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killing it at bto 2020

“What I’m about to say next may strike some of you as vile, base, heresy.”

That’s what I told a jam-packed room this past Saturday, March 7, at the 23rd annual Bay To Ocean Writers Conference held at Chesapeake College in Wye Mills, MD.

I was there presenting my course on “Doing 5 to 10 For Writing”: 5 big, overall rules/ principles /strategies /whatever you want to call them; plus 10 smaller, more specific “do’s and don’ts” that I use when I’m writing.

I had given this talk twice before, once to the students of the Carver Center for Arts and Technology in Towson, MD; and once to the kids at Kent Island High School, closer to home for me in Stevensville.


But as this was the first time at BTO that I had presented this seminar for new writers, I didn’t know how many people would be interested in it.  I was hoping for more than the seven people that had showed up a couple of years ago for my presentation on technical writing.

I did a little better than seven.  Every one of the 45 seats in the classroom was taken, and the room monitor turned away at least a dozen more people trying to get in.

After introducing myself, I started right in on the 5 “Big Rules”:


As I did, I name-dropped Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style; Snoopy as The World Famous Author; the 1978 film The Deer Hunter; Eat n’ Park diners (infinitely better than Denny’s); Ernest Hemingway; the Hallmark Channel; and the infamous “Red Wedding” from Game of Thrones.


Then I moved on to my “do’s and don’ts,” and it was as I was covering #1 (“Have a Great Hook”), that I got myself into trouble.

You see, I dared to suggest that the beginning to the first Harry Potter novel, HP and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by Millennials’ literary saint J.K. Rowling [insert angelic choir glorifying her name here], was perhaps—perhaps!—not very good.


I asserted (and refused to recant) my vile, base heresy on the inconvenient fact that although this was a book named after and featuring Harry Potter, Harry himself was not even mentioned (let alone appeared) until the third paragraph.

dursWorse, this tedious dissertation on all things Dursley goes on for eight pages.  Eight.

(Fun fact: The first time I gave this talk and expressed my heretical opinion, one high-school student in attendance audibly gasped.  I swear to you on my children’s lives that this actually happened.)

Far better, I told them, was the opening to the seventh book, HP and the Deathly Hallows:


My lecture proceeded smoothly from there on, through all 10 “do’s and don’ts,” and I wrapped it up by telling the newbies to ignore “The Big Lie” that they were sure to hear in their head at many times in their writing career.  The Big Lie takes various forms (see below), but it has one aim: to get writers to quit.


After my session, I had several people come up to me and tell me how much they enjoyed it.  I also had a lot of people tell me that they had wanted to see it, but had been shut out because my room had filled up.


Later that morning, Tara Elliott, co-chair with me of the conference, learned that one of the speakers couldn’t make it due to illness, so she insisted that I do my presentation again.  We announced it at lunch, and during the last time slot of the day (3:45 to 4:45), I went through it for 25 more people, filling most of a different room.

This bunch enjoyed it as much as the first, and I was again pleasantly surprised at how many people showed (a lot of folks skip the last session so they can get home earlier—BTO’s a long day).

twl display

During both presentations, I pulled a lot of examples from my latest novel, This Wasted Land, and I was happy to see that some of the attendees bought some copies at the conference book store.  If you’d like to check it out, you can find it on Amazon.

The conference was a blast, and I hope to give this presentation again soon!  For you writers, here’s a clip from the second session, where I was talking about using 1st person point of view in past or present tense:


Kenton Kilgore writes killer SF/F for young adults and adults who are still young.  In his latest novel, This Wasted Land, high-school senior Alyx Williams learns that witches are real when one attacks her and her boyfriend Sam, dragging him off to a nightmare world where Alyx must go to get him back.  


Kenton is the author of Lost Dogs, the story of the end of the world as seen, heard–and smelled–by a dog.  He also wrote Dragontamer’s Daughters, like Little House on the Prairie…with dragons!  With Patrick Eibel, he created Our Wild Place, a children’s book about the joy to be found in exploring Nature.  Kenton also published Hand-Selling Books to help authors better their sales.   

Follow Kenton on Facebook for frequent posts on sci-fi, fantasy, and other speculative fiction.  You can also catch him on Instagram.

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