Last week I attended Kansas City Writes, a reading and discussion with several local authors organized by good friends who, incidentally, own a fantastic magazine.
Having anticipated the event for several weeks, I found myself torn as it drew closer – do I attend and learn from local authors, or travel 40 minutes westward to hang with fellow social media fans during a post-conference tweet-up? The authors won, and after hearing three different presentations that inspired me in different ways, I’m happy with my choice.
First up? Whitney Terrell, a big fish in Kansas City’s literary pond. Perhaps you read his debut novel, “The Huntsman,” or his second, “The King of Kings County.” Whitney is hard at work on his third novel, a manuscript that’s taken five years to complete. The book presents a compelling juxtaposition as characters move between two main settings: Princeton University, Whitney’s alma matter; and war-torn Iraq, where Whitney spent two weeks in 2006 as an embedded journalist.
Part conversation, part reading, Whitney’s talk focused solely on his third manuscript and the process behind it, including the extensive discussions he’s had with war veterans. “These guys are psyched to talk to people about the war–few people are actually interested, especially in a social setting,” he said.
Whitney shared several pages from his manuscript, a gritty scene that introduced us to the lead character (incidentally, a female) and exhibits Whitney’s superb narrative technique and knack for dialogue.
A former National Geographic writer and editor, Candice Millard has since published her first book, “The River of Doubt,” a non-fiction tome that details Theodore Roosevelt’s harrowing trip to the book’s namesake. Her passion for research and little-known yet compelling stories immediately surfaced during her effervescent discussion, an educational conversation during which Candice highlighted her five rules for non-fiction writing:
1. Have something to say, and experience the world to the extent that you can.
2. A subject is not a story.
3. Let the idea do the work for you. You don’t have to be the first person to write about a subject; instead, bring a fresh perspective.
4. Everyone loves to learn. If your story has compelling characters and a strong narrative, you can talk about anything.
5. Be brutal when it comes to editing.
Throughout Candice’s talk, I found myself immediately identifying with her palpable passion for research, one of my favorite parts of the writing process. The toughest part is knowing when to cut yourself off and begin writing, yet you also have the privilege of learning; “you can just immerse yourself in a subject,” she said.
Author and event host Patrick Dobson concluded the evening with a frank discussion of his book, “Seldom Seen: A Journey into the Great Plains,” which originated from Patrick’s two and a half month trek to Montana and back. Patrick also spent time sharing his long journey to becoming a writer, a rocky road peppered with naysayers, including family members and teachers, who belittled Patrick’s writing dreams. Yet with a work ethic to rival even the most focused disciplinarian, Patrick defied his ingrained doubts and became a published author.
As I continue to ride the wave of exhilaration produced by my first book, and begin to plan for my second, I found this event to be compelling and inspirational. I left with a brain brimming with ideas, several books to add to my must-read list and insight into three very different authors, all joined, like me, by a common thread: a pure, all-consuming love of the written word.