Thursday, July 31, 2008

PNWA Conference, part three

I’m working my way through my list of books recommended at the PNWA conference. Recommending their favorite books was a common thread among the agents, editors, and presenters. I was pleased to note that I had read many of them already or at least had them on my shelf. A few are on their way to me thanks to the magic of 1-click ordering.

I’m currently savoring Eudora Welty’s One Writer’s Beginnings. It is a small book describing her beginnings as a person and as a writer. Her descriptions are so precise and vivid I feel like I am there in Jackson, Mississippi with Eudora and the Welty family and their big clock in the hall. I suppose in her descriptions of things that are not only visual but also have an aural presence, she is able to easily evoke two of our senses. In one of the memoir sessions I attended at the conference, the instructor pointed out a student’s technique of setting the time and place by naming the songs her father sang to her mother’s piano accompaniment. No further description was necessary if the listener was familiar with any of the songs listed. Eudora Welty does this by mentioning the clock in the hall that chimes and the Victrola that needs winding and plays opera overtures and popular music of the time.

I’m pasting here an annotated list of some of the books recommended at the conference. Due to my selective listening, though, the fiction and screenwriting titles that I wasn’t interested in are omitted. I wouldn't mind knowing what books on writing readers recommend!

Katz, Christina. Get Known Before the Book Deal: Use Your Personal Strengths to Grow an Author Platform. Writer’s Digest, 2008.
It’s all about the platform! This was a recurring theme. Before you can pitch your book to an agent, and before people will buy it, you have to prove you’re an expert on the topic and known.

King, Stephen. On Writing. Pocket, 2002.
I’m not the biggest fan of Stephen King’s scary books, but this was one of the best, most down-to-earth books on writing I’ve read. And it is funny.

Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. Anchor, 1995.
This is a popular one, and for good reason. It completely changed the way I approach writing. It makes a lot of sense.

Lukeman, Noah. The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile. Fireside, 2005.

Lyon, Elizabeth. A Writer’s Guide to Nonfiction. Perigee, 2003.
Lyon, Elizabeth. Nonfiction Book Proposals Anybody Can Write. Perigee, 2002.
This author was at the conference, and unfortunately I could not stay for her whole presentation because of an editor appointment. I was able to tell from her speaking that she was clear and focused, and her books seem to have the same clarity and practicality. I bought these two, but there are more.

McGee, Margaret D. Sacred Attention: A Spiritual Practice for Finding God in the Moment. Skylight Paths, 2007.
I get a little nervous about memoir-writing classes because sometimes people (and me) get a little emotional. This was a wonderful session for two reasons. First, she really did show us how to reach out to readers with the Universal Human Emotion, and second, she had a great technique for recalling important memories and writing about them. This book is linked to the church year, but not in an intimidating way for those of us who are not churchy.

Welty, Eudora. One Writer’s Beginnings. Harvard University, 1983.
Just lovely writing with great descriptions.

Zinsser, William K. On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction. Collins, 2006.
This book covers many kinds of nonfiction writing and covers them thoroughly and elegantly. He has other books on writing that I count among my favorites.

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