As part of a new blog series on RAW, I’ve come up with 5 questions to ask each WCDR speaker with the goal of sharing the interview with RAW readers leading up to the RoundTable meetings. I have a reason for this. Here’s the thing: Not all of you will have heard of the WCDR’s monthly speakers prior to the RoundTable meeting. I know that’s the way it is for me, and that’s okay. Each speaker was invited to speak to RoundTable guests because they have something (in most cases, many things) to offer other writers. If you’ve attended a RoundTable meeting before, you’ll know that it almost doesn’t matter if you knew the speaker already or not: you’ll leave there inspired and glad you were introduced to a new professional writer. That has happened to me nearly every time. But then I got to thinking about the whole reason for RAW, and how many of us line up at the Blue Heron Books table after hearing a speaker–why don’t we get things started a little earlier? Why don’t I give you a little taste of what you can expect from the speaker you’re perhaps still undecided on coming to see? So, look for the new “5 Questions, 1 Speaker” blog series to get the buzz going about upcoming speakers.

On December 14th, the WCDR will hold its special holiday RoundTable, welcoming editorial cartoonist/caricaturist Tony Jenkins as December’s speaker. Mr. Jenkins is the first speaker to receive my Tony_Jenkins-249x300questions, and I’m pleased to say that he answered them! To read more about Tony Jenkins (and to register for the RoundTable meeting), click here

1) What is the best piece of writing-related advice you’ve gotten throughout your career?

I’m cartoonist, which many would say is not a writer, that it is a craft the antithesis of writing; the idea being carried by the visuals. Sometimes this can be so, but rarely and the words, just the right minimum of words is vital. Best cartooning/writing advice? None. I’d say cartooning, getting across satire or humour is so idiosyncratic you must follow your own lights and not trod another’s path (he said mixing metaphors). There is no manual for telling a joke, just judgement and practice and experience. Go with what you know. What works for one, won’t for another.

2) How about the worst piece of advice?

Have a six word limit. One editor once tried to impose same saying,” If you can’t get across the idea in six words, it’s not working.” Nonsense. Sometimes you stomp an idea across. Sometimes there is a need to tap-dance.

3) Social Media: A chore, a fun distraction, or a great marketing tool? Why?

Me cave man. Old. No do social media. Probably dumb idea. Smoke signals no work good no more.

4) Most useful book on the craft?

I have always loved the wordcraft of George Orwell. He wrote several short pieces on how he writes and advice to aspiring writers. Plain talk. Best bit I recall was ‘Don’t use a complicated word when a simple one will suffice’. The idea is to convey an idea, not flaunt one’s vocabulary. The writings of Conrad Black are an example of the latter; annoying and pompous. Probably a pleasure for Lord Black to write, but no pleasure to read.

5) What could be so off-putting about a book that it would make you stop reading it for good?

Lack of brevity. Just going on and on and on. We endure that in life sometimes. Literature is supposed to better; life thought about, refined and polished.

My takeaway…

Okay, so I’ve gotta admit that I was a little skeptical, thinking about what I could possibly learn from a cartoonist. But I’m prone to going on and on. I’ve just typed “the end” on a young adult manuscript that is now sitting at over 100,000 words! This week, I begin the task of slashing words. When I think of the point Tony made about getting down to the minimum amount of words, the right words, I know that’s exactly what I’m going to have to keep in mind. I’m going to have to take small sections and figure out what each is saying, so that I can pick out the crap and leave the good stuff. It’s hard, though, especially when my protagonist loves rambling so much.

The other point that resonates for me is the idea that there’s no manual to telling jokes, that you have to follow your voice and showcase your strength. I did a reading of a scene from my manuscript last summer at a retreat and the choice of scene was basically dictated by my fellow retreat attendees, because they all saw something in what I thought was a totally ordinary scene that I thought might not even belong in the story. But apparently there was some magic happening in the characters’ random banter and interaction. When I decided to start playing that up a little more in my writing, I realized readers of my work really responded to this stuff. I don’t think that’s something I learned how to do, per say, because I didn’t even really know I was doing it; it’s part of my style and what I had to learn was how to bring it out and showcase it.

Do you take away anything from Tony’s mini-interview?

In related news…

Just in case any of you are still hesitant about tying the cartooning thing to the writing thing, you can expect WCDR member Harrison Wheeler—who is both a cartoonist and a fiction author—to tell you more about his experience with both creative art forms. He’ll be dropping by the RAW blog in the next few weeks.

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