“You Don’t Even Realize How Much You’ve Learned”: An Interview with Homer Hickam

BY ZACH DAVIS

 

This interview was conducted by phone in October 2014. It will be readily apparent to the reader that Mr. Homer Hickam is passionate about his craft and is highly knowledgeable of a variety of topics. Distilling more than two hour’s worth of conversation is no small task, and there are—by necessity—some edits required for space. To read the rest of the interview (which is highly recommended for fans of Homer Hickam as well as anyone interested in the writing process), please visit the fluent website.

FLUENT The goal here, really, is to get a little more idea of who you are as a writer and what you think of the writing life. As much as possible, I’d like to avoid those questions you probably get asked the most. Some of those are going to be a little hard to avoid because they are questions that I personally find interesting and like to ask other writers.
HOMER HICKAM Well, feel free to ask anything you like.

FLUENT One of the most important, if not the most important, questions is when did you realize you wanted to be—or when did you realize you were—a storyteller?
HH Actually, the third grade. All of us were asked by our teacher to write a short story, and when I wrote mine, the teacher thought it was so good that she mimeographed it and had it sent all around the school. So, when I was in the third grade I already had a fan base in junior high, which is pretty cool. It was historical fiction. I remember it very well—it was the story of Horatio at the bridge during the Roman Empire. So, obviously my teachers had picked up very early that I was a good writer and storyteller, so I continued to write the whole time I was in Coalwood and later wrote for the college newspaper down at Virginia Tech.

FLUENT When you were first starting out, did you have a specific audience in mind, or were you more writing to entertain yourself?
HH After writing a number of short stories, I came out with a little newspaper in Coalwood. We had to handprint it, and I think we had about a dozen issues. I was definitely writing for my teachers, and for the people of Coalwood, for my parents, and for just anybody who would read my stuff.

FLUENT Is that who you write for today, anyone who wants to read your work, do you have a specific audience?
HH (laughs) Well, of course it’s gotten a little more complicated now. I write for what I hope will be general audiences, typically. But now I also write for the publishing houses and the editors who bring me on to write particular books, so there’s, first, those folks you want to please so that they’ll publish your book, and then of course you want to attract general audiences as much as you can.

FLUENT Do you have a preferred writing time during the day?
HH Yeah. I usually do my new writing—my fresh writing—in the morning. I’ll usually put in 4 or 5 hours in the morning. In the afternoon, I don’t typically trust myself to write new stuff, so what I like to do then is go back and revise. So morning is for fresh writing, afternoon is for revision.

FLUENT Do you write for a set number of hours, or a specific word count, or is it more “That’s enough for now?”
HH Well, sometimes I do work to a word count or page count. I would love to do the Hemmingway thing of five pages a day, but that doesn’t always work. Sometimes I’ll go as much as ten pages a day. But it really kinda depends on the book I’m writing, or if I’m writing an editorial, or blog, or whatever it happens to be that I’m involved in. If I have a blog to write, I’ll typically get that done in a couple of hours. If I’m working on a book, I like to get at least two or three pages done every day.

FLUENT Do you have a designated writing space, someplace you prefer to be in when you’re composing?
HH Here at home, I have a loft with my computer, desk, printer and scanner, and various research materials. I’ll typically retreat to the loft, which is a bit private. I can write just about anywhere, though. We have a house down in St. John, the Virgin Islands, and down there I carry a laptop. I’m usually working on the dining room table down there. Or, if I’m travelling I can work in a hotel room, if I have to.

FLUENT I believe I know the answer to this already, but do you have a first reader, someone to whom you show something you’ve been working on once you’re ready for someone besides you to read it?
HH Typically, I’ll run it past Linda, my wife. She’s a pretty good editor, and she often catches the mistakes. Sometimes it’s just she’s catching punctuation problems and that kind of thing. But quite often she’ll tell me, “I think you’ve gone off in the weeds, here. You’re going in the wrong direction.” Or “I don’t know why you’ve gone this way” or “I don’t like your character” or whatever it happens to be. She generally gives very good feedback. I don’t always take it, except for punctuation, because she’s usually right about that. What we like to do is have as clean a manuscript as possible before I push the button and send it off to an editor or publisher. It’s better for an author to do that and not depend on an editor in New York to find errors in your manuscript.

FLUENT I would think, especially writing as you do—writing things that are more personal—you would like to have as much control over that as possible and not leave it up to someone who hadn’t gone through it to sort of shape how it’s presented.
HH Well, I’m up to about nineteen books now, and of those, I think six are what might fall into the personal memoir category. I wrote a very successful historical fiction series, the Josh Thurlow series, so it’s not always personal. My main concern is that I want to give an editor a story that when they read it, they’re thinking “I can’t wait to see what happens next” and they keep turning the pages even though they’re swamped with manuscripts. I want that editor to look at my work first. So a lot of attention goes to that and not only making sure that the manuscript is as clean as possible, but also that there is as little editorial work on the publisher’s side as possible. u

FLUENT How important to you are first lines? You mentioned wanting to have something that’s a page turner, that’ll keep people interested. Do you write until you feel that “This is the ultimate grabber” or is it more having a great first paragraph or first page, or first chapter? How would you say you like to propel your stories?
HH First lines are very important. That’s why I go back almost constantly while I’m writing a book and work on the first chapter. I think it’s very important to hook the reader from the first chapter, but I don’t think I’m the best at it. I’m a good closer, and I have to work really hard to be a good opener.

FLUENT When you’re writing, do you typically have that closing in mind? Do you have an end goal that you’re shooting toward?
HH I do. I wait to write it. It’s sort of my treat. As I get toward the end, it seems like my writing goes a lot faster, a lot snappier. But, I hold out on that last chapter or that last scene because it’s what I’ve been aiming for the whole book.

FLUENT Do you find that when you write with that goal in mind, what you thought might be the ending changes, or do you really try to keep that specific goal in mind?
HH Well, you’ll change, sometimes. Sometimes radically, and then you’ll aim toward that. I’ll realize halfway through the book that I’ve got a better ending than I thought. The main thing is you don’t want to telegraph the ending. Literally, sometimes the way to keep from telegraphing the ending is to be surprised yourself at what the ending turns out to be. I know that’s a bit of a contradiction, but I believe that I need an ending in mind when I start, or I’m liable to ramble all around. But as I get to know the story better, or know the characters better, I’ll see a better way to end it, or perhaps a more surprising way to end it.

FLUENT You mentioned having the characters developing during the course of a story. How long do you typically let a story gestate—characters, plot, general outline—before you actually start writing it?
HH That kind of varies. Usually, I’ll make a proposal to my editor for a book just on a kind of general idea, and then once the general idea or concept for a book is accepted, I’ll really start to think about the story in depth, the characters and plot. Now, if it’s for a series, like the Josh Thurlow series, then I’ve already got the characters in mind, but my proposal might be what I’m going to do with them or what’s going to happen. That can vary or change once I start thinking about it. Generally, what I’ll do is write a couple of spec chapters and know whether I’m on to something or not. It takes a while, sometimes, to get the gears turning. Sometimes it’ll catch right on, away I’ll go, but usually I’ll do a few chapters and modify them, play with them, tweak them, throw ’em away, start all over again over several months.

FLUENT I’m really interested in your series. As you mentioned, you have a couple of different series. When you’re writing a story for a series, are you thinking “This is a story I want to tell with these characters” or is it more “It’s time to tell another story with these characters?”
HH Well, the first time through, you don’t necessarily know it’s going to be a series. At least, I don’t. So, you’re writing the story, you’ve inhabited it with certain characters, it’s interested readers and publishers, so then it’s a matter of “what happens next?” Now, in the next book you’re able to leave hooks because you know it’s going to be a series, and you don’t have to finish, you don’t have to conclude storylines because you know you’ve got another book to finish up that storyline. So, series are interesting. What I like to do, is that if you read the third book in the series, you’ll understand it as well as if you’ve read the first two. That gets a bit tricky because you don’t want too much backstory, but you do want enough so that the reader understands what’s going on.

FLUENT That got me thinking of John D. MacDonald and his Travis McGee series, where you could pick one up and you get a sense of who this character is, and you get a bit of the recurring characters, but you could pick one up in any order, and it’s not essential to have read any of the others to understand what’s going on.
HH Yeah, it’s interesting with the Josh Thurlow series that people who pick up the third book, The Far Reaches, first, they like it as an adventure, historical fiction WWII-type of novel. If people have followed the series from the beginning and have followed from The Keeper’s Son to The Ambassador’s Son to The Far Reaches, I’ve had many, many readers tell me that they don’t like Josh as the series has progressed, and I don’t hear that from people who’ve read the books out of sequence. The reason for that is that Josh, in the first book, is pretty likeable, and as we go along and he goes further into the war and into some horrific situations, I couldn’t let him stay the same character. He had to change, and he’s actually gradually going insane.
That was tricky for me as a writer. I couldn’t imagine that what he goes through in the series would allow him to remain as easygoing and as likeable as he is in the first book. So it’s good feedback from readers. You know, they wish he was the old Josh, but those with post-traumatic stress, I’m sure they’d all rather be the same as they were before being in combat.

FLUENT That’s a really interesting critique, in that it seems some readers want the character to stay the same way throughout and not have any sort of growth or evolution—or devolution, depending on what the character is going through—but something I think is very important to have happen, even in a series, is that this is a real character and the events have impact and meaning, that this isn’t a serialized TV show, let’s say, where the status quo is reestablished at the end of each episode.
HH Yeah. You know, with the Coalwood series, which is Rocket Boys, The Coalwood Way and Sky of Stone, I’m writing about me, and you’re learning about me and expect growth because I’m getting older. With the Josh Thurlow series, he’s of interest to me, and I’m learning about him, and even I’m surprised sometimes at how he evolves. But, looking back on it, I think he became a whole person in the telling of his story through these three books. The Crater Trueblood series is a Young Adult series, so growth there was a little bit stunted because it all takes place over a couple of years when the characters are still very young, and since of course it is a Young Adult series, I didn’t want him to get too sophisticated, too adult. So that was a little more difficult, writing within the Young Adult genre, but it was a nice challenge. I enjoyed it. But it did mean that I had to hold the series to certain standards that are expected of Young Adult novels.

FLUENT What attracted you to the Young Adult genre? You mentioned liking the challenge: Was that part of it, to sort of see if you could do it?
HH Yeah, that was part of it. I like to write in different genres. If the publishers had their way, all I’d do is write Rocket Boys over and over and over again. That’s all they really wanted. I just wasn’t interested in that. So, I took a gamble with my career and went off to write in different genres—totally different genres.
I mean, historical military fiction is totally alien to anything like Rocket Boys, and The Dinosaur Hunter—which is a sort of paleontological mystery, which not too many people have done—that is totally different from the historical fiction. So, I’m grateful to my publishers for letting me do that.
Now, on the Young Adult novel, this was for Thomas Nelson, which is a Christian publisher, and I had a four-book deal with them. The first book, Red Helmet, was a sort of romance story set in today’s West Virginia coal fields. I enjoyed that a lot, and a couple of years passed before I got around to writing the next book, and by then the Young Adult genre had become really hot. The editors at Thomas Nelson asked, “Would you be interested in doing it?” and I was a little bit reluctant. A lot of people think that Rocket Boys and the whole Coalwood series is Young Adult. It’s not. It was not written for young adults, really, although I’m certainly glad they’ve classed it that way and enjoy it. So, I did not think I had much experience writing Young Adult. I didn’t read the genre and wasn’t sure I totally understood it. I went back and read some Young Adult novels, and frankly I didn’t care much for them, so I was in a quandary on what to do. I hadn’t written any science fiction novels—a lot of people think I have, but I haven’t—even though I like the genre, so I decided, “Ok, I know the science fiction genre, so maybe I can combine Young Adult with science fiction.” And I took that to Thomas Nelson, and they liked the idea.

FLUENT You mentioned that you have a lot of research materials in your writing space. Can you talk a bit about research? Do you feel the need to be thoroughly accurate in your writing, especially in your historical fiction, or even the science fiction, where you want to get those technical details correct? Or is it more supplying enough detail to get you into the story?
HH Well, definitely the latter. When you’re writing historical fiction, you really do want to get the details correct. With the Josh Thurlow series, the first book takes place on the Outer Banks of North Carolina during WWII, so I was my own research there because I had done my first book, Torpedo Junction, which is a military history of the Outer Banks during WWII. But, I also did a lot of research about the Outer Banks themselves and the people who live there and the colloquialisms they have, the dialect they have. So that’s a case in point. I became thoroughly familiar with that Outer Banks type of accent, but you can’t use it all the time. If you do, you wear out your reader, so you have to be sparing with it. It’s not totally accurate with always using the dialect, but there’s enough to give you a taste.
But, in the second book when I moved Josh Thurlow out to the South Pacific, that was a challenge in research. I had not been to the South Pacific, I had not researched it before, so I read numerous books about the South Pacific during the early part of WWII, and I ended up with a young Jack Kennedy as a character, and also a young Richard Nixon as a character in it, so I had to do in-depth research on those two when they were in the South Pacific during WWII. The problem with WWII novels is that you immediately come upon people who know far more than you are ever going to know about WWII. We call ’em “rivet counters.”

FLUENT (laughter)
HH And they’ll let you know when you’ve made a mistake. So, rather than say the model number of a particular Japanese rifle, I’ll just say “Japanese rifle” because I know I’m asking for trouble [if I don’t]. Even if I’ve researched it and I’m fairly certain it’s right, someone will say that at that particular time and date on that particular island, the rifle I wrote about wasn’t in use. You kind of have to get a bit generic. If it doesn’t help the story to do the Tom Clancy thing and call it the Mark 8 torpedo, then it just doesn’t make sense to leave that all in there.

FLUENT When you’re reading something that has that intensive level of detail, do you find that wearying or exhausting? Does it ever seem like an author is trying to show you just how much they know about a given topic?
HH Yeah, and I think that comes into play when you’re writing. You don’t want to tell people; you want to show them. If the characters are using a particular piece of equipment in a submarine or what have you, you want to get those details right for accuracy’s sake. It helps you in your writing, too. Even though you may not use it, you know it, and you can write with confidence about related topics. If you have your characters sitting inside a German U-boat and you have no idea how the periscope works, or how many torpedo tubes they have, or anything about that U-boat, it’s gonna come off fake, there’s no question about it. But, yeah, authors who use that level of detail for everything wear me out, and I don’t enjoy reading it. You need to use just enough to let the reader understand you know what you’re talking about.

FLUENT Have you ever approached a work and then backed off because you knew the level of research was going to be too intense? Or, when you have an idea do you think, “This is the level of detail I need, and I’m going to get it?”
HH The latter. I like to research. Researching is fun. Sometimes you research so much that you end up doing way more than you need for your book. I get that way. I need to know when to cut it off. In the book that’s coming out next year, my parents—long before I was born—and their pet alligator end up in Florida during the 1935 hurricane down there. I started doing research on this hurricane, which didn’t have a name—I don’t think they started naming hurricanes until the late 1940s or 50s—but I started researching this hurricane, and before I knew it I had read four or five books on this hurricane. I had enough detail I needed on the first one, but there I was fascinated by the details of this thing. So you’ve got to watch out for that, especially if you’re on deadline.

FLUENT How important would you say social media is these days for a writer? Being on Twitter and Facebook, and being connected, let’s say?
HH Well, I’ve got mixed emotions about it. It’s something we feel like we need to do these days as writers, and if you look at my Facebook and Twitter pages, you’ll see I do quite a bit of it. I would say, so far, the results are kind of mixed. You don’t really know who’s reading, or if they’re readers or are just interested in your life or what you have to say. So you can’t really tell if you’ve got a bunch of new readers or if it’s the same group of readers we already have who only want Rocket Boys and aren’t interested in all the other things that I do. But, we do it. I think especially for a new writer it’s important to get out there and build interest in your book so you can get the wheels turning and help it along. But it’s a question that not only writers like you and I worry about but publishers and editors, too, about whether or not social media is doing the job.

FLUENT Is publishing online something you see as necessity these days, or is it a passing fad? Is it just the way the publishing world is leaning from now on?
HH I think the question’s more can the old-time publishing houses make themselves exciting enough and attractive enough that readers will still come to them for their books, or if writers who drop the big publishers—or who never had big publishers—are those to whom readers go to, mainly because their books are about something they’re particularly interested in.
There’s this strong possibility that the book market will get completely diluted if the big publishers go away or dwindle, and readers are faced without the old way of learning about books and having to basically go out and look at thousands of books and pick out one that they want to read. We’ll be away from million booksellers and we’ll be down to thousand book sellers because there are so many books out there and it’s so easy to get them. The old gatekeepers used to tell us, “Here’s the top 50 books that you need be reading,” and “Here’s the top 10 books you need to be reading.” The New York Times and all the newspapers across the country would tell you what you need to be reading. All those gatekeepers, except for The New York Times, are pretty well gone. It’s a brave new world out there. It’s hard to tell how it’s gonna turn out.

FLUENT There’s a certain amount of quality control involved with working on something a great deal, and generating interest, and finding someone who’s willing to publish it versus writing something that you might really enjoy and publishing it online in a completely unfiltered state. Does that make it difficult, going forward, for readers to determine what’s worth their time? Is there any difference between someone who’s writing out of their house and publishing online versus someone who’s going through a publisher in New York and also publishing online?
HH Big publishers are putting out all their books as e-books, so it’s all out there online. The difference is that the old gatekeepers used to tell us what’s good. Now, I have to say I think the publishers have fallen down a bit, and the books they say are great I think are pretty rotten when I read them, but maybe that’s just me. I’m kind of several minds about this whole thing. I think you’re right on quality control. You have a lot of writers who don’t have a basic grasp of grammar or the English language. But, their readers may not have a grasp either. It’s amazing to me all these English words that are totally different and spelled different but sound the same, like sight and site—they end up wrong more and more in manuscripts or books I read. I notice it more, but I’m not sure anyone else does. But these things are cyclical in nature. If you go back and read 18th century work, you’ll find that English words were spelled a lot of different ways, and you’ll find we’re getting back to that. Somewhere along the lines some grammarian will stand up and say, “Alright, children, here are the new rules, here’s how we’re gonna spell everything.” I don’t know if people will fall in line anymore, but that’s the way it was done in the 19th century after the 18th century was freewheeling on how they spelled and what grammar they used. It’s interesting to see how all this evolved.

FLUENT It is all very interesting. You mentioned sight—s-i-g-h-t—versus site—s-i-t-e—and I’ve seen those confused in professional e-mails. There’s not as much focus on the right word. I believe it was Mark Twain who said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between the lightning and the lightning bug.”
HH He’s absolutely right, and that’s one of the things that as writers, we should feel compelled to find that right word and not just be satisfied with the almost right word. I’ve gone back and read my own stuff, and realized, “Oh, I could have used a much better word there” and was sorry that I didn’t use it. Writers should strive for that, in any case.

FLUENT Have you ever had a chance to revisit, I guess we’ll call it your juvenilia—early work—and if you have, upon reading it, have you thought, “Ok, I can see the voice start to develop; I can see me in there,” or do you think, “Oh, jeeze that’s just not very good?”
HH (laughter) Well, I’ve read some letters that I wrote to my parents and brother when I was a kid at camp, and I’m pretty horrified by the grammar because I considered myself a good speller back then, but I think since then, starting at least in college, I was held to a pretty high standard—with the column that I wrote for the newspaper, and certainly as I started out in the publishing word. I‘ve always wanted to make certain that my grammar and spelling were as correct as they could be, so I don’t run into too much of that when I go back and read my old stuff.
But always you look at your old stuff, at least I do, and think “I could have written that better,” yet somewhere along the line you have to let it go, or else you’ll never finish it, you’ll never get anything published. And that’s where a lot of new writers make mistakes. They get so hung up on their first book, they just can’t get away from it, they just keep trying to make it better, even though it’s been rejected a dozen times. That’s the time to put it in the drawer and go on to the second book because you’ve learned so much by writing your first book—you don’t even realize how much you’ve learned—and the second book is usually, invariably, the one that gets published first.

FLUENT Is that how it went with you? Was Torpedo Junction the second book you wrote?
HH No, I said usually, I didn’t say always. I was so passionate about that book, and it was also unique in a way. No one had ever written that stuff before—the battle along the east coast. I was onto something with that book.

FLUENT As you said, you’ve written, by your count, nineteen books, the vast majority of which are not memoir. When you have people who approach you at signings, do you feel like the fans of the memoirs either feel like they know you, or is it more like you know them? Have you heard people say, “I am you,” or “That was my life,” as if you’ve written those things just for them?
HH Rocket Boys is the one they all read, and they think from that they know exactly who I am, and of course that’s not who I am. It’s also interesting to me that people will say they read Rocket Boys over and over and over again, and I say, “Have you read The Coalwood Way or Sky of Stone?” and they just kind of blankly keep looking at me with wide eyes, like “What are you talking about?” For some reason, that book has grabbed everyone’s attention, and they made the movie out of it. I’d say the vast majority of people come up to me and say, “I love your book,” never books. And I know exactly which one they’re talking about. They’ve had this experience with this book, and they never imagine that I could write anything else. It’s like the singer who gets famous for one song, and no one will ever let it go.

FLUENT That’s especially interesting in that you didn’t start off with memoir. You sort of arrived at it. Your milieu is definitely historical fiction. Do you get people who approach you and say “Hey, you’re doing something different” with the historical fiction, when it’s actually the memoirs that are the something different?
HH Yeah. It’s just the way of it. That’s the book I’m known for. That’s the one everyone knows. If you added up all my other books together, they probably wouldn’t equal the number of copies that Rocket Boys has sold. It just kind of took the world by storm, and it surprised me as much as anybody. It’s definitely a mixed blessing. It allowed me to have a writing life, for sure. Torpedo Junction was good and sold a bunch of copies, but I didn’t write another book for nine more years after that. Obviously the publishers weren’t breaking down my door. And, I didn’t really know what to write about. I did 15 years of research writing Torpedo Junction, and I didn’t know what else I would have written about. So I put the book-length writing on the back burner and started writing a lot of magazine articles and such. And I might have been content with that. I might have eventually lurched into something else that I was passionate to write about, but Rocket Boys came as a big surprise to me as a result of a magazine article I wrote. As soon as the article came out, people were calling from all around the world wanting to know more, and publishers wanted to know more, and Hollywood wanted to know more, and it was like “I know what I’m gonna write, now.” I had all the right tools to write it at that point. If I had written it any earlier, I might not have been in the right mindset to do it. It was the perfect storm time for me to write that book, and everything worked out, and I’m grateful for it.

FLUENT So what attracted you to the idea of a Rocket Boys musical? That’s an entirely new genre for you. Are you a fan of musical and Broadway shows? Is that what brought you to it?
HH I always have been a fan of musicals and plays. In high school, I rewrote Julius Caesar to include all the people in my high school—teachers, and students and the principal. Some got assassinated in the end. If you did that these days, they’d probably arrest you. So, I have always been interested in plays. I never imagined, though, that I’d get involved in them. What happened was some folks in New York proposed the idea to me after they had already written a spec script and about a half dozen songs to go with it. These people just blew me away. I got involved with it. The problem is that I don’t own the rights—Universal Studios owns the rights—so I had to get permission to do it. They gave their very reluctant permission and agreed that I could do it, so we’re making our way. I think we have a quality show. I think it’ll be great to take on the road, maybe to high schools and colleges across the country. The main reason we’re not on Broadway is because it’s so expensive.

FLUENT This is not really talking shop, but more talking about other people’s work. What do you read for pleasure?
HH I will generally read historical fiction, or true adventures. I like Bern Cornwell’s stuff about the Napoleonic Wars. Patrick O’Brien and his Master and Commander series is really good. I like Steven Saylor, who writes fiction set in Ancient Rome. I always go back and read John Steinbeck and Jack London. If I ever want to know what good writing looks like, I’ll go back and read some Jack London and go, “Oh, yeah—that’s how you write.”

FLUENT What do you read for inspiration?
HH Can’t beat Jack London. People don’t read him much anymore. There are a lot of reasons for that, but you read a writer for how well they write, not so much for what they believe in.

FLUENT Do you have a favorite writer?
HH I always say Steinbeck and Jack London.

FLUENT What would you say are your two absolutely essential reads? What two works should everybody read?
HH Well, Huckleberry Finn, definitely. The second one is a lot harder, but I’m gonna give you an odd book. Cannery Row. It’s not read much these days, only 100 pages, but it has some of the most beautiful writing ever set down.

FLUENT As a final question, I was wondering if you could talk about your annual writer’s conference?
HH We hold that here in Huntsville, Alabama. We do it in the church we go to, Monte Sano Methodist. All the proceeds go there. We generally have it in the spring, although this year it’s going to be at the end of February. We bring in successful writers from wherever we might find them. We generally try to bring in all types from different genres. We usually like to have a romance writer who’s been published. We have a sci-fi writer, and a mystery writer. I can cover memoir. We have a general session where we talk about writing and the publishing world. This is a one-day workshop, so we have a lot of information to pack in. A lot of the writers who come are just starting out, so there’s a lot of basic information, but in the breakout session we get into more detail, and we’ve had good feedback from writers on that.