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Authoring a patchwork quilt

Writer and editor Elizabeth Lyon shares 20 years of the trade in two writing workshops at the Whistler Readers and Writers Festival



What: Whistler Readers and Writers Festival

What: Editing and Memoir Writing workshops

When: Sept. 14-16

Where: Whistler

Tickets: $15

Author and story editor Elizabeth Lyon has just closed the book on her new work, Manuscript Makeover: Revision Techniques No Fiction Writer Can Afford to Ignore, published by Perigee.

“I just sent it off to my editor about 11:40 p.m. last night,” she says with a sense of relief in her voice.

No empty desk awaits her. A few of her fiction projects call out for completion, authors seek out her editing skills, time ticks away as she finishes her memoir writing and already Lyon’s editor awaits her new book on revision techniques for non-fiction writing — the work slated for soft cover by November 2008 will be a companion book to Manuscript Makeover.

However, her desk in Springfield, Oregon will be miles away for at least a weekend when she comes to share her wealth of knowledge as an author, teacher and book editor at the 6th annual Whistler Readers and Writers Festival Sept. 14 to 16 in Whistler.

Lyon will host two workshops at the literary event, including Improve Your Writing Through Rewriting and Editing on Saturday, Sept. 15 at 11 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., and Memoir Writing on Sept. 15 at 8:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. at MY Millennium Place.

“My teaching and editing has been addressing the aspiring writer,” she said. “For people coming to the conference, toss out any anxiety about the quality of their writing and know that what all of us who are presenting want to do is support the joy of this process.”

There is a lot of support behind Lyon’s editing seminar with six fiction and non-fiction how-to edit books to her credit, including her 400-page Manuscript Makeover .

“It’s my magnum opus,” she said. “It’s really a culmination of what I’ve seen in the trenches.”

Like her book, her workshops draw from Lyon’s 20 years of book editing experience where she has seen the best and worst of scribbling. Her gems of dos and don’ts over the years all filter down into a poignant, practical, down-to-earth seminar covering scene structure, basics of craft, what can go wrong in the writing process and how writers can correct it.

“Even a professional novelist will not know or perhaps remember some of the requirements of their craft,” she said. “A lot of the information is exceedingly practical.”

A practical approach is also taken with one of her greatest scribbling loves: memoir writing.

“I think it is one of the finest things to do, to write about your life and leave a legacy of your life,” she said. “It’s soul writing.”

Often the idea of trying to concentrate an entire lifetime from a first day of kindergarten to the death of a parent is overwhelming, but Lyon will discuss the various structures of memoir writing, where to start and how to put everything together.

She describes memoir writing like a patchwork quilt. The writer puts pen to paper drawing on an image, emotion or significant event in their life. Stories are accumulated and then laid out to seek out a common theme to stitch the memoir together.

“Eventually you lay out all the patches, and you will see that all of these go together and that others don’t and you will separate the ones that are not relevant.”

Editing and memoir workshops are only two of many seminars offered at the Whistler Readers and Writers Festival. Other seminars include Writing for Young Adults, Storyboarding a Short Film, Writing for Radio, Getting That Novel Done, Travel Writing, Citizen Journalism and the Writer’s Role in a Political World, Writing from a Women’s Perspective, Food writing and Breaking into Print.

Workshops are $15 each.

For more information, visit theviciouscircle.ca or contact festival founder Stella Harvey at 604-932-4518.