L. Frank Baum, writer of the classic Oz series, lived and worked in
Chicago from 1891 to 1914. Ernest Hemingway was born and raised in
Oak Park. Even our own darling, Abraham Lincoln, was known for his
great speeches, many of which were published.
Lincoln, located in the very middle of the state -- a small town
living in the shadow of capital Springfield and giant Chicago -- is home to
more than its share of successful writers. Langston Hughes wrote his
first poem in grade school in Lincoln. William Maxwell was a child
here and later wrote in "So Long, See You Tomorrow" about Lincoln as a place
where people didn't lock their doors and streets were always full of
children playing together. His old neighborhood is surprisingly
unchanged in many ways. The legacy continues with the recent release
of Lincoln author Erika Holst's "Wicked Springfield," a history of
"crime, corruption and scandal during the Lincoln era."
It's entirely fitting, then, that Illinois recently hosted one of
the best writing conferences to be found, offering personalized
attention unheard of at other conferences. Limited to 36 attendees, SEAK's Advanced Fiction Writing seminar in Chicago is aimed at
writers who write as more than a hobby and are serious about their writing.
Taught by legal-thriller author Robert Dugoni and John Hough
Jr., author of four novels and three nonfiction works, the seminar is an
intense weekend that is more hands-on than most conferences. Dugoni
and Hough bring a wealth of information on the work and business of
writing, with Dugoni specializing in plot construction and writing
technique and Hough an expert on character creation and dialogue.
Each participant received a 15-minute coaching session with Hough, who read their first chapter and made comments in the
margins prior to the sessions, then reviewed the critiques
one-on-one. The reviews took place in a quiet conference room with no
background noise and no other participants standing in line behind
the table, waiting for their turn. The pace was relaxed and
intimate, and Hough was clearly interested in the writer in front of
him, rather than rushing through the meeting to get to the next.
Dugoni spent hours in group instruction, packing a week's
worth of useful information into one weekend. Additionally, he had
also reviewed the group's submissions, and some workshops
specifically addressed what he saw in those works.
Dugoni made it a point not only to learn participants' names, but
to remember which one was writing a legal thriller, a young adult
crime fiction novel or a medical murder mystery.
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Advanced Fiction Writing is one of many continuing education seminars
put on by SEAK, an organization created by a former lawyer and
managing partner of Kistin, Babitsky, Latimer, & Beitman.
Steve Babitsky's passion for quality continuing education was
evident in his presence and participation in the seminar workshops.
Many of SEAK's programs focus on legal and medical issues, including
expert witness seminars and instructions on writing quality medical
Writing is another SEAK specialty, with some writing
seminars focused specifically on lawyers and doctors who use their
professional knowledge to produce informed creative works. SEAK's
next writing conference is planned for Oct. 22-24 in Hyannis, Mass.,
and is specifically for physicians writing fiction.
As if SEAK's programming weren't enough to propel the Advanced Fiction
Writing seminar to the top of any writer's "must-do" list, each
participant was invited to a personalized coaching session with literary
agent Sorche Fairbank, paired with her written feedback on his or her
own query letter and synopsis.
Fairbank is a smart, tough agent who asks pointed questions and
pushes the writer to examine every aspect of premise and plot for
plausibility, style and marketability.
Personal attention on this level from any one of these three experts
is worth the price of admission alone. Serious writers in the
Midwest should consider skipping the airfare required to travel to
conferences in other locations around the country and the world and
instead invest in SEAK's Advanced Fiction Writing seminar to get the most out of their conference budget. The combination loaded into one weekend
located inside Illinois' borders is enough to ensure that our
literary history has only just begun.
[By CANDRA LANDERS]