Once again it is September and I got the chance to sneak away from the house and attend the Authors of the Flathead Writer’s Conference in Kallispell MT. It is my one and only getaway each year. This is the third year that I have been able to attend and it happened to be the 25th Anniversary for the conference. Awesome huh? 25 years of writer’s helping writers learn and hone their craft.
Luckily the first day started at 8am with registration and beverages.
Thank goodness for the beverages part because alarm hadn’t worked and I didn’t get up on time. My cell phone had decided to become a doorstop for no apparent reason. It was fully charged and yet decided to lock up so I couldn’t even get the screen to come up. So after rushing around with my heart pounding in that “I’m late! I’m late! I’m late!” way I finally got my phone reset and headed to the conference to finally meet up with some coffee.
Dennis Foley, Novelist, Screenwriter and Lecturer, opened the conference and then introduced Les Standiford. Lovely man. He spoke twice once on Saturday and once on Sunday about narrative and putting your character in charge of your story.
He Spoke about focusing on the efforts of one person trying to do something significant against escalating problems. He recommended the movie “The Bicycle Thief” as a great example of how your story can be really simple but so far reaching. He also managed to make a connection about narrative in non-fiction that was one of those foundation shaking revelations for me. The reader is the protagonist of the self-help book. For example, the 30 lbs in 30 days diet book. The reader is trying to accomplish something significant (losing 30 lbs) and comes against escalating problems at they try to reach the ultimate goal of losing the weight. I had never been able to understand narrative and non-fiction until that comment. Maybe I’m slow but I thought it was new and pretty cool.
There were sessions with Agent Annie Hwang about the role of agents in the new marketplace and about self-publishing. Editor Kerri Buckley spoke about Carina Press and about being your own publicist. Some authors were able to meet with them one on one about their individual pieces. Those meetings were based on first come first serve registration earlier in the year. I’m was unable to take advantage of these sessions because I’m unable to plan out my life that far in advance.
Lavonne Mueller, playwright and author offered information on winning grants and
fellowships for writers all over the world. She described the beautiful villas and cottages all over the world in which writers, artists, and poets could spend anywhere from a month the nearly a year living in these exotic locations for the sole purpose of uninterrupted work.
Cathy Scott, journalist and author spoke about movie deals and media and also how to brand yourself in this online culture we inhabit.
She also spoke about how her life has been affected by her published works on such famous true crime events.
B.J. Daniels, A New York Times and USA Today bestseller who writes for both Harlequin Intrigue and HQN, spoke about writing series. She gave many good reasons why writing a series is so effective, including the possibility of multiple book deals and fan base growth. She also pointed out that they author can save time by writing a series based on a world that was already created for the first book and can write subsequent books quicker and in much richer detail because the world is already established. It also allows room for the characters to grow with a longer story arch.
She had a workshop about writing sex scenes. She had the whole room giggling and steaming up the windows as we all attempted to write a kiss scene. Even the guys were getting into that one!
Adam Pitman and David Blair of BadFritter Films gave a workshop on horror screenwriting. They were a lot of fun. I had met them last year and I was glad to see them again. My daughter is a major fan and now thinks I’m the coolest mom ever because I know some of her heroes.
We had a great time discussing things that scare us and why they scare others as well as picking apart movies to find the secret of horror success. Afterward I chatted with David a little about our favorite scary movies and the possibility of trying to bring back the classic B Sci-Fi comdey creature feature like Attack of the Killer Tomatoes or Black Sheep.
Other workshops on Sunday afternoon included Ina Albert: Presenting Yourself Professionally at Signings and Other Appearances and Debbie Burke: 17 Tips for Effective self-Editing. I wan’t able to attend these two because I had chosen to attend B.J. Daniels’ lecture and Adam Pitman and David Blair’ workshop. I heard that they were also very informative.
The last event of the day is First Impressions. It is the most informative and the most traumatic event of the entire conference. Some of us brave souls brought copies of our first page from our manuscripts and submitted them to the panel anonymously for review. The panel then listens and reads along while the piece is read out loud to the room. As each member comes to the place on the page where they would have stopped reading for whatever reason they raise their hand. Once several hands go up they stop reading. The panel then explains why they wanted to stop.
It is a great way to understand how your writing is perceived and what can be done to change it for they better. Some pieces were stopped after a few sentences and other were stopped half way through. A couple made it all the way through. It is said that the first page must be worked and reworked more than any other chapter in your book because if the reader isn’t snared and interested by the first page then they will never read the rest. First Impressions shows the truth of that belief.
I nearly died from heart failure waiting to see if they would read mine. My heart was pounding so hard that I started to feel faint. It’s a very scary thing to put yourself out there so publicly knowing that the whole point is to invite criticism. However, I am happy to say that they read nearly half my page. I know that doesn’t sound great but their advice on why will help me craft it into a better piece. And it was only a first draft anyway.
I highly recommend attending a conference if you are serious about writing or even if you are not serious. Conferences are the best way to get your feet wet. It is a wonderful experience and it really opens your eyes to how things really work for the authors of your favorite books. They struggle just like you do. It is also a great place to make connections and start that networking that is so vital to the survival of authors in today’s literary world. No man (or woman) can write alone. I’m glad I have made so many great connections and I look forward to seeing them again next year.