Sunday, June 29, 2008

Writers Go to Conference.

I lived ten miles away from the Santa Barbara Writers Conference for ten years, and for ten years I did not go. I knew it was there. I knew it was one of the-- if not the-- best writers conferences in the world. And I knew I could not find the courage to go.

I was completely intimidated.

Surely writers conferences were for real writers, not for me. The SBWC had to be for those who were already published or who were marching relentlessly toward that august state.

I was a total idiot. I was also afraid.

Criticism sucks. Let me refine: receiving criticism sucks. Here's what I did: I did not expose myself to criticism until I knew I (and my writing) could survive it. Nothing terribly wrong with that, until you think of the time lost. Ten years. With a bit of good criticism, it might have taken me five years to cover the same ground.

What happened when I finally dragged my cowardly carcass to the SBWC? Well, I entered their 1,000 word contest with a vignette that began "Candy Sakaida was a good kid." That sentence, and those thousand words, now begin my novel.


These days, I'm better known for giving than for getting criticism at the SBWC, and I've discovered that that is difficult, too. It's tough to leave yourself out of it. It doesn't matter if I like what I'm hearing, in terms of genre or whatever. It's not about what I want; it's about what the writer wants. And that's difficult to remember. I'm as opinionated as the next writer.

Before every session, I write W.O.E. at the top of the page. That stands for without ego. A reminder that does not always work, but I try. Every year I try.

Cheers to those writers smart and brave enough to get to a good conference earlier in their careers.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Perhaps I Am Insane.

Because I argue with agents on their blogs. And yet, I do so cheerfully. The topic in this case? Well, an agent suggested that writers should learn from Dan Brown, because he has so many readers. Ten million readers, I am told, cannot be wrong.

Yes, I say, they can.

And here I fall into a philosophical ditch. Because Dan Brown knows what Danielle Steele and the rest know. Simple entertainment. And is that not valuable? Of course it is.

Good show! Valuable! People work hard. They drive a zillion billion miles on four-dollar gas. Their kids are texting what-have-you on iPhones that their mother/father bought them when they promised not to, their cars are eight seconds from breaking down, their neighbors have fallen into foreclosure and whatever, and they just want an easy read. Ten points for settling for a book and not a beer or twelve and a hundred points for choosing a book over whatever crap NBC is now offering in prime time.

But just because many people like it does not mean it is good. I'm sorry, but what Dan Brown is doing is appallingly obvious, and I don't want to do it.

What I told the agent was that ten million readers can certainly be wrong, in terms of what is good writing and what is not. Because they do not read enough to separate the good from the bad.

I drive a 1989 Porsche 928 S4. The 928 raced at Le Mans. There are not many of them in North America. Maybe a thousand in the model year. They are crazy expensive to run. Fifteen miles to the gallon? On high test? On a 23-gallon tank? A splitter that raises the cost of an oil change to over a hundred bucks? Ignition wires that run $75 each and there are eight of them? A car with tires that run $850 minimum and cannot be rotated?

This is a magnificent car. The sound it makes coming off the fire is brobdignag! A deep rumble only elephants can hear. A sound that will make Boxster drivers weep.

If anyone said that the engineers who built the 928 should have learned from the designers of the Toyota Camry because it sold more units, I would punch them in the face.

The Camry exists for people who care nothing about cars; they just want them to start every time. And that's fine. They have places to go and other priorities. Groovy. I can dig it. But I am out of my mind. I want a fantastic car. I want a car that makes me feel I could turn down and drive at speed through the center of the Earth. A car that could grow giant demon wings and fly. A car made of male that could not possibly bear a female name. A weapon. I am willing to take the chance that it will break down once in a while and leave me on the side of Wilshire Boulevard on a Friday night.

I want a car that can go 170. I want a car that can make other drivers cry. That's me. I seek the epic.

Same with writing. I want to write like Doris Lessing or Cormac McCarthy or Louise Erdrich or Steven Hall. Want to tell them to learn from Dan Brown? No. I believe William Burroughs when he said "If I really knew how to write, I would write something, and someone would read it, and it would kill them."

Yeah, like that.

Random Post Upcoming...

Just back from the Santa Barbara Writers Conference. Comments to follow in days to come...

Monday, June 9, 2008

More Reviews!

“Lorelei Armstrong writes with a flinty edge that sends sparks flying on every page. This is a bullet-train of a thriller filled with compelling characters and crackling dialogue. Hang on, because there are a lot of twists and curves.”

- NewYork Times and Los Angeles Time best-selling author, Raymond Obstfeld, Anatomy Lesson, On The Shoulders of Giants: My Journey Through the Harlem Renaissance

“In the Face offers a creepy look at star-struck fascination in this innovative murder masterpiece. Gritty, psychological, timeless—Armstrong gives Hollywood a new look in her debut novel.”

-Pamela Guerrieri, editor and literary judge

Monday, June 2, 2008

Book Expo America.

Aloha, Amazon! Thank you to my friend Muroku, who told me I could syndicate this blog over there. Look! I did it!

I spent Saturday at the Book Expo America. I was invited by my publisher, his wife (and business partner), and the company's publicist. What a seminar in publishing that show was. First, it was huge. Both halls of the Los Angeles Convention Center. I've been there before for the L.A. Auto Show and a screenwriting conference. Neither was so large as the BEA, neither in the number of companies present nor the size of the crowd. And the BEA is not open to the public (unless they don't mind the $40 price of admission). This is a trade show. This is the business.

There were thousands of people there. Not many writers; mostly people working for publishers, printers, distributors, etc.. I found it absolutely invaluable. And being there with my publisher meant that I got to listen in on the business they were doing and learn a bit more about what a huge task it is to publish a book. Iota Publishing is taking a big, big chance on me and my book.

I now know my book will be printed in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and warehoused in Chicago, Illinois. I found the book on page twelve of the distributor's Fall Small Press catalog. And I met my book! A galley copy sitting on the shelf in the IPBA display. My book.

And then Iota's publicist handed me a galley copy. My book in my hands. I cannot tell you how strange it is to open a new book and know all the words. I hadn't thought about it before. It's like an extreme form of déjà vu. I carried that book all day, and drove home with it on my lap. It's sitting here on the back of the sofa.

I'm not crazy about Los Angeles. It's a hard place. It's big, it's violent, it's unpredictable, it's immobile, it's waiting to be wrecked again. But there in the heart of L.A., in the giant convention center, I've had two of the happiest moments of my life. I won a large screenwriting contest there in 2004, and I met my book for the first time on Saturday.

Thanks to Iota for taking this chance. I know how much you have at risk. And thanks to that big crowded building. During the week you stand in for airports for film crews. Next weekend you will host an erotica convention. But twice you have been my own personal Happiest Place on Earth.