5 Questions for Screenwriter Jill Chamberlain

“Likeable characters are boring. You’re doing yourself a great disservice if you worry about making your protagonist likeable.”

-Jill Chamberlain

Jill Chamberlain is a screenplay consultant and founder of The Screenplay Workshop with Jill Chamberlain, which offers private script consultation and group instruction in Austin and via Skype. Her book from the University of Texas Press, The Nutshell Technique: Crack the Secret of Successful Screenwriting, is considered the go-to manual many professionals swear by and is on the syllabus for the acclaimed screenwriting program at Columbia University. Many of her students have achieved success in Hollywood with screenplays optioned, sold, and made into award-winning feature films.

On December 2, Jill will teach “Structuring a Successful Screenplay Using the Nutshell Technique” at St. Edward’s  University in Austin, TX. This class will cover eight essential elements for a successful screenplay. We asked Jill about the films she’s learned from, advice she gives often and advice she thinks is overused, and what people will take away from the class.

What is a film that you recommend to people over and over? What makes it so compelling?

Paper Moon is about as perfect as a movie can be. Take the first shot: Moses drives up to a graveside funeral in progress and steals flowers off of a nearby grave to present to the bereaved. That tells you everything you need to know about this guy. He’s a con artist but also at times his heart is in the right place. It is a masterpiece, from the first frame to the last, and yes, that last frame is connected to the first one.

In your work as a script consultant, what has been one challenge posed by the craft, structure, voice, etc., of a screenplay that you’ve had to puzzle out?

Last week, I was consulting on a screenplay for a major studio; this was for a movie with a huge budget. I can’t discuss any specifics about the project, but I’ll say generally that I discovered I was dealing with the exact same kind of story issues that I deal with when working with amateur screenwriters. At the heart of everything, a story is a story. It doesn’t matter if it’s ultimately a $150 million movie or a $150,000 movie or zero-dollar labor of love, you need to ensure the same story elements are in place and are structurally sound when you’re writing the screenplay.

What piece of advice do you find yourself giving to screenwriters again and again?

If you want to be a screenwriter, you must read screenplays. Not one or two screenplays but tons and tons of screenplays, as many as you can get your hands on.

Is there a common piece of writing advice that you wish people wouldn’t put so much stock in or follow too closely?

Yes, that your protagonist should be likeable. This is the central precept behind the number one bestselling book on screenwriting, “Save The Cat,” and I couldn’t disagree with this idea more! Think of, for example, the Bill Murray character in “Groundhog Day” — he isn’t in the least bit likeable. The movie wouldn’t have worked had he been likeable. Likeable characters are boring. You’re doing yourself a great disservice if you worry about making your protagonist likeable.

What is one thing that people will take away from this class?

Well, you’re going to take away a ton of things because the class is going to be absolutely jam-packed with information. But here is perhaps the most important thing: In my work as a script consultant, I have discovered that 99 percent of first-time screenwriters fail to tell a story. What the 99 percent do instead is present a situation. The most important thing I’ll show you is how to ensure you’re telling a story and that you’re not falling in the 99 percent who are merely presenting a situation.

Thanks, Jill!

 

Click here to learn more about and register for Jill’s class.

Click here for our current class schedule.

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Meet the Members: Susan Johnston Taylor, plus a special discount for WLT Members

“I love something Liz Garton Scanlon said during her recent WLT class. When revising her picture books, she thinks not about making them shorter but more potent. I think that’s a good way to approach revisions in any genre.”

-Susan Johnston Taylor

A member of the Writers’ League since September, Susan Johnston Taylor lives in Austin. She’s co-chairing the first Austin regional conference for the American Society of Journalists & Authors on February 3, 2018. It’s a full day of insights and inspiration for nonfiction writers with a keynote by Sarah Bird, sessions on the craft and business of writing, networking and much WLT members get a $20 discount on registration with the code TX18-WLT-TX. More details at tiny.cc/asjatx.

Read the interview to learn more about Susan.

Scribe: In what genre(s) do you write?

Susan Johnston Taylor: After working as a freelancer writing nonfiction articles about personal finance and small business for almost a decade, I was starting to burn out, so I had the crazy idea to write a picture book. Several classes and manuscripts later, I’m now hooked and find that tapping into my younger self’s curiosity fuels my writing for grownups, too.

Scribe: What author would you most like to have a drink with, and what’s the first question you would ask them?

SJT: I’d ask Charlotte Brontë about her revision process. What was in the first draft of “Jane Eyre” that was left on the cutting room floor and did any of those scenes wind up in another story?

Scribe: If you were stranded on a deserted island, what book would you want to have with you to keep you sane?

SJT:  Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. The subtitle (“Some Instructions on Writing and Life”) reflects how the book not only speaks to the craft of writing but also the challenges of being human.

Scribe: What have you learned from your association with the Writers’ League?

SJT: I love something Liz Garton Scanlon said during her recent WLT class. When revising her picture books, she thinks not about making them shorter but more potent. I think that’s a good way to approach revisions in any genre.

Scribe: Where do you see your writing taking you (or you taking it) in the future?

SJT: I’m shopping around several picture book manuscripts (including a pun-filled grammar story), so I hope my writing leads to a publishing deal. I’d love to write an adult nonfiction book, too, but I’m still zeroing in on the right focus.

Scribe: Here at the Writers’ League, we love sharing book recommendations. What’s one Texas-related book that has come out within the past year that you couldn’t put down?

SJT: Texas has so many awesome writers, it’s hard to choose one! I studied with Jason Gallaher at the Writing Barn here in Austin and loved his debut picture book Whobert Whover, Owl Detective, which came out this summer, so shout out to Jason and his awesome class. (He also spoke at WLT’s July Third Thursday this year.)

Scribe: Is there anything else about you that you would like to share with the world? An opportunity for blatant self-promotion!

SJT: Yes, I’m co-chairing the first Austin regional conference for the American Society of Journalists & Authors on February 3, 2018. It’s a full day of insights and inspiration for nonfiction writers with a keynote by Sarah Bird, sessions on the craft and business of writing, networking and much more. WLT members get a $20 discount on registration with the code TX18-WLT-TX. More details at tiny.cc/asjatx.

Thanks, Susan!

If you’re a Writers’ League member and you’d be interested in being interviewed for our Meet the Members feature, email us at member@writersleague.org for more information. It’s a great way for other members to get to know you and for you to share a bit about what you’re working on! Please also email us, at the same address, if you’d like to learn more about WLT board service.

Meet the Members: Bernadette Nason

“A rewarding element (mostly) of the memoir genre is that one is transported to the places one is writing about.”

-Bernadette Nason

A member of the Writers’ League since 1992, Bernadette Nason lives in Austin, TX.

Scribe: In what genre(s) do you write?

Bernadette Nason: Memoir and YA so far, but I have a novel, already finished as a screenplay, simply screaming for attention.

Scribe: What author would you most like to have a drink with, and what’s the first question you would ask them?

BN: I’d like to drink wine with Italian author Andrea Camilleri (Inspector Montalbano series) and ask about the way he depicts Italian women in his books, and whether they’re based on people he knows. Italians have such distinctive national characteristics, which seem peculiar to that part of the world, that stereotypes have emerged. When I was describing my Italian colleagues in Tea in Tripoli, I feared they might come across as stereotypes, rather than the very real people they were to me.

Scribe: If you were stranded on a deserted island, what book would you want to have with you to keep you sane?

BN: I think about this regularly (really) and have considered, variously, the dictionary, the thesaurus, and the Bible. At the moment, I’d choose The Forest by Edward Rutherford because it’s set in Hampshire in England and would remind me of my home. If I were allowed to take a series, I’d take Outlander because I’ve enjoyed a few of the TV episodes, but never read any of the books.

Scribe: What have you learned from your association with the Writers’ League?

BN: Hard to list in a short piece like this, but when I think of WLT, I think of classes and community. When I joined in 1992, I was immediately connected with like-minded others, giving me an incredible boost when I was a flailing newbie. When I was close to my first draft of Tea in Tripoli, I rejoined after a long break, and, frankly, it saved my bacon. Not only did I learn a huge amount from the fabulous classes (memoir writing and many others), but I also met supportive people who were following the same path, and we picked each other’s brains and gave each other confidence. Even more important, when I’d been closed off at my desk for hours, days, weeks at a time, the writers’ gatherings kept me rational and somewhat coherent! On a day-to-day basis, the staff have always been there for me, answering quick (and neurotically long) questions, about everything from writing technique to how to find an agent. This all sounds a bit obsequious, but it’s true – I can’t imagine a better resource.

Scribe: Where do you see your writing taking you (or you taking it) in the future?

BN: A rewarding element (mostly) of the memoir genre is that one is transported to the places one is writing about. Having spent more than five years researching, revisiting, then writing Tea in Tripoli, I felt as if I were in North Africa for way longer than the fifteen months I actually lived there! In theory, chronologically, Dinner in Dubai is up next; it’s in “detailed outline” stage with many individual chapters completed. Since I did, in real-life, spend five years there, it’s a much more complex situation than Tea, and extremely difficult to sift through as far as what stays and what goes. My editor will have a field day when I present 700 pages of expatriate shenanigans! I’m leaning therefore towards a book of witty seasonal anecdotes about dysfunctional Christmases around the world, Stealing Baby Jesus, which is close to being a completed first draft.

Scribe: Here at the Writers’ League, we love sharing book recommendations. What’s one Texas-related book that has come out within the past year that you couldn’t put down?

BN: My immediate thought was Bret Anthony Johnston’s Remember Me Like This, which I loved, but I think it’s more than a year old, so I’ll go with Houston author Apply Gidley’s compelling new novel Fireburn, a meticulously researched historical romance with a storyline involving class, race and gender. Set in St. Croix, Fireburn‘s release coincided with recent hurricane activity, and having read it at that time, I’m now rooting for the US Virgin Islands to make a valiant comeback!

Scribe: Is there anything else about you that you would like to share with the world? An opportunity for blatant self-promotion!

BN: Although I’m known as an actor/storyteller/voice-over artist, I’ve been writing all my life. Tea in Tripoli: A Memoir is my first book, inspired by my expatriate adventures during Gaddafi’s turbulent regime, c. 1984-85. Running away from the UK, I took the first available overseas job and found myself in Libya working for an oil company with eleven other British secretaries. The book covers my attempts to escape my past on a sometimes comic, often perilous, journey of self-discovery.

Here are several reviews:

“Nason weaves her spell on the reader with her witty prose, conversational style and peerless storytelling…an utterly fascinating personal account of an adventurous woman…both amusing and frightening…” –Broadway World Book Review

“Drenched in the aftermath of colonialism, Tea in Tripoli is a coming of age tale like no other. Nason is a brave and witty travel companion who leaves you looking forward to the next trip.” –Donna Johnson, Author of Holy Ghost Girl: A Memoir

Tea in Tripoli was released by Brave Bear & Co. on August 21, 2017, and is available at Amazon, BookPeople in Austin and The Twig in San Antonio. To learn more about it and me, please visit my website: bernadettenason.com.

Thanks, Bernadette!

If you’re a Writers’ League member and you’d be interested in being interviewed for our Meet the Members feature, email us at member@writersleague.org for more information. It’s a great way for other members to get to know you and for you to share a bit about what you’re working on! Please also email us, at the same address, if you’d like to learn more about WLT board service.

Meet the WLT Members Signing on Sunday at our Texas Book Festival Booth!

The Texas Book Festival is this weekend, and we’re pumped about the weekend’s schedule and the diversity of this year’s offerings. Check out the TBF website for the full list of authors and panels and make sure to check out Lit Crawl Austin on Saturday night for even more fun events (plus cocktails)!

Every year, we look forward to our exhibitor booth at TBF, where visitors can meet our staff and volunteers, learn about membership, and raise a glass to toast our book award honorees. And this year, as in years past, we’re thrilled to offer our members, many of whom are incredible Texas authors, the opportunity to sign and promote their books at our booth. Check out the schedule!

We’ll have signings all weekend, and we wanted to share a little more about each of our signers with you in advance of the festival. Yesterday we shared information about Saturdays’ authors, and check the blog again tomorrow for a post on several special events happening at our booth and around the festival!

You can find us at Exhibitor Tent 3, Booths 320-321. (Find info on the festival grounds and parking here.)

SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 5
AUTHOR SIGNINGS

11 a.m.
Jess Hagemann and Bernadette Nason (Nonfiction + Memoir)

Jess Hagemann is an Austin-based ghostwriter and accomplished biographer. Her company, Cider Spoon Stories, specializes in helping seniors, veterans, and small business owners write their life stories as books. Whispers is an inspiring collection of ten stories from sexual assault survivors in central Texas.

Bernadette Nason, a native Brit, is an award-winning actor, voice-over artist and storyteller. She has been on the Texas Commission on the Arts Touring Artists’ Roster since 2002, presenting annually to over 30,000 people. She’s also acclaimed for her solo presentations of biographical stories about growing up in England, and expatriate life: Tea in Tripoli; Dinner in Dubai; Iced Tea in Texas; and Stealing Baby Jesus. Nason is regularly seen in regional theatre productions, and is a company member of Austin Playhouse. She received the Austin Critics’ Table Award for Conspicuous Versatility. Her memoir Tea in Tripoli is her first book and recounts her extraordinary, often perilous, journey of self-discovery in Gaddafi’s Libya, c. 1984-85.

12 p.m.
Lynn G. Abrams, R. Rachel Gauna, & JoDee Neathery (Children’s + Literary Fiction)

Lynn G. Abrams wrote her first story, The Mischievous Puppy, on a piece of construction paper when she was eight. She resumed writing when she became a mom, although on somewhat better paper. She is the author of The Ten Dinosaurs picture book series and is a member of SCBWI and WLT. She holds BA and MSW degrees, teaches adult education, and volunteers with Boy Scouts, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and others. In each of her books, she invites children to learn new words and stretch their imagination. Lynn enjoys learning something from everyone, and hopes young readers will do the same! In The Tale Of Lucky The Dog, which won the 2016 Writers’ League of Texas Discovery Prize Award in the Picture Book category, Lucky The Dog gives advice to homeless dogs on how to find a home and train their humans.

R. Rachel Gauna is a lover of the outdoors, be it the ocean or the deep wilderness of a backcountry trail. Her other passion is the magic of words, whether they’re words she writes, words she reads or words she hears through song and other storytelling. The Thinking Log is her first published book, and she is currently working on her second novel. Rachel is originally from New Mexico; has lived in Central Texas; Denver; San Diego; Asheville, North Carolina; and currently resides in Amarillo, Texas.

JoDee Neathery drew from her Texas and California roots to pluck a few personalities off the family tree to create her debut novel Life in a Box, five years in the making. From a diverse professional background she focused on her love of the written word to write freelance articles for a nonprofit and now enjoys a byline in a local newspaper in East Texas where she and her husband reside.

1 p.m.
Rosa Walston Latimer & Bruce Thatcher (Nonfiction)

Rosa Walston Latimer’s interest in preserving women’s history was sparked by the story of her Harvey Girl grandmother and led to her first book, Harvey Houses of Texas, followed by Harvey Houses of New Mexico and Harvey Houses of Kansas – all published by The History Press. Harvey Houses of Kansas received a 2016 “Notable Kansas Book” award. Rosa’s fourth book, Harvey Houses of Arizona, will be released in the fall of 2018. Rosa, who lives in Austin, is also a writing consultant and an instructor at the West Texas Writers’ Academy at West Texas A&M.

Bruce Thatcher wants to share truths learned from our past to avoid making the same mistakes today. He grew up in the Midwest, graduated from Iowa State and University of Chicago, worked in marketing and management, then led a consulting firm until retirement. While living in the Chicago area, he was elected to a local school board, serving a term as its President. He was a Director of Literacy Volunteers of America, and taught classes at Avila University, William Jewel College and the University of Missouri at Kansas City. Thatcher and his wife, Carol, live near New Braunfels, Texas. Rise and Decline: Where We Are and What We Can Do About It derives a critical element of national life cycles through case-study examinations of six nations, including the United States and its present situation.

2 p.m.
Joe Giordano & Meredith Lee (Mystery/Thriller)

Joe Giordano was born in Brooklyn. He and his wife, Jane, have lived in Greece, Brazil, Belgium and the Netherlands. They now live in Texas with their shih tzu, Sophia.  Joe’s stories have appeared in more than one-hundred magazines including The Monarch Review, The Saturday Evening Post, decomP, and Shenandoah. His novel, Birds of Passage, An Italian Immigrant Coming of Age Story, was published by Harvard Square Editions in October 2015. His second novel, Appointment with ISIL, an Anthony Provati Thriller, was published by HSE in June 2017. Read the first chapters on Joe’s website.

Meredith Lee is the pen name for the Austin-based writing team of Dixie Lee Evatt and Sue Meredith Cleveland. A former political reporter for the Austin American-Statesman, Dixie taught writing at Syracuse University. Sue’s work-in-progress Young Adult novel was a 2015 finalist in the Cynthia Leitich Smith Writing Mentor Award. Dixie and Sue collaborated on a screenplay that was a semi-finalist for the 2013 Chesterfield Writer’s Film Project and a Hollywood studio optioned another screenplay. Those earnings provided seed money for their publishing imprint, ThirtyNineStars. Shrouded, the first installment in the Crispin Leads Mystery Series, is the story of a graduate student whose trip to Rome to study burial rituals at the Vatican is derailed when she is witness to a murder. Shrouded was a finalist in the 2017 Writers’ League of Texas Manuscript Contest.

Stay tuned tomorrow for our special event schedule!


If you read this post and thought “I’ve published a book! I wish I could sign at the Texas Book Festival!” consider joining the Writers’ League! Signing opportunities at our booths at the San Antonio Book Festival and the Texas Book Festival are available to all current members. Space is limited, so sign up for our newsletter to stay informed about when we will start accepting applications for the 2018 San Antonio Book Festival.

Meet the WLT Members Signing on Saturday at our Texas Book Festival Booth!

The Texas Book Festival is this weekend, and we’re so pumped about the weekend’s schedule and the diversity of this year’s offerings. Check out the TBF website for the full list of authors and panels and make sure to check out Lit Crawl Austin on Saturday night for even more fun events (plus cocktails)!

Every year, we look forward to our exhibitor booth at TBF, where visitors can meet our staff and volunteers, learn about membership, and raise a glass to toast our book award honorees. And this year, as in years past, we’re thrilled to offer our members, many of whom are incredible Texas authors, the opportunity to sign and promote their books at our booth. Check out the schedule!

We’ll have signings all weekend, and we wanted to share a little more about each of our signers with you in advance of the festival. Check out our blog tomorrow for a post on Sundays’ authors and again on Wednesday for a post on several special events happening at our booth and around the festival!

You can find us at Exhibitor Tent 3, Booths 320-321. (Find info on the festival grounds and parking here.)

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 4
AUTHOR SIGNINGS

10 a.m.
Lauren Flake & Kathryn Kronenberg (Children’s)

Lauren Flake is an artist, author, Alzheimer’s daughter, and seventh generation Texan. She lives near her native Austin with her husband Travis and their two young daughters. In 2015, her #TexasStrong shirts raised over $146,000 for central Texas flood relief in memory of her mother, Dixie Benton Stucky. Lauren’s children’s books–Where Did My Sweet Grandma Go?: A Preschooler’s Guide to Losing a Loved One and its companion, Where Did My Sweet Grandpa Go?–include original artwork by her late mom alongside her own watercolor illustrations. Purchase her books here.

Kathryn Kronenberg is a born-and-raised Texan with a Big Dream: that people all around the world smile BIG in who they are as they believe in themselves and their dreams! The idea whacked her over the head like a 2 x 4 at a symphony ten years ago. At first, she ignored the call. Then finally after going to every bookstore and library she could find, she chose to follow her dream. Now, she knows following one’s dream can turn life into a grand adventure. Her book Dream BIG is set in the wilds of East Africa long ago, where animals discover a powerful secret—SHHH—that they can use to help make dreams come true.

11 a.m.
Melinda Freeland & Maureen Lomo (Women’s Fiction/Romance)

Melinda Freeland’s novelist aspirations began not long after she learned to read and write, but she’s come a long way since penning her first story about Mr. & Mrs. Texas Toast. Love, Texas – Population 2 is her debut Christian contemporary romance novel. It was inspired by Melinda’s life as a newspaper reporter, her reunion with her first love, and her faith journey. Melinda lives in Canyon Lake, Texas. Some of her favorite pastimes are watching at least one drama or comedy DVD a week, spending time with family and friends, listening to a wide genre of music, and reading novels and biographies.

In high school, Maureen Lomo wrote poetry, but it would be over twenty years before she entertained the idea of writing professionally. She received her B.A. from the University of Texas and went on to a career in H.R. in Houston and D.C. before eventually working for the Dept. of State overseas. There, she experienced many fulfilling moments as she traveled and worked around the world. Now, as Maureen develops fiction, she makes sisterhood and West African culture a recurring theme in her work. She crafts her inspirational literature from her home base in Austin, Texas. Her debut novel Tenth Year in the Sun weaves together the lives of four “soul sisters” from different cultures as the best friends journey into the fullness of womanhood and endeavor to honor their ten-year commitment to reunite in a foreign land.

12 p.m.
Jerry Craven & James Garrison (Science Fiction/Literary Fiction)

Jerry Craven has published 28 books; his 2017 publications are Ceremonial Stones of Fire (short stories set in SE Asia) and Parallel Hours, a time travel novel co-written with Andrew Geyer. He is a member of the Texas Institute of Letters and the Science Fiction Writers of America. He serves as director for both Lamar University Literary Press and Ink Brush Press, and he is General Editor for the international journal Amarillo Bay. In Parallel Hours, which he’ll be signing at TBF, a Soviet era engineer, Tejmur, uses his newly invented time window to flee the 1990 Soviet invasion of Baku, Azerbaijan—only to run smack into Genghis Khan’s army, which is invading the city 770 years earlier.

James Garrison is a recovering lawyer who lives and writes in Houston, Texas. Born in Statesville, North Carolina, he attended the University of North Carolina, where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa majoring in English and history and nurtured an interest in creative writing. Drafted during his first year in Duke Law School, he ended up as an army MP in Vietnam, where the endemic violence, corruption, and poverty—as well as the daily challenges of a military cop in a war zone—left a lasting impression reaching well beyond his years of practicing law in the oil patch. Set in the Mekong Delta during the Vietnam War, his book QL 4 is not a war story but a tale of intrigue, betrayal, and crime among soldiers on the same side in an unpopular war.

1 p.m.
Donna & Stacy Richardson (Children’s)

Authors of the chapter book The WWG-Mystery of the Town Treasure, Donna and Stacy Richardson share with you their spirit adventures through the eyes of an intuitive child. The WWG Book Series is based on events experienced by the authors and their loved ones while growing up around the Texas Gulf Coast  and hearing tales of Bailey’s Prairie, the 1900 Storm, and the city built around cemeteries. You can find them sitting outside at dusk along Oyster Creek in Texas listening for the next story to write. So, come on Smaggles! Learn the WWG code words, and get ready for an adventure.

2 p.m.
Cynthia E. Davis, Ruth Davis, & Monica Shaw (Spirituality + Historical Fiction)

Cynthia E. Davis is a wife, mom, entrepreneur, military veteran, and most importantly a child of the most High King. She is passionate about people and helping them achieve their dreams. Her goal is to be a difference maker. Her mission is to eradicate poverty of the mind and to illuminate the path to a greater life for others. Her book The Spoken Word – Changing Your Life Through the Word is a devotional to help you on your journey through life.

Ruth Davis recently released Thirteen Rivers, the Last Voyage of LaBelle a novel of historical fiction based on the true adventures of French explorer Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle and his colony. Ruth, a fifth generation Texan, lives in Palestine, Texas. Her family’s homestead in Henderson County dates back to 1887. She and husband Dan Davis, both avid history enthusiasts, have a real estate office and working ranch in Anderson County.

Monica Shaw is a native of Texas where she has been a successful entrepreneur.  Her debut novel, The Rainwater Secret, started off as a personal research project looking into the life of her great aunt who became a missionary later in life.  Shaw is married with 3 children and resides in Dallas, Texas.

 

Stay tuned tomorrow for our Sunday schedule!


If you read this post and thought “I’ve published a book! I wish I could sign at the Texas Book Festival!” consider joining the Writers’ League! Signing opportunities at our booths at the San Antonio Book Festival and the Texas Book Festival are available to all current members. Space is limited, so sign up for our newsletter to stay informed about when we will start accepting applications for the 2018 San Antonio Book Festival.

5 Questions for Stuart Horwitz

“There is a false debate between pantsers and outliners, those people who write by the seat of their pants and those who meticulously plan every writing session. In truth, we are all both of these — they are two sides of every writer’s psyche.”

-Stuart Horwitz

Stuart Horwitz is a ghostwriter, independent editor, and founder and principal of Book Architecture. His clients have reached the best-seller list in both fiction and non-fiction, and have appeared on Oprah!, The Today Show, The Tonight Show, and in journals in their respective fields. He is the author of three books on writing: Blueprint Your Bestseller, which was named one of 2013’s best books about writing by The Writer magazine; Book Architecture, which became an Amazon bestseller; and Finish Your Book in Three Drafts.

On November 11, Stuart will teach “Plotting Your Book with Scenes and Narrative Arcs” at ACC Highland in Austin, TX. This class will introduce strategies for developing plot lines around recurring themes and breaking a novel into scenes to diagnose missteps and missed opportunities. We asked Stuart about the books he’s learned from, advice he gives often and advice he thinks is overused, and what people will take away from the class.

What is a book that you recommend to people over and over? What makes it so compelling?

One of my favorite books on creativity is by the filmmaker David Lynch: Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity. As writers, frequently all we read are books about writing. Don’t get me wrong, I love my Paris Review “Writers at Work” interviews as much as the next person. I just think a lot can be gained by immersing oneself in the creative life as a whole, and not just our literary slice of the pie. Lynch’s essays are very short — they can be digested before a writing session to help you sink in. And then sink all the way down.

In your own work, what has been one challenge posed by the craft, structure, voice, etc., of a book that you’ve had to puzzle out?

I recently completed a short memoir for my daughter who was going to college at her request (actually, at her insistence!). The challenge was that I know her so well, and she knows me so well, that I couldn’t find a narratorial voice that felt authentic. It all seemed like a big put-on, until I started writing each chapter as a letter to her. Then it fell into place and is probably the best thing I’ve ever written. But I got there by admitting to myself that I didn’t know what I was doing . . . which opened up a way to do it.

What piece of advice do you find yourself giving to writers again and again?

Trust the drafting process. This sounds like an ad for my class coming up in November, but I really mean it. Know what draft you’re in. The first draft requires a very different approach than the second or third draft. You start in different places, you expect different things, you find your writing session “win” differently. Every writer needs to have her or his own process by which they try out material, see what the best parts are to bring them up a level, and then decide on an idea’s best expression before moving on.

Is there a common piece of writing advice that you wish people wouldn’t put so much stock in or follow too closely?

I think finding your voice is largely a misunderstood concept. Your voice is your voice when the outside world doesn’t interfere. Saul Bellow called it the “prompter” (and he said we all have one, so don’t think it’s reserved just for geniuses!) — that source of words that is fed to you just as you become conscious of them. To hear that voice we might exercise before a writing session, meditate, consume adult beverages (it’s been done before) so that we can listen for that voice. We can’t go get it somewhere else though without it sounding terribly affected.

What is one thing that people will take away from this class?

I won’t cannibalize on my trust the process answer above, although it is tempting. That’s really the heart of it, but I will say one more thing. There is a false debate between pantsers and outliners: those people who write by the seat of their pants and those who meticulously plan every writing session. In truth, we are all both of these — they are two sides of every writer’s psyche. It’s knowing when in the drafting process to lean on which side that is the real trick. Plus, it will be fun.

Thanks, Stuart!

 

Click here to learn more about and register for Stuart’s class.

Click here for our current class schedule.

Meet the Members: Kate Winkler Dawson

“Writing a book is a thorough education that’s invaluable to anyone hoping to learn more about themselves.”

-Kate Winkler Dawson

A member of the Writers’ League since 2015, Kate Winkler Dawson lives in Austin. Her book Death in the Air is out this month from Hachette Book Group.

Scribe: In what genre(s) do you write?

Kate Winkler Dawson: Historical narrative nonfiction and true crime.

Scribe:  What author would you most like to have a drink with, and what’s the first question you would ask them?

KWD: Truman Capote, and I’d ask to see his notes from In Cold Blood.

Scribe: If you were stranded on a deserted island, what book would you want to have with you to keep you sane?

KWD: Would it be odd to say Lord of the Flies? 

Scribe: What have you learned from your association with the Writers’ League?

KWD: There are so many wonderful writers out there and there are also quite a few people who want to be wonderful writers, which is just as important.

Scribe: Where do you see your writing taking you (or you taking it) in the future?

KWD: I don’t plan to specialize in one time period or even one genre, so I’m excited to learn about different eras, different cities, and even different countries. Writing a book is a quick, but thorough education that’s invaluable to anyone hoping to learn more about themselves. I’m grateful each time I’m able to explore a new world; with each project, I learn something new about myself.

Scribe: Here at the Writers’ League, we love sharing book recommendations. What’s one Texas-related book that has come out within the past year that you couldn’t put down? 

KWD: I loved Skip Hollandsworth’s The Midnight Assassin.* He did a beautiful job with an incredibly difficult subject. Historical true crime is difficult because, many times, your sources are so limited. He really captured the spooky atmosphere of 19th century Austin.

Scribe: Is there anything else about you that you would like to share with the world? An opportunity for blatant self-promotion!

KWD: I think many readers will buy my book, Death in the Air, because one of the characters is a serial killer; there’s a massive audience for true crime (thank goodness). But at its heart, the book is about a ghostly fog that morphed into a deadly smog, fueled by pollution caused by coal, sold by a desperate British government. Air pollution is still deadly, still frightening, and still bolstered by callous governments. I ask readers to decide for themselves, which murderer was more fearsome–a killer who buried at least six people or a one that strangled to death thousands? 

On October 28 at 6 pm, I’ll be signing my book and speaking with WLT Executive Director Becka Oliver at BookPeople.** Hope to see some of you there!

Thanks, Kate!

*Editor’s Note: We agree! The Midnight Assassin won in the nonfiction category of our 2016 Book Awards. Submissions are open now for the 2017 Book Awards – details here.

**Editor’s Note: Kate Winkler Dawson is one of WLT’s success stories. She met her agent at our Agents & Editors Conference and is an active member of our writing community. At her BookPeople event, she’ll be in conversation with WLT Executive Director Becka Oliver about her new book Death in the Air.  Find the Facebook event here. We hope you can join us!

If you’re a Writers’ League member and you’d be interested in being interviewed for our Meet the Members feature, email us at member@writersleague.org for more information. It’s a great way for other members to get to know you and for you to share a bit about what you’re working on! Please also email us, at the same address, if you’d like to learn more about WLT board service.