Am I a Writer… or an Emcee?
by Mary Ellen Stepanich
I attended the annual Southwest Writers Conference in November – I attend every year because it’s nearby and not too costly. I suppose I’m trying to become a writer. Or, perhaps I should say, a “published writer.” I fervently desire to write well enough to be accepted by an agent and subsequently published by one of the “Big Five.” That hasn’t happened … yet.
This year’s conference provided daylong tracks in Fiction, Non-Fiction, and the Business of Publishing. I opted to attend the Fiction track – multiple three-hour intensive and interactive sessions led by prominent local authors. I wasn’t keen on the “interactive” part, because that consisted of writing-on-demand exercises. The attendees were required to complete in-class writing assignments based on prompts provided by the instructor.
I’m not good at doing much of anything on the spur of the moment, especially anything creative. I’m a planner. I think about the issue, do some research, make an outline of the task, and then when my thoughts are complete, I tackle the job. There was no time for that in these sessions.
The first assignment followed a discussion about creating stereotypes of characters, and then bringing them to life by infusing them with their personalities, including core strengths, blind spots, and denied yearnings. I used the main character/protagonist in the novel I’ve written and am currently editing – Doo Wops in Paradise. It’s fiction, but it’s based on my comedy barbershop quartet’s trip to Hawaii a few years ago.
When it was my turn to share my responses, I stood up reluctantly and read from my notes: “The main character is a redheaded widow who has a temper and ‘flies off the handle’ when crossed.” I then cocked my henna-dyed head, looked at the audience over the rim of my glasses, and remarked, “Guess who was the model for that character.” The audience roared with laughter.
Hastily, I gave the answers to the personality traits of my fictional heroine. “Her strength is tenacity; she won’t let go of a problem until she finds a logical solution – that’s logical according to ME, of course.” Laughter.
“Her blind spot is the anger that causes her to miss important clues from her peers and the hero while she seeks a solution. Now that I think of it, I had the same problem with my third husband.” Laughter.
“Finally, concerning her denied yearning, she’s caught in the crosshairs between grieving for a dead husband and the romantic urge that keeps tugging at her nether regions every time she looks at the hero.” I heaved a sigh. “That part, I’m sorry to say, is total fiction.” More laughter.
Everyone else in the group had written beautiful, lengthy, fluid passages of prose that revealed these characteristics in an almost literary style. I shared only this first assignment with the class because, upon hearing the seriousness of the other attendees, I felt my work was too frivolous. I was so humbled. However, several students told me as they left that I added a lot to the class. (I’m not sure what they meant by that.)
So, perhaps I should give up the idea of becoming a published writer and become an emcee instead, introducing acts at The Comedy Club. Heeeeeere’s What’s-Her-Name!
Dr. Mary Ellen Stepanich is a retired professor of organizational behavior who always told her students at Purdue, “I’m very organized, but my behavior is a bit wonky.” She has published articles in academic journals (boring), show scripts for barbershop choruses and quartets (funny), and an award-winning radio play, “Voices from the Front,” for Sun Sounds of Arizona (heartrending). Mary Ellen lives in Peoria, Arizona, with her cat, Cookie, and blogs on her website, MaryEllenStepanich.com.