Creating a Dialogue with James Grady

Summer Program Update by Gretchen Barkhuff

“If someone gives you an opportunity, hijack it and make it the best possible thing it can be,” author James Grady advised the summer workshop students. Grady—a thriller and noir writer— was excited to work with our young writers this past Tuesday and focused his talk on how they can best accomplish their writing goals. Turning the table for the week, Grady asked the students all about their own writing. He had the students discuss the challenges they face as well as what they want their first novel to be about. Although many of our students were uncharacteristically sheepish at first, they grew increasingly pleased to be taken as serious writers by a successful author. By the end of the workshop, one of the students even had her entire first novel mapped out right down to the cover and title (we hope to post and excerpt of her piece soon)!

Grady himself started writing in high school and had his first novel published by age twenty-four. He emphasized that in order to become a writer you must love writing and practice. If you don’t love writing, Grady advised, then there are many other places to use your talent. And as far as practice, the students laughed as he said after forty years of writing, “I can finally write a good sentence.”

Grady created such a positive atmosphere in the workshop that the students only slightly poked fun at our admittedly cheesy dialogue exercise. Each student was given a card containing a character with some ironic flaw and had to create and act out dialogue stories with each other.

The conversation between a narcoleptic night-shift worker and color blind painter had an unexpectedly tragic ending. Fake British accents ran abundant as the students really made this writing exercise—which taught using dialogue to tell a story—their own. They were already living up to Grady’s command to “not just shine, but dazzle.”