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Author, Stephen Smoke

Excerpted from Bondo Wyszpolski article in Easy ReaderPromising to share anecdotes about writers Robert Ludlum and Stephen King, local author Stephen Smoke assures us we’re in for a treat. If he wasn’t a part of the seminar, he says, he’d definitely want to attend.

Smoke is referring to the Surfwriters writing seminar taking place this Saturday, August 11, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Malaga Cove Library in Palos Verdes Estates.

“The Surfwriters is a 50-year-old writers group,” says Ildy Lee, one of the organizers of the event and currently president of the Southwest Manuscripters. “We support each other and inspire each other to write, and we have very interesting speakers come to us. Every four years we put up a Surfwriters writing seminar, sponsored by the Palos Verdes Library.”

Every four years. That puts it in a category with the Olympics and the World Cup. This year’s literary Olympians include Jorja Leap, discussing non-fiction; Patsy Bellah, giving her insights into self-publishing; Diana Zimmerman, on writing for the teenage market; Stephen Smoke, uncloaking the mystery behind mystery writing; and actor/writer Ted Lange, guiding us through the process of developing a successful play.

“We’re going to learn a lot,” says Ildy Lee; “we’re going to ask a lot of questions and get inspired, because we all want to be published writers. This is our goal, and anybody and everybody who is interested to come and hear us, please do, whether you are a writer or not, a budding writer or a well-known writer. We’re all going to get something out of this.”

Tricks of the trade

It turns out that I’m going to get something out of this, too, because Stephen Smoke and Ted Lange have agreed to share some of their insights and reflections in advance. Whatever art form one pursues, it needs to find an audience. Okay, quiet everyone; let’s listen in:

“I came to Los Angeles to be a rock ‘n’ roll star,” Smoke says. “It didn’t work out, but I ended up being a writer and during the seminar I’ll tell a little bit of how that came about.”

Smoke has authored 20 novels, which should confer rock star status in some circles. He’s also written several non-fiction books, directed feature films, written songs and recorded an album.

“When I took creative writing classes and fiction writing classes from people,” he says, “without fail, none of them had actually had anything published. They were long on theory… And I thought, it would really be nice to have a book about writing a novel by somebody who’s actually written one.” And so Smoke put one together.

“I have all these tips and tricks,” he says, and explains that when he’s at an impasse with a character he’ll play a song that conveys the emotional tone of that character, and in about 20 minutes he’ll have the solution to his dilemma.

“That’s an exercise I came up with myself. There’s a bunch of these things – this is how I write and how I get through writer’s block, how I get from page one to the end.”

The methods he’ll talk about are the ones Smoke developed over four semesters teaching at the Palos Verdes Art Center. But Saturday’s focus will be on what it takes to create an effective mystery – Smoke used to publish Mystery magazine – and that’s where his anecdotes on Ludlum and King will come in handy.