Thursday, May 30, 2013

Conference Recap (finally!)

You may have noticed it’s been a tad bit longer than a day since I last posted my daily review of the conference. Ah, well. Now for a few more highlights:

Publication primer: A published author (Mette Ivie Harrison; see below), five aspiring authors (including me), the first ten pages of all our books, and six hours to discuss those pages. Good times.

Slush pile panel: The first pages of about a dozen novels (including my current project) were read before a panel of agents and editors. After each one, they discussed what they liked/didn’t like and whether they would read on. The response for my piece was very positive.

First chapter contest: Alas, I did not place. But I will say that my first chapter now is much better than it was then, I think. Also, the people who did place certainly deserved it.

Classes and workshops: Lots of great stuff. Probably the two most influential for me (aside from the primer) were Hannah Bowman’s class on story structure and pacing and Howard Tayler’s class on practice. The story structure class made me look more carefully at individual scenes as well as the overall story arc of my books. The practice class (aside from being really funny) reminded me to view writing as a skill that can and should be, well, practiced.

People: One of the great things about attending this conference was the chance to interact with this amazing group of people. They were by turns kind, funny, enthusiastic, encouraging, smart, thought-provoking, and insightful. A few of them were even all of these things at the same time. I bought quite a few of their books, but even that didn’t seem like enough. I wanted more more more! I also got most of them signed in a mass book signing. So fantastic! Over the next eternity or two, I will be posting reviews of some of those books here, but for now I’ll just post up a quick recap of some of these lovely people. So here they are, in almost no particular order…

Mette Ivie Harrison: I was terrified to meet this woman. From her website, she is clearly confident, smart, in awesome shape (she’s a nationally ranked triathlete), and just someone who knows who she is. For a woman who struggles to decide between Mexican and Indian for dinner tonight, that was daunting. Add to this the fact that she writes retold fairy tales and fairy tale-esque stories (in a way that is at once alien and intimate—but more on this in another post) and that she would be reading the beginning of my novel. It was a little nerve-wracking.

What I discovered is that she is all of those things—confident, smart, self-assured—but that she is also generous, no-nonsense, encouraging, and a person who genuinely wants to help. She was even a little like the therapist that I once wanted to be (back when I thought I wanted to be a therapist… many eons ago): willing to call people (including me) on their baggage and give new metaphors and meanings to that baggage. And hey, writing really is a form of therapy sometimes.

Her latest novel, TheRose Throne, just came out. It was lovely and intriguing, and I look forward to reading the sequel (and again, more about that in a future post). She also just released Ironmom, which is nonfiction and sounds fascinating.

C. Michelle Jeffries, who I only spoke to for about ten minutes one afternoon but whose next idea involves fairy crafts and things for younger children. It sounds so fun. I have to go rummage through my business card pile to find the website so I can link it here.

Ali Cross: I got to sit with Ali at lunch, and she was delightful. Among other things, she told me about the contest that the Authors Incognito group (an online group of authors who have attended the conference) hold every year for rejections. The person with the most rejections in every year wins. One year’s winner got 188! Way to go! Ali was also funny and energetic and full of useful information, which I learned some of when I went to her class on indie publishing (see below under RaShelle Workman). She also runs a business helping indie publishers. Ali also took pity on me when I raised my hand like a lunatic fangirl to win a free copy of one of her books. Never read her writing, but I’m looking forward to reading it soon.

RaShelle Workman: Along with Ali above, RaShelle Workman cotaught the class on indie publishing. It was chock full of awesomeness and made the idea of indie publishing seem a little more approachable. It was also fascinating to see some of the numbers on how you can make more money in indie publishing. I mean, a lot more. It’s not that I’m dying to be a millionaire (and if I were, I probably shouldn’t be going into writing), but let’s be honest and admit that making at least a little money at writing would be nice. RaShelle talked about writing like a small business, and she and Ali were very helpful and informative about how they did that. (Note: I am not planning on indie publishing at this juncture, but it’s good to have some meaningful thoughts on the subject.)

Howard Tayler: Along with being funny and bald, Howard Tayler is smart in a know-how-to-make-good-decisions-for-my-craft sort of way. An overarching sense that I got from almost all of the published, working authors at this conference was that writing is work. It doesn’t magically appear. Sure, there’s the creative process and being an artiste and all that jazz. But at the heart of it is sitting down and taking the time to work, whether you want to or not. This is an excellent reminder for when the words don’t flow the way you want them to. And Howard taught about how to work smart, not just hard.

Hannah Bowman, who gave the wonderful presentation about story structure (which I will never be able to think of again without seeing a backwards Nike symbol in my brain).

Michelle Witte, an agent I only got to hear from briefly during the slush pile panel, but who gave some great advice on both my pages and some of the others. It made me wish I could have heard from her more. She liked my first page (hooray!) and also commented on two vague moments that I really did need to fix. Oh, also, I laughed when she said that she was sick of heroines with auburn hair and green eyes. Fortunately, my heroine has just plain brown hair and dark brown eyes (modeled after my daughter’s eyes—gorgeous!). So that’s a relief. :)

Angie Schilaty: One of the many lovely unpublished folk I met at the conference. She was so fun to talk to, and I’m looking forward to exchanging some pages and determining if we could start forming an online writing critique group. Again, I’ll have to dig through my business cards to find her email address. And I hope I spelled her name right! (I really would check these things, except that I’m on vacation and therefore away from all my useful conference-related papers.)

Janette Rallison, who writes some of my favorite excruciatingly embarrassing fluffy young adult romances. I have cringed my way through multiple scenes in almost every one of her books—cringing in a sympathetic way, I mean, for those poor characters who are living these embarrassing lives. Probably my all-time favorite is the performance of Westside Story in Fame, Glory, and Other Things on My To-DoList. I never really loved Westside Story (the music is great, but it’s Romeo and Juliet, so… no), but I would pay good money to see this particular performance. But that was a sidetrack. What I meant to say was that I got to have a fangirl moment of getting her book signed and acting like a ditzy teenager in the presence of a movie star. At least it wasn’t as bad as that time I met Shannon Hale and said (brilliantly), “You’re Shannon Hale!” with my mouth hanging open stupidly.

Julie Wright: This woman had to have been in drama at some point. Her presentation about fantasy writing was energetic and funny and filled with life and a sense of comedy that not all authors have (certainly not me, at this point, as I drag you into word 1500 of this exceptionally long blog post). Plus, she has awesome hair. After her presentation, I immediately felt the need to go buy one of her books just to stay near her awesomeness for a little longer. I probably would have offered to have sleepovers and braid her hair and talk about boys we had crushes on too, but that seemed a little overboard.

Anyway, later I got to talk fairy tales with her and Betsy Schow (see below), and I found that she was just as delightful in person as in presentation. She was gracious and interesting and totally an author you want to meet. She gave me some excellent advice too (I love all these authors who are so willing to share their smarts!). I’m looking forward to reading her book soon. It’s on the stack….

Betsy Schow was like the funny, quirky, awesome pixie best friend every girl should have. She just radiated glowy, dryly humorous energy. She and Julie Wright were sitting next to each other at the author signing, and it couldn’t have been better for me. I first learned about Betsy through a site where I entered a personal essay into a contest, and then I suddenly got to meet and chat with her. What a nifty world we live in! Betsy and her book, Finished Being Fat, were featured on Good Morning, America! a while back, so doesn’t that just make us all feel cool? Aside from her overall brilliance and charm and good advice, I love her philosophy of finishing things. Sigh. That is part of why I am finally getting around to finishing this blog post, despite its lack of charm and its horrendous length.

Christy and Devon Dorrity, a husband/wife duo who took an incredible amount of time to talk to me about indie publishing and the pros/cons. Christy’s first book is out soon, and Devon did the graphic design for its shiny cover, including the photography and everything. Neat! They gave some excellent advice about conferences as well, and Devon wrote a great tribute to Howard Tayler’s bald head earlier in the day. These were people who were genuinely excited about their craft and excited about sharing their knowledge and experience with others.

Looking over this list, you might think that I am exaggerating. Not everyone could possibly have been as charming and funny and marvelous as I’m making them out to be here. You would be wrong. Not only were they this lovely, some of them were even more so. And I’m certain I’ve missed some who really deserve to be mentioned, like LaChelle Hansen in my publication primer class, whose book I really hope I get to read someday. Or that one guy whose name I can’t remember now who really wanted to hear my pitch and gave me some feedback on shortening it. Or my sister K-onna Mason, who let me sleep on her couch and eat her food. Honestly, I never knew there could be such a concentrated group of lovely people in one place at one time. I’m sure there were curmudgeons, but I didn’t run into them (well, not many). Tragically, however, I have run out of adjectives to appropriately describe all of these people, and that’s why you’re getting the same adjectives over and over. Oh, also because at the rate I’ve been going with this post, if I try to edit it nicely it will be another month or two before I finish.

So there you have it. To sum up: Good, exhausting, fun, educational, invigorating, motivational. Shiny (not unlike Howard Tayler).

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