Here are some of the things I heard/learned at the Vegas Valley Book Festival. Because I mostly wandered from booth to booth to tent to room, this is a regurgitation of my notes. I apologize for not being able to give credit to who said what.
What does humor mean? It’s a broader view of life with sensibilities and honesty. How does humor happen? You can always have a humorous sidekick, like Chandler from Friends or the animal characters in a Disney movie. You can also have a Ron Weasley character—the average Joe whose job is point out all of the craziness going on around him. There is the traditional slapstick of low brow confronting the snobs. But the funniest situations are told with honesty, bravery and without social filters. Dark situations often are the funniest, because it’s then that we need humor the most.
All fiction is obligated to be interesting. It’s not enough to be instructive, amusing or to have beautiful sentences.
(This is me, trapped in the ghetto of Women's Fiction. I'm not sure what that means, but I think it applies to me.)
I liked this phrase, “trapped in the ghetto of Women’s Fiction.”I decided I need to transcend the genre. (That sounds pretentious, doesn’t it? And I don’t have a clue how to do it. Except for keep on writing the best, most interesting stories I can think of.)
Here’s some thoughts from Aimee Bender’s keynote address. Just like my spillage of BJ Novak’s presentation (you can read that here) this is, of course, colored by my interpretation.
Question of Intent
Happiness comes from having creative choices.
Writing valid pages. What is good belongs to no one, but to the language. All things long to persist in their being. Writers are not in command of their material. What is in our heads won’t look the same on the page. It will be a curious, different thing. What we think doesn’t match what we make. Ideas large and brilliant become small on the page. But what’s amazing is that we make something else surprising.
“There is no book in your head.” No one else can see the book in your mind. It must be written to be of value. Even if it’s squalid and ugly, to be of worth, it must be told. And the act of sharing is living.
Are our desires getting in the way of living? Are we limited by our goals? We need to wake up to the here and now of our lives and celebrate. We need to let things happen, be open to opportunities, and let go of expectations that aren’t grounded in reality. If we refuse to do so, we can never be happy.
Can you plan a life? When does intention interfere? Invention is born in boredom. We must court boredom, because there is something beautiful and surprising on the other side.
No one has one story bursting to be set free. Waiting for the one perfect story limits our creativity. We need time to find the stories tucked away in our minds and then we must coax them forward without prejudgment.
Let the page teach you about yourself. Flannery O’Conner said, “Your beliefs are the light by which you see, but they are not what you see.” We can’t escape the bedrock of who we are, even if we really, really want to be someone different on the page, we can’t. We might not intend to weave ourselves into our stories, but there we are. Our beliefs light our work.
Let the work and the world happen.
(I want to put in a disclaimer here. The festival and the workshops were all free and open to the public. I do not feel even a tiny bit of guilt for sharing my notes, because I hope that if anyone should happen to take notes during one of my talks and that should they feel compelled to share them, I hope that they will in the most open and public manner possible. Remember, as Aimee Bender said, sharing is living. There are no notes inside our heads. To be of value, they have to be shared. I once asked someone to share their notes from a workshop they attended, and they refused to do so because I hadn't attended the workshop. To share, in their opinion, was to somehow steal from the presentation. I really disagree. Of course, the notes of one attendee can't be the same as actually attending the workshop, because each attendee will come home with their own impression and spin. It's like saying I can't tell you about that movie, because you didn't pay your $12. to watch it. Sharing is living.)