Sunday, November 8, 2009

Cultural Learnings from 2009 FGCU Sanibel Writers Conference for Make Benefit Writers

FGCU President Wilson Bradshaw Ever wonder what challenges writers and runners have in common? Each distance or level of competition calls upon specific talents. Explosive jackrabbits fly through 100 meters, sprinters race 400 meters, and lean marathoners pace long miles. Newspapermen sculpt succinct copy under deadline. O. Henry crafted timeless short stories in a dozen pages. Literary marathoners, the master storytellers, weave protagonists and prose into 400 page novels that you can’t put down. Pharmacist and bookkeeper O. Henry’s niche wasn’t managing money, writing long novels or counting pills. Today’s aspiring writers seek their niche, attending conferences and courting sage advice. Shin splints and writer’s block stymie runners and writers alike. FCGU sponsored keynote speaker Carl Hiassen and lecturer Julianna Baggott illustrate how runners and writers alike face and surmount personal demons and fears. Fear of failure and real failures weigh on wannabes and published pros alike.

How do you publish one book, let alone Carl and Julianna’s armfuls of over a dozen novels each? Yup, same way you get Carnegie Hall-practice, practice practice. Over 100 writing hopefuls each plunked down $300 at the evolving Sanibel Island Writer’s Conference at BIGARTS, proudly sporting newbie color-coded nametags as they attended pep talks, er, workshops. They chatted up published writers, editors and literary agents, hopeful that inspiration and recognition might waft over them. Judging by the half finished books left behind on airplanes or returned unread to publishers for shredding, there’s no shortage of mediocre (or talented) published writers. Perseverance, luck, and a soft-hearted/ deep pocketed publisher are essential. This triad trounces mere talent alone.

Carl Hiassen Chats with a Young Admirer.
While I enjoyed the invited writers' insights, FGCU has their own published staff, including Tom DeMarchi, organizer of the 2009 Conference and wife Karen Tolchin, who writes on transtextual enunciation, while her students ferret deep meanings from her breathlessly giddy Gulfshore Life food reviews. (Karen & Tom, below)Joe Wisdom covers compounding double-consciousness, Rebecca Totaro swarms over bubonic plague literature, while Jim Wohlpart recycles environmental sustainability and cracker childhoods. FGCU’s Dept of Two Languages and Literature’s courses might expand your horizon.

The Audience
Visiting writer (below left) Ishmael Beah from Sierra Leone, West Africa, survived hellish years to become the New York Times bestselling author of A Long Way Gone, Memoirs of a Boy Soldier. Photo with Peter Blaze Corcoran, (below right) FGCU Professor of Environmental Studies and Environmental Education.While my literary knowledge comes primarily from “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” and R. Crumb, I benefited from Carl’s insights. Unable to write with a proper 17th century French Count’s perspective, he had to fall back on writing in the here and now. His kaleidoscopic Florida zoo is populated with greedy crooks and lusty dolphins; his bad guys float on lakes and rivers. His adult geared books sport two word titles like "Skinny Dip," "Team Rodent" and “Basket Case”, while his newer young reader books shout one-word titles like “Hoot,” Flush” and "Scat". You can't imagine the names he's given his kids. His books leaves a legacy that inspires readers to be mindful environment stewards. He exposes the politics that stymies heathy zoning, and allows condo developers’ to first stake out burrows, then pour tons of concrete, entombing owls and tortoises while alive. A writer who gets youngsters to set aside Wii, Facebook and Gameboy to actually finish a novel has my respect.

Julianna Baggott is a typical 30-something hausfrau, juggling the husband, 4 kids, charity work and a FSU writing post. Not! This diminutive dynamo published her first novel at age 22, and has #’s 12-14 in the pipeline today. She’s bright, funny, and a great storyteller. I didn’t hear all of her talk-attendees covered my young ears lest I hear anything that’s not politically correct, like "freedom of speech," or well chosen expletives. Like the Rolling Stones opening for the Beatles, her opening for the Hiaasen-seeking audience contributed to a vibrant one-two burst of inspiration, from both of their experiences.

There's no shortage of writers' workshops. Wanna get published, and not pay for a workshop? It's easy. Write well on what you know best, toss in a floater or two, befriend literary agents, and you'll be a highly paid published writer. There you have it.

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