* Find out more about this year's Con Nooga fandom convention on page 13 of today's Current section.
* Read a full transcript of the interview at current.timesfreepress.com.
Fantasy author Michelle Weston, this year's Con Nooga literary guest of honor, discusses what topics she typically covers at conventions, the key to writing compelling fiction and what appeals to her about the fantasy genre.
Q: What do you typically speak about at conventions?
A: It depends on the panel. I can talk about a range of topics. For instance, in the world of just plain writing, how you develop your characters and make them deep, as opposed to cardboard -- how do we get really strong core characters.
Moving away from the craft of writing, we'll talk about the genre: What new books are coming out in the fantasy world, sci-fi world or young adult worlds. That's a popular one.
Q: Do you tend to let fans direct the discussion, or do you generally know what you're going to talk about ahead of time?
A: Both. The monitor will often have a list of questions. They'll ask a question, and each author on the panel will start answering, and then you open it up to fans to ask questions from there.
If you go into it, you do need to make sure you know yourself. There have been times when they put me on a panel for a topic I don't know much about, and then you kind of sit there quietly. [Laughs.]
Q: What is it about fantasy that appeals to you as an author and a reader?
A: My favorite books are going to be J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings," and my favorite movie is "Star Wars," so obviously, there's something about the epic, "save the world" conflicts that appeals to me.
I think, with fantasy, there is an element of escapism that takes you out of your world and puts you in another one. There's probably also a desire in all of us to be part of something important, something that reaches beyond us. Fantasy and science fiction can give you that feeling.
Q: In addition to writing books, you also have given many speeches about the craft. What is one thing aspiring authors must absolutely do in order to be successful?
A: I think it has to be both plot and character development. They both depend on each other; they have a symbiotic relationship.
If I had to chose one, I would err on the side of character development before erring on plot. There are other things besides character development, but you can have the same story and the one that has character development will appeal to more people.
Q: Fantasy literature is becoming an increasingly crowded field. How do you make sure your work stands out?
A: I think you need to create a world that's not like any other world that's been created. Your world, the framework you have, has got to be close enough that people like it but separate enough that people don't think you're copying off J.R.R. Tolkien.
Voice is a part of that. When you pick up a Stephen King novel, you can tell it's Stephen King; you don't even need to see the title, you know it's by Stephen King just by his writing style and the voice that's talking in your head as you're reading it. You want to keep your voice. You don't want to edit it down to where there's nothing there.
Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...