Local writers share experiences and advice at boisterous panel discussion
The audience threw library decorum and cautions to the wind as six local writers dished on their experiences at Wednesday's Local Authors Panel at the East Lansing Public Library.
A loose atmosphere full of laughter and heckling filled the room as the authors detailed their writing process, the struggles of selling books and even the weird questions that arise when writing a romance.
The authors spoke to the struggles of getting their work published, which led many to self-publish their pieces.
Self-published author Kristie Dickinson, who said her main job as a court reporter provides her with lots of bizarre and interesting story ideas, said she's "on a mission" to get her work out as fast as she can.
She said she fears that the traditional publishing process would take too long to bring her ideas to the world.
"I'm not going to die with a story under my arm, so I just did it myself," Dickinson said.
Martha Steinhagen, author of adventure novel "Mist B Haven", said she learned a trick to get her work into bookstores who refuse to sell self-published books. She created her own one-woman publishing "firm," complete with its own logo, to put on the side of her book.
Panelists seemed to bond over the struggles of marketing their work. Joyce Benvenuto, author of poetry books about Grand River Avenue, wasn't afraid to be blunt when it came to her chosen field.
"If you want to make money, don’t be a poet," Benvenuto said. "You can write romance and all of that, but poetry you're doing it because you love it."
Her Grand River poetry was inspired by a lifelong connection to the road, which cuts across the state from Detroit to Grand Haven.
As a fifth-generation Michigander, she said not only does her own life owe a lot to the scenery along the road, but much of her family history is tied to the area as well.
"All up and down the road were stories of me at different points in time," Benvenuto said.
Benvenuto added that it helps to write poetry about ancestors who have long since passed away, "nobody can come back and sue you" for taking a little creative license with their life story, she said.
The panel was made up of poets, mothers and retirees. This by no means limited the authors from getting a little racy.
Alyssa Alexander, who described her genre as "historical romantic suspense," said part of her writing process involves scrolling through images of models until she finds one who matches her own mental image of her characters.
She then picked up a notebook and showed off pictures of a disheveled, "very yummy" man who would serve as the hero of the next book she's working on. "Alejandro's" sultry looks got plenty of cheers and applause from the audience.
The inspiration doesn't appear to bother Alexander's husband, who she described as "super supportive" of her writing career -- even if it requires their home to occasionally feature a gallery of attractive men.
"I mean, I kept these [pictures] up on the wall in my office for months, and he was just like, 'Whatever,'" Alexander said.
One audience member's question launched the panel into an extended discussion about how writing bedroom scenes can lead to rather uncomfortable questions.
Alexander said any time an author writes about sex, readers will likely ask the uncomfortable question of whether the scenes were based on personal experience.
She said it's up to individual writers to respond however they feel comfortable, but that she likes to remind prying readers that she's a fiction writer. Alexander's love scenes always serve to advance the plot in some way, they're never just thrown in for shock value, she said.
Lyn Farquhar, one half of the mother-daughter mystery duo writing under the pen name Lia Farrell, echoed that sentiment, drawing parallels to her own work.
She said just because someone writes about a mass murderer doesn't mean they are one.
Alexander and others on the panel, like Karen Dean Benson and MJ Parisian, encouraged the writers in the audience to stand behind their creative choices even when readers' questions get a little too invasive.