Tuesday, October 29, 2013

My online novel writing class has a couple of openings...

Hi folks,

UPDATE: The class has been filled. Thanks to all who applied. We do have unlimited openings for those who'd like to audit.

Just wanted to let anyone interested know that we have a couple of openings for the next session of our ongoing creative writing (novel) class, which will begin on November 10. Students have dubbed it "Les Edgerton's Boot Camp for Writers." Normally, we don’t have openings, but we have several members who finished their novels in the last class and have secured agents and are taking the time off to work on the notes in their final rewrites before their books go out to market. Some are able to continue the class when this happens, but we have a couple this time who need all the time they can get to get that final polish done. Please contact me if interested or if you’d like more information by emailing me at butchedgerton@comcast.net.

The way our class works is fairly unique. It’s just like being in an “on-ground” class. We restrict class size to ten people so that sufficient quality time is spent on each participant. The way our class works is that each week, members send in up to ten pages of the novel they’re working on. The class is divided into two sections, and when you send your work in, each person in your group is required to read it carefully and provide constructive comments. In turn, that person does the same to his classmates’ work. Each of the two groups will have five members, which means if you join us, you’ll be responsible for reading each week four other writers’ work and providing a solid critique on each of them and they will do the same for you. (You can see the other group's work as well, but only provide crits on your group's work.) I provide comments/critiques on everyone’s work. We don’t subscribe whatsoever to the oft-used “sandwich” method of critique, where you provide a bit of praise, then address a negative, then provide another bit of praise. If the work sucks, the writer is told it sucks. (Nicely, usually...) If it works, he/she will be told it works. It’s a totally honest class and most of the folks in it are extremely knowledgeable about the writing craft. A great many have been with us for several years and have had considerable success with their own work. Nobody is out to be “mean” to a fellow member, but none of us suffer fools gladly. If a writer wants praise and constant pats on the back, our class is probably not for them. It’s not that we don’t dole out praise when it’s earned, but our total focus is on the work and if it’s of publishable quality or not. And, we have an extraordinarily high percentage of success. Most who have stayed the course with us have secured agents and/or book deals. But, it’s only fair to warn those who might be considering joining us, this isn’t a class for sissies or thin-skinned writers. We simply don’t have time for any of that.

I’m probably scaring off folks, but I feel it’s necessary to make potential class members aware that this isn’t an easy class. But, we do end up with almost everyone securing a top agent and/or book deal if they stay the course. For most writers, this will entail at least two or more classes and usually more.

Our only goal is publication. Period. And… legitimate publication by a traditional press.

A new member of class has a large hurdle to overcome. New members are required to submit a particular outline of their novel, which consists of five statements totaling 15-20 words. A handout will be provided which fully describes what we’re looking for and how to write it. New students are only allowed to send in the first five pages of their novel, which must contain the inciting incident that creates and/or reveals the story problem the novel will be concerned with. Seasoned pros who have taken the class and continue to take it each time, have named this “inciting incident hell.” And, it can be. In over four years of offering this class, I have yet to have a single writer escape inc inc hell the first week. On an average, it probably takes three weeks to grasp the concepts we’re teaching and require to be allowed to escape it and graduate to where they can begin sending in up to ten pages each week.

Here’s one of our favorite stories we relate to new folks. Maegan Beaumont took the first class with me several years ago when I was offering it through Phoenix College (accredited class). She came to class with a finished, 700+ page novel. That novel is long gone. The Phoenix College classes were 12 weeks long at that time. Well, Maegan spent ten weeks of the twelve before she escaped inciting incident hell. Which meant that for ten weeks she was required to send in her rewritten first five pages until she got it right. Ten weeks out of a total of 12 for the entire course… Until our last session, she owned the all-time record and finally another writer tied her record. Won’t name that writer, but the quality of the work that person is presently submitting is light-years better than what she began with, just like Maegan did. Maegan’s confessed to me that she absolutely hated me for most of that period. That’s fine. Hate bounces off of me like water off the proverbial duck’s back. I don’t care about people’s feelings—I care about them becoming good writers. (Well, I do care about their feelings, but I try hard not to show it…). Sounds horrible, doesn’t it? Well, at the time, I expect Maegan would describe her experience as such. But, little by little she learned to write a publishable novel.

Maegan ended up finishing the novel she began in that first class after several more classes and guess what? She secured a top agent and he got her a two book deal with Midnight Ink, a solid advance, and now they want even more books from her. Her first novel earned rave reviews and is selling tons of copies. Her second comes out this spring. These days, she’s about to begin her third book and is the administrator of our class. What happened is that she decided she wanted to learn now to write quality books and she decided she didn’t need to be coddled or lavished with praise she hadn’t earned. She's also earning a solid reputation in the writing community as the "Plot Queen."

In the class that just ended, we had three people secure an agent with their finished novels, with two or three more about to do the same. All of their novels will be placed with top publishers. Each of them has worked their asses off to get there. Another student who dropped out after being with us for four or five sessions had essentially finished her novel in class and has just signed with a top agent. The only reason she dropped out when she did was for time purposes for a new job (we require a high and serious commitment to the class), but her novel was essentially completed. This isn’t NaNoWrite or whatever that thing is called. In fact, it’s probably the antithesis of that event. There may be other classes with as high a percentage of members getting published, but I’m not aware of any. At this point, there’s not a single writer in class who isn’t writing at a publishable level. Not one. And, probably none of them was even close to that state before beginning. I’m very, very proud of these folks! They’ve all become writers and not a one of them are… typists…

Whatever genre you’re writing in doesn’t matter. We have literary novels, thrillers, YAs, middle-grade novels, fantasy, sci-fi, mainstream, historical fiction, comic novels, and just about every genre you can imagine. Doesn’t matter.

I realize I’ve given you a lot of reasons to not take our class! It’s hard, hard work, it represents a significant time commitment, and there isn’t any semblance of instant gratification. In other words, it’s a class for writers, not wannabe writers who want to have written a book but aren’t particularly crazy about doing the actual work required. If despite all this, you’re interested, please contact me. Openings won’t last long if past classes are any indication.

The nuts and bolts:

Cost: $400 for 10 weeks. Nonrefundable. The reason it’s nonrefundable is because, other than S.S. this is my main source of income. If a person decides after a week or two it’s too hard for them or for any reason they can’t continue, there’s no way to add replacements. I like to eat and make my house payment so I have to make it a nonrefundable basis. I also work privately with clients and that charge is $100 per hour. I give the same level of attention to everyone in class that I do with private students, so this is a much more affordable cost for most. As those who join us will see, I give much more than an hour to each person each week. And, before anyone asks, I’m sorry but I’m fully booked with private clients at present, although that can always change.

Start date: November 10. Ordinarily, we’ll take a week and sometimes two off during the class to recharge our batteries and, in this case, because of the upcoming holidays.

Option: We also offer an auditing opportunity for $50. Auditors have access to everything we do. The only difference is they don’t participate actively with us. Many have found auditing a valuable alternative. I had a young man tell me after he’d audited one of our classes that he’d learned much more during that period than he had in the entire four years of his college years in writing classes. It’s also where we usually draw new students from when an opening occurs. They’re given first choice. In fact, the students who had to take a leave of absence from this coming session to perform the final polish to their novels have chosen to audit the class. There is no limit to how many sign up to audit the class. We also have several editors and publishers and even agents who've audited the class.

If anyone would like to talk to any of the folks who’re taking the class, I’d be happy to put you in touch with any and all of them. Just ask.

Hope this is something a few of you are looking for. If so, please contact me.

And, thanks for reading and your consideration!

Blue skies,

 Top Photo: Maegan Beaumont delivering a talk and a signing at the Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Phoenix. Maegan's husband Joe flew me out to Phoenix as a surprise to his talented wife. The Poisoned Pen is one of the oldest and best-known bookstores in the country. Maegan knocked 'em dead! (Kind of like her character Sabrina does in her thrillers...)
 Middle Photo: Some of the students who gathered for Maegan's launch for her novel CARVED IN DARKNESS in Phoenix at Harold's Corral. L-R: Kristen Boe (just signed with an agent), Carson Flanders (just signed with an agent), moi, Susana Orozco, Maegan Beaumont, and Linda Thompson (just signed with an agent).
Bottom Photo: More of the students who came from all over the U.S. to help Maegan celebrate her novel launch. L-R: Holly Love, Linda Thompson, moi, Dr. Mary Edelson (just signed with an agent), and our "star" Maegan Beaumont. Joe Beaumont was taking this shot and it was Joe's idea to fly me out to surprise Maegan on her big day.  

I love these folks and all the others in our class. They are all talented and hard-working writers and each and every one of them is destined for big, big things. With all the ones who just signed with agents in the past few weeks... keep in mind what Joe did... I've got my bags packed... Just sayin'...

Monday, October 28, 2013

Excerpt from the new craft book I'm writing, on Protatonists and Antagonists.

Hi folks,

As many of you know, I'm writing a new craft book on using movies to inform fiction techniques, titled A FICTION WRITER'S WORKSHOP AT THE BIJOU. In it, I'm using the film THELMA & LOUISE as my model. I've read thousands of screenplays and seen thousands of movies and this is, hands-down, the very best model for writers I've come across. In virtually every single frame, there's a teachable moment for fiction writers.

Delivering one of those "teachable moments..."

One of the problems I've determined that face writers are the terms we employ in our advice/instruction. We borrow freely from lay terms, such as "action" and the like and often the writer sitting in our classes apply the lay definitions to these terms, not realizing we intend a different meaning. The word "action" for example. Often, writers take this to indicate more melodramatic definitions and when they are told their story needs to begin with "action" they start off with shootings, buildings being blown up, kidnappings, murders and the like. Not that some stories shouldn't begin with those kinds of actions, but the term action when used for fictive purposes means something far more encompassing than simple physical actions. "Action" in fiction terms is used to denote almost any kind of activity involving conflict, either overt or covert. Dialog, for example, is action. Reading something that creates tension and a story problem is action. Seeing a dead bird by the side of the road is action if it elicits a memory and a realization.

I don't intend this to be a discourse on the word action, but am just using a simple term to illustrate how writing instruction becomes perverted by an imprecise understanding of the terms borrowed from the lay language, the word "action" being only one of many such terms incorrectly applied.

For example, in James Baldwin's brilliant short story, "Sonny's Blues," the story begins with the protagonist sitting in a subway car reading the day's newspaper. In it, he comes across a news story about his brother's arrest. Instantly, this creates a bona fide story problem for him. In this instance, reading is an action. Nobody was shot or killed, nobody was kidnapped, no bombs went off, none of that. He is just sitting... reading. That's just one of many examples of what the term "action" means in fiction.

Now. The two terms I want to talk about today are the terms "protagonist" and "antagonist." The following is an excerpt from Chapter Two of the book I'm writing. I'm aware that what I say here will go against what you may have been told from others. You'll have to determine for yourself if what I promulgate has sufficient evidence to prove what I'm proposing as the definitions for these terms. You may agree with me or you may choose to disagree. At the least, I hope I've given you solid food for thought.

And, without further ado, here's a bit of Chapter Two, on the definitions of Protagonists and Antagonists.


Protagonists and Antagonists

The two most important characters in a novel are the protagonist and the antagonist. I want to spend some time defining these two characters and their roles in the story as there are many misconceptions.
First, to define each term.
The Protagonist
The protagonist is simply the person through whose eyes and viewpoint we experience the bulk of the story. I feel it a mistake to assign moral qualities to either the protagonist or the antagonist. Therefore, I believe it’s misleading to use terms such as “hero” or “heroine” to describe the protagonist. Doing so assigns a moral value to him or her that is not only inaccurate, but that often leads to creating poor characters. When you think of protagonists as “good guys” and antagonist’s as “bad guys” or villains, the temptation is great to create one-dimensional, cardboard, almost “cartoonish” characters. Dudley Doright and Snidely Whiplash.
By the same token, the term “antihero” is misleading. By its very name, it also implies a moral quality assigned to the character. The protagonist is neither a hero nor an antihero. They’re simply the person through whose persona we experience the story.
Do yourself a favor. Don’t think of these two characters as “good” and/or “bad.” I think you’ll find you create far more complex and compelling characters by not doing so.
Same way with that term that’s crept into our writing lexicon in the past few years. That main character thingy, or that even more insidious appellation, that “MC” monstrosity. That says… nothing. Of course the protagonist is the “main character.” But, to refer to him or her with that term, negates somewhat the value of the protagonist. Describing the protagonist as the “main character” implies that it’s the story that’s mostly important (at the expense of character) and that’s simply not true. All stories, regardless of genre, are pretty much the same. It’s the protagonist in his/her battle in the story to resolve the story problem that’s important. Plots are limited—there are only 6-8, depending on the source. Characters—particularly protagonists—on the other hand, are limitless. The life of any story isn’t the plot. It’s how the protagonist and antagonist operate within the plot, not the clever and various ways in which the killings, bombings, kidnappings, love and/or sex scenes, naval button contemplations or whatever are depicted. Those things are incidental to the characters and only exist to serve the characters and provide the obstacles for the struggle.
The Antagonist
Likewise, don’t think of the antagonist in terms of villains. He or she is simply the person whose goal(s) conflict with those of the protagonist’s. Period. Again, just as with the protagonist, no moral value is assigned, at least in relationship to the definition of their character. Not the “bad guy” or “bad gal.” If you think of antagonists as villains, you’ll end up with Snidely Whiplash-type characters. One-dimensional, cardboard, cartoonish characters.
The antagonist, just like the protagonist, can be a good guy or gal or a bad guy or gal. Doesn’t matter. Novels aren’t morality plays. As Samuel Goldwyn said to the screenwriter who sent him a script with a theme of good and bad (badly paraphrased): “Don’t send a message. Western Union sends messages and they do it well. Send me a story.”
Can there be more than one protagonist or antagonist?
One protagonist, one antagonist per novel.
Now, that doesn’t mean they each can’t have multiple allies. They both can and both most likely will.
Are there exceptions? Probably, although I can’t think of any right now. Remember that just because a novel was published doesn’t “prove” it was any good. Doesn’t mean it’s a good model to follow, necessarily. Bad novels get published just about every day. But, do yourself a favor and don’t use a bad novel for a template. I can pretty well guarantee you that there aren’t very many good novels with “co-protagonists” and “multiple antagonists.”
One of the reasons this is true is that when you begin creating more than a single protagonist and/or antagonist, the reader’s focus begins to get diffused. We can “see” an individual. Once you begin creating crowds, it becomes harder to figure out whose story it is or who we should follow.
Let’s look at Thelma & Louise for particularly great examples of a powerful protagonist and an equally-powerful antagonist.
By the way, the strength of your novel depends on the strength of your antagonist, not your protagonist. Write that down. The antagonist should be at least the equal in strength of the protagonist, and preferably stronger. This includes all forms of strength, including physical, mental, emotionally, resource-wise… in every way you can dream up. If the antagonist is weaker in any way than the protagonist, then the protagonist doesn’t have to do much to prevail, does he? And, you want the protagonist’s struggle to be uphill all the way.
The protagonist in Thelma & Louise is Thelma. Period. I know the title says Thelma and Louise, but it’s Thelma’s story. Louise is along for the ride and the primary role she serves is the Mentor role. Khouri was well-aware of that. If they were co-protagonists, wouldn’t she have given Louise’s big sex scene the same big stage as she did Thelma’s? She didn’t. It’s Thelma’s story, all the way.
Another factor that determines who the protagonist is is the character arc. You know, that old Freitag scheme that looks like a roller coaster? Only the protagonist gets that. His or her character has to undergo a significant change as a result of the struggle she’s undergone to achieve the story goal. Only Thelma undergoes this change in the story. Louise changes a bit, but by and large, at the end of the story, she’s pretty much the same as she was at the beginning. Thelma, on the other hand, has had a profound change from where she began. You’ll see that change as we go along here.
And, the antagonist is… Hal the cop as played by Harvey Keitel. Is he a villain? Nope. Not in the least. He’s undoubtedly the single most moral character in the story. His goal is completely honorable and good… for those looking for good guys and bad guys in their fiction.
It’s just that his goal is in direct conflict with Thelma’s. His goal is to rescue Thelma and her friend, Louise. To save them first from going to jail and then, as the story evolves, to save them from being killed. Absolutely, 100% honorable goal. Can you see how the terms “villain” doesn’t have a thing to do with Hal’s character? Do you think for a second that if Khouri thought in those terms—heroes/heroines vs villains—could have possibly written these characters—particularly Hal’s? Not a chance in hell! If her knowledge of story had rested on those kinds of definitions, she would be writing direct-to-video screenplays, if even that.
Please—if you get nothing else from this book—never again think of your characters as hero/heroine and villain!
Are there characters in the story who provide obstacles for Thelma? Sure. Her husband Darryl is about as “villainy” as you could ever wish for. Just about every male character in the story provide opposition. J.T. steals their money even though he does afford Thelma respect in their love-making. The state cop with the tailored uni and mirror sunglasses and male chauvinist hog attitude is villainy. The tanker driver with his pig-like gestures and intentions is villainy. Harlan, the would-be rapist is definitely villainy. The guys manning gas pumps when they stop, or are leaning up against building posts ogling them, are all minor variations of villainy. And, guess what? Just about all of those characters fit the Snidely Whiplash mold. No antagonists in that bunch, except in a very limited, stereotypical role, basically as villainous. Louise’s boyfriend Jimmy, is pretty much a good guy, but he’s definitely not an antagonist. He’s one of their few “helpers” when he comes to Louise’s aid (and, by extension, Thelma’s). No opposition to Thelma’s goal there.
The one character whose goal provides consistent and powerful opposition to Thelma’s goal is Hal. She wants to escape; his goal is to catch her.
And it’s that dynamic that makes for complex characters and complex stories. Two individuals, each with a goal at odds with the other. Both with worthy goals. No “good vs evil” going on here at all. Each the very model of a great protagonist/antagonist. A very powerful antagonist. Look at Hal’s strengths. He’s a lawman with tons of experience catching criminals. He’s got all the technological advantages possible. He’s got a virtual army of people to help him find and catch them. He’s got state of the art computers, communications, transportation, radar, phone tracking capability at his disposal. He’s got the state police along with the FBI at his disposal. He’s got a frickin’ helicopter! He’s got all this arrayed against a housewife and a waitress in a car and little money and their destination known. He’s extremely powerful and about as strong of an antagonist as you could ever invent. When Thelma defeats him—which she does in the final scene—it resonates with the viewer since she hasn’t beaten a weakling at all but an antagonist that was stronger in just about every single way. Think about how this story would have been had Khouri made Hal a nasty guy who hated women and just wanted to either kill Thelma and Louise or just wanted to put them in jail. She could have done that… if she thought in terms of “heroines” and “villains.” But she didn’t. She created a protagonist and gave her a worthy antagonist.
Perhaps why she won the Oscar for this story?

I'm busy at work right now completing this book upon the urging of my agent. Hope when it's done, you'll consider glomming onto a copy.

Hope this helps inform your own writing!

Blue skies,
P.S. Here's an "old" craft book I wrote that you may find useful.

On Saturday, November 23, I’ll be conducting a REALLY BIG (channel your inner Ed Sullivan voice here) workshop where I show the movie THELMA & LOUISE and provide commentary throughout, showing salient fiction techniques, for the Indiana Writer’s Center. This one is a labor of love and exhausting to deliver and I’ve heard rave after rave from those who’ve attended this one before. Click on http://www.indianawriters.org/ or go to http://www.indianawriters.org/products/a-fiction-writers-workshop-at-the-bijou for complete information.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


Hi folks,

When I was at the recent Bouchercon I had the pleasure of meeting and hanging out with Scott Adlerberg. And, then, when I got back home, I read his novel. I wish now I'd read his novel before meeting him! It's an amazing piece of work and I would have liked to tell him in person my opinion of it and talk to him about it. I guess I'll just tell him here what I thought...

The whole time I sat reading Scott Adlerberg’s novel SPIDERS AND FLIES, I kept thinking of the movie ANGEL HEART starring Mickey Rourke. And couldn’t figure out why at first. The stories aren’t similar, other than both contain supernatural elements, but the movie was set mostly in New Orleans and a bit in New York City, whereas Adlerberg’s novel takes place mostly in Martinique. And then it struck me. It physically and emotionally felt the same in both experiences—both forms cast a spell with atmospheric and nightmarish qualities that permeated my senses. Close to what Jung meant when he spoke of the realm of the subconscious being where truth resides. Adlerberg uses language in the best way—to create a film in the mind.

If you took the plot and outlined it, it probably wouldn’t make much sense. It certainly isn’t realistic or a portrayal of life from any “real” world. This isn’t the kind of noir that features meth addicts slashing and gashing their way through a redneck environment. This is noir of the highest order—the darkness of the soul and the nightmare we all seek to avoid but always know is there.

I think that’s why I kept thinking of ANGEL HEART. This was the first and perhaps only film I’ve ever seen that portrayed New Orleans accurately, with its dark undercurrents of savagery and primitivism. Unlike those horrid films like THE BIG EASY which were laughable and from which many native New Orleanians walked out of its showing in NOLA, either laughing or shaking their fists at the portrayal of a city that movie misinterpreted entirely. ANGEL HEART got New Orleans spot on and SPIDERS AND FLIES gets noir spot on. Certain of Faulkner’s novels do the same. Where this novel’s beauty lies is in the author’s tremendous skill in using language to beguile and bewitch and herd us into that place many writers try to take us to—the fictive dream. And, that’s exactly what Adlerberg has created—a dream that you enter into. This is not a reading experience a Grisham fan would probably enjoy. It is a novel a Genet fan would appreciate.

If this gets made into a movie, I’d look for a younger version of Mickey Rourke to play the lead. It’s perfect for the Rourke of ANGEL HEART or KILLSHOT. Directed by Hector Babenco, with the same kind of chops he brought to THE KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN.

Try to read this novel when you can experience it straight through. Put the DO NOT DISTURB sign on your door…

Blue skies,

Saturday, October 19, 2013

NOIR @ BAR IN INDY on Saturday, November 16!

Hi folks,

It's getting closer! I'm really excited about reading at the Noir @ the Bar in Indy, Saturday, November 16. It's gonna be wild!

The award-winning Booked Podcast dudes are going to be there as well, to record the event and conduct interviews.

Hope to see lots of you there!

Blue skies,

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

NOIR@BAR IN INDY on November 16!

Hi folks,

Just received this from CJ Edwards who is arranging and hosting a Noir@Bar event in Indianapolis where myself and a bunch of noir writer friends will be appearing to read our work and hang out with friends and pop a top or three. I’m really excited about this event and hope to see a lot of friends, not only reading but in the audience. If you haven’t been to a Noir@the Bar happening yet, you’re in for a truly fantastic treat. Not your mother’s poetry reading…

A special treat is that Jed Ayres and Scott Phillips who started all this Noir @ the Bar business from St. Louis will be reading!

(Noir @ the Bar in St. Louis participants)

The confirmed line up for Noir @ The Bar Indianapolis is:

Scott Phillips

Daniel O'Shea

Les Edgerton

Jed Ayres

David James Keaton 

James Ward Kirk

CJ Edwards

Word is that the famous (or infamous) Booked Podcast folks will be there to record the festivities and conduct interviews with the participants.
And there may be several other noir notables joining us to read—keep tuned in for announcements!

CJ says: This will be on Saturday Nov. 16 at 7pm and will most likely be at the Fountain Square Brewery at 1301 Barth Ave. This may change if we can't find enough chairs. I have been told that the Brewery doesn't have chairs...Any changes to the location will be made known ASAP.

Be there or… you know…

Blue skies,

P.S. And yes... there will be drinking... What we refer to, technically, as LOTS OF DRINKING...