This year’s Japan Writers Conference (JWC) happened in Morioka in northern Japan on the 25th and 26th of October. After being unable to attend last year (I was in the UK at that time for the World Fantasy Convention) it was great to see some old friends as well as make new ones.
Since several conferences/festivals happened in Morioka that weekend, we had a hotel shortage problem and I ended up staying at an old but cozy ryokan some 25 km south of Morioka in a place called Shiwachuo on the Tohoku-Honsen train line. What a nice, sleepy hinterland town 😉
Trains went only once per half-hour and I missed one on the first morning, which resulted in arriving 20 min late for the first session.
Karen McGee talked about the Writer’s Bookshelf.
Since I missed the first half, this is only a partial report. What books do you need/should you have on your bookshelf concerning craft, reference books etc.
Some new tips for me were (aside from e.g. Stephen King’s “On Writing”, or “Self editing for fiction writers” etc.:) “The 10% solution”, “Reading Like a Writer”, in the craft category, and in the reference category: “The Way Things Work”, and “The Negative Trait Thesaurus”.
As for Internet sources: “Thinkmap Visual Thesaurus”, specialist forums like e.g. the “locksmiths forum” (who know a lot about locks) are a good address for information and if you search for settings try: “YouTube real estate videos”
Next I “snuck” into the closed poetry analysis session of David Gilby. (Thanks for letting me hang out!).
Three poets read and discussed their poems and it was quite an intense critique session.
Also as a prose writer you have to choose your words carefully, of course, but as a poet even more so.
There were several deep dives into the meaning of words during this session, leaving me with the re-realization that words are incredibly ambiguous and it’s very hard to convey what you mean to others. Even if you try to be concrete, it’s damn hard to be. And: the more concrete you are, the better. Further: avoid cliches at all costs. Both issues are very much true also in (long) fiction and this session was an excellent reminder of the trouble with words.
After lunch in the university’s canteen, I digested villains.
Hugh Ashton gave a great talk on villains.
Sometimes villains can be abstract things (like “fate” in “Tess of the D’Urbervilles”), or internal (“The Killer Inside Me” – Jim Thompson).
Your “usual” villain though is the antagonist who drives your hero nuts.
Very often you can trace their villainy down to one or two or more of the seven deadly sins (except for gluttony and sloth maybe, but it’s now tickling me to explore how a sloth villain would behave, (not the cute animal of course)).
Another thing you need to take into account is to make your villain likeable = to give him/her some redeeming qualities so that the audience can identify with him/her. They need a motivation and a schtick or a habit.
The same is of course true for heroes, too smooth and “good” heroes are boring, they need something bad about them too to make them interesting.
We explored a couple of popular and widely known villains under the 7 deadly sins aspect.
Lady Macbeth – her candidate of the 7 deadly sins is envy, her redeeming quality is that she develops a conscience
Hannibal Lecter – pride. He’s a true psychopath, but he can also be kind and considerate, and is very smart
Jame Gumb (the other villain from “The Silence of the Lambs” who skins his victims) – lust. There is nothing redeeming about him, but at least an attempt at explaining why he is a monster
Iago – envy. A smart, intellectual villain who uses stealth, not violence
Goldfinger – avarice. But he’s got style and black humor
Professor Moriarty – pride, the “Napoleon of crime”, high intellectual abilities, funny and sinister, camp and clever.
Next up we did a little exercise in which we created our own little villain in pairs of two, which was great fun.
I don’t write YA (and have no desire to do so) but nevertheless attended Suzanne Kamata’s session “YA or Why Not”
We took a look at some examples of YA books and the floating boundaries to “normal” adult fiction (without even touching the new thing in between: the “New Adult” category (where the protagonist is in his/her early twenties)).
One characteristic of YA is that the book stays on story, without wandering off, but the same is true for a lot of (adult) genre fiction too.
One book we looked at was originally released as “adult” fiction, sales were disappointing – now, with a fresh “younger” cover, they try to re-market it as YA. Thus are the politics of the publishing world.
The last session I attended that day was Bob Tobin’s – the Courage to Write
In my personal case, I do not need the courage to write (I do that quite voluntarily all the time) but I am in dire need of the “courage” (or rather the energy) to market my stuff.
Bob gave a few nice hints about how to deal with your worries of rejection, being laughed at etc.:
e.g.: write down the things you are worrying about and literally throw them into the garbage bag, or if that is not enough, rip them up and flush them down the toilet.
Caution vs courage, if caution is 1 and courage 7 on a scale, where are you and what do you need to do to move more into the courage direction?
Ask yourself what stops you and try to silence your own critic. (You are likely your worst critic).
Stop comparing yourself to anyone else and don’t go to “pity city”.
Create a (supportive) community – without jerks in it.
How to react to feedback: If you get bad feedback from a person you respect, ask him/her to tell you more details. If the feedback comes from someone you don’t respect, disregard it, because they don’t understand you and your work (easier said than done). Always say thanks and don’t argue with people who give you bad feedback.
Write about what bothers you most, be it jealously, fear or being ridiculed… That frees you up.
It was a nice motivational session, which we all need sometimes in the hostile publishing world 😉
Read my report on the sessions of the second conference day next week.
And here is the link to the conference video shot and edited by Tom Baker