Saturday afternoon at the Bloody Words conference began with a dilemna. Should I attend the panel discussion on Rapid Reads Books or attend Bloody Idol, where first pages of novels-in-progress submitted anonymously by conference attendees would be judged by a panel consisting of an agent, editor and reviewer in an American Idol format? As soon as one panelist gets bored, the page is out.
Rapid Reads turned out to be a good choice, especially since it’s something I would like to write. These are books with adult content written for low literacy readers. Some of them may be people for whom English is not a native tongue. This new genre has exploded to the point that it’s now hard to break in. Clearly, the publishers discovered an untapped niche.
I learned that the books are typically 12,000 to 20,000 words. Orca, a Rapid Reads publisher, usually prints 5,000 copies of each book. (A 1,000 print run is considered good for literary novels published by a Canadian small presses). Orca is currently marketing these books to China, where people are eager to learn English.
Rapid Reads books are written at a grade 3-5 level, with compact character rosters (2-3 main characters). Stories must be linear; no subplots or flashbacks. Editors may ask you to change four syllable words. To appeal to the demographic, it wouldn’t hurt to make your protagonist a male, aged 30 or less.
Later in the afternoon, I ran into someone who had attended Bloody Idol. It would have been a good choice, too. She noted a consistent pattern in the submitted first pages: people tend to start with action or something else of high interest, then quickly slip into reflection, flashback or description. The judges wanted them to keep their stories rolling, although they questioned if this was coddling our need for instant grantification.
I confess that, had the weather been better in Toronto that day, I would probably have skipped one or more of the next sessions and gone for a walk through the downtown area. I could feel myself suffering from session fatigue. That’s too bad , because the next three sessions I attended contained a wealth of informative material that I didn’t fully appreciate. If you’re ever asked to speak at a conference or sit on a panel and have a choice of time slots, choose one early in the day. If you’re attending a conference, treat yourself to the occasional break. Still, I’m glad I went to the next three sessions.
The Historical Mindset featured a panel of four historical fiction writers. The moderator asked: how do you create sympathy for characters who might be reprehensible by today’s standards? ie . homophobic. A panelist answered: not everyone in a past era is the same. Avoid generalizing. Have you ever faked an historical detail? One panelist said she hadn’t faked any that would not be possible. Another said, yes, he’d had a character fall into a valuable oil well before oil had that value.
Next up was Criminal Profiling, with an academic forensic psychiatrist who assists profilers in the Ontario Provincial Police, RCMP and Calgary Police. Just wrapping my head around his job description was a challenge for the middle of an information-overloaded afternoon. The psychiatrist debunked a few myths we’ve learned from TV and reading.
1. In reality, criminals’ modus operandi (method of operation aka M.O) tends not to be consistent. Bad guys learn from experience. If something didn’t work before and landed them in jail, they’ll change their behaviour. They also learn from their jail-mates, TV and the Internet. However, signature and ritual don’t change as much as M.O.
2. Interview style isn’t usually as hard as it’s depicted on TV. Typically, you start with a soft interview, to get the subject to like and respect you, then go to the hard interview, if needed. Thus, interviews tend to be long and tailored to the subject to get the most information out of him. This makes intuitive sense, but probably doesn’t suit a 40 minute TV show.
3. Not all serial killers are psychopaths (the psyciatrist said they don’t use the term sociopath). Psychopaths often want to take a lie detector test because they think they can con anyone. They usually fail the test when their lies show different readings than their truthful statements.
My last session of the day was a presentation on Terrorism. What is the terrorist’s real motivation? To redefine himself; to become who he wants to be and to see himself as that person. Why does she choose a particular target? Because it’s symbolic of other targets. What is the purpose of a terrorist act? To create fright. You bomb a bridge to make people afraid of other bombings. This all seems too true, given our society’s recent terrorism experience.
I went back to my apartment to change for the evening banquet, where I wound up sitting with some of the people I’d had lunch with and others I got to meet over our the meal. The event included speeches by the Guests of Honour that were low-key and frequently hilarious. There were awards for the Bony Pete Best Short Story, the Bony Blithe Best Light Mystery (won by my fellow “Finally a Bride” panelist, Gloria Ferris) and an award by an international group whose name escapes me for Best Crime Novel. I realized that Michael Ondaatje’s The Cat’s Table was up for that latter award when I saw him sitting a couple of tables away from me.
Then, it was home to the apartment for a night’s rest before the final morning at Bloody Words.