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Monday, February 4, 2013

Writer’s Conference inspires, informs

Thorns

“Thorns” Forty Thorns is the new novel from Judy Light Ayildiz, who gave a workshop on writing memoirs

So you think you want to author a book …or just write a better story? The sixth annual Roanoke Regional Writers Conference, held last weekend, was a good place to find some pointers. The roster of speakers featured almost two dozen novelists, non-fiction authors, bloggers, journalists and photographers, offering their insight to the sold-out conference attendees. For the fifth time the two-day event, which began with a Friday night keynote address and reception, was held on the Hollins University campus.

Radford University professor Bill Kovarik conducted a well-attended session on New Media, and how it has changed what is written. “I think we’re in revolutionary times,” said Kovarik, who has also written a well-received academic book on the same subject. Kovarik introduced a number of web-based tools that can help writers with their craft.

Michael Miller, who works for Virginia Tech when he’s not a freelance writer, talked about injecting humor in to a story. “Life is crazy,” noted Miller, who highlighted Douglas Adams (A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) and the late humorist/radio personality Jean Shepherd as two people who stoked his passion for wit and humor. “Everything has a humorous side to it,” Miller claimed.

Southwest Roanoke County author Judy Light Ayildiz talked about writing memoirs, finding out what is so important about your own life, things that others would want to read about. Ayildiz, who married in to a Turkish family, spends a good deal of time in Turkey and recently released Forty Thorns, a novel about a family in that country.

Find the “universal truths,” in your own story said Ayildiz; “its got to have something for everybody. How many people may be going through life the same way – who can identify?” Forty Thorns is her first novel.

Christiansburg author and businessman Michael Abraham, whose latest novel is Providence, VA, implored would-be book authors to not take no for an answer. “Its entrepreneurial and its difficult,” he warned, especially for first time or little known writers. Abraham now owns a publishing company, Pocahontas Press, which makes his journey to market (he has four books out currently) a little bit easier. “We’re all just trying to figure it out – there are no experts,” he said.

Some authors use agents (he doesn’t) and others buy a complete package that also delivers them marketing help. “You have to believe in your work – it’s your baby,” said Abraham, adding that, “writing feeds my soul.”

Unlike Abraham and other hyper-local book authors, Salem’s Roland Lazenby has hit the big time. His books, most often on personalities in the National Basketball Association, now command six-figure deals. Lazenby learned along the way, realizing the value of having an agent for one thing. “There’s no handbook for any of [this],” said Lazenby, who also teaches communications courses at Radford University.

“It takes a while to build [reputation], to get that kind of contract,” said Lazenby, who has been writing books on subjects like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and former Lakers coach Phil Jackson for almost 30 years. Lazenby urged those at his workshop to use blogs, Twitter and other online tools as a way to develop a wider following. He has 12,000 followers on Twitter, likening it to “your own weekly newspaper.”

Still, Lazenby’s level of commercial success was the exception, not the norm at the Writer’s Conference. Most are writing small works destined for a “vanity press,” run, perhaps with some regional following. All have a passion for the written word. “Identify those things you care deeply about,” noted Lazenby.

“One of the reasons we’re not all writers is that its just hard work,” said Judy Light Ayildiz, adding that, “you have to prime the pump,” some times to find a creative streak, one that compels a writer to sit down in front of the keyboard. The latest version of the Roanoke Regional Writer’s Conference was designed perhaps to do just that – prime the pump.

By Gene Marrano

By Valerie Garner

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