WordCamp Albuquerque 2016 talk: Marketing Your Business With WordPress

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Thanks so much to everyone who attended my WordCamp Albuquerque presentation this morning on Marketing Your Business with WordPress! If you’d like to see the rest of the presentation, or just want a copy of the slides, here’s the original Keynote:

Marketing Your Business With WordPress

And if you’re more of a PDF person, I’ve got you covered:

Marketing Your Business with WordPress – WC ABQ – April 2016

Wine Tourism Conference Presentation

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If you’re visiting my site after attending my presentation on Designing Websites for 2016 and Beyond, thank you and welcome!

If you would like to download a copy of my Keynote, here you go:

Wine Tourism Conference 2015 Presentation

If you’re more of a PowerPoint aficionado, I’ve got you covered:

Wine Tourism Conference 2015 Presentation

And lastly, if PDFs are more your thing, I’ve got that too:

Wine Tourism Conference 2015 Presentation

It was lovely meeting everyone and sharing stories over such wonderful wines and food!

 

Movies as guides to narrative structure

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One of my favorite “teaching moments” this past weekend at the D/FW Writers’ Conference was Bob Mayer‘s frequent use of actual film scenes — which he would incorporate into his PowerPoint presentations — to illustrate the power of a solid narrative structure. I listed these in my notes as some of the films he mentioned and the specific scenes he cites:

  • Saving Private Ryan‘s opening scene
  • The Verdict, most notably: the scenes where he photographs the woman in the hospital; he meets the judge at the latter’s home and begs to settle; the final scene in his office
  • L.A. Confidential
  • Broken Arrow, with John Travolta and Christian Slater
  • Walk the Line, specifically the scene where Cash (Joaquin Phoenix) and his bandmates are auditioning for someone and are told that the man doesn’t think Cash “feels” the song. Mayer mentioned this scene several times throughout his presentations as a wonderful example of how artists must be passionate about their work, or their readers will immediately see through the artifice and lack of story

He mentioned many others, but these are the ones that stand out the most. I totally loved this unique perspective, since I’m such a huge film buff. He emphasized the importance of watching quality films closely, including all those special features on the DVD’s, to see how scenes are structured and titled; how they build upon each other to create tension, a narrative arc; how characters are introduced, including the antagonist; how dialogue is written to distinguish one character from another. Mayer recommended that writers watch film commentaries, too, to hear how filmmakers decide on details to include in each scene, whether it’s the burning cigarette in the ash tray in the background or the color of a woman’s barrette. These little details are what add punch and interest to a story, the defining characteristics of the people and places and plots that make up a really good book.

I got to thinking about Battlestar Galactica, one of my all-time favorite TV shows, and how each episode built upon all the previous ones, how the narrative structure stayed so tight, even through multiple storylines and characters and over four long years. What made BSG such compelling TV were the characters and dialogue, really, more than the storyline itself. [Spoiler alert!] Who knew that the Cylons would end up being allies to the humans? Who knew that the last shot of the entire series would include the “angels” of a Cylon and human? When did we, the audience, begin caring for the Cylons, sometimes more than we did about the humans? That’s some good stuff there, and I bet if I go back and watch it all over again, studying each episode’s structure and dialogue, I’ll learn even more not only about the story — because we always catch details upon repeat viewings and repeat readings that weren’t obvious during the first go-round, and which almost always give us clues as to the author’s or screenwriter’s overall vision — but about the characters themselves.

So now I’m raring up our Netflix account again, getting it ready for our move this weekend to our new apartment. We’ve had it suspended the last two months, but delivery should start up again this Saturday. We’ve a backlog of several hundred films, if you can believe that, but now I have an even more attractive reason to park myself in front of the TV and watch movies: it’s research for my novel.

By the way, if you’re interested in knowing more about how a successful screenwriter thinks and works, John August (Charlie’s Angels, Big Fish,Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride, The Nines, among others) has a great blog in which he discusses the art and science of his craft and answers questions from readers.

D/FW Writing Conference

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I attended my first major writing conference this weekend — major meaning that more than 25 people showed up, and the keynote speaker was someone who’d actually hit the bestseller lists.

If you’ve never been to one of these, you’re in for a real treat once you do. Even intense introverts should attend, especially if you’re serious about your writing. I thought I was until I met several attendees, many of whom put my writing activities to shame. Yes, I’ve been published, and yes, I have tons of clips to my name, but if I say that I want to write a book, and I say that for years, and yet I’ve no book to my name despite those years behind me, am I really taking it seriously? Hardly.

Bob Mayer, former Green Beret and keynote speaker, has sold over three million books. More importantly to someone like me, though, he’s an amazing writing teacher. I can understand why he’s so popular among conference organizers, including those of the Maui Writers’ Conference (now the Hawaii Writers Conference). If you’re of a literary bent and want to write the next Great American Novel, he may not be your first choice for a teacher. In fact, you’re probably better off pursuing an MFA, however devastating that may be to your finances. Mayer, on the other hand, has his routine down pat. I attended all but one of his presentations at the conference this weekend (the one exception being “Military for Writers,” for although I’m writing about World War II, the perspective is almost purely from the civilian side); his lesson plan is tight. I heard it quite often, even many of the same jokes and the same PowerPoint slides, but it didn’t diminish from the influence of his teaching. He taught us the basics of structure, character and plot, and at some point during his Plot presentation I even had a flash of insight as to what the climactic scene would be in my novel. Talk about brilliant!

If you have a chance to attend one of his workshops, I highly recommend that you do so. They’re not very expensive — the one he’s holding in Dallas at the end of the month is about $125/day, or $325 for the entire weekend plus a close critique of your query and synopsis — and he obviously knows his stuff. The Green Beret part of him lends a certain air of cold aloofness, so if you’re looking for someone to coddle you and your manuscript, you might want to look elsewhere. But if you’re looking for some tough love, someone to really go through your manuscript and give you some very constructive criticism, you could hardly do better than turning to him.

Aside from Mr. Mayer, the conference had some other useful and interesting presentations. One of my other favorites was the agent panel that kicked off the entire event on Saturday morning. Four agents from around the country — including Canada-based Sally Harding — answered questions from the audience about what they’re interested in, the state of the industry, etc. It was fascinating to listen to them give opposing opinions about publishing. For example, one agent flat-out said that manuscripts with a male protagonist would be a hard, if not impossible sell in this climate, but the others obviously didn’t agree. (A good thing for me, given my own novel’s main character, Thomas.)

The best part of the whole event was simply the chance to meet other writers, published and yet-to-be, all of whom take this whole crazy business as seriously as I do. They inspired me to take a closer look at my work and my approach to it as well as the focus I need to continue to slog through it day after day, even during those (all too common!) times when I think that everything that I’ve written so far is just pure crap. Sometimes I get too wrapped up in my head, cocooned as I am in my home office, that I lose sight of what I’m doing and why, or I get bogged down too long on a particular point or page or chapter, and the inevitable frustration kicks in. It felt good to be among like-minded souls who’ve gone through the same dark days of self-doubt and to know that there are ways around it, that life isn’t all lost.

I was hoping to attend Mr. Mayer’s conference in Dallas later this month, but after much reflection I think I’ll wait until he returns for his next one. My manuscript really isn’t ready for prime time, even for a workshop, especially after all that I learned this past weekend. I want to tear into it some more before I subject it to even closer scrutiny. At the very least, I want to put an end to the whole mess and call it done, if only for now.