My first-ever writer’s conference

As approach Thanksgiving I though I’d share a few thoughts on the 2014 Baltimore Writer’s conference I recently attended. This was my first-ever writer’s conference and looking back at it it was an interesting time. Sadly, no photos ūüė¶

The highlights:

  • Took place at the campus of Towson University.
  • -about 125 people, mostly under 30. Mostly White but there was some diversity (more than the publishing industry, I’d guess)
  • -Four session times offered. I first went to the session called “Publish your own lit journal”¬†The takeaways were: don’t quit your day job, set specific times to allow for author submissions, get a great cover designer, figure out the costs for physical copies if you’re selling, and make sure you have a phenomenal editor team in place to read submissions. One magazine assigns one editor per genre, another passes it around to 5-6 editors and has a “two votes and you’re out” policy. Despite the challenges facing print publishing the publishers featured were enthusiastic about what they publish, seeing it as more of a hobby or life-long fulfillment than as a way to make millions.
  • -The second session I went to a session called “how to craft a better query letter” which turned out to be about how to pitch story ideas to a local Baltimore feature magazine. The session was not that interesting to me since I have no desire to become a reporter for any local featurettes, so I went to the “creating dialogue for fiction” session, which had about half the total conference participants in it. Although I missed the beginning I got these tips:
  • -don’t use dialog in low-contect situations. Skip hellos, goodbyes, self-appraisals, and statements of feelings (can use in high-contect situations like family feuds and spousal arguments)
  • Characters only ask, say, answer, and reply. They never chortle!
  • Strike out words like “Oh, yes, well, so, um, etc.
  • Avoid dialect in dialog.
  • Avoid over-telling
  • Have characters do stuff while they talk. People don’t always sit around doing nothing.
  • 3 lines of dialogue per one character speech. Save longer monologues for specific situations.

Do you agree/disagree with any of these?

After a lunch of penne paste and grilled chicken I had a critique section! Jessica Blau, who wrote a best-seller, critiqued my work. She liked my chapter but we disagreed on some of the dialogue structure. She did catch a few errors but it would have been nicer to show her an entire book and not just one¬†short chapter.¬†A good experience; I’d never had work critique by anyone before. My mom doesn’t count. I was surprised only 30 of the conference attendees came to this session. Maybe they didn’t have anything they were ready to have critiqued.

There last session was by a woman named Bonnie Friedman who talked about “Envy fear, distractions, and other dilemmas in the writer’s life”. This was a forum attended by younger people who had to suffer anxiety, frustration, and a lack of support from friends or family in regards to their writing career. I know this: tell people you write and most folks are either unimpressed or they don’t think I’m spending my time wisely. I hope they’re wrong! One girl started crying and she said she suffered from anxiety issues related to her work. Later on the elevator on the way down she told me she had a mental health issue. I won’t divulge her name but let’s just say it isn’t the way you want to introduce yourself to people. Even if she was telling the truth, there’s a time and place to talk about those things and a writer’s conference with strangers isn’t one of them.

Overall I had a great time. I met a few people I hopefully will talk to in the future and  who knows: Maybe somewhere in that conference call is a person who will write a best-seller or a Hollywood blockbuster.

I’ll have a post on Tuesday, my last before Thanksgiving, providing a few fun (and little-known) Thanksgiving facts. Until then, !hasta luego!

Novels for men: Do guys still read books?

                                                         

                            (photo credit: allposters.com)                                            (photo credit: blogs.uvu.edu)    

As I have mentioned before, I am a guy who likes to read and write books. Only it seems that outside of the sci-fi.fantasy realm the majority of books published are books women prefer, such as paranormal romance and YA thrillers with female heroines and female-centric plots.

First, let me state that I’m not objecting to the so-called “chick-lit”. There is absolutely nothing wrong with paranormal romance or dystopian societies if you are into those things. Just because one person doesn’t like a book doesn’t mean others won’t, a practice which seems to be forgotten in the publishing industry,

From last year’s National Endowment for the Arts survey:

The NEA has partnered with the United States Census Bureau six times since 1982 to conduct the SPPA. The 2012 survey asked a nationally representative sample of adults ages 18 and older if they had participated in five broad categories of arts activity in the past year: attending, reading, learning, making/sharing art, and consuming art via electronic media.

  • More than two-thirds of American adults (71 percent or 167 million) accessed art via electronic media, including TV, radio, hand-held or mobile devices, the Internet, and DVDs, CDs, tapes, or records.
  • Music viewing and/or listening is the most popular form of media arts participation‚ÄĒwhether on TV, radio, or the Internet. Fifty percent of adults used TV or radio to watch or listen to music, and 29 percent used the Internet to watch, listen to, or download music.

 Reading Books and Literature

  • More than half of American adults read a work of literature or a book (fiction or nonfiction) not required for work or school. However, adults’ rates of literary reading (novels or short stories, poetry, and plays) dropped back to 2002 levels (from 50 percent in 2008 to 47 percent in 2012).
  • Older Americans (65 and older) now have higher rates of literary reading than any other adult age group.¬†

 

And then there’s this little nugget of info:

Women tend to simply read more than men — one study by the Associated Press found that among avid readers, women read nine books a year while men read five. The men outpaced the women in reading biographies and historical books, though, and booksellers say that women make up the clear majority of fiction readers.

According to one theory, women read more fiction than men because they possess greater quantities of mirror neurons. Mirror neurons are activated when we do something, as well as when we watch somebody else do the same thing. In other words, mirror neurons help us put ourselves in another person’s shoes, and they are tied closely to empathy. It’s possible that women are better able to empathize with fictional characters because of their mirror neurons, which makes them more likely to invest in characters’ journeys.

Both the Associated Press poll and a 2007 poll from the National Endowment for the Arts have tracked declines in reading for pleasure among Americans. The NEA poll showed that literary reading has declined for both genders, across all education levels and in nearly every age group. It also said that only 47 percent of adults had read a novel, short story, play or poem in the past year . The report showed that the gap between reading scores for male and female 12th-grade students had widened from 1992 to 2005. Girls outperformed boys on literary reading, reading for information and reading to perform a task. Women also outscored men on adult literacy tests.

(source: “Why do women read more fiction than men?” Curiosity.discover.com)

I can’t give the scientific answer about empathy and mirror neurons, but it is well-known that women are generally more emotion than men. It’s why your girlfriend/wife/mother/sister/ BFF can cry to a romantic movie but you the guy are probably bored or indifferent. You may also have noticed just how many romance novels there are.

The sad truth is that reading for pleasure overall is down, as the NEA study noted. Though older people like my grandma still read for pleasure for most people it’s just easier to play Angry Birds or Candy Crush (or whatever the newest game is) than it is to pick up a book and spend even one hour reading it.

Also, children who are not read to by their parents or guardians are generally less likely to pick up good reading habits than children whose parents or guardians read to them on a reasonably regular basis. There is a study by the Annie E Casey Foundation that children who enter the fourth grade unable to read are almost 90% of those students who end up dropping out of high school and/or ending up incarcerated.

However, let’s not totally blame the people. Perhaps some people aren’t interested in what gets put out. Most men I know are not interested in reading romance, including paranormal romance. Some men will buy dystopian thrillers but it becomes harder and harder to stand out in the crowded dystopian market (Hugh Howey’s Wool actually did on its own-but it’s the exception to the rule). Given how much is being published it becomes harder and harder to find a niche, but they do exist. Too few people ever think outside the box.

How does this fit into men and boys reading less? One organization says Boys read 10 minutes per day less than girls¬† (we aren’t counting texts and social media postings, but real reading). Another says boys generally have lower levels of literacy comprehension.¬†If these boys do not become avid reader they will most likely become men who are not avid reads, particularly of fiction.

I think the solution is, without degrading the literacy levels of girls and women, is simple: get kids, boys especially, excited about reading. Find new ways to introduce reading, whether through traditional publishing, e-books, or short stories. Make the material somewhat engaging, perhaps removing the “classics” (this is another blogpost!) with books kids might be interested in. Encourage parents with elementary school or pre-school kids to read at least four nights a week to the kids.¬†

What do you think? Why do men and boys generally read less? Am I being too short-sighted and not seeing the overall lower reading levels? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

COMING UP NEXT: I will post a Vlog (or link to) my review of one vlog by John Green, Author of “The Fault in Our Stars”. I wanted to comment on a particular video of his on Israel and Gaza.¬†

Coming up soon: The art of storytelling. How many of your readers know how to tell persuasive stories? I will begin a series here where I will explain the art of storytelling and how to keep an audience hooked.

Lack of ethnic diversity in writing and in movies?

I came across this graph at the blog¬†fuckyeahscifiwomenofcolour.tumblr.com/. The original website it comes from is from Lee and Low’s blogsite Read it and think about it:

medievalpoc: leeandlow submitted to medievalpoc: The Diversity Gap in the highest grossing science fiction and fantasy films. Sad, right? You can see the full study¬†here. I highly recommend reading the entire article. from the infographic: Among the top 100 domestic grossing films:‚ÄĘ only 8% of films star a protagonist of color‚ÄĘ of the 8¬†protagonists of color, all are men; 6¬†are played by Will Smith and 1 is a cartoon character (Aladdin)‚ÄĘ 0% of protagonists are women of color‚ÄĘ 0% of protagonists are LGBTQ‚ÄĘ 1% of protagonists are people with a disability

and this from the Lee and Low website:

If you are a minority/person of color and you have aspired to becoming a writer (yours truly speaks in the first person on this one) you may look at this and become convinced that the odds of becoming a bestselling author are slim, or if you are writing a book with a lot of minority characters (includes LGBTQ) in it your novel will not sell. While I am not sure what Lee and Low think the primary cause of the dearth of non-heretosexual Caucasian authors and characters are, I can offer my best guesses for a few of these items (warning: my opinions on most matters are well-informed and based on my expertise and/or knowledge of a subject. If facts bother you, this is not the blogsite for you!):

First off I am surprised only 14% of movies have a female protagonist. They may be referring to movies like Lucy¬†or¬†The Hunger Games¬†where the primary protagonist is female. The lack of villains of color (assuming Darth Vader doesn’t count) is likely due to the fact that Caucasians dominate Hollywood and there is fear that if they make the “bad guy/girl” a minority they will be charged with racism, so it’s safer just to make the villain¬†Caucasian.

As for the books, the first truth is¬†well-read and well-educated people tend to become authors. Well, the sad reality is that many Black and Hispanic children are behind White and Asian peers when it comes to reading and writing. In some states, like Delaware where I live, the difference can be as much as two full grade levels difference (i.e. White child in 6th grade reads like a 6th grader should, Black or Hispanic child are at 4th grade level). Children who don’t grow up around books and who can read them are less likely to want to write them someday.

The other truth is income-based; Many low-income children grow up in a single-parent household, and often that single parent does not read to the children on a regular basis the way parents with higher incomes or education read to their kids. Since reading has long been seen as something predominately solid middle, upper-middle, and upper-classes do, and most Americans in those categories are White, then it’s logical most authors will come from households where reading was encouraged over home where it is not.

It’s also therefore logical that the vast majority of those whose jobs depends on writing of some kind, including agents, publishers, editors, book reviewers, screenwriters, movie producers, directors, etc., come from the same backgrounds. Don’t believe me? Go look for an agent or publisher and tell me what seems to stand out. If indeed the facts mentioned above are in any way related to the types of books published and movies made, then you cannot expect movies and books which are “different” to become blockbusters without a major change in the movie making and literature world.

The most logical reason then for the lack of POC in books/movies has more to do with who writes and who publishes vs. inherent racism and discrimination against authors of color,¬†but it would be wrong to say there is no prejudice whatsoever anywhere in Hollywood and in literature. ¬†Accept that¬†if you are¬†of¬†Hispanic descent (yours truly) or some other non-White background you will feel as though the already-challenging odds of getting published are even harder, especially if you happen to write about a theme which is “different” than what usually fills the bestseller lists or makes blockbuster franchises. It may seem unfair but it is the cold, hard truth.

There is, however, hope for you.

The best advice I can give is never to quit writing or producing movie content. If you do then you simply create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Write the book or movie script YOU want, not what someone tells you is “acceptable” for publication or production. What should matter is the quality of the story and not whether some major publisher or distributor deems it among the “chosen ones” based on pre-determined criteria and/or whether YOU THE AUTHOR are among the “approved ones” based on your age or what you look like.

One suggestion is to examine your own personal life or the life of someone close to you and look for something unusual or which stands out from the experiences you would expect the average American has.

For example, if you were ever involved in gang activity, but now you are out of it, that’s a good story right there. You can write a story about gangs better than someone who was never in a gang or who didn’t know gang-members personally. If you were in the military in any country, write a fictional story based on your experience, whether or not it is a military novel. In my case I infused elements of my Boy Scout camping days in the novel I am currently editing. If you were born poor or homeless or on a tribal reservation, create a story based on how you lived and how you felt. There’s an old saying “people write what they known” and it’s true. Use your unique life experiences to your advantage in your writing!¬†

COMING UP NEXT: novels for male audiences. Do guys even read books anymore? Or is the future of fiction going to belong to the “chick-lit” genre which basically means romance novels (paranormal or normal doesn’t matter) or dystopian thrillers with female heroines? Stay tuned.

COMING UP SOON: will also post some vlogs on some topics I care about and repost them here. For this upcoming episode I have a couple things to say about “The Fault in Our Stars” and its author John Green. Some flattering, some less so. Stay tuned.