TRAVEL HERE: DFW WRITER’S CONFERENCE The DFW Writers’ Conference has a lot more than great classes. There are luncheons, networking and of course, The Gong Show. The Rest of the Story The evening before the conference, after my first vounteering stint, I attended a little soiree for members of DFWWW and the VIP’s. I didn’t have my big-girl-networking-panties on yet, so I didn’t get much networking done, but I was better at it by the time the conference was over. I missed the Opening Remarks the next morning, because I was still volunteering out in the foyer. That meant I also missed the first hour of classes. At ten I tried to get into Chantelle Ozman’s “Quick Pitch” class, but it was full. I’d met her the night before and wanted to hear what she had to say about pitches. Too bad for me. After the classes were over, I walked over to Abuelo’s to have some dinner. I was at a table alone when Nan Amir recognized me as a conference attendee – like because I had on the badge. We, of course, started talking about the conference and I got the equivalent of a free consultation by a very savvy writing coach. Though it was not on the agenda, it was by far one of the most valuable sessions I attended at the conference. To supplement what I learned, I later picked up two of her books, How to Blog a Book and The Author Training Manual. I’m looking forward to reading them. If she can impart so much information over dinner, I can only imagine what kind of goodies are in the books. After dinner, we returned to the conference cent for the now-famous Gong Show. That’s when a group of editors with gongs listen to query letters being read anonymouslyand bang their gong at the point they’d hit the reject button. Here’s my notes: What they didn’t like: • too stylized • laughing for all the wrong reasons • first person • cliche “man becomes monster” • too many ghosts, demoness, heaven & angels • magical objects or artifacts • toddler with an uzzi • boading school, “The One”, expected direction • mermaids • too much in the soup • far fetched plot motivation • oversell • build-up of phrases, conversational • cliches Things they did like: • the concept of “Watchers” in a YA dystopian future • Art Pirates • Paranomal Volleyball Team • Diversity, if done right Lunch on Sunday was a Networking Lunch where the writers were supposed to select a table based on our genre and agents were supposed to come by and visit. There’s that old genre thing again. There was no general or commercial fiction table. I got as close as I could by selecting women’s fiction, but for most of the time, all we had was an agent who’d already rejected me. I didn’t win a door prize either. Not my favorite meal. Then there were the vendors. I felt good buying a cool quilted shoulder bag from Rapha House, because they fight sex traffiking. I bought a cover for small legal pads from a vendor who uses fabrics woven in jungles of Guatemala by natives my husband helped by building wood stoves. That vendor didn’t have marketing materials and I forgot to ask who she was. My friend Tui Snider was selling her travel guide, Unexpected Texas – a book I love. Then I found two other books that I ate up like candy. One was I Once Knew Vincent by Michelle Renee. The other was Heather Webb’s Becoming Josephine, which I’ve already mentioned. And now, I’ve probably told you more than you were interested in the DFW Writer’s Conference – unless you’re a writer. Next week, I’ll begin a series on a my latest trip to California. You’ll want to read about it!
TRAVEL HERE: DFW WRITER’S CONFERENCE
There’s so much to the DFW Writers’ Conference I could probably write twice as many posts about it as I already have, but here’s the last of my classes.
Cross Genre with Jonathon Maberry
Jonathon Maberry was the Keynote speaker of the event and he taught a few seminars. Lots of folks seemed thrilled to death by his willingness to come, but I have to confess, I’d never read anything by him. I felt a little less guilty about that when I discovered he was a horror/thriller/suspense guy. That’s not a genre I’ve done much exploration in. However, when I found out he knew Ray Bradbury, I did get very impressed. Something Wicked This Way Comes and Dandelion Wine are two of my favorite books.
However, Maberry quickly won my heart when he said genre is a construct of marketing people. He said our goal was to get in the Fiction and Literature department. He’s absolutely right, but the marketing people have been very successful, so the first thing everyone wants to know is what genre I write. He also said that you can’s take risks (and the marketing people can’t take risks on you) if you don’t write well. He charged us to keep studying the craft. He said a whole lot more, but that captures the gist of it.
Since we’re talking about the Keynote speaker, let me tell you about his address, which was quite interesting. He gave a run down of his early life and then his introduction into writing, which included Ray Bradbury – lucky guy. What he learned from Bradbry was that the greatest joy of successful writing was the success you could help others have. So that’s how Maberry has tried to live his writing career. I laughed at some of the things he did to put food on the table while he worked his way to becoming a famous author. Writing instructions for seed packets was one of them. Now he writes whatever he wants and people line up to buy it. You go, Jonathon!
Bookcovers with Russell C. Conner
I went to DFWcon with the agenda of finding everything I could about self-publishing, but I hadn’t been there long, when I figured out that there was a reason I’d resisted self-publishing up until now and that I really didn’t want to do it that way. Still, at ten o’clock on Sunday morning, Bookcovers looked pretty interesting – and it was. Russell, an independent author and publisher showed us the evolution of his self-pubbed bookcovers. I did get some information that was pertinent, however. KEEP IT SIMPLE STUPID. That little smaller than a postage stamp icon isn’t going to convey much unless the artwork is very clean. I didn’t stay for the photography part of the seminar, I had other places to be.
One more post and I think we’ll have this conference wrapped up.
TRAVEL HERE: DFW WRITERS’ CONFERENCE – DEBUT NOVEL PANEL
I hope it was a sign of something. On the afternoon of my pitch I attended a panel discussion call The Debut Novel.
What’s a Pitch?
If you’re not one of my writer buddies, you might think pitching has something to do with baseball. Pitching in my world is a face-to-face meeting with an agent. Writers usually query agents, which means they contact an agent via snail or email and send them an unsolicited communication about their work. Meeting in person gives witers a chance to build rapport, cut through the routine query process and stay out of the slush pile.
Used to, you mailed a query letter and got either a rejection letter or a request for materials. Then the author would send however much of the manuscript the agent had asked for and then sit around waiting for another rejection letter or THE CALL. Nowadays, websites and email make the transaction somewhat easier. Agents post on their website what they’re willing to look at. Authors email query letters, synopsies and/or pages. And so forth and so on, until the final rejection letter or THE CALL.
My pitch went well. She wanted to see pages and seemed enthusiastic about the project. What I want is for her to do after reading the pages is request the whole manuscript and then give me THE CALL. At that point I’d still be a long way from publication, but I’d be agented, the first big step in a traditional writing career.
What’s a Debut Novel?
Well, that would be your first novel. When I went to the panel discussion I wasn’t sure what it would be about. I thought it might be suggestions about how to get your manuscript out of the query process and onto publication, but instead, it was about what happens after THE CALL. The information was interesting, inspiring and heart-breaking.
Newly published authors and almost published authors made up the panel, people like Natalia Sylvester, Julie Kibler, Julie Murphy, Heather Webb and Lindsay Cummings. (Click on their links to see their websites.) These are people who are further down the road than me. Each has gotten THE CALL, making them agented and they’ve found a publisher. Some like Julie Murphy, already have a book. (Becoming Josephine is Julie’s Historical Romance and it’s delicious! I devoured my signed copy in a matter of days.)
The panel talked about their post-call experience, adding reality to the dream all authors dream. They reminded us that you don’t go from being agented to being published over a weekend. In fact, from THE CALL to publication is about two years and if you thought getting rejected by an agent was tough, there’s also a publisher submission process to endure. At least, the agent is the one doing the submitting. One of my fantasies was sitting at a bookstore, meeting all my fans and signing their books. The reality of it is that if you want to have a book signing, you better have several hundred folks ready to appear on demand or Barnes and Nobles’ just not that into you.
And what do you do in those two years while you await publishing? Well, you go through all sorts of edits where charcters and scenes that you’ve lovingly created are tossed on the floor. You’re ramping up your marketing skills, increasing your digital presence and doing exciting activities like blog tours. You have to explain to everyone why your book isn’t available yet, and should someone also buy your film rights, then that’s a whole ‘nother explanation. Oh yes, and while you wait, you’re getting the next books written and edited, so they can follow the first book at the right time. Still think writing is something you want to do?
So Why Go Through All This?
As the Debut Authors explained the process you could feel the air in the room compress. Then a nice man on the back row said, “So that’s all the problems. What’s the best thing you’ve experienced?” Rainbows and unicorns came back in the room. For some, nothing could surpass the call. For others it was sharing the news with a loved one. And that’s when I lost it. There are no grandmothers or grandfathers for me to share my news with. No mothers or fathers. Not even any aunts or uncles. They’re all gone now. Will I have freinds and family to share the good news with. Of course! But there are so many more that have invested so much more into this journey of mine. I just didn’t realize just how much it would have meant to share those moments until I realized I couldn’t have them.
So that was the Debut Novel Seminar. Only a few more to go.
TRAVEL HERE: DFW WRITERS’ CONFERENCE – EMOTION AND CONFLICT SEMINARS
Welcome back to my recap of the 2014 DFW Writers’ Conference. Today we’ll visit two of the craft classes I enjoyed, presented by two of DFW Writers’ Workshop’ best.
Even Heroes Get the Blues by Rosemary Clement-Moore
Now if Rosemary had to pick me out of a crowd, I don’t think she’d be able to, but I’ve been observing her for several years. She’s one of the most generous, helpful authors I’ve had the privilege to be associated with. Her family background is in acting, so emotion and emoting is something she has some expertise in. She had some great tips to share, but instead of me trying to summarize it for you, you can go here and see her handouts. The bottom line is one of those things authors hear over and over and over, but we can’t escape the truth of: SHOW DON’T TELL. That’s concept that I understand theorectically, but Rosemary fleshes it out in her notes and she gave us some great exercises to demonstrate what she meant.
Conflict on Every Page by Kristen Lamb
Another hero and champion of the new writer that I met thanks to DFW Writers’ Workshop is Kristen Lamb. If it weren’t for her, you wouldn’t even be reading this blog. The only thing I knew about social media when I met her was how to post a status on Facebook. Twenty thousand views later, I’d say I’ve learned something from her. If you’re a new writer (I’d say aspiring, but Kristen doesn’t allow that) then start with We Are Not Alone and follow your nose.
At this conference she was all about conflict. According to her, every book needs a “core story problem…proportional to the length of the work.” In other words, this is the why of the book and the more succintly you can describe the core story problem, the better your book is probably going to be.
Most of us know the protagonist is the main character, but we find the antagonist more challenging. But my book really doesn’t have a bad guy, you’re thinking. Kristen pointed out that the antagonist doesn’t have to be a bad guy, just the “Big Boss Troublemaker,” and that could be the protagonist’s best friend, as in a certain movie with orange and white fish in it. In fact, even when they’re not the BBT, best friends can add a lot of conflict, like a certain movie series with hobbits in it.
Whatever the core story problem is, the writer’s job is to “make it worse until you make it weird.” Really, Kristen talks like that. Kristen will help your social media presense and your writing. Go to her blog and start your journey.
TRAVEL HERE: DFW WRITERS’ CONFERENCE – AUTOBIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR SEMINARS
From famous authors like Jonathan Maberry, to well-known agents like Donald Maass, to new authors whose books are being printed right now, presenters at the 2014 DFW Writers’ Conference had a lot to share. Let’s start with autobiography and memoir.
Fictionalzing Autobiographical Material by Nan Cuba
I’m working on some autobiographical material about the most frustrating trip I ever took, but I’m writing it as if my troubles were the work of the ancient gods who’ve returned to earth to harrass unwitting travelers. My critique group likes it, but I get bogged down in the minutia. So I was glad to see a class which addressed my personal dilemma.
Nan started out by identifying several different categories of autobiographical material: memoir, faction, non-fiction novel, auto-fiction, autobiographical novel and semi-autobiographical novel. As usual, what I’m working on seemed to slip somewhere in-between a few of those, but that discouragement was off-set by her list of great authors who had written autobiographical material – for instance Charles Dickens and Leo Tolstoy.
Though I didn’t get the answer to all my particular writing dilemmas, she had some great advice for people who might want to mine their own lives for material. First, she said to make a list of all the “legends” in your family – things you know about but didn’t personally observe. Well, my list was pretty long. In fact, my list was so long that I never got around to the second thing she suggested: choosing a character who did observe the legendary situation and imagine the letter they’d write to explain it – making up your own “facts” as you go along. Several people did a great job in the few minutes she gave us to speculate on the project.
She also gave us an exercise on Proust’s idea of “creative wrong memory” where you take something you know about vaguely and buildi on it. I went to town on that one.
The Q&A period provided just the right inspiration for a budding new writer who wanted to use her background as a criminal attorney as her writing inspiration. “Write from the prospective of the person you least understand in the situation.” Writing from the offender’s point of view was something the hopeful author wants to explore.
Perhaps my most valuable take away was the list of family legends I need to explore. I’m looking forward to attacking some of those.
Memoir by Bob Stewart
Since I began the conference in autobiography, it was only fitting that memoir was the subject of my last class. Bob covered some of the same material as Nan’s class, but his focus had more to do with theory than practice. Like if you’re ghost writing for someone, he encouraged you to not just dutifully report what you’re told, but to insist that you get to take the information to the next step. He also suggested that an explanation of why you harvested the wrong kind of mushrooms might be more interesting than a report on the resulting visit to the hospital. To quote Bob, you want to go for “steak and eggs” not “lollipops and marshmallows.” Bob invited a friend named Les to share some of his experience in memoir with the class. Les’s opinion seemed to be if it would sell books write it. I’d be afraid to publish some of his memoirs.
Come back next week and we’ll explore some of the other things I learned at DFWcon.
TRAVEL THERE: SORT OF ANYWAY – A BLOG HOP
Welcome to my first blog hop! I’m tossing in an extra post to participate.
DFW Writers’ Conference
At DFW Writers’ Conference I reconnected with Tui Snider, travel blogger and author extrodinaire. I loved her book, Unexpected Texas, and I bet you will, too, especially if you live here in the DFW Metroplex. The other day she invited me to join in a blog hop. The blogging part was easy, but the hopping part has been something new. Thanks for inviting me, Tui. Next Monday I will post links to the folks who will be picking up the basket and blog-hopping on down the line.
Now, I know most of my readers are in the traveling game, not the writing game, but I do get questions from time to time about how I manage to sit down at the computer and make stories come out, so I thought you might forgive me for this digression. Here’s my answers to the “Writing Process Blog Hop.”
What am I working on?
Oh I wish I had a sexy answer for that one, but most of what I’m doing now is pretty boring. I write travel and lifestyle articles for Yahoo Voices and I’m researching other freelance outlets. I keep my blog going and I’ve been writing a lot of query letters, too. But most of what I’m working on right now is editing – and that’s not the fun part.
The first novel, in what I hope will be my series, is pretty much ready for an agent, when I get one, but I’ve got a first draft of the follow-up done and it needs work. Then there’s a couple of short stories (at least I think they’re short stories) that I’ve been dabbling with. One is about King Arthur. I love it, but my critique group doesn’t. The other is a travel memoir with a twist. If I ever get it twisted to my satisfaction, I may self-publish it.
An important part of writing is networking and that’s the part I didn’t have time for when I was so involved in care-giving. So a good portion of everyday is spent in the digital world, making new friends and finding new connections – hence the blog hop.
How does my work differ from others of the genre?
And here-in lies a part of the problem. I don’t exactly have a genre, beyond general fiction. My protagonist’s kids railroad him into moving into an opulent retirement center for “active senior citizens,” but life there is not what the kids or their dad expected it would be and the results are hysterical. Why oh why couldn’t I just write YA fantasy and romance?
Why do I write what I do?
Well, in part, I’ve always had a soft heart for senior citizens. The idea for a story about “active senior living” came to me for a short story I wrote for a college professor. I got high marks and great comments for it and even though I tried to move on, the characters wouldn’t let me go – especially Tom Masters, the protagonist. After graduation, I wrote the story he demanded I tell – but then I had my own senior citizen encounter – three times over.
During that period, I wished someone else had already launched my genre, because I was looking for something to read with some connection to my life, but didn’t want some dreary non-fiction or a self-help book. Oh, there’s Water for Elephants, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and a few others, all of which I gobbled up, but for the most part, when you’re knee deep in elder care there’s little out there to help you keep your sense of humor.
Another reason I can’t let Tom Masters down is that while I was providing loving care for my family members, I talked to a lot of other senior citizens and their care-givers. I was told over and over again that these folks wished my book would come out, because they could identify with very little of the other stuff that was popular today. So I’ve kept at it.
If my dreams came true, there would be a series about Tom Masters and then offshoot stories about his fellow residents at Earlywood (my fictional retirement resort) and the folks who live in Mount Pleasant (the name of the town I’ve created). I could happily spend the rest of my life writing about them and I think there’s a market for them. I just have to find an agent who agrees with me.
How does my writing process work?
That’s according to what I’m writing. The blog, free-lance articles and travel memoir are easy. If anything in my education resonated with me, it was Wordworth’s description of a poet, in Lyrical Ballads, as someone who observes things and then writes about them in such a way that readers can experience them, perhaps even more strongly than the reader would experience it first hand. (My paraphrase.) Even while I’m experiencing something, I’m already beginning to understand how I’ll share it with others and that perspective is usually something other people would never have connected to it. I can’t tell you how many folks have told me that reading something I wrote was more fun than their actual experience.
Fiction is a little different. I hate to sound crazy, but my characters nag me into writing about them. Some idea flits through my mind and I hardly even notice it. It’s just a quick picture, like a snapshot. I go on with life and some character out of the snapshot starts having a dialog with me. It’s crazy stuff, like knowing what they’d order in a restaurant, what movie they’d want to see or what kind of car they drive. Then the dialog becomes more like stalking. Everywhere I go, they go with me. Tom Masters is more real to me than some people I actually talk to on a daily basis. Yes, it’s weird, but that’s the only way I can describe it.
Back to Reality
So that’s it. Thanks for enduring my blog hop.
TRAVEL HERE: DFW WRITERS’ CONFERENCE
Though I didn’t travel very far to get to this year’s DFW Writers’ Conference, I’m hoping what I learned will take me very far. Some of what I learned had nothing to do with writing.
Lesson One: Know Thyself and Do Something About Your Shortcomings
This wasn’t my first writers’s conference. My first was 2011’s DFW Writer’s Conference and I’ve been to a few others since, both DFWcons and those held by other organizations. From my previous conferences I learned one very important thing, mingling is not my forte. Well, not mingling in general, because I mingle well among friends. And it’s not that I’m shy. You need something announced to a roomful of strangers? I’m your girl! If you want me to go over there and introduce myself to one stranger who’s in a group with several other people, I’m all undone.
One of the most important opportunities, at a conference of any kind, is networking. It’s especially important in writing, but the truth is, I haven’t networked well in the past. I didn’t see that changing unless I did something. So this year, I volunteered. I signed up for a couple of stints at the registration desk. The difference was remarkable.
I may not be big on networking, but I’m a natural hostess. By working at the registration table, I was suddenly transformed from a mere conference attendee to the hostess with the mostest. I was greeting people left and right, answering their questions and solving their problems. When my volunteering was over, I had a whole building full of new friends. It made networking a whole lot easier.
Lesson Number Two: Even to the Experts We Can All Be Experts
At previous conferences, I assumed I had nothing to offer. I felt brand new at this and assumed other folks already knew everything. If I talked to them, I’d just be a drain on their resources.
Well, there were a lot of folks with a lot more experience than me. Some were already successful authors, both in traditional publishing and in self-publishing. Others have become agented and are waiting to hold the first copy of their manuscript in their hands. But there were also folks who basically woke up earlier in the week and thought they’d see what writing was all about.
I may not be on the New York Times Bestseller List yet, but I’m further down the road than a lot of people. I have a degree in Creative Writing. I’ve submitted to literary journals and had poetry published in them. I’ve actually made money for freelance articles. I’ve written a blog for three years. I participate on a number of social sites. I’ve attended workshops and conferences. I completed novel, read for critique groups and found beta readers. I’ve re-written my novel, written the first draft of another and have a very rough start on the third one. I’ve researched agents and agencies online. I’ve sent query letters. I’ve pitched and had consultations. Though these things have just become what I do every day – there are a lot of people who’ve never done any of them. To them, I’m an expert.
But once I started talking to people, I found out I had something to offer, even to those who’d made it further down the road than I had. Maybe all they needed to know was where the restroom was or some driving directions, but when you don’t know, you’re grateful for assistance. But I also found I had career information others might need. Maybe they’d published several books, but had never tried to submit poetry. Maybe they were new to blogging. Maybe they knew all about writing, but didn’t have a clue about marketing – and after decades in sales and marketing, that is something I know about.
So I networked this time. I may not have made the connection that will catapult my career into the stratosphere, but I did learn a number of things I hadn’t previously known. Come back next week and I’ll share some of the writing lessons I learned in the classes I attended.
TRAVEL HERE; WANNA BE WRITERS HAVE A LONG TO DO LIST
Being a writer is more than sitting in your garret penning sonnets. You’ve also got a lot of work to do before you get to sit behind a table at a bookstore and autograph your latest best seller for adoring fans. One of the best ways to find out about writing is to go to writer’s conferences.
Mingling at Mixers
Writer’s conferences often start off with a cocktail party. That’s a groaner for me. I love people, but I hate having to go through the painful process of meeting them. At a writer’s conference cocktail party there are three types of people: the alligators, the agents and the rest of us. The alligators are on a mission. They have a manuscript they want to get published and you better get out of their way. If not, they will run over you!
Meeting the Agents
Which brings us to the agents. I really feel sorry for these guys. They show up at conferences aware that several hundred people are just dying for the opportunity to pitch a book to them. To facilitate the pitchers, the agents have on colored name tags which render them easy targets. Unfortunately, the agents also realize that the chances of getting pitched a really great marketable book are slim to none.
Agents fall into two categories. The greater majority of them huddle into tight cliques with their fellow agents and their own authors. You’d need a shovel to dig your way to their side, but who can blame them for protecting themselves from alligators. The other agents graciously make themselves available to anyone, but are usually surrounded by alligators busy elbowing one another to be next. Though I’ve heard many stories of successful pitches at cocktail hours, I’ve never had the courage to dive in. I have bumped into an agent in a drink line or at buffet table, but since I possess no alligator genes, the agent would have to knock me over the head with an appetizer and drag me into a corner to hear my pitch.
Meeting the Other Writers
Then there’s the rest of us. “What do you write?” or “Are you pitching?” are the two most frequent questions we ask each other. That usually leads to a discussion of queries, who replies and who doesn’t, what agent database we prefer and what blogs have good advice. I enjoy these conversations, but my conscious is nagging at me all the while, because I paid so much money to be there and I don’t have the guts to stalk any of the agents.
The best thing about writer’s conferences is that even if you don’t make like an alligator at the cocktail party, you still get the opportunity to pitch your book to an agent. Some conferences include the pitch in the price of admission and others charge for it separately. Either way it’s well worth the investment. You get ten uninterrupted minutes to tell the agent why your book is one they should take a look at. So far, I’ve made two pitches and both agents wanted to see the manuscript. It’s no guarantee of representation, but it does mean that my manuscript will go to the head of the line and not get lost in the slush pile.
Even if most attendees are primarily there to pitch, the real meat of the conference is the classes and general sessions. Try to research the presenters and their subject matter as much as you can before you go, but you’ll still be surprised – both pleasantly and unpleasantly. You’ll pay an extra fee to attend a luncheon or keynote address only to be bored to tears. Then you’ll go to the wrong classroom and end up gaining the most important nugget of information from the whole conference. I’ve experienced both.
If I’d let myself, I’d just go wallow in the wonderful craft classes. No harm in that, but if you are going to pitch, you should go to the classes taught by the folks you’re going to pitch to. It will give you an idea of their personality or preferences, which can improve your appointment with them. There are also classes on things like self-publishing, brand building, social networking and other peripheral information. Taste a little of all of it to get the best experience.
If you are thinking about writing or you’re looking for a writer’s conference to attend, please allow me to recommend the DFW Writers Conference, usually referred to as DFWcon. I’m sure there are other great conference out there, but of those I’ve attended, DFWcon is the best overall experience I’ve had. If you’re a writer, what’s your favorite conference?