Tag Archives: Donald Maass

Remember When Genre Was Genre: Digesting the Writer’s Digest Conference 2012 (Part 2)

All of the speakers at the Writer’s Digest Conference that I attended last weekend were excellent.  One of them who stands out in my mind is Donald Maass, who spoke about writing for the 21st Century.  I thought he was going to tell us to write about robots or the aging baby-boomers.  But he was talking more about the way to write a book rather than on a particular topic.

For example, Maass led us through some questions to ask ourselves about our novels.  What is something that would blow your novel sideways?  What is the main character’s one unshakeable belief?  How can we become dead Swedish authors?

He had us write down the one thing that we cannot bear to write down, one thing that we cannot say even to ourselves.  After checking that no one was looking over my shoulder, I jotted down my one thing and covered it hastily with my hand.  I saw what Maass was doing.  He was showing us how to bring emotion into our books, how to make the reader feel something.  What my novel needed, obviously, was for the main character to confront people who keep sitting there sniffling instead of blowing their noses.

Maass also made a prophecy; that cross-genre novels would be big in the 21st Century.  Like crossing paranormal with family epic.  Terrorist with romance.  Ketchup with mayonnaise (the last few are my examples).  In describing the book that people are looking for in the 21st Century, he kept using the words “high intensity” and “emotional,” and said that we should try to show a change occurring over many steps.

Maass’ talk was so electrifying that I was taking notes even before the audience members had finished telling their personal stories disguised as questions.  The notes were for a novel—a novel that was going to blow the doors off every library in the world.  A novel that would be open, face down, on nightstands everywhere.  A novel that would sit on everyone’s shelf from sea to shining sea.

And then I remembered that the novel of the 21st Century would be just electrons and computer code.

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Remember Life Before Memory Sticks: Digesting the Writer’s Digest Conference (Part 1)

This past weekend I attended the Writer’s Digest Conference at the Sheraton Hotel in Midtown Manhattan.  It just so happened that there was another Sheraton Hotel directly across the street.  Two Sheraton Hotels facing each other [caution: double spoiler alert], like the identical twin white mega churches at the end of Wayne’s World 2, during its parody of the end of The Graduate.

After I’d finished my coffee and noticed that the lecture I was attending, “Growing Bananas In Your Old DVD Player: An Introduction,” did not seem to have very much to do with writing and publishing and other ways to work in jeans and long t-shirts.  I wanted my money back, but all refunds had to be in banana seeds.

I was fortunately able to make the three lectures by author A.J. Jacobs, agent Donald Maass, and Chuck Sambuchino, an editor for Writer’s Digest Books (an imprint of F+W Media).  A.J. spoke about some approaches to writing about yourself in the 21st Century.  I started to think of myself as a robot, with a Pentium brain and a 75-page Terms and Conditions.  Then Donald Maass—known by some as simply, “Don”—talked about breaking through genre boundaries, and right then and there I began outlining a generational epic based on a family of extreme couponers.

The last speaker of the night was Chuck, who showed the attendees how to write the perfect pitch.  To write a pitch, he said, and I’m paraphrasing here, you have to make your book sound like the back of a DVD.  I wanted to ask him if the emergence of Blu-Ray discs required any adjustments to pitches, but the microphone was in the middle of the room, and to get to it I would have had to squeeze in between table and probably would have knocked some coats off of the backs of chairs.

The highlight of the evening came, however, from a question from a member of the audience.  The vigorous conference attendee said, “Now, let’s just say I’m pitching one of these agents tomorrow, and let’s just say I have a memory stick with my completed work on it.  At what point might be able to slip my stick into the agent’s hands?”  When the laughter died down, Chuck looked at the man, and advised him to not put any sticks into any agents’ hands. 

You just couldn’t achieve a public-speaking moment like that 10 years ago.

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