As much as I enjoyed the movie – the books are some of my favorite books ever. They are mysteries with clever, riveting plots, great atmosphere, codes the readers can work on, and the deeply appealing Enola herself.
I thought the series was complete, with the very satisfying (and more than a little moving) The Case of the Gypsy Goodbye. So my surprise at another book is exceeded only by my delight.
On top of all this, last weekend I had the great pleasure to attend an online workshop with Nancy Springer as part of the online Pennwriters Conference. She was such fun! And had so much good advice for writing. I intend to share some highlights of the conference and what Nancy had to say.
Meanwhile, I have seven projects I’m working on, only one of which is my fantasy novel in progress, so it may be a while before I emerge. Back into my Cave of Projects! (Ok, it’s sunlit and infused with fresh spring air, but still – I’m trying to work on several of these things at once, so it’s a little hectic in here…)
Barnes & Noble is hosting an Author Residency Book Tour with Christopher Paolini over the coming months. And from what I’ve seen of it, it’s a lot of fun! The staff at the B&N bookstore I went to made it a great, smooth-running event. Kudos to them.
Now I confess I haven’t read the books (so many books, so little time! I’m a slow reader, and thick books can be daunting). But a dear friend who is an avid and discerning reader has enjoyed them, and that was good enough for me to think about getting the latest book, The Fork, The Witch, and the Worm, for my great-nephew who likes mythology and fantasy.
The Residency Tour is in only about a dozen cities, so I’m quite pleased that the only mid-Atlantic location was in my state! And dragons, like most mythical beasts, are dear to my heart. So I decided to go. My friend Aud Supplee also came, bringing another friend. And Aud has also written a blog about her perspective of the event, so check that out!
My first impression of Christopher Paolini was how warm and unassuming he was, and genuinely delighted to be there. (A friend who works at the store and helped organize the event says he was great to talk to and super-nice behind the scenes, too.) He was content to blend in with the crowd while we were playing trivia with the B&N booksellers. One of the questions was something like, “What did Eragon get from his sister?” Christopher jovially called from the crowd, “More questions!” (Please forgive me, fans – you’ll probably know exactly what that question was, and if it wasn’t about his sister, I apologize! I can only plead ignorance and faulty memory; I wasn’t taking notes.)
Then Christopher took the mike to talk to us. He honestly seemed to enjoy it as much as the audience did.
With self-deprecating humor, he said, “Some of you may have noticed that it’s been awhile since my last book.” We all laughed. He explained how he started Eragon when he was 15, (1998), and he was still touring with the fourth book in 2012 – a huge chunk of his young life. When he was done he wanted nothing to do with dragons for awhile! Meanwhile, he’s been writing a big sci-fi book “with tentacles.” But he would wonder at odd moments, “What are Eragon and Saphira doing now?” Then he wondered what it would be like to write about a very old, angry, hungry dragon. “Like Smaug,” I think someone in the audience said. “Or like the dragon in Beowulf,” Christopher said. That formed the basis of the “Worm” story in his new book.
A fan once tweeted him, “What’s Murtagh doing?” Because Christopher was awake at 1:00 a.m. from too much coffee and feeling kind of snarky, he answered, “Fighting off foes with a magic fork named Mr. Stabby.” But then he wondered, Could I write a story like that? That, of course, became “The Fork” in the new collection.
His sister Angela had an idea for a story, and he told her to go for it. That became “On the Nature of Stars,” part of “The Witch.” As Christopher sat down to write the story that weaves together all these tales, he felt like he was returning home after a long journey. “Why did I wait so long?” The audience cheered.
Speaking more about inspiration, he talked about how a certain disappointing blockbuster movie made him think – how could I fix that? Human beings are born storytellers, he says – we know when a story doesn’t work. He talked at length at how flawed writing can inspire a writer more than perfect writing does – as you think about how you could fix things.
As a young boy, he was inspired by a book he loved, Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher by Bruce Coville, about a boy who finds a dragon egg. It made him think about what kind of world a dragon would come from, which led to more questions. That’s how we write stories and build worlds, he said – asking questions and answering them as honestly as we can.
Then Christopher engaged briefly in a bit of what he called “shameless self-promotion.” His mother is a homeschooler, and she has published books to help others; he hoped any home-schoolers in the audience would check them out. Also, he mentioned the recent Barnes & Noble Exclusive Collector’s Edition of Eragon. It has a full-color map, (I love book maps), and under the dustcover is the insignia of Brom’s ring, designed by Christopher himself. Pretty cool! Though of course that’s promoting his first book, it’s also supporting Barnes & Noble, his hosts, and like all bricks-and-mortar bookstores they can use all such support. Pretty gracious “self-promotion” if you ask me!
He confirmed (to much audience excitement) that there is a fifth Inheritance book in the works, which will answer a lot of questions. Then the audience asked fun questions, like what fantasy would he like to insert Eragon into. “Does Hunger Games count as fantasy?” His favorite movies? He has so many, including “Pan’s Labyrinth,” “Terminator” and “The Little Princess (1995)”. Yep, an odd juxtaposition, that! Some of his many favorite books include The Worm Ouroboros, by E.R. Eddison, pre-Tolkien fantasy of Tolkien caliber, and Gormenghast, by Mervyn Peak, the gothiest book ever, according to Christopher.
When someone asked what he wished he’d known about publishing at the start, he answered: mistakes are part of the process. A bad sentence, paragraph, even a bad draft doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer. When something makes you uncomfortable, the things you know you’re not good at, push into them. That’s what will make you grow as a writer, and a person.
He read a little from all four books, including an Elven blessing, (he claims he has an awful Elven accent) and something from a very angry Dwarf (he says he has an excellent dwarf accent, because he trills his rrrs with his uvula!) When he read from “The Worm,” (in normal English), it struck me it had a fine, old-epic tone.
Then it was time for the book signing. Even waiting and standing in line was fun – we got to talk to very friendly fans (who didn’t seem to mind my ignorance). Christopher took time to talk to everyone who came up. He was as warm and friendly up close as he was from a distance. And early-comers got a cool Inheritance pin, compliments of Barnes & Noble.
Thank you, Barnes & Noble, for hosting such a fun event. Readers, if you’ve enjoyed the books, check out his tour and see if he’s coming anywhere near you.
And thank you, Christopher Paolini. You’ve made me a fan! Even though I bought the book as a gift, and I really shouldn’t, I might just have to peek inside for a read…
Every May, writers, editors, and agents gather in Pennsylvania for three days to share their knowledge, wisdom, and passion about the art and business of writing. I know I’ll always come home from the conference inspired and brimming with ideas; it’s reason enough alone to belong to Pennwriters, and there are many others.
One of the great delights is connecting with people who share this passion. This year, I had the pleasure of meeting my Running Wild Anthology colleague Suzanne Mattaboni, a gifted writer who is also a local Pennwriter representative.
She put together a beautiful raffle basket full of goodies and books by Pennwriters – among them the RW Anthology which features a trio of us Pennwriters, including Susan Helene Gottfried, another talented writer and an editor (I’ve really enjoyed emailing with her and wish she could’ve come so I could meet her).
I contributed a few items to the basket, clues to some of the RW Anthology stories. You can just spot them in the photo: seed packets for “Bee Heaven” and “Holy Basil” (for my story, “Last Memory”); a bag of pirate gold (for Cindy Cavett’s fun “Rehoboth Beach Break”); and a tiny Excalibur (for Amelia Kibbie’s touching “The Idylls of the King”). And the “Seaglass” candle (furnished by Suzanne) fits well with Laura Selinsky’s poignant “Seawall.” Curious how these mysterious things fit in with the stories? Look into the Anthology and find out!
Three of my critique group friends were there this year, and hanging out and comparing notes with them was excellent fun. It was thrilling to see E. Williams win second place in the Pennwriters Annual Contest for short fiction with her story “Cici Accepts the Facts” (find out more on her website). And my friends Katrina and Rowan got requests for their manuscripts from more than one agent. Congratulations, my friends!
I was so pleased that Suzanne won third place for her short, “A Trailer Full of Cadillacs,” in the “In Other Words” contest (and that her daughter won first place in the poetry division! A lot of talent in that family).
Though “In Other Words” is a small and informal contest, it’s judged by attendees, and it’s an honor to be voted for by your peers. I was delighted that my short story tied for third place (not with Suzanne, as it happens).
As always, the conference had so many great workshops, I had to make tough choices. Once I got home, it took me weeks to edit all my notes and distill the wisdom that I can use here, now, and soon. Here is a tiny sampling from just a handful of the excellent presenters.
Don Helin, award-winning writer of thrillers, presented a lively, good-humored workshop on “Writing a Marketing Plan.”
A few tidbits for my present use:
• Develop a press kit; if you were going to write an article on yourself, what would you need?
• Develop a non-fiction hook: some fact that ties into your stories, to catch the attention of people who might promote your work. It can even work with fantasy. (I’m still working on what to tie into my fantasy in progress; it might have to do with the legend of Deirdre of the Sorrows.)
• Keep your website up to date…good advice I’m working on right now!
• Keep writing! Publishers want the next book. And for me, none of this matters if I don’t get to keep putting my stories into words.
Intriguing title, isn’t it? First, she and an audience member defined just what jenga is for those of us ignorant: a game where you start with a short, solid tower of wooden blocks and take out one at a time to stack them on top, ending (before it falls) with a taller, airier tower.
Her key point: overwriting builds a wall between the author and the reader. So…make holes in the wall and beckon to the reader through them. She gave eloquent examples from excellent authors.
Things I found particularly useful have to do with setting:
• Save description until it counts and something interesting happens.
• Make details meaningful.
• Consider ways to make setting interactive.
• Give details that anchor the reader in your world.
• Use the setting to support the plot.
Hallie Ephron, NYT bestselling author, talked about “Parallel Tracks: From Back Story to Front Story.”
One of her many helpful ideas is to chart your characters in relationship to your protagonist:
• Draw arrows toward the protagonist if they’re helping and away from if they’re hindering.
• You need a mix of push and pull.
• Some characters may do both.
• If there aren’t many arrows pointing away from protagonist, there’s probably not enough conflict in your story.
• You may need more characters, or hidden goals in existing characters.
• The protagonist can be hindering themselves.
And she highlighted the concept of Parallax: where you’re standing determines what you see.
• Different people will believe different things.
• What lies do characters believe, what truths do they doubt?
• What really happened, vs. what people think happened?
In “World Building 101,” multi-talented fantasy writer Jack Hillman presented a treasure trove of things to consider.
Some essential points:
• Make sure you know the backstory for your world.
• Your world will determine, at least in part, your people.
• Build your society around your world, and your conflict around all these factors.
• BUT don’t tell the reader everything about the world backstory. Let them figure some out themselves.
With a great deal of humor and hard-won wisdom, Western writer R.G. Yoho shared “What NOT to do as an Author.”
Some key things that stuck with me:
• Remember: the manuscript you don’t finish can’t be improved.
• Don’t let others define success for you.
• Enjoy the successes along the way, and enjoy the ride.
• It’s amazing how many ‘yeses’ you’ll hear if you’re not afraid to hear ‘no.”
Finally, with great verve and energy, Donna Galanti shared much helpful, practical information about “School Visits 101.”
Having been to some of her workshops and read her excellently fun Joshua and the Lightning Road I only wish I were a kid lucky enough to have her visit MY school!
These are just hints and samplings of what these presenters, and many more, had to offer. I’m still digesting this feast of information. Now it’s time to put it into use, and get back to writing!