James Scott Bell’s take on the writing life
By Janet Lane
Crested Butte’s breath-taking mountains and wildflowers tempted me to stay outside during last month’s writing conference, but the workshops and discussions lured me into Grand Lodge instead.
RMFW member Elizabeth Roadifer won first place in the Fantasy/Sci Fi category for her story, Fairy Tales. HUZZAH! RMFW Member and Mistwillow author Sally Clark won honorable mention for her story, The Color of Silence. Congratulations, ladies!
The conference’s keynote speaker, James Scott Bell, former actor and trial lawyer, is the author of The Whole Truth, No Legal Grounds, Presumed Guilty, and several more legal thrillers. A former fiction columnist for Writer’s Digest magazine, Bell wrote two books in the Writer’s Digest series, Write Great Fiction: Plot and Structure and Revision and Self-Editing.
Like many of us, Bell struggled to get published in his early writing years. His “light bulb” moment was made possible by Jack Bickham and his Scene and Sequel discussions about how they related to the story question.
Bell uses a vivid image to dramatize the capricious nature of literary success. He drew a pyramid on the grease board that represents the types of writers who want to write a book.
At level one reside the people who believe they can write a book. They may have written a first chapter. At level two , writers have studied and perhaps written a full manuscript. Level three writers persevere and continue to learn the craft of writing, and may have started their second manuscript. The dedication of level four writers helped them finally get published. Level five authors are multi-published. They continue to grow and learn from each book and keep getting better, more polished.
When the pyramid of writers had been identified, Bell drew a wheel at the top of the pyramid. This, Bell said, is the Wheel of Fortune. There, for no predictable reason, certain books gain momentum over other, equally brilliant and well-written books, and they spin out into the sky. Bell described this with dramatic flair as he drew the spokes of the wheel , slashing fast brush strokes with his Sharpie: “And they just start shooting out. Harry Potter. Whirrrrr. Whirrrr. Twilight. Whirrrr. Whirrrr.” If we can make it to the top level of the pyramid, we have a chance. “Get it (your book) on the wheel, and maybe it will come up.”
Is this cynical, or serendipitous? Is getting published really all about luck? If not, what other factors play a significant role in holding your first published book in your hands? How can we improve our odds?