Students hear formula for success

By Todd Fielding, Daily News Correspondent

Aspiring writer Heather Howard peppered award-winning author Julia Spencer-Fleming with several questions about the work that went into In the Bleak Midwinter.
A first-year Genesee Community College student, Howard wanted to pick up as many writing tips as she could during Thursday morning’s hour-long workshop in the lecture hall of Genesee Community College’s Barber Conable Technology Building. About 30 students attended the program, part of this year’s “A Tale for Three Counties” community reading project.

Howard, a writer for the school newspaper, The New Courier, hopes to one day be a print journalist.

“I hope to get a better understanding of where the author gets her story ideas,” said Howard, 18.

Spencer-Fleming drew quick laughter from Howard and others later on during the morning program with her formula for writing. The morning session was mainly attended by GCC students, staff and faculty who either read the book for pleasure or a course requirement in English or Reading.

“Writing equals a– plus chair,” Spencer-Fleming said. “You have to sit down and do it. You have to sit down and finish it.”

Public libraries in Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties and GCC are participating in the “Tale” reading project. Spencer-Fleming is in the area through Saturday for talks and book signings.

“I thought her technique was good,” Howard said. “It was very well written. I don’t usually like mystery books but I did like this one.”

Spencer-Fleming said successful mysteries have several needed elements.

In the Bleak Midwinter is centered around Clare Fergusson, the new priest at St. Albans Episcopal Church in Millers Kill, who stumbles upon a newborn baby abandoned on church steps. Fergusson later discovers murders, secrets of a small town and a relationship with a married police chief.

About 350 students, staff and faculty members also read the book as part of the college’s schoolwide project, “GCC reads,” an effort to get more people reading for pleasure and sharing with others.

Spencer-Fleming said that authors need to give themselves permission to write freely and without filtering inner thoughts.

“If you plug into your creativity like kids do, that is what writing and reading is for,” Spencer-Fleming said.

Arnold Wagner, 27, said the author’s discussion gave him better insight into why Spencer-Fleming used writing devices in her work such as one-word sentences as a way to speed up her novel’s storyline and dialogue.

A first-year elementary education student, Wagner is pursuing a degree with an English concentration as well. He said he enjoyed meeting the author.

“More than meeting the author, I like to know why they wrote the book,” Wagner said. “I’m very picky.”

Spencer-Fleming said it took about 1 1/2 years to finish In the Bleak Midwinter, which has 380 pages and 107,000 words.

“It’s one day at a time,” Spencer-Fleming said. “I try to set the goal of 1,000 words a day.”

She compared writing a novel to a leap of faith and said her interest in religion was a reason why her main character Clare is a priest.

“You don’t know if it is going to go anywhere,” Spencer-Fleming said of her first manuscript. “Revision is as important to writing as the initial work is.”

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Courtesy of Batavia Newspapers Corporation

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