Lasso Round-up

Will Rogers Writers’ Workshop, OKLAHOMA CITY — Susan Driscoll, CEO of iUniverse, spoke first, following a hot breakfast buffet to which the self-publishing firm treated us. I see why friends have published books, several of whom have gone the print-on-demand route, yet it’s not for me. No books. I’m more of a pamphleteer. But after years of reading writers’ magazines, between Susan and Tim Bete I see the economic advantage. If the author will end up doing all or most of the marketing, why not keep more of the revenue? The book, no matter the imprint, will be at your favorite bookstore and online, and the table where you’re signing.

Still, I was most impressed at the author’s tables here by those with the old New York publishers. By the percentage of flops, traditional publishers should be bankrupt millions of times. They’re not, and the business has not undergone any more mergers than any other. If a snooty publisher selects your book, it has jumped a critical critical hoop. It’s not so much that I’m old-fashioned but I’ve seen the review books dumped on the book editor’s desk, daily. You have to winnow.

W. Bruce Cameron is traditionally and prominently published. He’s been on Oprah, both the magazine and the TV show. He’s nice, and very funny. Yet there he was autographing anything that would hold ink. He spoke next. I’ve heard him speak several times, and each time I learn something, even laughing, which is continual for him. This time: Bruce still wants to be a published novelist, has 10 completed novels none want to publish. Also, he wants his syndicated column to be in more newspapers. He loves the form.

Sally Allen, a Web editor and columnist with The Oklahoman, hosted a session on the Internet. We learned more from her attitude than her words (her remarks were strong but the dedication is what rang through): Real journalism has a home online, and an increasing readership. Accuracy, fairness and clear language are just as needed here as in print.

Lunch comprised a great salad, crisp untrimmed vegetables over pasta with a little sauce, and food-service cheesecake.

Craig Wilson of USA Today spoke at the meal. He has a poetic insistence for rhythm as well as a poet’s preference for understatement.

The session of free-lance columnist Suzette Martinez Standring was derived from her upcoming book The Art of Column Writing (not yet posted at Here, she focused on the lifestyle column, noting that the personal sharing sort of piece must be revelatory for the reader, otherwise it falls into self-absorption. To organize thoughts, the author should write, as a note not in the essay, a summary headline or a summary sentence so declarative it has no commas. Suzette also demonstrated a relaxation technique to help inspiration.

Dinner comprised a great salad, crisp untrimmed vegetables over pasta with a little sauce, and food-service pecan pie.

After supper, a good finale. We learned more about Will Rogers. Robert J. Conley was the scholar who finally put some teeth in Will. He did express a few strong opinions, generally on the plight of American Indians. He also was passionate about his boyhood home, the I.T., (how Indian Territory was abbreviated): “We spoiled the best territory in the world to make a state.” Will was deeper than “aw shucks,” just as I suspected.

Randall Reeder of Hilliard, Ohio, was one of two Will Rogers impersonators who participated. The other was Professor Doug Watson. Unlike Elvis impersonators, no one threw underwear at them. If they had, Randall had a rope and he have lassoed them, mid-air.

Serious political columnist Ray Hanania is a cut-up away from the keyboard: he’s an accomplished standup comedian. He closed the evening and the conference by efficiently running a little talent show. Heck, I learned from his emceeing a bit about meeting management: body language really works. -30-

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