This was my first Florida Writers Association Conference as faculty. They put me to work. I led workshops on Crafting Memorable Dialogue for the adult attendees and then for the youth attendees.
Oh, and FWA President Alison Nissen also interviewed me for a podcast. Yep, I was busy. The conference had 600 people.
The powers that be also assigned me to serve on a panel discussion titled “Bring it on Home to Me–Nailing the Ending.” Going into the conference I considered the free room and tuition as the biggest perks. Then I learned the identities of the other authors on the panel. Excuse the fan squeal.
Sam Staley, our moderator, is an award-winning author of a dozen books and hundreds of articles. At the conference, he also taught workshops on “Show Don’t Tell: Learning to Love and Trust Your Readers” and “Deepening Story and Character with Foreign Language.” Sam kept the panel talking with a series of questions. He also kept order when multiple questions rolled in from the writers in the audience.
Linda Fairstein is the 2018 National Guest of Honor. She won the Nero Wolfe Award for Excellence in Crime Writing in 2008, and in 2010 received the Silver Bullet Award of the International Thriller Writers. Her 20th book in the Alexandra Cooper series comes out in 2019. Published in crime fiction and true crime, she writes with knowledge and authority. She served in the office of the New York County District Attorney, where she was chief of the country’s pioneering Sex Crimes Prosecution Unit for twenty-six years. In that position, she supervised the investigation and trial of cases involving sexual assault, domestic violence, child abuse, and homicides arising out of those crimes. Producer Dick Wolf based the long-running TV show Law & Order: SVU on her unit and the character of ADA Alex Cabot.
She also taught a workshop titled “Turning Your Professional Experience into Fiction.” In addition to her crime writing, she launched a children’s series called the Devlin Quick Mysteries.
John Capouya was the non-fiction author on the panel. He teaches journalism and nonfiction narrative at The University of Tampa, including their Creative Writing MFA program. Previously, he was an editor at Newsweek and SmartMoney magazines, New York Newsday, and the New York Times. His book Gorgeous George is in film development. His third book, Florida Soul – From Ray Charles to KC and the Sunshine Band, came out in 2017. The day after our panel, he taught an insightful workshop called “The End.” He presented eight ending techniques and how to close the circle of meaning in a story.
John Wilkerson authors science fiction thrillers with a side order of campiness. At the conference, he taught a workshop titled “Emotional Mechanics of a Fight Scene.” Having thirty plus years of martial arts training pretty much makes him an expert on this topic. He also served as a moderator on the panel discussion of “Who’s Laughing Now? Being Funny is Serious Business.”
Our panel discussion on endings got spirited. The attendees asked questions that sparked polite debate on what makes an ending satisfying. We discussed genre considerations for endings. Romance demands HEA or Happily-ever-after. American readers prefer justice to prevail in crime novels. Literary stories can go either way. We discussed endings of books that disappointed us as readers.
I remember reading Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid. In the original story, mermaids turned into sea foam when they died. One mermaid wanted a soul so she wouldn’t turn into sea foam. This little mermaid earned a soul by saving the life of a human. Then she died. Her soul went to heaven. Her death WAS the happy ending. Well, then Disney came along and changed the story and the ending to fit a romance. Oh, well.
One gentleman asked if the bleak ending of his coming-of-age book about a young man’s search for his father would work. The panel agreed that the ending, even a tragic one, works when it suits the trajectory of the story.
THE AWARDS BANQUET
The awards banquet ran Saturday night. The dessert and the genie in a bottle theme made the event even more festive. The gentleman who asked about a sad ending was Gary Robert Pinnell. He collected 3rd place award for his unpublished historical fiction “A Most Invisible Boy.”
So there. Even the judges agreed.
I also taught a workshop on writing for magazines and paid blogs. The magazine writing workshop was at 8:00 a.m. on Sunday. Surprisingly, it was packed. Working at a writer’s conference has been thrilling and exhausting. I’m off on vacation in the Smokey Mountains with Handsome. And a few great books.