On a conference panel? Come prepared

Since the publication of my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On (Dream of Things), and now the publication of my historical novel, Papa’s Shoes (Aberdeen Bay), I’ve been asked to appear at many writers conference panel discussions. Actually I’ve been asked to speak on my own – which I did once – but I always prefer to among three to four others on a panel.

This last Friday evening I appeared on the Greater Los Angeles Writers Conference panel “Writing a Best-Selling Memoir” with four other authors. One authored two biographies of well-known television stars, one wrote a book she called a fictionalized memoir, one was an agent and lawyer who discussed some of the legal issues of writing memoirs, and the moderator, who was a public relations specialist and editor. That said, I was really the only true memoir author on the panel.

By the way, the agent/lawyer emphatically said there is no such thing as fictionalized memoir. It’s either fiction or memoir, but not both. And I emphatically agree.

However, the moderator dug in deep. She gave us questions in advance and pretty much stuck to them during our hour-long panel discussion. For example:

  • Give us a quick synopsis of what your book is about.
  • How did you decide to start it and why? Read the opening 1-3 paragraphs
  • What is the time frame and how did you pick that span of time?
  • How do you impose order on a thousand possible stories from a life?
  • Did you plot out your book extensively beforehand or did it grow organically?
  • What advice would you have for writing dialog, especially for memoir – where you won’t know the exact words that were spoken? Read a brief sample.

Unfortunately, her next in-advance question – What would you say is the theme or greater truth you reveal in your book? – was dropped when we ran out of time. And I was waiting anxiously to answer that in view of my mission to erase the stigma of mental illness and prevent suicide.

However, I think the questions that we did respond to were all excellent. And I especially liked that I, sitting next to the moderator, got to answer each of them first.

So the moral of this story is to come prepared. The moderator produced a list of questions in advance and the panelists had the questions in advance to ponder over and from which to prepare talking points, either in their heads or on paper, when it was time for the discussion to go on.

Please tell us about your conference experiences.


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