Saturday, May 13, 2006

Name-Dropping Revisited (WW? #15)

Jess has unveiled her latest Writer’s Weekly Question, and this one might be something of an opportunity to name-drop.

Writer's Weekly Question #15:
Name a few famous writers you have had an up-close-and-personal encounter with. Did the encounter have an impact on you and your writing in some way? If so, how?

Writing really can be a lonely art, but the catch is that it doesn’t have to be. When I look back on all the years I was writing without any input from others, I cringe. I did have some influence, though. The first published writer I met who affected my writing was someone as far removed from fantasy writing as could be. Southern author William Price Fox taught a class at my college, the University of South Carolina. When I went there, I couldn’t resist a class devoted to fiction writing. In hindsight, I’m not sure how much I really got out of his class, but despite all the things he didn’t teach that he might have, I learned a few things.

He challenged us to explore short stories, something I’d not done up to that point. The result was one of the goofiest things I’ve ever written, a short story entitled “Here’s the Deal.” The story remains unpublished, but I’m pretty sure it will eventually find its way into print. Why so certain? Because it’s really just damn funny. The first draft met with Fox’s criticism, and he made some good points that really improved the work when I did write a second draft years later. I’d written a story about a demon trying to recruit a medieval swordfighter to serve as his right-hand man in Hell. Things get complicated rather quickly, mainly because of a second demon who’s so pathetic, he’s never actually managed to steal a mortal soul. We had to read our stories aloud (one of Fox’s rules), and I gave the second demon a voice like Art Carney from the “Honeymooners.” Even Fox agreed it was funny, but he pointed out that I had a bunch of characters standing around just talking. For a setting with a bunch of guys with swords, I didn’t have much action. About the only other thing I took from this class was that I was a great story reader. I’d probably do great as a voice for audio books, but I think you’ve usually got to be an established actor to land that work.

From there, I went without much of any influence from an established writer. My wife became my single source of criticism, lest you count the few rejection letters my writing received in the latter half of the nineties. Only once we moved to Richmond, did I meet other writers who could offer useful input. My wife and I meta fellow by the name of Anthony P. Jones; although to us, he’ll always be just “Tony.” At the time, he wasn’t published yet but he was very connected within the writing community (his book Operation Smokeout was published this past fall). He introduced us to people like Dennis Danvers, and it was because of Tony that we learned about James River Writers when it first started in 2003.

At James River Writers, my wife and I continued to meet some great writers such as Phaedra Hise, Dean King and David L. Robbins. David’s become a good friend to us, and he’s why we’re involved in the planning for this year’s conference. I hope the end of our labors will prove his faith in us wasn’t unfounded. With so much planning to do, I get really terrified about it some days, even with all the great things accomplished thus far. David has made time for me and Sheri to discuss the art of writing and some of the tricks of the trade, such as writing a great battle. I could say a lot more about David… a whole lot more, but as I’m about to start his forthcoming book The Assassins Gallery, I’ll save that for some entries later this month.

Before I can start The Assassins Gallery, I've still got to finish Tailchaser's Song by Tad Williams. I've been tearing through the book this week, and if I don't finish it tonight, then I probably will tomorrow.

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