This Writer’s Life by Drusilla Campbell
Last weekend was the Southern California Writers’ Conference in Newport Beach. I was up there teaching NOVELCRAM®, which means I was on my feet Friday afternoon, all day Saturday and Sunday morning. It takes me a week to recover. But worth it. What a rush to walk into a room full of people who are strangers to each other and to me, the only thing in common their desire to write a novel. Friday night they’re strangers wary of each other, by Sunday they’re friends, making dates, trading emails, confiding, bragging, despairing. Bonded. Sounds kind of hokey but really, it happens.
It’s always awkward in the beginning as I start off the Campbell Story Starter. Shout-out to the courageous writer who offers to “go first.” I ask questions, why and when and all those “w” words, probing deeper into their concept, their logline, their intention which means sometimes getting a little closer to their psyches than feels comfortable. Faces get red with frustration and there might be a little argument and then, suddenly, the “I get it moment” when each of them, all fourteen this time, one by one gets the point of the Story Starter. They see their original idea reshaping and beginning to sound like a real novel. Light bulbs flash over their heads like in those old cartoons where Little Lulu comes up with a great plan.
The thing about the Story Starter is, when I’m working on my own stuff, the process gives me just as big a headache as it does the NovelCrammers. The beginning of a novel is hard work. For me, making sense of the inchoate mess in my imagination is like untangling a chain that’s been lying around at the bottom of a jewelry box. But it has to be done because the work writers do in their heads weeks, months or years before writing Chapter One, figuring out what drives the story and what’s at stake, that’s the work that makes the difference.
Almost anyone can write Once upon a time. Going beyond that first sentence into a story that means something and lingers in the reader’s mind, that’s a challenge whether you’re Stephen King or an underpublished writer taking 13+ hours of NOVELCRAM® with a bunch of strangers.
Before I began to be published I never went to a writers’ conference. I was scared I’d make a fool of myself or a teacher would bust my balloon of hope. I admire the men and women who come to NOVELCRAM®. Right now I have fourteen of their first chapters in my inbox. As Little Lulu would say: Yikes
Drusilla Campbell is the author of 16 published novels. Her recent works include the best-selling Bone Lake and Blood Orange and the critically acclaimed Wildwood, Edge of the Sky and most recently, The Good Sister. Critics and fans describe her novels as”piercing”and “intense.” They“surprise and capture” with characters so real you’ll want to “call them up and invite them to coffee.” Before she started school she had crossed the Pacific Ocean three times. In her twenties she lived in Europe and Central America. Today she’s happy to stay at home in San Diego with her husband, the attorney and poet Art Campbell, two rescued dogs, and four horses. An in-demand teacher and lecturer, Drusilla is the creator of NovelCram, a weekend boot camp for fiction writers and has taught and mentored writers in San Diego for more than twenty years, including classes on the Novel and Science Fiction/Fantasy Writing for San Diego Writers, Ink where she is the current Board President. Her next book, Little Girl Gone, will be published in January 2012.