Hello! If you weren't at the Georgia Writers' Panel discussion Tuesday night at the library, you missed a treat! Thank you to all three lovely wordsmiths--Rebecca Johnston, Patricia Sprinkle and Cynthia Simmons--who generously gave their audience the benefit of their wisdom and experience.
Columnist and former Cherokee Tribune editor Rebecca Johnston, took her listeners on a journey through Cherokee County history, courtesy of the books, photographs and newspaper clippings she's collected over the years. "I'm a person people give things to," she said with a laugh. Her self-described "pack rat" tendencies have served the Canton native well, as she is currently at work on a new history of Cherokee County. "If you have old things, be a pack rat," she advised. "You never know when you have something that will be a piece of history someday."
Ms. Johnston also gave a journalist's hard-won advice about the importance of fact-checking, especially when using Internet sources. (What? Surely we bloggers are the very soul of reliability...) "It is so hard on the Internet to get the truth! It's wonderful to research history on the Internet, but you have to verify your information. You have to dig deep."
Patricia Sprinkle, the author of 20 published mystery novels, also spoke movingly of the importance of history in her writing. "Story is one of the basic human needs," she said. "We have a need to tell stories to each other. Our history and our stories matter."
"All of history is a mystery," she continued. "People who are historians are trying to solve a mystery: what really happened...As mystery is the core of history, so history is the core of mystery... What in the past has brought us to where we are?"
Ms. Sprinkle shared how her characters have had to delve into history and genealogy to solve mysteries. ("In 11 of my books, an incident in the past has led to a murder in the present.)" She also told how she as an author has had to delve into history to be able to write her stories.
"If you're going to be a writer, please do your research," she said, echoing Ms. Johnston. "You can make up all the fiction you want, but please get the history right. If you lose a reader because of one small fact, you have lost that reader."
"History weaves in and out of mystery, and mystery weaves in and out of history," she said in conclusion. "It is almost impossible to have one without the other."
I know the aspiring writers in the audience--including this blogger--paid careful attention to the advice Cynthia Simmons gave: nuts-and-bolts advice about the business of getting happily published. She gave the example of a rare, true overnight writing success: Queen Victoria's published memoirs.
"Queen Victoria thought, 'I can write!'" Ms. Simmons said. "She didn't realize that her subjects were so curious about her life, they'd have read anything she wrote...She didn't have to work hard at writing and promoting herself, but the rest of us do." Ms. Simmons spoke of the importance of networking in writers' groups and conferences, and also of the importance of perfecting one's craft through workshops, classes and critique groups. She advised writers to know their target audience and "give them what they want!" Ms. Simmons also spoke of the importance of an author's taking the initiative in promoting herself and her book. She demonstrated how to assemble a press kit and contact media outlets.
The authors then took questions from the audience, and I was very impressed with the honesty and usefulness of the advice the writers gave. I hope last night was the first of many such events here. It was a wonderful experience! Thank you, too, to Yawn's Books and More for co-sponsoring the evening, and to Dr. Donna Coffey for her hard work in making it happen!