Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Quiet... and FESTiness

Listen...

Do you hear that?

No, no, ignore that ridiculous cricket. (Bah! Why must he interrupt my morning?) I wish you could hear how quiet it is here. The only sounds around me are the hum of my computer, the occasional passing of a truck, and the click-clack of my keyboard. It's glorious!

Know why? I'm home alone. Misterwrites is at work, bigwrites is at school, and littlewrites is with my parents for some one-on-two time. I very nearly don't know what to do with myself. Do I use this chance to catch up on chores, uninterrupted? Surely not. Do I focus on some writing, uninterrupted? Or take a good book to my favorite chair and devour it? Yes, both of those sound nice. Maybe I'll do them each through the course of the day...

***

After my post about the Omaha Lit Fest, Joanne asked me to share some of the things I took away from the event. Thanks for expressing that interest, Joanne. Here you be.

The first panel I attended was called Plagiarism, Fraud, and Other Literary Inspiration. The participating authors, though touching on varying topics within the broader scope, seemed always to come back to yes, plagiarism, but most often the recently-seen (and unwelcomed) practice of touting fiction as memoir. (Think James Frey, A Million Little Pieces.) Where is the line drawn between the author's truth, as a creative writer forming their own world, and the "truth" they're selling their readers? Obviously no blunt answer was given, but I gleaned from debate that we're all held responsible for what we write... be it fiction or non-fiction... and how we relay what we've written to our audience. We're held accountable for both presentation and representation. How do you feel about it?

Next was If You Haven't Got Anything Nice to Say About Anybody, Come Sit Next to Me: "writers and artists on the responsibility to offend." An odd choice for me, because I seek to offend no one. Ever. But rousing conversation ensued, when panelists talked about what offends them as readers, but also what they've experienced with offended readers of their own works. This is from where my broad generalization that the ambience was so liberal came, because while topics and words were thrown around with ease and comfort (sex and a certain "f" word, the latter for which I have absolutely no need), and the authors discussed how quick "society" is to over-react or become uncomfortable. And I was offended. Not the kind of get-up-and-leave, or let-them-know-and-cause-a-scene kind of offended, but I found it distasteful. That said, it reiterated to me where my comfort level lies. What am I comfortable discussing as a writer? As a person? How will I uphold my values and morals through the words I write? What about you?

**Please visit the comments screen and scroll to #10(ish) for my example of the type of offenses relevant to this discussion**

The third panel I attended was How Does That Make You Feel? Writers on Psychology. Here, panelists talked about their works, even reading excerpts, and how they found peace and healing through the process - and hoped to help others find the same. Most were memoirs, with topics such as abuse and addiction, though one author read from her novel (in which therapy played a role). What I learned from this hour was that, regardless of what we write, there's a certain catharsis involved. Whether we need personal healing from the content within or simply find the process of putting words and stories together therapeutic - and the idea of others reading our words and stories - we all feel something deeper. Your thoughts?

And last (for me) was Pretty On The Outside: Designers, Publishers and Writers on Book Cover Design. I admit, I only stayed halfway through this one, since, in part, that niggling feeling was starting up; the one telling me I had sweet daughters to get back to... The panelists showed us their books, and talked about their involvement over the finished look of their covers (both from big houses and independent pubs). It was kind of a premature topic for me, since I don't even have representation yet, but I found it interesting nonetheless. It sounded as though authors can get quite a bit of say in conception and design of their book's cover - which I thought neat, since I've always had a particular idea in mind for Bliss Lake (my novel). But what I got most from this discussion was that authors need to be involved. There's no reason you shouldn't, especially after you've sold your book and your role has transitioned into marketing, be proactive in each of the steps for publication. Maybe this is common knowledge, maybe this is stuff one's agent and/or editor would make clear, anyway. But it was something I'd never thought of before... and it makes sense. Our job isn't over once we've procured representation, or even a publisher. We still have to heavily involve ourselves... if for no other reasons than to insure we've represented ourselves well, that we're comfortable with our book's outcome, and that it will be at its best, all said and done. Do you agree?

And that, my friends, is what I learned from the Lit Fest. I should mention, the Fest was absolutely free. I merely showed up and gained entry. And I suspect they're all that way. If you've interest in attending such a festival, search google for "literary festivals" in your nearest big city. I'll be curious to see what you yourself gain from going...

27 comments:

Melanie Avila said...

Thanks for sharing this Janna. It sounds like they had a good variety of panels and covered some interesting topics.

I was just thinking about "offensiveness" in writing, but not in terms of vulgar words or overt sex scenes; more from social niceties and having characters going against that. My current novel has two sides of the immigration issue and the people on the "right" side call the others some really nasty things. I had a hard time writing it, worrying that it would offend readers, but it's what the characters would say. (I picked that up from the writing books.)

Rachel Burton said...

The "responsibility" to offend? Huh? I don't see that as a one of my responsibilities at all! And being offensive merely for the sake of being offensive never reads gracefully. (Not that I don't think there isn't important/great writing out there that is offensive. I believe there is.)

But maybe they're operating with a different definition of "offensive" than I am.

Anyway, hope you enjoy your quiet day!

Terra Chandler said...

It sounds as thought you had an incredibly productive and inspiring lit fest!! As for your inspiring day.....I think your plan sounds marvelous. Read and Write!!!! Brilliant!! :) Have fun!!

K.S. Clay said...

I would never write something with intentions to offend. I might write something that does offend, though, depending upon what the story and the characters demand. Also, it's important to remember that what offends one person doesn't offend another so eventually it seems that just about everyone is bound to offend someone.

Melissa Marsh said...

A quiet day? Oh, how I LONG for one of those...enjoy it! :-)

I don't think I'd ever write something to deliberately offend people - I hate to offend people, as well. But I have to agree with Melanie - some of my characters might say or do things that offend people (including myself, does that make sense?) but it is my opinion that we can't write just "nice" people because, let's face it -our world is not full of nice people.

Hope that blathering made a bit of sense...

Joanne said...

Thanks so much Janna. I love when writers share their insights from conferences. Whether memoir, fiction or nonfiction, it really makes you think how to present your self through words, doesn't it. B/C ultimately the words seem to reflect back to the author! What I take from this post is how deeply involved the author must be, from the initial thought processes, to writing, to marketing. Writing really is an immersion, in a way.

Janna Qualman said...

I think you who have touched on offensiveness (wow, what a topic!) are right. We each veiw it differently, so who's to say it's good or bad. And I see the point that sometimes offensiveness is necessary for the sake of a story (I've got an offensive character in Bliss Lake... two, actually). I don't know, though, I can see where a gray area might develop in potential works... how far is too far? You know?

And thanks for the well wishes! So far my day of peace is going great. :)

Janna Qualman said...

Apparently I'm too relaxed... I see typos ^ ... ;)

WendyCinNYC said...

I don't think we have a *responsibility* to offend, but I do think that if we are too afraid of offending people, our writing will likely suffer.

Janna Qualman said...

The best example of offending I can think of from the panel, meaning the kind the panelists were debating AND supporting, was the 9/11 flip book (the artist was a panelist, he who also made a recent documentary as he and a friend used a large, foam penis and accompanying parts to *ahem* an equally large "O," for Omaha). I didn't see the book but from several feet back; supposedly it lists the names of all who perished on the covers and as you flip you see the towers fall. As for written content, I didn't catch what it includes. He did say something about random comments from random people and that if they didn't like his idea he'd include them in the publication, but I don't know if he meant they were in THAT book or a next installment.

And everyone in the room thought this guy was hilarious.

Pink Ink said...

Sounds like a wonderful lit fest! I think if we write from the heart, we aren't likely to offend anyone. They might not disagree, but in many ways I think readers like honesty...and respect that.

Janna Qualman said...

Ack, I feel like I keep having to add more.

So, by offensive material, I'm talking more along the lines of controversial non-fiction, not fictional narratives that need conflict and such to thrive.

See the difference?

Janna Qualman said...

Hi, Pink Ink!

Just stepping in (again) to point out my last comment wasn't directly aimed at you, but was an afterthought to my other rambling comment...

;)

And I agree with what you said about writing from the heart.

Pink Ink said...

Oops, I meant

They might not *agree*

Angie Ledbetter said...

If I ever get a whole day off (especially when the kidlets were younger), I'd grab a nap first. Everything else I could squeeze into the time frame was lagniappe. Enjoy the spooky quiet! ;)

Serena Woods said...

This subject of offending people with nonfiction writing has me intrigued. I think that an honest account of real life could be controversial and possibly offensive. However, in my own writing I have taken the responsibility of balancing my views with the acknowledgment that they may not belong to another.

I'm not sure if that is common practice among other nonfiction writers, but I think it helps to not alienate too many people while sticking to your guns on issues you write about.

Joshua said...

i am so jealous of the quiet...i said it :)

Janna Qualman said...

Oh, Angie, a nap! Why didn't I think of that?!

Serena, thanks so much for stopping by. And I think there's validity in what you say; finding that balance in recognizing both sides.

Josh - *sending quiet vibes*

Joanne said...

Hi Janna, Just got your comment, and my hope is listed in my post, maybe you missed it! BTW, really enjoyed this post today. It's so fascinating to hear the professionals take on writing matters, and so much of it transfers over to other types of writing. Thanks again for sharing ...

colbymarshall said...

good post, Janna. SOunds like the conference is a wealth of info and fun!

Terri Tiffany said...

Thank you fro this write-up! I learned even though I wasn't there.I'm glad you got to go. I loved reading about it!! Good thoughts to start my day:))

Janna Qualman said...

Thank, Joanne. I'm a goober. :)

Colby - I'm glad you liked it!

Terri, you're welcome. I'm so glad this post was a hit.

Melanie Avila said...

After reading all the comments, I hope I didn't come across that I WANT to offend people. That's not the case at all. Like Melissa and Wendy said, I wrote what was necessary for the story, but I did keep the instances fairly short - I made the point and moved on.

Janna Qualman said...

FWIW, I don't think you came off that way at all. I took many of the comments (yours included) to mean everyone was aware that there's a basic need for potentially offensive material within fiction. Right? Good.

;)

Timothy Schaffert said...

Janna... Many thanks for attending the Lit Fest and for writing about it on your blog. I got totally absorbed in this discussion of the "responsibility to offend" panel; unfortunately I had to miss the actual panel as I was running around, but I did notice that it was the most well-attended panel of the event! I agree with the posts that, if you're a writer, actually setting out to offend (for the sake of offense) can make for obnoxious reading; but to be afraid to express yourself freely, walking on eggshells, can be detrimental to your writing as well. In any event, I just wanted to say thanks for introducing a forum to further the discussion! Timothy Schaffert, Lit Fest founder/director (and writer).

Janna Qualman said...

Timothy, I'm so blown away that you've found and commented on my blog! Thanks so much for visiting, and might I add "Well done!" in regards to the Fest. Great job. :)

rosemerry said...

Just have to chime in here. As writers I believe we need to write our story without the fear of offending someone. Someone, somewhere, is not going to like our work. Those people you just don't worry about.

I'm not published yet but my dad asked me what if people didn't like my book and had "burning parties" (my term) and burned my book. I said I wouldn't care as long as they bought the book before they burned it. Okay secretly I care.

I have my close circle of friends and if I find what I'm writing is extremely offensive to them I might change it. Everyone else though I don't care enough about them to change it. Unless you know it's a publisher or an agent.