Hope you enjoy it and feel free to ask either of us a question in the comments : )
AC: Great question – for me it’s definitely size and the flexibility of the group, and to an extent, a familiarity with each other’s genre. For size, I usually prefer a smaller group typically because the time and support that group can offer each other is more concentrated. In terms of flexibility I think of the way that my Alchemy group understands that there is no one, single way to write or revise etc. We each appreciate the varying degrees between plotting and pantsing for example, and can help each other with either approach. And in terms of the last criteria, I don’t think it’s necessary but just really useful for your partners to be familiar with your genre, especially when it comes to specifics.
AC: Tell me how important you think genre conventions are to a writer?
RL: I live in a rural area, and the closest writers group to me is a 100 km round trip, which kind of puts it a bit out of contention for regular interaction. So one of the few times I get to mingle and interact with others on various stages of their own writing journey, is at conventions. As I write science fiction, and inhale science fiction and fantasy as my preferred reading, genre conventions tend to be where I gravitate to. That said, I have only been able to get to a few over the years I have been learning the craft. If you look at the panels as a chance to take notes in a uni lecture, they can be enormously instructive. But a new writer always needs to remember that each author can only tell you how they work, and therefore their methods are not necessarily going to work for everyone else.
A writer isn’t going to get “the magic method” for guaranteed being published by their dream publishing house from a genre convention – but they can learn how to improve their writing in general, and the inspiration that can come from being around like-minded people is incredible. I have never come away from a convention without my head full of plans and ways to make my work better. And you do get to see how very many different methods there are to write – while there are some general rules that can be learnt, your own style is something you have to discover. And you only do that by writing.
However, with the last few questions regarding the learning process – I’m going to be a bit cheeky here and put in a plug for one of our fellow Snapping Turtle authors. When looking at advice from beta readers, or writers at conventions, it’s also helpful to know the credentials of those who are offering writing advice. Jennifer Fallon has taught master classes at Supernova and not only is she an internationally published author who has sold over 750, 000 books world wide, she holds a Masters in Creative Writing, and has been working in adult education for a couple of decades. Her general writing advice is definitely worth the investment as a valuable education resource How to Write a Bestseller.
RL: What have you found to be the best and worst things you have taken away from a genre convention?
AC: Hands down the best thing would be the connections made, sometimes it’s just great to chat with like-minded people, huh? Next would be the sense of motivation – the exposure to ideas is really inspiring and so I usually find myself keen to write after leaving one. I actually can’t think of a big negative – perhaps the occasional microphone hog, but there haven’t been too many of those that I’ve seen (blessedly!).
RL: Tropes have their places; you have to know them well to be able to break them successfully. I can think of occasions where an author has written in a genre without having the slightest idea of the reasons for the tropes, or even that the tropes existed, and found commercial success, but the kind of fans that stay with a genre from teenage to old age, won’t touch their work. In most cases the tropes developed for very specific reasons, for example: research into folklore tales across the UK, Europe and Scandinavia shows a common diagnosis today, existed in those tales. We call it autism, they called the children with behavioural and developmental problems fairy changelings (Or troll changelings etc etc, depending on the country). It is likely that porphyria sufferers may have lead to the creation of the Vampire tropes.
The dangers, I think comes from how others outside the genre view it. If they think of all horror as being like a bad 80s slasher film, then they are unlikely to ever read the darkly charming stories like Fluke, by James Herbert. If they perceive all fantasy to be a boys own adventure with wizards to save the day, then they miss out on the unique works by the likes of Glenda Larke, with Havenstar, or Jennifer Fallon’s more political, tightly plotted works with characters you can’t help but love, even if you suspect she’s going to kill them off, or Dave Freer’s highly technically, and wonderfully light-hearted alternate universes. Marketing has a role to play in how these books are perceived, and of
course from a marketing point of view you want a book to be instantly recognizable to those who are already interested in that style of book. But it does limit the potential audience.