little more sinks in. This year there is more emphasis on electronic publishing, and once again the conference offers a strong YA track. Hmmm. Maybe a group pitch? We'll see.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Book Club: "The Eyre Affair"

I'm a fan of Jasper Fforde and this was my second reading of The Eyre Affair. Once again, the book made me laugh out loud as I read about an alternate Great Britain where the Crimean War still raged in 1985 and reverse extinction has resurrected dodo birds as pets.

Not so much for other members of our neighborhood book club. Two hadn't finished it -- one of whom found the book confusing and the other has not yet read Jane Eyre. A third member thought the author was just too clever and overly pleased with himself for being clever. That left two of us who enjoyed the book. Our unenthusiastic reader thought the actions of antagonist Acheron Hades were inconsistent, although she did find Spike (special agent for vampire and werewolf disposal) to be an interesting character. Although humorous, the book's themes included endless wars, corporate monopolies, and the doubtful applications of science.

I did locate some book club questions to initiate our discussion. The premise of the Thursday Next series is the ability of people to "jump" into and out of novels. Sort of a theater-in-the-round, genuine 3D version of the book. The prose portal machine facilitates the entry into books, but some people have the natural ability to enter and exit novels. So -- we discussed which books we would like to enter.

Pride and Prejudice and Gone With the Wind were destinations we all agreed on. One member wanted to journey with the Hobbits in The Lord of the Rings. Of course the settings of novels are romanticized and our discussion veered off into the reality of historical periods. Castles are cold and dank places to live, our modern sensibilities would be overwhelmed by the distasteful smells of past eras, and none of us wanted to be sick or injured prior to the advances of modern medicine.

In the process of "saving" Jane Eyre from the nefarious Acheron Hades who absconded with the original manuscript, protagonist Thursday Next changed the "original" dull ending to the one we know today. We talked about book endings we would change. Our romantic selves wanted to tweak Jane Eyre so Rochester wasn't the scarred and blinded man rescued by Jane's love. And we wished Anna Karenina had a happier ending. I wondered if a visitor could hang around after the ending of the novel (apparently not), since I'd like to remain in Gone With the Wind to see how Scarlett fared with Rhett.

As for the special powers exhibited by some of the characters (visiting novels, time travel, immortality), we pretty much agreed we would prefer time travel. One member said it would be less restrictive than the limited worlds of novels, and another thought it would be fascinating to learn more about the motivations behind historical figures and events.

Like most book clubs, our discussions veer off topic. But The Eyre Affair seemed particularly difficult for the group to stick to the subject. One member observed that several of our recent reads lacked rising tension to the climactic scene. That turned into a discussion of recent trends in books with lukewarm plots and anti-hero protagonists. I'm afraid I went into a mini-rant against the Twilight series that inspired the even more badly written Shades of Grey. That raised the perennial question of how such horribly written books become best sellers beside gems like To Kill a Mockingbird.

Our next book is The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Northwest Author Series: Kevin Sampsell

The Book World:  From Reader to Published Author

Kevin Sampsell is an author and a publisher, plus he has the bibliophile's dream job:  he works at Powell's City of Books.

Kevin didn't provide "how to" information for the attendees. Instead, he related his unexpected journey from reluctant student and non-reader into the world of books and writers.

Raised in Washington's Tri-Cities region, young Kevin wrote song lyrics for his future career as a rock star. ☺ Lyrics evolved into poetry. With little interest in school, Kevin bypassed college but did attend broadcasting school and worked briefly in the industry. He was in his early twenties before he gave reading a try, mainly true crime, Tom Robbins, Kurt Vonnegut, etc. He continued writing poetry and started to participate in open mike events as well as submit his work to small magazines. Kevin produced chap books of his poems to share with friends and distribute at readings. When friends asked for his assistance with creating chap books of their own work, he established Future Tense Books.

Kevin also set up poetry readings for friends and others whose work he appreciated. He was an early participant in and success at Poetry Slams. Through his open mike and modest publishing connections, he was hired in a seasonal position with Powell's. This led to a permanent job at the headquarters store. When the event planner resigned to focus on her writing career, Kevin applied for and was selected for the position where his past experience with setting up readings was highlighted.

Future Tense Books gained noticed when it published Zoe Trope's Please Don't Kill the Freshmen, her observations of life written while attending high school. The small paperback was well received and garnered the young author a contract with Harper Collins for an expanded version.

Kevin published his own memoirs of growing up in a a small town as A Common Pornography (not a pornographic work, he is quick to state) which was also picked up by a major New York publisher in longer form. New connections within the writing world brought Kevin the opportunity to write book reviews, and writing-related articles for Associated Press. The success of Future Tense Books brought Kevin the job of editing Portland Noir, an anthology of crime-related stories. In addition to publishing two to three books a year, Kevin currently has a novel in progress.

For someone who was not an early reader and who never plotted out a career in writing, Kevin Sampsell ended up with a life that many an English Major would envy.

The message I took away was Kevin's immersion in the writing world established contacts and opportunities, and each phase of involvement in the book world opened the door to the next one. He was willing to begin in a small way and didn't expect to his a home run the first time out.

Kevin provided hope and encouragement to the attendees. Kevin wanted us to know that it's never too late to begin a writing career. Nor is a college degree in English, Journalism, or Creative Writing a prerequisite. Persistence and a willingness to learn, however, go a long way toward building a writing career.

The Northwest Author Series is winding down as the summer months approach. The last session for the 2011-12 season is scheduled for May 6:  "Much Ado About Middle Grade" presented by Heather Vogel Frederick.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

In Tribute: Amy Tryon

The linked article at Horse Junkies United does an excellent job of paying tribute to Amy Tryon who recently passed away. She exemplified what it takes to work a demanding full-time job while pursuing excellence in equestrian sport.

The Pacific Northwest horse community mourns her untimely death.

Monday, April 9, 2012

It's a Sport

Rich Fellers and Flexible
We have an area rider who has made the long list for the U.S. Olympic Equestrian Team. The Oregonian covered the story in the March 28 issue of the paper -- in the Community section for our region of the Portland metro area. Not the sports pages.

It seems only horse racing is considered an equestrian sport by the news media. When equestrian events are covered at all, the newspaper places the story in the Metro or Living section. The local television stations relegate it to the human interest segment.

I guess, like the other "orphan sports," we horse people should be thankful that we get coverage at all. Although the media seems willing to include stories about our local Olympic fencing medalist with sports updates.

Rodeo is an outing for families, hunter/jumpers and eventing are mentioned only when there is video of a spectacular crash, dressage is mispronounced and amusingly described, combined driving is quaint, competitive trail and endurance racing are unheard of, and breed shows don't even exist.

Oh well. Maybe it's best that horse sports are our own little secret. If we received coverage in the Sports section we'd probably be a larger target for PETA. Even though my friends and I want to be reincarnated as our pampered equines.  ;-)

Friday, April 6, 2012

Follow Up: The Movie

My friends and I waited until after Spring Break for our area schools to attend a matinee showing of The Hunger Games yesterday. I don't know how well someone who hadn't read the books could keep up with the story, but I thought it was well done. The books are written in first person from Katniss' POV, which challenges movie makers to turn a character's thoughts into a visual representation. Thus some of the changes in the movie version of the story. Nothing really irritating. Multiple characters and story lines in a novel have to be pared down for a theatrical release.

As I indicated in my last post, the three books really tell a single story and the ending of the movie wasn't a very satisfying conclusion. That's because there is more to come.

I did have difficulty with the bouncing camera technique used in many scenes. I guess it's supposed to give the viewer a sense of immediacy and being in the scene. But I have an astigmatism and I get headaches trying to focus on a book in a moving car.

The whole premise of the books and movie is violence done to and by children. Much of it was displayed very briefly for the viewer to imagine what was done. And in all cases Katniss, the character with whom we are expected to empathize, displayed distaste for it.

I admit -- I'm out of it. I wasn't familiar with the young actors playing the main characters. They all did well. But I have to say, Donald Sutherland is at his slimy best, and Stanley Tucci is hilarious as the over-the-top broadcast celebrity. The costume designers and make-up artists must have had a blast clothing the citizens of The Capitol.

I admit, I'm not a movie critic. But I think the movie expressed the theme of the book, and it certainly held my attention throughout. I'm looking forward to the next installment in the series.