Sacrificing my comfort and biking a cold NYC night. Shiny new Kindle Fire in hand I attend a panel discussion featuring Denis Hamill, Ken Wishnia, and Shailly Agnihotri at the Bayside Community Library. Have no idea what I’ll hear. Excited. At the start of the unknown. So much potential in this moment. I’m rambling; a man on a first date.
They take turns reading their stories from the anthology “Queens Noir”. Denis Hamill speaks with a big Brooklyn accent softened by world travel and over a decade of raising a family in Queens. Reads breathlessly with occasional stumbles, an author who hasn’t seen his story in a while. Shailly Agnihotri stands as she reads, a lawyer by practice. Another breathless reader. Ken Wishnia is a marketer; charming, and a better reader. He knows his story, and works it.
The moderator starts a Q&A. Denis compares short stories to novels as “a river on a box”. Start a story in the present and then unveil backstory. Enter as late as possible and get out as soon as possible. Uses index cards to block out scenes, as in a screenplay. Background should come out naturally, as the present pulls out the past. Shailly In this instance had characters first which she fit into the topic of Queens Noir. Interprets it as an investigator’s story. Ken sees noir as characters trying to escape, the “one last job and their out” concept. First person allows for immediacy, but doesn’t allow for a character to reveal info they don’t have. He writes with the end in sight, just has to work out how to get there. Uses the analogy of travelling cross-country at night.; knowing the destination, and figuring out the path. Denis speaks on authors taking you on a tour; they know their cities. Following actions with dialogue. He had this story before writing it, by walking. Talks about Stephen King’s belief, that stories are dinosaur bones needed to be dug up. Ken speaks on first sentences grabbing readers. Shailly uses signposts to help outline story points then works organically. Ken speaks on the challenges of multi-language characters and how readers struggle or understand. How movies and TV perfectly frame a scene as opposed to books that can drop readers in a scene. Denis uses foreign language to pull readers into another world. Shailly speaks about “Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott and writing a “shitty first draft”. Denis compliments her and speaks to getting the stone out of the quarry, then shaping it. Compliments “On Writing” by Stephen King. Talks about the balance between too much and too little information for readers. Gather as much detail and use what you need or is required. Ken says not to assume you’ve stated something that you haven’t.
Spoke with Ken after. He was encouraging. Spoke about finding my own niche in non-fiction and journalism. Best advice: Even in a statement as basic as “An old lady opened a can of food for her cat” there is a story, If you’re willing to dig and find the details.
Biking home all I hear is my tires gripping the street. So much to think about and research. But all I feel is peaceful.