Tips for Attending a Writing Conference

 

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Our SCBWI OK Spring Conference is a little over a month away, and it will be here before you know it. I look forward to this fun-filled weekend every year.

Are you attending a conference this spring? If so, are you ready?

Do you know what to expect?

Whether this is your first conference or your 30th (give or take a few) you can always use some good ideas to make the most out of your jam-packed day.

Here are some tips I’ve scrounged around among my dozens of conference folders, notebooks filled with years of furious scribbles of knowledge, and just words of advice passed along from my elders. I hope you find them helpful as you prepare for this spring’s conference season.

  • Do your research – You’ll get more out of the conference if you’ve read up on the speakers and know something about their work beforehand. If they are on social media, follow them. (You can see a list of all of our speakers and where to follow them in my previous post here.)
  • Know how to talk about your own writing – Practice your elevator pitch until you know it well enough to ad-lib. Be able to talk about it conversationally. DO NOT try to memorize it. One false stumble can lead to panic. I’ve seen perfectly composed writers turn into blubbering messes because they lost their exact wording. DO NOT LET THIS BE YOU!
  • Say hello to a stranger and start a conversation - Here’s a great opener that’s sure to work in a room full of authors: “What do you write?” or “Tell me about the project you’re working on.” Because that’s what writers do when they get together, they talk about their writing.(Another good reason to know your pitch.)
  • Take business cards if you have them – Networking is an important part of conferences. After you receive a card yourself – during a free moment later – jot down something about that person on the back to help you remember them better. It could be something about their manuscript, what they look like, or anything memorable you discussed. (Here are a couple of sites where you can design your own cards: Moo.com charges a small fee and Canva.com has many designs at no cost.)
  • Dress in layers – Cardigans, jackets, and scarves can be your best friends at conferences. In the morning, the room may start out freezing cold, but as the day goes on and all of those bodies heat up the conference space, you may find that you start getting a little too warm. Layers, my friend. Trust me.
  • Bring some spending money – Of course you’ll need money for food and possibly lodging. But more importantly, there are almost always fantastic books available for purchase and the authors who wrote them are usually available to sign them for you! (I don’t need to tell you what fantastic gifts personalized books make, either. Right?)
  • Be courteous and professional – Everyone wants a chance to interact with the speakers. Believe it or not, the speakers also want to talk with you. They just don’t want to receive an unsolicited copy of your manuscript from underneath the bathroom stall. At our conference, everyone has lunch at a table with either a speaker or a published author. It’s a fantastic opportunity to ask industry questions in a smaller group setting. Make sure you keep your conversation appropriate and allow others at the table to have a turn asking questions. That’s right, share the speakers. They are there for everyone.
  • Participate! Ask questions during Q&A sessions, attend pre- and post- conference events, make a writing date for after the conference with a new friend. Get to know your local tribe of writers and the speakers. Our writing community is smaller than you think and you never know what connection will lead to something amazing. Also, writing can be a lonely endeavor; we can all use every bit of support we can get.
  • Recognize your opportunities - If you get a critique or opportunity to pitch, take some time (I mean several days at least) to let the comments sit with you before deciding your life is over and you’ll never write again. Ever. Many of us have this dream that we will be that rarest of rare finds and be offered representation or a book deal right out of the gate. Most of the time, what agents and editors offer when they critique our work is an opportunity to improve our work. This is no small thing. You never know when these insightful suggestions can turn a not-so-fantastic manuscript into a dazzling one. One that can lead to a big fat ‘yes’ a little farther down the road.

Have you any tips you’ve acquired that work for you? What’s your favorite part of going to a conference?

 

 

Writing Getaways – a TGNA Post

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It’s Travel Tuesday over at The Great Noveling Adventure and I’m discussing the ultimate getaway for a writer – a writing residency. Don’t know what that is? Want to find out more about it?

Here’s a preview:

Last week I made to mistake of taunting all of my northern friends on social media with pics of me in flip flops, basking in the sunny spring-like weather we were having, while they were shivering in their tea cups.

This week, a winter storm finally hit my little corner of the world with a nice little layer of ice on top to add to the misery.

Touché, weather gods.

Now, I pile on the layers trying to stay warm and long for those rays of sunshine.

And some time away. Far away.

A friend of mine just returned from a two-week writing retreat and that got me thinking about doing something similar. I searched online and then I found this wonderful site about writing residences. Places where you can go and write undisturbed for a big chunk of time in beautiful places all around the world – sometimes at no charge or for a very small cost. What kind of heaven was this? There is some paperwork involved – applications to fill out – but why not take the chance? There are many to choose from and it sounds like a delightful way to spend some focused alone time. Think of it as summer camp for writers.

To read the full post, click here.

TweetIf you’re an early morning writer and you’d like a little company, I host AM #wordsprints every weekday morning on Twitter @Novel_Adventure. Join me if you need some motivation to get your writing day started.

And don’t forget to check out our new forum section. You can look for a critique partner, get your first five pages workshopped, or have your query critiqued.

 

Book Review – THE JUMBIES by Tracey Baptiste

The Jumbies

A dear writer friend of mine, Gwendolyn Hooks, asked if I would like to read this ARC as her own work load had recently increased dramatically. I would do just about anything for Gwen, so I didn’t even hesitate to say ‘yes’. Gwen’s a well published children’s author in her own right with over 20 children’s books under her belt. (If you count the ones I can’t tell you about, yet. And oh, I wish I could! She’s got some fantastic projects coming out soon.) Meanwhile, you can find her on her website above and she also contributes over at The Brown Bookshelf.

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Photo credit: Latifah Abdur

I was delighted to receive this first book from Tracey Baptiste, THE JUMBIES. After reading about Tracey’s background, it was easy to see how much Grimm’s fairy tales influenced her life and why as a writer she wanted to see fairy tales that reflected her own background. She grew up in Trinidad and had always heard fantastic tales about creatures called soucouyants (soo-coo-YAHs) that could shed their skin at night, and the douens (dwens) with their backwards feet that lured children away into the forest. And of course, the jumbies (JUM-bees) the name for every bad-thinking, sneaky, trick-loving creature that came out at night to cause trouble. I fell in love with Tracey’s story. Her take on a classic Haitian folktale called “The Magic Orange Tree” is beautifully written. Her fantastic cast of characters and lush, vibrant setting make you feel immersed in her Caribbean island. Be forewarned! This tale isn’t some cozy, tropical vacation and it’s not for the weak at heart, oh, no! If you like spooky tales, this is the book for you.   The JumbiesTHE JUMBIES written by Tracey Baptiste Published by: Algonquin Young Readers Release Date: April 28, 2015 Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy Plot Summary:

A spine-tingling tale rooted in Caribbean folklore that will have readers holding their breath as they fly through its pages.

Corinne La Mer isn’t afraid of anything. Not scorpions, not the boys who tease her, and certainly not jumbies. They’re just tricksters parents make up to frighten their children. Then one night Corinne chases an agouti all the way into the forbidden forest. Those shining yellow eyes that followed her to the edge of the trees, they couldn’t belong to a jumbie. Or could they?

When Corinne spots a beautiful stranger speaking to the town witch at the market the next day, she knows something unexpected is about to happen. And when this same beauty, called Severine, turns up at Corinne’s house, cooking dinner for Corinne’s father, Corinne is sure that danger is in the air. She soon finds out that bewitching her father, Pierre, is only the first step in Severine’s plan to claim the entire island for the jumbies. Corinne must call on her courage and her friends and learn to use ancient magic she didn’t know she possessed to stop Severine and save her island home.

With its able and gutsy heroine, lyrical narration, and inventive twist on the classic Haitian folktale “The Magic Orange Tree,” The Jumbies will be a favorite of fans of Breadcrumbs, A Tale Dark and Grimm, and Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. (Plot summary from publisher website.)

Corinne is a beautifully written, strong female character and I loved her story from beginning to end. As someone who grew up with a single dad, I could completely relate Corinne’s special bond with her father and understand how she’d do anything to try to save him. As Corinne struggles to save him and eventually finds her inner strength, it is a beautiful thing to behold. The secondary characters were just as wonderful and complex. The two orphan boys, Bouki and Malik, who cause Corrine such grief in the beginning, become her fiercest allies. Having lived on their own for so long, they understand how the world works and how to fight for a friend. And Dru, the smallest and youngest of seven children, befriends Corinne in the marketplace where she sells her oranges. Once Corinne is in trouble, Dru leaves the safety of her mother to do something big to help save her friend. Here’s an excerpt from the beginning of the story:

“I’m not going to hurt you,” she said in her calmest voice. She eased closer. “I just need that thing on your leg. You’ll be able to run much faster without it, and I won’t be chasing you…so…” She moved with care toward the ‘gouti and gently untied the silk cord. The animal’s coarse fur shivered and its pulse beat as fast as her own. Corinne closed her fist firmly around the stone pendant and crawled back out of the bush.

She rubbed the stone with her thumb. Over years of constant handling, she had worn a smooth groove that fit her finger perfectly. The pendant had been her mama’s, and when she put her thumb into the little hollow, she imagined her mama’s hand around her own. Corinne breathed a sigh of relief now that it was back in her possession, but her relief did not last long.

She didn’t know this part of the forest. And it was darker here. The branches of the mahogany trees were so thick that barely any light came through. It even smelled different, of wood and wet earth, while Corinne was used to the smell of the sea. She had no idea which way was out.

Somewhere between the leaves, Corinne thought she saw a pair of lights shining. They were close together, like eyes. Her skin prickled, but then the lights disappeared and Corinne tried to shake off her fear. The little bit of light must have been reflecting on something. Don’t be silly, she scolded herself. “I’m going to kill those boys,” she muttered into the heavy air.

A pair of yellow-bellied birds alighted on a branch overhead, and called out, kis-ka-dee kis-ka-dee! Something small scratched through the undergrowth. A cold lump formed in Corrine’s stomach and began to spread. She and heard grown-ups tell stories about terrible things that lived in hidden pockets of the island, like this forest filled with ancient mahogany trees. They talked about creatures with backward feet, and women who could shed their skin, and women with hooves for feet. Even though her papa told her these stories were not true, there must have been a reason no one ever came this far into the forest.

This is just the beginning of the goosebumps. Tracey’s rich storytelling kept me completely engrossed (and may have encouraged me to sleep with the light on a few times after some late-night reading sessions). Corinne’s story is truly a welcome and refreshing edition to the world of fairytales. I highly recommend this book. You won’t be able to put it down once you start.

Learn more about Tracey Baptiste here.

Follow Tracey on Facebook here.

Follow Tracey on Twitter here.

You can preorder a copy of this wonderful book for yourself here:

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2015 TBR Challenge – THE DARK BETWEEN Review

2015tbrbuttonMy first review for the Official 2015 TBR Pile Challenge is THE DARK BETWEEN by Sonia Gensler.

The goal of this challenge is “to finally read 12 books from your ‘to be read’ pile within twelve months”. To qualify for the challenge, books must be read and reviewed before the year is over, and all selections must have publishing dates from the year 2013 or older. (Here are the books I’ll be reading this year.)

This one was written by a dear writer friend from my home state, and I’ve been dying to read it. That’s probably why I moved it to the top of my TBR Challenge stack. I’m so glad I did.

On with the review!

Dark BetweenTHE DARK BETWEEN written by Sonia Gensler

Published by: Knopf

Release Date: August, 2013

Genres: YA, Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Paranormal

Plot Summary:

At the turn of the twentieth century, Spiritualism and séances are all the rage—even in the scholarly town of Cambridge, England. While mediums dupe the grief-stricken, a group of local fringe scientists seeks to bridge the gap to the spirit world by investigating the dark corners of the human mind.

Each running from a shadowed past, Kate, Asher, and Elsie take refuge within the walls of Summerfield College. But their peace is soon shattered by the discovery of a dead body nearby. Is this the work of a flesh-and-blood villain, or is something otherworldly at play? This unlikely trio must illuminate what the scientists have not, and open a window to secrets taken to the grave—or risk joining the spirit world themselves.

 

I became totally immersed in Sonia’s fictionalized Cambridge and her world of the paranormal. I adored her trio of main characters – Kate Poole the street-wise orphan surviving by her wits and not much else, Asher Beale the pragmatic American who crossed an ocean to escape his father’s influence, and Elsie Atherton, the cloistered invalid with the mysterious secret – all so well-rounded and distinct. The chemistry (and friction) between them was wonderful. I loved them!

What I loved just as much was the mystery part of the story. I am a sucker for a great whodunit and this one kept me on my toes, trying to figure out who or what was causing the brutal deaths. No spoilers, here. You’ll have to read the book to find out, but here’s a little taste.

Here’s an excerpt:

“Mr. Beale, isn’t it? Jones tells me you’ve come from America. Would you set your bag down and stand by the door, please? And you, Miss Poole – you must stand next to him.”

Kate’s face broke into a wide grin, and Asher felt his own mouth curving in response to her obvious delight. He doubted she’d ever had her photograph taken before. His heart softened toward her…just a bit.

Miss Atherton proceeded to open her portable camera and pull it wider, elongating it like a bellows and snapping it into place. She then held the camera at her waist, pointing the lens at them.

“Hold still,” she said, her chin down as she looked through a square hole at the top of the camera. “Look straight ahead. And do try to smile. I can’t abide a photograph full of grim faces.”

Despite Miss Atherton’s suggestion, Kate stood rigid next to him, nerves turning her smile to a grimace. Asher faced the camera, trying to smile more casually, but before he’d arranged his features the shutter clicked. With a sigh of satisfaction, Miss Atherton folded the lens back into the box once more.

“Now let’s take a peek inside the building.” She rattled the doorknob for a moment before turning away with a pout. “It’s locked. I wonder what they keep in there – all the treasures of the college?”

“Probably just a storage shed,” Asher said. “Maybe they’ve locked the tools away lest the young ladies stumble upon them and hurt themselves.”

Kate glared. “You must think young ladies have mashed peas for brains.”

He opened his mouth, but a cutting retort would not come. The girl wouldn’t have acknowledged it anyway, for she had shifted her gaze and was staring intently at Miss Atherton.

Asher turned to find the young lady in distress, her eyes closing tightly as she leaned against the door to steady herself. The camera tumbled from her hand and landed in the grass.

“No,” Miss Atherton moaned. “Not now, not now!”

 

Isn’t that great?

This small scene shows so much of their differing characters (and hints at other-wordly stuff to come).Trust me, this is just the warm-up. It’s such a fantastically spooky book. And a magnificent read. I guarantee it will not disappoint!

 

Learn more about Sonia Gensler here.

Follow Sonia on Twitter here.

Follow Sonia on Facebook here.

Follow Sonia on Tumblr here.

When Authors Come to Town – How to Get the Most out of the Experience

Unsplash by Erik Heddema

Photo Credit via Unsplash by Erik Heddema

Meeting a favorite author can be amazing. You get to hear about the story behind their novels, their road to publication, their writing process, how they keep themselves motivated, and all kinds of insider information about the world of publishing from someone who’s made it.  And you don’t have to wait for a conference to hear an author speak. You can catch them at book signings, during book tours, or other events.

I’m often puzzled when I hear people say that they only want to come to conferences if editors & agents will be there. Not published writers. You can learn so much from someone who’s already gone ahead of you, so it only makes sense that aspiring writers should want to hear from published writers. Then again, these may be the same writers who think they don’t have time to read books.

It’s like expecting to walk away from your first conference with a book deal; it’s not very realistic. You may come away with fantastic ideas on how to improve your manuscript, and you may make some wonderful industry connections – which are both valuable, even crucial to success. And who knows? You may even come away with a green light to submit your improved manuscript to a closed house or agency. All great reasons to go to a conference.

But so is the opportunity to hear from seasoned writers.

Some of the most motivational, inspiring talks I’ve ever heard have been from writers. I’ve learned more about craft and why I want to be a writer and how I can never stop being a writer and why I should pursue the stories of my heart from hearing other writers speak than from any how-to book I’ve ever read. I love going to author events whenever I can. I always come away rejuvenated and ready to work.

So now that you know how wonderful author events can be, how can you get the most out of these opportunities? And where can you find them?

HOW:

Familiarize yourself with the author’s work ahead of time. That doesn’t mean you have to read everything they’ve ever written, but at least read something so you have a feel for their voice. It’s like coming to class prepared. You get more out of the lecture if you’ve done the reading. You can also ask better questions during Q&A (or have something intelligent to talk about while getting your book signed).

Invite a friend or two. You’d be surprised how many of these events aren’t necessarily well-publicized. Especially library events. I went to one author event with only about twenty people in attendance. This author had just been interviewed on NPR the week before. Unbelievable. His talk was outstanding. I wish I’d thought to bring a friend. Now I know to spread the news and take a friend with me.

(You might even think about taking your child.It can be an invaluable experience – and talk about creating a love of reading! I’ve had the pleasure of taking my daughter to meet some of her favorite authors, and I know that’s made a huge impact on her. She could barely speak when she met her first author – Ally Carter, I think. But by the time she met Kate di Camillo, she was an old pro. She got to hear Kate talk about how she created the main character in THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX and when they brought out the microphone for the kids to ask questions, my daughter stepped right up and asked her how she came up with the idea of chiaroscuro. Kate smiled at her, complimented her creative attire, and answered her question in great detail. That kind of experience is unforgettable.)

Take notes! As I said, you can always learn something. If your memory is anything like mine, you will be glad you wrote it all down, instead of relying on your faulty brain.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Many times, the author leaves space in their talk for a Q&A session. This is why you do your research beforehand, so you can ask an intelligent question. So be brave and throw that hand up! I’ve seen many Q&A times go unused when I knew people really wanted to ask questions. When they were able to ask questions later in a smaller setting, they couldn’t stop asking questions. So, just in case you don’t get that second opportunity, engage with the author during the Q&A and ask away. That’s part of the reason they are there.

WHERE:

Check with your local libraries and universities. Many bring in authors throughout the year to speak. Some of these events may even be free to the public or have a nominal fee.

Check out local online magazine event calendars. For the Tulsa area, there’s The Tulsa VoiceOklahoma MagazineTulsaPeople and Tulsa Lifestyle.

Follow local event planning organizations. Tulsa has a great organization called Booksmart Tulsa that “offers top notch literary events” at a wide variety of venues. They’ve held events for Audrey Niffenegger, Chuck Palahniuk, and Ransom Riggs. And soon they’ll be holding the book release for our very own Jennifer Latham.

Follow your favorite authors on social media or subscribe to their newsletters. That way you’ll know when they’ll be appearing near you.

 

As many of you in the OKC area may know we just had author Jay Asher come through. I had to miss him, unfortunately, but many of my fellow SCBWI friends were able to be there and had a great time including Regina Garvie, who wrote a fantastic post about meeting him, here.

One author visit I WON’T be missing is Neil Gaiman’s. He’ll be in Tulsa on March 10th at the Tulsa PAC. For more information about this event or to purchase tickets, click here.

So how about you?

Have you met any of your favorite authors? What was your experience like? How do you prepare for an author event? And how do you find out about author events in your area?

 

Writing Scenes with Umph! – a TGNA Post

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It’s List of Five Friday over at The Great Noveling Adventure and I’m discussing how to write believable settings into your work by giving some outstanding examples.

Here’s a preview:

As writers we know it’s important to set the stage for our story, to draw a picture in the reader’s mind of the world we’ve created so effortlessly that they can feel themselves a part of it.

Last weekend, while attending an all day critique event and leading some critique sessions, I found that getting a sense of place across was not an easy task for many beginning writers. The tendency was to include scene description by stopping in a doorway and giving an almost 360° turn around the room, describing all of the objects inside. Not very interesting. I explained how this stops the action cold and slows the pacing to a crawl. I offered some suggestions – a way to incorporate the all-important setting details without overwhelming or boring the reader – such as letting the description flow naturally while your character interacts with the environment. Break it up with action and dialogue. Give the details purpose.

To give some examples of what I’m talking about, and to again highlight why reading is so important for writers, my List of Five Friday is all about the writers who really know how to set a scene…

To read the full post, click here.

 

TweetSince we’re back from the holidays, I’m back to hosting AM #sprints every weekday morning on Twitter @Novel_Adventure. Join me if you need some motivation to get started or if you’d like some companionship as you work on your own great novel.

Jazz Age January Returns – Review of Cocaine Blues

jazz-age-january-smallThe new year brings a slew of reading challenges. I know, I know, do I really need to participate in another reading challenge? Well I’ve got to stay on track with my reading goal somehow, and this one only requires a one-book commitment. That is so doable. So, why not?

And I had such a fun time participating in last year’s Jazz Age January, hosted by the lovely Leah over at Books Speaks Volumes, that I didn’t even hesitate to jump into the fray again. (You can read all about this year’s challenge here and join in yourself any time during the month.)

Once again, this challenge was perfectly timed. I’Screen Shot 2015-01-16 at 12.03.36 PMd just started binge-watching season two of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries on Netflix, and I was totally in a rebellious 1920’s flapper kind of mood. After a few episodes, I really had to fight off the impulse to bob my hair. (I’m still growing it out after the last time I whacked it all off.)

I was also suddenly in the mood to try out the books the series is based on – a much less risky diversion – so, my first selection for this year’s Jazz Age January Challenge is…

 

Cocaine BluesCOCAINE BLUES written by Kerry Greenwood.

Published by Allen & Unwin

Release Date: 1989

Genres: Crime, Mystery

Plot Summary:

The first of Phryne’s (pronounced fry-nee) adventures from Australia’s most elegant and irrepressible sleuth.

The London season is in full fling at the end of the 1920s, but the Honourable Phryne Fisher – she of the green-grey eyes, diamant garters and outfits that should not be sprung suddenly on those of nervous dispositions – is rapidly tiring of the tedium of arranging flowers, making polite conversations with retired colonels, and dancing with weak-chinned men. Instead, Phryne decides it might be rather amusing to try her hand at being a lady detective in Melbourne, Australia.

Almost immediately from the time she books into the Windsor Hotel, Phryne is embroiled in mystery: poisoned wives, cocaine smuggling rings, corrupt cops and communism – not to mention erotic encounters with the beautiful Russian dancer, Sasha de Lisse – until her adventure reaches its steamy end in the Turkish baths of Little Lonsdale Street. (Plot summary from publisher’s website.)

I’ve always loved the roaring twenties. If I’d lived then, I hope I would’ve been an independent, adventurous type like Phryne. This was an effortless read. The voice was so similar to the show, I was just delighted with it. It was also really fun to read how all the main characters end up working together in this first mystery.

It is different from the TV series – still all of the great character traits really come through. Dot, Phryne’s new maid, who takes everything Phryne throws at her in stride, is just as lovable as ever. Bert and Cec, the hired muscle, are still such colorful mongrels. The swoon-worthy Detective Inspector Jack Robinson makes his debut as well. Somehow Phryne can’t seem to keep out of his way or out of solving his investigation. So much underlying sexual tension there! And Dr. Mac – one of my favorite minor characters – it was nice to see her so prominently displayed in this story.

The mystery was intriguing, with just the right amount of those Jazz Age details that I love. I did have it all fairly figured out before the big reveal – the whodunit, if not all gory the details. It was a great romp of a read that I whole-heartedly recommend to all. (Full-disclosure, there is a rather racy sex scene, which fit right along with the storyline and shouldn’t shock most readers.)  There are fifteen more books in the series to read that I fully intend to enjoy.

Learn more about Kerry Greenwood here.

Follow Kerry on Facebook here.

I plan on reading at least one more book for this challenge, so stay tuned!

Update as of February 7th: I struggled through the second book I chose to read, A FAREWELL TO ARMS, so long that by the time I finished it, January was over. To read my thoughts on it, visit my page all about reading here

How about you? Have you read any books from this era lately?