Sunday, May 9, 2010

Chatting with Eric Fritzius of WV Writers

As many of you know, the WV Writers Conference is less than a month away! Today I'm chatting with Eric Fritzius, aka E. Meritus, who is a featured presenter at this years conference. If the name sounds familiar, it's because Eric was gracious enough to invite me to his podcast earlier this year. Now, bwah-ha-ha, the tables have turned!!!

SGR: There aren't many interviews that start with "Hello Master." Well, at least not on this site, but you are well known in the mountain state as the webmaster for the WV Writers. I know you play a huge role in the upcoming conference. Could you give us a quick run down of the conference. Who, what, where, when and what can writers expect to find?

EF: I’m not as heavily involved in the conference planning, beyond my president emeritus advisory role. WVW’s president, Terry McNemar, and the team he’s assembled, are the ones doing the heavy lifting for the conference this year.

I’m astounded at how the conference grows and changes from year to year and it always seems to get bigger and better. This year we have nearly 50 different workshops on hand, not counting the People’s Choice competitions sessions, and none of those workshops repeats. So basically during each of the three days of the conference, there will be around four workshops being taught, and sometimes five during the class hours. To break it down a little better, if you think of the conference as having high school class periods, there will be four class periods per day, except for Sunday, which only has two, with each class period being 75 minutes in length. But within each of those class periods will be four or five workshops to choose from. The periods are also designed so that each will contain workshops on fiction, nonfiction, poetry, business, etc. so that people who are mainly interested in writing poetry or writing prose can have a workshop to attend in that subject.
People can see the full lineup of presenters at our website (http://www.wvwriters.org/conference.html) but some of the major ones who are drawing attention include Denise Giardina, Gretchen Moran Laskas, Rick Campbell, Jimmy Carl Harris, Tim Poland, Cheryl Ware, Dana Wildsmith, Sandy Tritt, Rob Merritt and many more. Another of our planned guests, Lee Maynard, is in all likelihood not going to be able to attend after all. This is breaking news for us, but there have been some very serious developments in his immediate family and he regretfully has asked to bow out. He said that there still is a chance he’ll be able to make it and, if so, he’ll be a surprise guest, but the odds aren’t good on that front. We’ll miss him. Lee has been a friend of WVW for several years now and his workshops have always been fantastic. In the meantime Gretchen Moran Laskas has stepped in to fill one of the workshop slots for Mr. Maynard.

Another major aspect of the conference will be the presence of two professional editors and two literary agents. Peter Lynch, who is an editorial manager with Sourcebooks, Inc., is returning again this year. We had a lot of fun with him last year and he’ll once again be on hand to take pitches for potential projects with Sourcebooks. The other editor is Kaylan Adair, who is with Candlewick Press, one of the major children’s book publishers. Kaylan won’t be taking pitches at the conference, but anyone attending any of her workshops will be given a code word allowing them a three month window in which to pitch projects by mail. This is pretty big news, as Candlewick Press is not currently taking any new project pitches. For the literary agents we have Christine Witthohn, from Book Cents Literary Agency. She’s been a friend of our organization for the past few years and has always willing to help us out, particularly when it comes to helping arrange for folks like Peter Lynch to come in for the conference. On occasion, she even picks up a new client or two from our conference, which is always nice. And we have a new face for the conference in the form of agent Kelly Mortimer from Mortimer Literary Agency. Kelly specializes in pre-published authors—those who have not yet had a manuscript published. She has been a more recent addition to the conference and will be filling one of Lee Maynard’s workshop slots with one on the dangers of passive writing.

And for those people who would like to pitch to one of the above folks, we have all the information on that at our website (http://blog.wvwriters.org/2010/04/wvw-2010-summer-conference-pitch.html). And for people who would like more information on the actual pitch process, I’ll be doing a podcast interview with Christine Witthohn sometime in May to give folks a primer on that. And Christine will also be conducting a similar workshop at the conference.

SGR: I see on the schedule that you are MCing the entertainment Friday night. Can you give us a sneak peak behind the curtain?

EF: For the past few years, our Friday night entertainment has been kind of a variety show, though I don’t think we’ve ever called it that before. Usually it’s just thought of as three or four different things happening on Friday, showcasing some of the talent found among our members. This year we’re embracing the variety concept and are putting on a show called A WV Writers Home Companion, loosely in the style of Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion. Partly we hope for this to be a dry run for a similar show we’re doing as part of this year’s FestivAll in Charleston on June 26. We may not have exactly the same show in both places, particularly the more Keilloresque bits, but they’ll be recognizable as members of the same family. So there will be drama, poetry, prose, humor, song and whatever else we can squeeze in.

And for Saturday night’s entertainment, we have Pops Walker and Kipyn Martin. Pops will be a 3 time return performer for conference entertainment, which is a testament to just how good he is. Kipyn Martin is a young lady who regularly composes more classical style music, but who is an astounding singer/songwriter when she gets a guitar in her hands. In addition to their own music, they’ll be doing some tribute pieces to Keith Pitzer, a friend of both WVW and Pops and Kipyn both, who passed away this past December. Keith and his wife Joan had originally been scheduled as entertainment this year.

SGR: One of the seminars I'm definitely attending this year is your seminar on podcasting. I was lucky enough to participate in your podcast on www.WVWriters.org For many writers, this is new territory, an entirely new forum in which to promote their work and engage in conversations with other writers. Tell us about what you'll be covering.

EF: I started the WV Writers Podcast a year ago not only because I’m such an enormous fan of the medium but because I was already scheduled to do a workshop on blogging and podcasting at the conference and wanted to do it for research on the How To aspect. Very much like the medium of blogging gave every day folks an international forum for writing, podcasts give everybody the chance to host their own radio and TV-style shows. Just like any medium, there’s a lot of noise out there, but the chance to rise to the upper tiers of the heap is not limited to instantly recognizable names. The medium of podcasting has continued to grow tremendously in the past year and is absolutely becoming a daily ritual for millions of people across the country. With smartphones and 3G and 4G data connections making it even more convenient to find and download such content, the field is only going to increase. How to make money at it is still a very iffy proposition, hence the title of my workshop “Podcasting for Fun and (Mostly) Nonprofit.” But there are actually people who do make money at it, or find creative ways to use the medium as a tool toward that end. We’ll talk about all that, help the workshop attendees brainstorm possible passions they might turn into a podcast of their own, and give everyone a crash course in how to start your own for surprisingly little money.

SGR: But you're more than just a good-looking tech! You're also a writer/artist in a number of mediums. I'm going to let you run amok here and dazzle us ( and by that I mean make our heads spin) with your many projects. I know you have a short story in DARK TALES OF TERROR. Is that your favorite genre? I'm guessing not from the wide variety.

EF: I tend to do a lot of different things because I’m interested in them. I do podcasts cause it’s fun and exercises old radio muscles. I write short stories because they’re fun and incredibly satisfying when they turn out right. They can also experiment with form in a way that novels can’t, or at least probably shouldn’t. I write plays because I’ve been a theatre guy for most of my life and enjoy acting and writing for the stage. I’ve had three plays produced in the past couple of years. And I write nonfiction articles because they too are fun and I get paid for them.

As for favorite genres, I used to describe mine as “mostly science fiction,” but I’ve had to reevaluate that in the past few years after I noticed that I tended to buy mostly modern fantasy/horror. It’s a genre that I tend to write in as well, though many of my stories and plays are completely down to earth except for one odd bit in the middle. I rarely write outright horror, though. In fact, when my short story “Nigh” was published in the anthology Dark Tales of Terror, that you mention, I was afraid it didn’t fit. When I first submitted the story to Woodland Press, the anthology they were preparing was entitled something like Spooky Stories from the Mountain State. While “Nigh” is definitely dark—being filled with more than a smattering of death and coffee—I kind of wondered if that particular dark tale was terrifying enough to merit inclusion in a book called Dark Tales of Terror. Woodland Press seemed to think so, though, and I was proud to have it included.

The other major project I’m involved with is a nonfiction book about the Smith Mountain community near Alderson that Belinda Anderson is writing. This was a remote community with around 30 families that had lived on farms around Smith Mountain for decades. However, the place was all but abandoned during World War II after many of the men and children left to fight in the war and those remaining were unable to keep up with the farm work and were forced to move into town. While most of the buildings have either rotted to the foundations, or had their materials salvaged, there are still a few structures to be found. There are a few buildings left. The place is pretty much inaccessible except by four wheeler, horse, or on foot—which is how we made it up the first time—but we’ve photographed a lot of what is there. There are still a few people alive with first-hand memories of living there and even more who had relatives who did, so there are still plenty of stories to be told. Belinda has been tracking them down to record their stories for the past few months. West Virginia has its share of ghost communities and we think the chance to help tell the story of Smith Mountain will be fun. Mainly I’ve been assisting with the technical side, archiving the audio recordings and occasionally serving as photographer and videographer for the project, but my main role will come when we begin compiling Belinda’s manuscript into its final format and I’ll get to do the layout of the book with the accompanying pictures. We’re also talking about including a multi-media component with some of the videos and audio interviews included on a website.


SGR: Some people might be intimidated by such a long list of projects, feeling overwhelmed. You don't seem to be in that group. Do you find yourself drawn to having many irons in the fire? Do you find it more or less challenging to have the number of Works in Progress limited?

EF: I don’t really know any other way to do things. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have a lot of irons in the fire. Just to extend the metaphor, this is not to say that all the irons were being actively watched, or were even close enough to the fire to be very warm, but they were at least in the fireplace. Once in a while, one gets hot enough to shape and I can take it out and whack it with hammers until it looks like I want it to. The flip side of this, of course, is that by not concentrating on one project at a time, by the time I get around to finishing the work on one it might not look exactly like it did in my head when I first got the notion to stick that iron in the fire. And having so many in there is admittedly distracting and daunting. It’s probably not the best way to work, but it’s what I do.

SGR: Before we wrap it up, could you give some parting words of encouragement or advice to anyone reading who is considering attending the WV Writers Conference? Besides watching for goose poop when you walk around the lake?

EF: Well, one should never ignore the importance of proper goose poop avoidance technique, but maybe that’s a workshop for another year.
For those who’ve never been before, the WV Writers Summer Conference is one of the most laid back writers conferences you’ll ever go to. We’ve been told this not only from those of us on the board who regularly attend other writers conferences, but also from our members who do as well. And each year, by the end of the weekend, one of the new presenters will pull one of us aside and assure us that we have something special going on and offer to return whenever we’d like. I don’t know if there’s any one thing you can put your finger on as to why the conference works so well, but having an excellent staff of workshop leaders, the beautiful setting at Cedar Lakes, the new friendships made or old friendships reacquainted, the entertainment, the camaraderie, etc., all has to go into the mix. And while lots of people come for the added bonus of seeing friends, new faces are just as welcome and always have a blast. In fact, we have literally had diagnosed agoraphobics come to the conference and have such a great time they swear they’ll be back.

So to new folks, I advise you to bring a short piece of poetry or prose to submit for either the writers’ wall competition, or a piece you can read in under five minutes for either of the People’s Choice sessions. Also, it is vitally important that you bring an umbrella or some sort of rain gear because there WILL be a torrential downpour at some point during the conference. It’s usually not for very long, but it has happened each of the seven years that I’ve attended and probably has stretching back to the first conference in 1978.

2 comments:

Aonia Grafton said...

Sounds like a great conference... I'm going to look into attending now that it's been brought to my attention.

Bob Fritzius said...

I especially liked your comments about what to do with irons in the fire. (That's toward the very end.)