Sunday, October 12, 2008

DePoy On Writing

Yesterday, the Georgia Writers Association hosted Phillip DePoy, director of theater for Clayton State University. DePoy has written nine published books, two published plays, and thirty-seven theater pieces that have seen production throughout the country. Kirkus calls Phillip DePoy, "a master of Southern storytelling." A recent reviewer called his Fever Devilin novels "some of the best regional fiction being written in America today."

His latest book is The Drifter's Wheel: A Fever Devilin Novel (Fever Devlin)

More convincing than all the above ad copy is that my wife Cherie bought a copy of his latest book and couldn't turn out the light until she finished it at 1:00 this morning.

I almost didn't attend, reasoning, "I've heard the guy before...and after all, I write nonfiction." But I'm glad I went. I'm always glad I attend these monthly meetings. Why?

First, it's simply fun to hang out with other writers. I chatted with a successful history writer and a fantasy writer who's on page 500 of her fantasy novel. I also met a corporate communications writer, a beginning novelist and a Hospice chaplain writing stories about his encounters with the dying. One of the writers grew up in Germany and had a personal encounter with Adolf Hitler in her classroom!

Second, we all need each other. One writer needed an editor and found one at the meeting. Another needed encouragement to move forward with a project. I think he came away motivated and encouraged! I needed more inside information on the business of writing. A conversation afterward helped. Young authors don't seem to understand that so much of successful writing involves relationships within the writing industry. This is the place to connect.

Third, I always learn something from the presenters. Here were some of my takeaways from DePoy:

1) Overcome rejection. Publishers rejected the manuscript of his first novel over 5,000 times.

2) Get an agent. You'll need one to get a traditional publisher. Ideally, your agent should live in New York City, so that she hangs out with editors and takes them to lunch. It's all about relationships. So the editor mentions between bites of her bagel, "What we'd really like are a few intriguing memoirs." The agent replies, "Hey, I represent an author who's three quarters of the way finished with his memoir. Would you like to take a look?" That's the way deals happen.

3) "I write every day. I wrote this morning before I drove up from Atlanta." He says that only a small percentage of what he writes gets published. But put out the volume, and some of it will get out there.

4) To sharpen your story-telling skills, study the ancient stories and epic fables that have passed the test of time. What are their characteristics? Basically, the great stories are being told over and over, dressed up with different characters, settings and distinct voices. Study the stories that lasted and you'll improve your own stories. (George Lucas did this and used the results in creating Star Wars.)

5) Sum up your manuscript in three intriguing sentences. Publishers go through hundreds of proposals each day. They may read but a few sentences of most of them. If he likes those sentences, he may read more. If he likes your proposal, he will use those sentences to pitch it to the marketing department. Then the marketing department will use those sentences to sell it to bookstores.

Did you miss your writer's meeting this month? Calendar the next one!

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