Friday, January 5, 2018

A Texas literary perspective on late, crazy year of 2017

Hallowed writers thronged North Texas venues, a beloved writing haven found its forever home, and book festivals abounded during 2017. To commemorate those brighter points in a wild and crazy year, I’ve compiled excerpts of favorite posts from the first half of this year. Tomorrow -- stay tuned for the second half.

1/20/17: Writing tips from a quartet of Texas greats

Considering how many books, magazine articles, television scripts they’ve written, listeners at the recent Authors LIVE! “Four Great Texas Writers” program featuring Texas writers H.W. Brands, S.C. Gwynne, Stephen Harrigan and Lawrence Wright understandably wondered how the foursome kept track of everything. What ultra-sophisticated program did they use? And by the way, can it help the rest of us as well?

For some, the answer is something as simple as . . . notecards.

OK, Brands admitted that after decades of teaching, he knows enough about most of his subjects (presidents Franklin Roosevelt, Reagan and Eisenhower, General Douglas McArthur, et al) to keep many of his notes in an even more low-tech system – his brain.


2/7/17 Writer’s Garret back and better than ever 

Dallas literary institution, the Writer’s Garret, welcomed a standing-room crowd to its new quarters at Metropolitan Press, 1250 Majesty Dr., with an open house, readings, and discounts on new classes. The Garret’s new space at Metropolitan Press includes office, reception, and supply space, as well as a common room where the open house was help, and other spaces shared with Metropolitan Press’s other tenants. In addition to printing services, Metropolitan Press provides office space for a number of nonprofit organizations, and a rotating gallery of work by local artists. 
2/21/17 Barnstorming small libraries with Texas Writes 

There were maybe a dozen of us along the sides of the long tables at Lindale’s Lillie Russell Memorial Library, with eager pens and notebooks at the ready. There were two of them on the other side of the tables – Jeramey Kraatz (author of The Cloaked Society trilogy and the upcoming Space Runners series) and Liz Garton Scanlon (author of Caldecott Honor book All the World, as well as Bob, not Bob!, A Sock is a Pocket for Your Toes, and more). Make that three, counting Jo Virgil, in Lindale to represent Texas Writes, a program of The Writers’ League of Texas that brings accomplished authors to rural Texas libraries for a series of free presentations and discussions. 

Kraatz writes middle grade fiction and Scanlon writes picture books, but in many ways their discussions have broader implications for all genres. Starting with that impetus for all stories, conflict. Or as Kraatz terms it, “Trouble Talk.” 

No matter how much we try to avoid it in our lives, “trouble is interesting in story,” Kraatz told our audience. Conflict is a way to guide readers through a story. And for writers, it provides a means for working through a project when we’re stuck, and as a key to self-assessing our writing. 

“How do you look at your writing objectively? How do you tell if it’s working?” One way to answer both questions is to ask: “how is the overall conflict of the story being addressed in this particular section.”
3/7/17 North Texas Teen Book Festival: laughing at what scares us 

It was billed as a middle-grade panel entitled Guys Read: Terrifying Tales. But the crowd packing into the auditorium at Saturday’s North Texas Teen Book Festival boasted plenty of female attendees, and plenty more obviously older than the term “middle-grade reader” (generally, 8-12 year-olds) would indicate.  

Even I, significantly past the age of middle grade readers, recognized the major-name panelist – R.L. Stine, author of the long-running Goosebumps series of kid-version horror that has been sending shivers up the spines of young readers for 25 years. He was joined by fellow horror writer Adam Gidwitz and moderator Jon Scieszka (rhymes with “Fresca). 

Gidwitz’s writings include both a Star Wars book and fractured versions of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales. His latest, The Inquisitor’s Tale, features three kids on a quest, facing enemies such as a dragon whose plentiful farts are not only smelly but deadly, and aided by dog, “recently brought back from the dead,” its jaws clenched around a Newbery Honor award, one of the accolades given by the American Library Association for outstanding children’s literature.  

Stine insisted that he was too shy as a youngster to interact with others, so he dragged a typewriter into his room and spent all his time writing. “My mother stood outside the door and told me to go out and play. Good thing I didn’t listen to her.” 

5/9/17 Tragedy + Time = Comedy: The essential Stephanie Klein 

How had I lived so long and gone to so many writing conferences without running into blogger/memoirist/TV script writer Stephanie Klein, the petite New Yorker with a head of wild copper-colored curls who was the keynote speaker at the 2017 DFW Writers Conference in Dallas.
The popularity of her original blog, Greek Tragedy, focused on life after her divorce. Its popularity gained her the title “Internet Queen of Manhattan,” and led to the publication of her first book, Straight Up and Dirty: A Memoir, about moving on after divorce. 

So, how does a magna cum laude graduate of Barnard College, who married the “mensch-next door” move on after her perfect marriage came to a bitter end? Wildly. Detailed on her blog with the bone-deep honesty that she recommends for memoirists. Well, that and what she called “the observational stuff. . . what the artist notices that makes the good story. Not the expected, not the cliché."

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