1. During the Q&A period that followed Jonathan Franzen's keynote speech, two different people asked him to give a list of authors from whom he draws inspiration. Franzen balked twice, or rather, he deflected each question by pretending to not understand quite what was being asked. Perhaps he doesn't like to be nailed down on these things and single out particular authors. Perhaps his blood sugar was falling so rapidly (because he'd refused lunch beforehand and the afternoon was careening toward 2:30) that he really couldn't think. He kept saying, well, what do you mean by that? Well, what do you want to know? Finally, in frustration, the woman said, "Well, who would be in YOUR book group?" The applause that followed this statement was startlingly loud. And then he really did have to come up with some names, poor guy.
2. Michael Thomas, author of Man Gone Down, gave a talk on creating emotional resonance in your writing. I think that's what it was called. Titles at these things tend to be sales pitchy and somewhat meaningless. Anyway, he played James Brown, then read from TS Eliot, the Bible, and James Baldwin, then played music from The Band, then read James Joyce and Faulkner, then played Sam Cooke. He did all this to illustrate rhythm and repetition and counterpoint in language and phrasing and imagery. He ended by asking us repeatedly, "What's your plan? What are you trying to do?" He did this with some vehemence. It was over in an hour and a half, but I wanted it to be twice that long. In fact, if he were still talking right now, I'd still be sitting there.
3. Jennifer Haigh, author of Mrs. Kimble and Baker Towers, did a session on prewriting in fiction. She gave out two pages of prompts for starting a novel. She says she spends three to six months prewriting, working on pages and pages of notes for each novel and then never refers to them while writing.