Friday, November 13, 2009

Conference Debriefing...

Hard to believe 3 weeks have passed! Of course, I’m talking about my weekend in Surrey, British Columbia attending the Surrey International Writer’s Conference (SiWC). And with our new format here on The Prairies (a week dedicated to our WIPs and a week dedicated to writing exercises), this is the first opportunity I’ve had to talk about the conference experience. I’ll try to sum it up in a word –


A very long plane ride from one coast of Canada to the other ended with a reunion at the airport with Suse, Muriel, and Jana. I hadn’t seen them since the retreat in May – and we had spent so many hours e-mailing each other in preparation for the conference. And the excitement began. All of us talking at the same time, inquiring about health, plane trips, and the most important issue – ‘Are you ready?’ The poor cab driver was stuck for an hour listening to four grown women chatting incessantly. And scenery? Didn’t see a thing with the exception of the Skytrain Bridge that the cab driver pointed out as we crossed the Fraser River. WOW!!!

First on our agenda, get registered. Our conference packages made it all official and seeing the appointments we had made back in June when we had signed up gave me a case of the nerves. This was really going to happen. I was really going to sit across from industry representatives and talk about my writing. WOW!!!

Our conference started bright and early on Friday morning. The ballroom at the hotel was massive – and packed. Writers from every genre were represented and the energy was tangible. Then came the presenters, editors, agents. I sat in the same room as Diana Gabaldon, Donald Maass, Susan Wiggs, Terry Brooks, Anne Perry, Anthony Dalton, Gary Geddes. My neck was sore from craning in order to get a look at those writers who I had heard of, many I have read over and over again, and the agents who I’ve researched and memorized their web addresses. WOW!!!

Every keynote speaker inspired me to be a better writer, to believe in my dreams, and to stay true to who I was as a person. OK, Susan Wiggs tried to convince me to not become a better writer and not pursue my dreams – but that’s OK, Susan, I understood your cryptic, reverse psychological address to the masses. And Terry Brooks – I was laughing so hard, I only remember that one day I’ll be famous when I know George Lucas. WOW!!!

Every workshop I attended contained a wealth of information I could apply to my writing. From the first panel session (Biology and Chemistry: The Science of Romance) where Valerie Gray talked about publishing houses liking the prospect of trilogies and Faith Black confirming that the inciting incident has to include your hero and heroine and happen in the first chapter of the book. And Lisa Rector’s workshop The First 50 pages where I learned to get that conflict on the page, don’t save the good stuff for the middle of the book, and bring in change (sense of change, fear of change) immediately – in other words, think like a reader. Carol Mason’s High Concept Fiction and How to Sell It gave me a new acronym: USP – Unique Selling Point: an honest voice, you not a copy, it’s what makes you different. To my last workshop – Warrior Writer with Bob Mayer. The best quote of the whole weekend was found in that room: The successful writer spends his time and energy acting. The workshop is usually a full day’s hands on affair that got condensed into an hour and a half. I would love to take that workshop. He was so motivational that I went out and bought his book The Novel Writer’s Toolkit. WOW!!!

We met so many great people. Writers, just like us, working hard and dreaming of the day when they’d get The Call. The conference organizers did a great job getting us to mingle at the meals. Various categories were listed on the tables and you could join which ever suited you best. My first lunch was spent with other writers who were attending their first conference. I was somewhat surprised to find that most of the writers at the table were writing for young adults. If that’s not a sign of the hot market, I don’t know what is. Everyone was so nice, talking about their work and interested in what I was writing. Then we met some members of the Vancouver Romance Writers (they held a get together Saturday evening), some of whom you’ll meet in the upcoming months as they guest blog here on The Prairies. And, of course, we found fellow Saskatchewanites at every turn. WOW!!!

I can honestly say the seven of us who went had great experiences. Next week I’ll talk about how my pitch session and blue pencil sessions went. Now, that’s a WOW!!!

So, People of Blogland, have I convinced you to look at going to Surrey next year for a conference? How about any conference? Are any of you fans of the great authors I listed here? If you could hear one author give a keynote address or a workshop, who would it be? If you could go to one workshop on any topic in writing, what would it be? Have you had a WOW moment this week?



Lu said...

Hi Janet! Sounds like a great conference. Your energy and excitement are infectious!

I've been to only one conference so far (apart from our local chapter's retreat in May) and that was NEC, in Mass. Big name speakers, fabulous workshops and fun! Hanging out with writers at all stages of their careers, from Suzanne Brockman to people like me, who at that point hadn't yet pitched to an editor, was eye opening and empowering.

Have a great weekend!

Karyn Good said...

I'm so glad you had a wonderful experience at Surrey. I'd love to go to a conference - I'm thinking about Surrey for next year. I'd love to be in the same room with all of the writers and industry professionals you mentioned.

My WOW moment this week came in the form of WOW, I'm almost halfway done NaNo and I'm still on target! Yeah!

Can't wait for next week's topic!

Mary Ricksen said...

Glad you had a great time at your conference. I hope to attend one someday too!
It sounds amazing!

Janet said...

WOW, Lu, you were at a conference with Suzanne Brockmann? Now, she's one I'd love to hear speak - from bits and pieces around the web, she doesn't hold back and calls a spade a spade.

Conferences are exciting - and if I had the money, I would try and get to a few every year. I love that writers from all stages (like you said) gather in one place to pay homage to words.

Great 'seeing' you, Lu. Hope you enjoy your weekend, too.

Janet said...

You are doing so well, Karyn. I think by this time a lot of people start to fall. Two weeks is a long time to keep the momentum up - and if they're behind in the count, they may just give up altogether. Proud of you!

Next year - some of us had said we need to do this again next year, but maybe closer this way. Toronto has a great one - hmm, maybe I'll go have a peak at their website.

Janet said...

Hey, Mary - thanks for stopping by today. I see you're from Florida. Maybe when the RWA one comes close it will be the perfect excuse for you to attend. Of course, there's probably lots around that area that are just as great. I couldn't recommend going to one enough - it was a fabulous experience.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Janet, loved hearing those Wow's. We can learn so much from the web from authors and writers about anything in the publishing industry but nothing - absolutely nothing - equates to actually being there, eh.

Debbie Macomber was the keynote speaker at the American Christian Fiction Writer's conference I attended in Sept in Denver. She was so inspiring. You just don't think of authors of her calibre receiving rejections until they stand before you and tell their story. She had us crying every time she talked to us. But they were all good, inspiring tears.

Really looking forward to your next post.

Silver James said...

Sounds like a wonderful time, Janet! I can't wait to hear about your one-on-one sessions.

Yeah...I would be one likely given up on the 50K for NaNo. I received my revision letter from Ms. Editor yesterday and really should do *real* work instead of *play* work. (All WIPs are *play* and therefore ever so much more fun!)

WOW moments for me? I received a "cover quote" from a best-selling author whom I admire greatly. She rocked my world with what she said about FAERIE FIRE and I keep her words and encouragement in mind as I face this next set of edits.

LOL! My spam word is "squees". Fitting! I think that's what you've been doing since Surrey- Squee and Happy Dance!

Janet said...

It was really interesting, Anita, with this conference catering to so many genres that there were 6 keynote speakers. They covered the whole range of genre fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. And like I said, each one offered something of value and inspired a room full of hopefuls.

Yikes, now that I've put that out there, I better stay on topic for next week's post :)

Janet said...

Aren't spam filter words great? "Squees" definitely sums up my Surrey experience :)

I was not pointing fingers at you when I talked about NaNo - I know you're in the middle of getting that book in tip top shape for publication and I also know you haven't been feeling well and are battling a new and interesting story. I also believe that even if you didn't get to the 'winners' circle, you would not have stopped working on it if this other task hadn't come along.

Good luck on edits - I'll be watching closely as you share your experience over on Penumbra :)

Silver James said...

I know you weren't...but the competitive part of me is really chafing. A lot! LOL. Maybe I can pull off both. We'll see.

Hayley E. Lavik said...

It really sounds like such a fabulous experience, Janet. I loved the little taste I had back in highschool, and hope to go again soon.

I haven't had any conference-sized wow-moments this week, but I had one small wow discovering the difference a designated workspace makes (separate from where I relax, and also not where anyone else can stick their junk), and a wow for finding a way to work 5 single spaced pages of history (remember it?) into a scene without it becoming mind-numbing.

Janet said...

Ooh, has the discussion spurred you on, Silver? (I really hate using the word spur and Silver in the same sentence - reminds me too much of Roy Rogers :) Looking forward to seeing the outcome - keep us up to date with the challenge.

Janet said...

I've got my own work space here in the new place - no more drafty basement for me - and I love it. It's in the master bedroom, but at least it's mine and warm - with a great view. So I know how important that is - I had always thought you had your own space.

Wow - I can't wait to read that history woven through your story. The backstory is so good it really could be a book unto its own. Mysterious, suspenseful, imaginative - perhaps when you get Alkaia's story published, you could write a prequel? Will we be treated to a snipped over on betabloggers?

Helena said...

All your WOWs just bring back such good memories, Janet!!! And I don't have a Wow moment that matches the ones from three weeks ago, so I'm content right now just to be writing.

If I weren't slogging out NaNo, and being behind at this stage can't afford time for anything else, I would get right back to my notes which I intend to send out in a big attachment for all of SRW to see. However, unless it's too redundant (after all your WOWs), I may do an abridged version for my post when my turn pops up here on the Chicks.

By all means, if you find a good conference somewhere in the east, let us know. A little variety would be good, keep us hopping and enthusiastic.

Good luck with all the stuff you have on the go!

Janet said...

Hey, Helena - I was going to post you and Connie's picture today, but didn't know if you'd be ok with that. And wasn't the conference great? I know I would love to make a conference a part of my yearly planning.

And yes, you should do a conference 'debriefing'. My experiences will be different than yours and I know you focused on a different route than I did. With so many workshops to choose from, we could all write a blog post and not overlap.

Jana Richards said...

Hey Janet,
It was such a fun weekend! Part of the fun was seeing the other Chicks and members of Sask. Romance Writers since I no longer live in Saskatchewan and don't get to see them very often. But I think all the excitement about writing rubs off on you when you're in the same room as a lot of best selling authors!

Janet and I were roomies and got to share several giggles together. Suse, Janet, and I "plotted" a book about what the world would look like if women ruled the planet. Great fun and much silliness!

I didn't attend a workshop I didn't like. They were all great and the only thing I regretted was that there were often several workshops I wanted to take during the same time period. Wish I could have taken them all in.

In a couple of weeks I'm going to try to sum up my conference experience and figure out where I go from here. Up, up and away!


Janet said...

Hey, Jana - that was half the fun, getting together and giggling. Loved having a roomie to share the excitement and nerves :)

Still thinking about that plot - might have to take a stab at writing it. Although, it might not transfer to the page in such a humorous way.

Looking forward to your take on the conference.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Silver, aren't you the lucky one! What a great way to get out of NaNo - and you don't even have to feel guilty. LOL

And yes, of course, real work before play. That's a lesson I should take to heart - not for this wip - but for the other times I'm supposed to be doing one wip and I'm plotting another. :)