AGUSTIN TABARES / SPECIAL TO THE STAR-BULLETIN
Scott Turow spoke over the weekend at the Maui Writers Conference.
Just write it, says scribe Turow, talking shop on Maui
Wailea, Maui » Having sold more than 25 million copies of eight novels and two nonfiction books, you'd think Scott Turow would be in a good position to offer advice to aspiring writers.
But in doing so he simply borrows a page from Nike.
"I always tell (founder) Phil Knight that he stole the best slogan for writers, which is 'Just do it,'" Turow said during a break at the Maui Writers Conference during Labor Day weekend.
But there is value in talking about the craft, he said. "I think it's a good thing to get feedback and hang around with other people who have the same aspirations. I'm positive about it as long as people don't assume that the conference somehow takes the place of writing. There's no shortcut to logging a lot of pages."
After all, he added, "I had four unpublished novels before I became an instant success."
The best-selling novelist and attorney (he still maintains a part-time criminal law practice in Chicago, with an emphasis on pro bono work) joined an impressive list of presenters at the Wailea Beach Marriott Resort & Spa, speaking to nearly 600 attendees.
"This is literally the first (writers conference) I've ever been to," Turow said. "Dave Barry told me, 'If you're going to do this, this is the one to do. It's really a great gig and it's extremely well organized.'
"For me it's just a kick to get to know other writers. Karen Joy Fowler ('The Jane Austen Book Club') is someone whose work I've admired for decades, and I'd never met her before, so that was a real treat. And the setting, you know, it's not bad."
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AUGUSTIN TABARES / SPECIAL TO THE STAR-BULLETIN
Bay Area resident Wendy Merrill is one of the success stories of the Maui Writers Conference. She sold her book at last year's event. Putnam Publishing will release "Falling Into Manholes: A Memoir of a Bad/Good Girl" in March. She's standing before a poster for this year's conference.
Oscar not hit or ‘Miss,’ says Arndt
It takes toil, the award winner tells the Maui Writers Conference
WAILEA, Maui » Despite all the images and video clips of him circulating online, Academy Award-winning screenwriter Michael Arndt prefers to avoid the spotlight. The admirer of reclusive authors such as J.D. Salinger bows his head, flashes a charming, shy smile and apologizes for his desire to remain not photographed ("sorry to be such a prima donna"). But a quip later clarifies the intent: "Writers shouldn't be photographed for the same reason models shouldn't be interviewed."
Like some of the characters he created in "Little Miss Sunshine," Arndt seems capable of easing between cynicism and sentimentality. "We had such an idyllic experience here," he said of his family vacation to Hawaii when he was 10. "So when (conference organizers John and Shannon Tullius) invited me, I just had to say yes. And it's more than met my expectations." He even enjoyed a greeting from a dolphin during a snorkeling excursion.
Rarely seen without what resembles a military utility hat, the understated Arndt captivated an audience of hundreds at the Maui Writers Conference over Labor Day weekend with his incisive wit and articulate rendition of his long road to overnight success.
After attending film school at New York University, Arndt began a circuitous journey that included digging ditches on construction sites. Later he worked as actor Matthew Broderick's assistant before beginning a stint as a freelance script reader. For $75 he would analyze a script, write a three-page synopsis and recommend it -- or not -- to the producer.
"That was the real crucible," he said. "It forced me to examine, 'Why is this third act not working? Is there a point-of-view problem?' You're training your brain to think about things a certain way."
Meanwhile, he wrote his own scripts at night and on the weekends -- a schedule that exhausted him. But living in a 500-square-foot apartment in Brooklyn offered a few advantages. The cheap rent allowed him to stop working temporarily to devote his full attention to writing. Despite his increasing knowledge of the business, "in the end you only learn by doing," he said.
Many of his compositions were "angry, miserable stories where everybody gets killed at the end," he chuckled. "That was my artistic statement." So when the idea for the characters in "Little Miss Sunshine" entered his consciousness, "I was looking for a good ending."
But with 10 unsold scripts and zero agents to his credit, he was barely known to Hollywood power brokers.
'"Nobody had taken me out and bought me lunch or anything," Arndt said. "Seven years ago if you'd bought me lunch, I would have given you the rights to the 'Little Miss Sunshine.'"
A studio purchased the script in 2001, but the 30-day shoot did not begin until 2005. Its rousing reception at the Sundance Film Festival led to an Academy Award nomination as best film, and a screenwriting Oscar for Arndt. Even so, Arndt quickly deflects attention, pointing out that he didn't make the film by himself. He's now working on Pixar's "Toy Story 3" from that same tiny apartment in Brooklyn.
Arndt and blockbuster novelist Scott Turow led the conference, along with several success stories from previous years, including Wendy Merrill, who sold her proposal to Putnam. "Falling Into Manholes: The Memoir of a Bad/Good Girl" describes the life of a "serial mater" who loses herself "in an endless series of attachments" and eventually finds love in herself."
"It's about learning to hear and tell the truth, and find some purpose and meaning in that," Merrill said of the book, slated for release in March. Merrill, who stands 6-foot-1 and looks more than a decade younger than her 50 years, owns an advertising agency in the Bay Area.
"I always aspired to an A+," she writes of her school days. "I just didn't think it would end up being my bra size." Her honest, fresh prose illuminate other universal presumptions: "I figured if I moved fast enough (in a relationship), it wouldn't count as a mistake, like if I eat a chocolate bar fast enough, it wouldn't have any calories."
Like Merrill, Georja Skinner also garnered a book deal from the conference. Skinner, who was Maui's first film commissioner, has worked with Shannon and John Tullius marketing and organizing the Maui Writers Conference for 14 years. Along the way, however, it never occurred to her to pitch her own story. When she decided to enter the conference's manuscript marketplace in 2003, a dozen agents and editors contacted her. A successful sale meant running Skinner Productions, an entertainment marketing and production firm, while finishing "The Christmas House." In 2004 her publisher arrived at the conference on Maui with a contract. The memoir was released the following Christmas.
"It was the first time I really connected what John and Shannon were doing," said Skinner. "I was high for days!"
Though the conference mingled first-time authors with Oscar winners, the core message never changed. "The amount of time you spend in deliberate practice," explained Arndt, sets apart those who truly want to become writers.
AGUSTIN TABARES / SPECIAL TO THE STAR-BULLETIN
Lisa Nichols, a writer and motivational speaker, encouraged audience involvement during her presentation on Maui.
Law of attraction applies to this writer
Wherever Lisa Nichols walked during the conference, an adoring group -- and sometimes a television crew -- followed. No matter how much time people wanted from her during a quiet moment when she wasn't presenting, or in line at her book signing, she often grasped their hands and offered the inspiration people have come to expect from her.
Best known as a motivational speaker, Nichols also co-wrote "Chicken Soup for the African American Soul" and was a featured instructor in "The Secret." She's appeared on "Oprah" and "Larry King Live" to teach people about the Law of Attraction.