Every year over the Presidents’ Day weekend, I do a two day teaching stint at the Southern California Writers’ Conference held here in San Diego. About ten minutes from home, actually. NovelCram is an unusual conference offering because participants sign up to spend the whole weekend with me, nine to four on Saturday and Sunday. For me it’s unusual because instead of sitting at my desk, I’m on my feet the whole time. Thank you, Joseph Pilates.

So what is NovelCram?

Well, here’s the background. As some of you know I’ve actually had two careers in writing. The first ended when I decided I didn’t want to write any more bodice-ripper historicals – what my hero used to call “sex, violence and dress patterns.” It took me twenty years to make the transition into mainstream fiction and during that time I wrote four books I couldn’t sell.

To try to figure out what I was doing “wrong,” I started reading everything I could buy or borrow about novel writing: plot, character, scenes, dialog, you name it, I studied it. I also read a lot of novels and learned how to use them as text books, vetting what I’d read in all those how-to books. For most of those years I belonged to two writers’ groups where I learned how to take and apply criticism and when to flat out ignore it.

Eventually, my agent sold WILDWOOD – which was called BLUEGANG at the time. I still prefer that name but naming books is a topic for another post.

In NovelCram I teach what I learned. The lessons apply to any book you want someone other you’re your best friend to read – any genre, from literary to romance to science fiction. I have the pleasure of working with very talented men and women who take their writing seriously. Youngest student? Thirteen. Oldest? Seventy plus.

On Saturday morning, using something called the Story Starter, we begin by talking about the difference between an idea and a plot. By one p.m. heads are spinning and I know everyone’s name and have talked to each about their novel – at whatever stage it’s in. In the afternoon we talk about character development, what it takes to make an imagined character seem like someone you would want to have coffee with or run away from as fast as your little legs will carry you. By four p.m. everyone is delighted to get away from me.

The next morning we talk about scenes and transition and in the afternoon we examine what makes a good first chapter. I say “we” because I don’t just lecture, there’s lots of back and forth, q&a. This year, for the first time, I critiqued first paragraph/first pages and I’ll definitely do that again.

I was home by six, dragged my hero into the car and went out for a steak dinner; Monday I slept a lot and did a bit of writing; Tuesday I pretended I had recovered, and today I am still pretending. The whole week is probably pretty much shot, but it was worth it.

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One Response to “Novelcram”

  1. pam eglinski says:

    This blog helps quite a bit in describing what the novelcram consists of and how it is formatted in a two-day workshop. This may be all you can tell me, but if there is more … please share all that you can. Thanks again, Pam Eglinski [EE-glen-ski]