Monday, August 23, 2010

The PAYA Chronicles: The Alligator Duck Stalks at Midnight

I don't know if PAYA will be held in the same location next year, but if it is, all I have to say is this: If you follow the directions and find yourself driving around an industrial park, convinced there's no way you're in the right place, you're in the right place.

PAYA, like many a gem, was hidden away amongst a collection of paint stores, construction firms, and automotive supply centers. Thankfully, there was a sign...

No, not like that. But there was one colorful sign that told us we had made it to our destination.

PAYA was being held at West Chester's Center for Performing and Fine Arts, which meant as we waited for the Listening and Critique Workshop to begin, and as I tried not to freak out, we were able to enjoy the art on display. There were a couple of pieces that stood out to me, but strangely enough, the one I remember most was a drawing that said, "A is for Alligator Duck." Apparently alligator ducks have big, fearsome teeth, so if you run into one in your neighborhood, best to run the other way.

The workshop started right on time with six incredible authors: Amy Brecount White (Forget-Her-Nots), Jon Skovron (Struts and Frets), Josh Berk (The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin), Stephanie Kuehnert (Ballads of Suburbia), Jeri Smith-Ready (Shade), and Shannon Delany (13 to Life). The gathering was intimate, which is my way of saying there were about seven people in attendance, including Aine, who was allowed to tag along, since she had woken up at 5am to get my late-waking butt there on time.

Six talented authors, seven attendees. I don't think I'll ever have such an incredible opportunity again. It started with each author speaking on an aspect of the writing process:

  • Jon Skovron spoke about rough drafts and how they don't have to be perfect. Give yourself permission to have a rough draft that sucks. It's more important to get started writing than to never write at all for fear that what you're putting on the page isn't perfect.
  • Jeri Smith-Ready discussed the revision process. For her, the process includes three steps: 1) The Re-write, where the writer steps back and assesses the entire book, tries to re-imagine it and to really take a look at the work as a whole. 2) Revision, where gaps in the story start to be smoothed out. 3) Polish, where the writer gets into the nitty-gritty and focuses on things like overuse of words and sentence structure.
  • Josh Berk talked about working with an editor and how much his novel, The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin, was changed and improved in the process. Honestly, this scared the heck out of me, as I'm very open to revisions, but Josh's editor asked him to change tense (I can do that, I've already changed POV at an agent's suggestion), asked him to change the starting point of the story (I could do that too), and asked him to get rid of one character and to include a new one (eeeek!!!). OK, it's that last one that scares me. I get very, very attached to my characters. But I guess I'd deal with it, if and when it came to that.
  • Amy Brecount White gave six tips on originality: 1) Think like a freelancer, always be on the lookout for a great story idea, don't wait for that idea to be handed to you. 2) Write for an audience you care about. 3) Write the novel that only you can write. 4) Figure out what you love and what you want to share with the world. 5) Pay attention to your life - What do you know that is unique to you? 6) Listen to the universe. Sometimes the universe will give you little hints as to what direction to take (or sometimes it'll hit you over the head with a 2x4).
  • Stephanie Kuehnert talked about character development. The way she does it, each of her characters has a notecard with their name and birthdate, then she includes details like nervous habits, physical description, etc. She also writes a scene for each character, from their point of view, on the defining moment of their lives. By doing this, she's basically trying to answer the question: Why is the character the way they are?
  • Finally, Shannon Delany wrapped up by telling us one important truth about being an author: Writing a book is a group effort. To be a good writer, you have to be a good team player. Embrace your support system, from your agent, to your editor, to the marketing team and cover artist on down.

Not bad advice, huh? Next up, the Critique, and how I almost gave myself a concussion in the process (because I'm smooth like that).

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