Saturday, June 9, 2007

Conference update #2

Today was the busy day at the conference, with a full day of workshops. Right now I'm taking an introvert break before going down for dinner and the historical talent revue, with keynote speech by Diana Gabaldon.

As is usual at these events, the day was a mixed bag. I attended an entertaining workshop on how an author recreates a famous battle, the author in question being C.C. Humphreys, who IMHO bears a striking resemblance to Christopher Eccleston. He read some excerpts from his novel Jack Absolute by way of example, and I was one of many at the workshop who rushed straight to the conference bookshop to buy it. I got the last copy, in fact. If the book lives up to the promise of the scenes he read aloud, I may have found where to get my Age of Flintlock fix once I run out of Sharpes. At least briefly. Humphreys has only written three in the series thus far.

Next came a state-of-the-market workshop, always a slightly depressing event unless you happen to be writing EXACTLY what the market currently adores, which for now is fictionalized biographies of famous women. I think it's wise to know the market, because it can help you package your work for editors and agents--for example, while my alternate history isn't a fictionalized biography of a notable woman, it does have well-known figures ("marquee names," as the agent giving the workshop put it) as major characters, and you better believe I'll tailor my pitch and synopsis for it accordingly.

But in the end, what are you going to do if you're 3/4 of the way through a manuscript on, say, Genghis Khan, and some agent or editor says it's a terrible, unmarketable idea? Go home, give up, and delete the file? Or what if you ARE writing what's hot, but you're me and have a full-time job, a husband, and a 3-year-old and can only write so fast, and you hear that the market for your idea is nearing its peak and likely to start fading soon? Quit the job that pays your bills and alienate the husband and daughter you love just so you can write 80 pages a week instead of 15 and strike while the iron is hot? In the end, you've got to do as Bernard Cornwell recommended at his workshop--write what you want to read. Otherwise it's not worth it.

I spent the afternoon in military history land, between Cornwell's workshop and a Q&A panel, and thanks to Cornwell's generosity, I probably have a lead on the most vexing research question I've encountered thus far in planning my alternate history. And now I need to change for dinner and go fake extroversion again.


Tess said...

Susan - my dh has read Jack Absolute and I think one of the others in the series. Not quite Cornwell, IIRC, but still pretty good :) (He's a Cornwell fan too and really disappointed we couldn't make the conference).

And you're right, in the end we can only write what we love - writing for the market is pointless. Writing something marketable isn't.

Off to read your update # 3 - thanks for posting them!!

Susan Wilbanks said...

I'm about halfway through Jack Absolute now, and I agree with your husband's assessment. They're up there with Cornwell in terms of research and plot, but the style and voice aren't quite as polished and strong.