A review of The Portable Writer’s Conference

Like a writer’s conference, there are lots of different self contained mini-courses or topics presented by experts in their fields – 45 in all. Also like a writer’s conference you can pick and choose what topics are relevant to you and skip the rest.

Reviewed by Magdalena Ball

The Portable Writer’s Conference:
Your Guide to Getting and Staying Published
Stephen Blake Mettee (Ed)
Quill Driver Books
ISBN 1-884956-23-8
pb, 464pp, $US19.95
available in bookstores and
from the publisher at 1-800 497 4909

“Never stop learning your craft” says Stephen Blake Metttee, editor of The Portable Writer’s Conference.This is appropriate advice. His book is an excellent tool for learning your craft. Like a writer’s conference, there are lots of different self contained mini-courses or topics presented by experts in their fields – 45 in all. Also like a writer’s conference you can pick and choose what topics are relevant to you and skip the rest. However, unlike a writer’s conference, the price is under $20 (US), and you can reference the topics, both those of current and future interest, whenever you want. You also save the cab fare.

Mettee has done a good job. The topics are of wide ranging interest, are nicely organised, and without exception, well presented. James Frey provides a “session” on the importance of “attitude.” Shelly Lowenkopf provides a succint and very useful workshop on how to write a short story. Suzanne Forster provides a guide to crafting sexy love scenes. If youre working on a novel, you can skip directly to Larry Martin’s piece on writing a “page-turner”. If you want to know more about characterisation, Sara Ann Freed talks about how to make your people memorable. There are pieces on writing humour, becoming a columnist, improving your grammar, using dialogue, query letters, creating fiction from genealogy, writing exciting non-fiction, finding a publisher, writing period dialogue, on the business of writing, self-promotion, on submitting to small presses, writing vivid scenes, writing for children, writing for good money, self-help books, travel writing, screenplays, how to know when you need to move on, copyright, and lots more. There is a lot of information in these 464 pages, and if you are an all-rounder or the type of writer, like me, who tends to work in a number of different genres, you will find yourself referring to this book often.

Because it is in a conference format, and because each of the writers who have been chosen to populate this book have been given a reasonable amount of freedom, much of the information provided is innovating, pleasurable to read, and uses the author’s considerable experience to touch on a topic in a unique and personal way. For example, in “Meet a Jerk, Get to Work,” mystery writer Jacqueline Girdner talks about how she gets her ideas:

A comfy, warm soak in the hot tub leads to Murder Most Mellow. Of course, I started wondering how you could electrocute someone in a hot tub. I’m a mystery writer. I can’t help it. Vegatarian cooking ends up Fat-Free and Fatal. A friendly family get-together blossems into Tea-Totally Dead at the family reunion from hell. My mild-mannered myster writer’s critique group inspires cite>. And attending my high school reunion…well, you remember the Jerk who was elected Most Liely to Die.. The deserving Jerk.

You can learn a lot from an experienced writer’s observation techniques. You can also learn a lot from the specific step by step guidelines for ‘working’ your writing provided by the likes of Dan Poynter or terry Lonier.

The book ends with an extensive list of references, from a list of questions to ask literary agents, a standard manuscript format, proofreader’s marks, benchmark figures for royalties and advances, average book print runs, sample magazine writer’s guidelines, book publisher’s guidelines, and lists of recommended magazines, books, associates, websites, software, and writing courses.

If you are housebound like me, you will really enjoy the sensation of being able to dip into the kinds of presentations which most of the writers in this book give at conferences throughout the year and imagine yourself amongst other writers, temporarily child-free (only temporarily of course…), basking languidly in your otherwise “squeezed in” craft. Even if you do attend conferences regularly, this is a fantastic and very reasonably priced resource which you will return to repeatedly for helping you improve your writing abilities in a lot of different areas. Regardless of the genre you work in, whether you write novels, short stories, poetry, non-fiction books, for magazines, or just freelance wherever the work beckons and is well paid, you will find something in this guide that will help you do better. For more information, visit: 
The Portable Writers’ Conference: Your…

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