Thursday, August 27, 2009

Writer's Workshops

James O. Born

I mentioned last week I would write something about guns but decided I need more time to get all my facts right which is unlike most people on either side of the gun-control argument.

Instead I want to talk about one of my favorite pastimes. No, not football or even sports of any kind. Not TV or alcohol either(but for the record they are still two of my favorite pastimes). I'm not even going to talk about writing, at least not directly. I'm going to talk about teaching. Over the years of cuts several subjects. I was a certified defensive tactics instructor for the state of Florida and enjoyed working with fellow police officers in developing their skills that might save their lives one day. But lately I've been teaching a lot of classes on writing. And surprisingly this has a little bit to do with guns as well.

I enjoy writing, I study writing, I listen to other writers talk about writing and I'm always open to ideas from editors and agents. I also am knew enough to publishing to remember the frustration of rejection upon rejection upon rejection. I found that this makes for any easy connection with many of the participants in the various writing conferences across the country.

Not surprisingly, because my background in a couple of articles I've written on the subject, I am asked to give my demonstration on police tactics frequently. It's a fun class unlike most of the drive panels we've all listened to at Bouchercon or ThrillerFest. People like to see and handle real guns in your dopey redneck like me hop around on stage in tell them what's really said during arrests and what cops look for every time they assess a suspect. I understand why am asked to do this and enjoyed teaching the class but I have been equally successful when I give serious talks on specific elements of writing fiction.

This really came to light about a year ago when I was asked to teach a three-hour marathon workshop on point of view at the South Carolina writers workshop. I had never really looked at the topic with an eye towards teaching not only class but an incredibly long class on the subject. It forced me to think about all the angles and implications the point of view far beyond the commonly discussed aspect of first person versus third person storytelling. Not only was the class a huge hit but it was also one of the most satisfying experiences I've had as a writing instructor.

From September 11 through the thirteenth I will be speaking at the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer's Colorado Gold Writing Conference in Denver Colorado. In addition to the class on realism in writing, which is different than the police tactics class, I will be be Sunday afternoon closing speaker. I generally do not speak from notes because I have been a victim of too many lunchtime talks that dragged on and on as the speaker felt compelled to cover every point he or she had written down. I would look around at the slack faces of my fellow board lunch mates and promised myself I would avoid doing that to anyone else if I were ever in by such an event. So far I think I've avoided the dreaded pointless unending lunch speech. In fact I've been told one of my strongest attributes is my speaking ability although I'm sure many would disagree.

From October 23 through October 25 I will be speaking at the Florida Writers Conference near Orlando. Once again I will be talking about realism in writing as well as a class on weaving Backstory into a novel. Then on Saturday night I will be delivering the keynote speech where I will strive to keep people engaged and interested even if I am forced to fire off a couple rounds into the ceiling.

His most writers realize these conferences rarely pay and can tie up an entire weekend. But I have found over the past few years that they are more than worth the effort. I have met interesting people, encouraged talented writers and and learned quite a bit about the art of writing itself. So I look forward to these events every time they come up on my calendar and if any of you reading this today run into me at a writers conference I will most certainly be in a good mood because I'm doing one of the things I truly love.

Have any of you ever attended a writer’s conference? If so what were some of the good and bad points about it?


  1. And everyone in South Carolina at the 3-hour marathon workshop on POV enjoyed themselves too. With the exception of those you singled out to make fun of. Those are the people who will be attending you next weapons workshop.

  2. James O. Born8/27/2009 9:47 AM

    Not to scare any one off. I make jokes about a select few people in the audience to keep things rolling. Deeby in particular because she's smart, beautiful and had to marry beneath her.


  3. It's a fun class unlike most of the drive panels we've all listened to a doctor can't were ThrillerFest.

    I have turned this sentence inside out trying to parse your intention and my only conclusion is you've suffered a head wound.

    I just hope it won't affect your drinking.

  4. Interesting theory, David. I thought it was a voice-activated software screw up.

  5. David,
    I, too, tried to decode "a fun class unlike most of the drive panels we've all listened to a doctor can't were ThrillerFest."

    I think it had something to do with doctors and cantors being boring speakers.

    As for Jim's topic, I've spoken at fiction and screenwriting workshops and I've "graded" submissions. I have always felt incompetent to do this and have probably dispensed a lot of faulty information.

    I would, however, listen to Jim for three hours...if copious amounts of vodka were on hand.

  6. "It's a fun class unlike most of the drive panels we've all listened to a doctor can't were ThrillerFest."

    My original vote was voice-activated software screw-up, but now I think I prefer to vote for "head wound."

    I've done a handful of book conferences and book fairs and they're sort of all over the board. Some speakers can make any subject boring and it's clear that a number of writers take themselves a tad bit too seriously. I generally prefer it when things are kept light and people can make fun of each other.

    My favorite exchange was from the Ann Arbor Book Fair and I was moderating the panel of thriller authors. One of them was from Providence and she commented that Rhode Island was the most corrupt state. I asked her if that was the state motto. Tom Grace, sitting next to me, jumped in with, "Yeah, like 'Virginia is for Lovers!'"

    All in all, I think it's more fun for everybody if the writers are having fun, too.

  7. I have attended two of Jim's classes. They were exceptional and he is a very good teacher.

    It is obvious that he is having as much fun as the students.


  8. James O. Born8/27/2009 4:52 PM

    I'm being taunted by both speech recognition software and Blogger.

    That should read Bouchercon

    Thanks for the nice comments on the classes.


  9. Mr.Born

    Few people appreciate your classes, your loyalty to the writing community or your dedication to the alcoholic enjoyment cohort more than I.

    Still, that sentence was whack.


    PS Full disclosure: I owe Jim for an invitation to the SC book festival where I met a great many avid readers and a few stalkers.

    Please, stop calling here. We have caller ID.