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?

 

Take Your Imagination Out for a Spin – a TGNA Post

tgnahead

 

For this Travel Tuesday over at The Great Noveling Adventure, I’m sending everyone to a few fantastic sites that will help ignite their imaginations and get those idea engines cranking.

Looking for some new story generating sites? I’ve got some great suggestions for you. Stop waiting for that next big idea to hit you upside the head. Find it yourself, today.

Have some fun and play with your imagination. After all, that’s what it’s for.

Stop on over and join in the conversation!

 

TweetRemember, when you start working on that next big idea, I host AM #sprints every weekday morning on Twitter over at @Novel_Adventure. Join me if you need some motivation to get started or if you just need some companionship as you work on your own great novel.

 

My Favorite Quotes and Some Pics from this Year’s SCBWI LA Summer Conference

scbwi la banner 2014

Things have been moving at a break-neck pace ever since I returned from the SCBWI LA Summer conference earlier this month. My less-than part-time job has picked up substantially and the group blog I participate in is coming back from vacation next week with a bang – all new format, a few changes to the line-up, and one hell of a fabulous contest with a gazillion prizes, including books and critiques! (Details on that coming very soon.) Not to mention squeezing in all the important revising that must continue. And I haven’t even talked about our Fall Retreat that’s (ack!) in just a few weeks.

Despite all of the chaotic activity, I really wanted to get started with my yearly conference-inspired blog posts. To tease you all a bit with what I have in mind, I thought I’d start with some of my favorite quotes from this year’s event.

 

“Imagination and the ability to tell a story will make anyone better at anything, with the possible exception of politicians and accountants.”

– Meg Rosoff

“Craft means making choices. It’s part of the process.”

-Dinah Stevenson

“Teletubbies, better than a valium.”

-Judy Schachner

“There’s no such thing as writer’s block; you’re just editing too early.”

-Stephen Chbosky

“When stealing from real life, there’s a process of subtraction.”

-Maggie Stiefvater

“Anyone who writes down to children is simply wasting his time. You have to write up, not down. Children are demanding. They are the most attentive, curious, eager, observant, sensitive, quick, and generally congenial readers on earth…Children are game for anything. I throw them hard words and they backhand them across the net.”

– Megan McDonald reciting from famous E.B. White quote

“You never again love a book the way you do as a child.”

-Linda Sue Park

 “I’ve always struggled with my own smallness.”

-Sharon Flake

“Being an artist is the way you live your life.”

-Tomie de Paolo

“I was brave in my writing in a way that I wasn’t in my life.”

-Judy Blume

Yes! Judy freakin’ Blume! Her talk was the perfect way to end the conference, I have to say. I actually teared up just watching her cross the stage to the podium. LOVE HER!!! She’s so freakin’ adorable and moving and everything you imagine that you just want to hug her to pieces and then stuff the pieces into your mouth. Too weird? Sorry. But it’s Judy freakin’ Blume!

Snapping out of my fangirl fog, let’s get back to the quotes for just a second. See if you can guess how these fantastic little tidbits will play out as blog posts in the weeks ahead as I dole out the jewels of wisdom I received on my journey out west. Until then, I leave you with some vacation pics. Enjoy!

 

Me and my lovely critique partner Barbara Lowell at the PALS event where she just about sold out of her first book! Love her!
Me and my lovely critique partner Barbara Lowell (remember when I did an interview with her on the blog?) at the PALS event where she just about sold out of her first book! Love her! (Probably didn’t hurt that Bonnie Bader used her book as an example during one of her talks. Impressive, no?)

 

Insanely gorgeous art installation/wall of plant life at the mall across the street.
Insanely gorgeous art installation/wall of plant life at the mall across the street.

 

 

The Jerry Bennett allowing me to admire him for a moment as we both show our excitement for Stephen Chbosky's keynote.
The Jerry Bennett allowing me to admire him for a moment as we both show our excitement for Stephen Chbosky’s keynote. I have a sad update for all of  you Jerry fans – he has had a facial hair accident of unknown origin and is currently beardless. It’s shocking to all of us, but we’ll should try to help him through this sad, trying time.

 

And then I got to admire Stephen Chbosky for a moment where he told me story about how nervous he was accepting an award right after Bill Clinton spoke - "Yeah I wasn't as good."
And then I got to admire Stephen Chbosky for a moment where he told me story about how nervous he was speaking at an awards show right after Bill Clinton spoke – “Yeah, I wasn’t as good,” he said.

 

 

Me and some more of our Oklahoma group, Brenda Maier and Catren Perks-Lamb at the Golden Kite Luncheon.
Me and some more of our delightful Oklahoma group, Brenda Maier and Catren Perks-Lamb at the Golden Kite Luncheon.

 

A beautiful night in LA.
A beautiful night in LA. Can’t wait for next year!

Spark Your Creativity – A TGNA Post

Hi All!

Today is my turn to post over on The Great Noveling Adventure. I share a list of five suggestions for How to Prevent Frostbite on Your Creativity during the longest tgnalogorevampmonth of winter, even though it has the shortest amount of days. Stop by if you’re in need of a spark in the creative department or share your own ideas if you have some. We’d all love to hear them.

It’s Tricky to Rock Nano

As I gear up for the ultimate writing challenge next month, NaNoWriMo, not unlike a marathon runner prepping for that insanely long distance race, I find my brain filled with a haunting tune from the prolific rappers of the 80’s. Those poets in gold chains, sporting Adidas with style and grace.

Yes, Run DMC.

Photo Credit: from Wikipedia
Photo Credit: from Wikipedia

♫♪This speech is my recital, I think it’s very vital
To rock a rhyme, that’s right on time
It’s tricky is the title, here we go

It’s tricky to rock a rhyme
To rock a rhyme that’s right on time
It’s tricky, it’s tricky, tricky tricky tricky ♪♫

.

Those of you who write in rhyme know that it can indeed be tricky to rock well.

I myself have never conquered NaNo. I’ve never reached the 50,000 word goal. I’ve never been focused enough. In the past, I’ve done more lip service to NaNo than actually participating and I’ve let anything bright and shiny distract me from reaching my goal.

But this year, I vow to make it all the way.

The number one thing I’m doing to make that happen is participating; making time to park my butt in the chair. That means I’ve had to clear my schedule ahead of time by preparing blog posts and arranging for childcare so I can attend write-ins.

Did you know that you can prepare blog posts ahead of time and schedule when they release? So convenient! How did I not know about this a year ago? (It pays to read all of the directions.) I’ve been prepping posts for the first half of the month to get me started on the right foot. I even have my premier post scheduled for The Great Noveling Adventure blog already in the queue, ready to go. Now I don’t have to sweat that. I can be nervous about something completely different.

Like what the heck I’m going to write about for 50,000 words.

I do have a beginning idea, but after that, who knows where this thing will go. Thankfully, if I get stumped, I can hit the NaNo Forums to find ideas for character names, adopt plot ideas, get help developing characters, etc. I’ve never really taken advantage of all NaNo has to offer.

I also plan on hitting a lot more of my local write-in events this year, including the kick-off event set for Halloween night. My costume?  A dedicated freakin’ writer.

Another way I prepared for Nano was by organizing my workspace.

My office has slowly been creeping up on me, with ever growing towers of papers – notes from conferences, critiques of chapters, books on craft to read, etc. Things were getting way out of hand. And that was just on my side. My husband and I took about a week to tackle the clutter – midway through, I wasn’t sure we’d survive the disaster we’d created trying to organize our lives. Mass quantities of beer consumed settled my frayed nerves. Then an open space in the carpet appeared, the mountain of debris dissipated. My husband redesigned and built from scratch two fantastic desks that opened up the room and made me eager to get back to work. He more than earned his Xbox time at the end of each work day.

My side.

new office pic 1

My husband’s side.

new office pic 2

My desk is clutter-free and ready to see some serious action. My husband also helped me set up a studio microphone so I can pace around the office and do some hands-free writing to encourage me to write with less editing – which is what this NaNo exercise is really supposed to be about for me. I need more practice letting myself write that messy first draft without editing the crap out of it.

So how do you prepare for NaNo?

Are you participating?

If you are and you need another buddy, I’m litbeing. Add me and we’ll rock NaNo together.

And don’t forget, for all you picture book writers,you’re not off the hook! There’s a fabulous program for you during the month of November called PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) started by the lovely Tara Lazar. You should definitely check it out!

Let’s Get Motivated – September #writemotivation week 3 (or is it 4?)

I may have lost some time from losing consciousness when coughing my brains out and then during the drug induced haze that followed, but I’m very much back in top form as we head toward the end of the month. I love it when a deadline approaches; it means it’s time to really get to work.

Here are my  #writemotivation goals:

1. Participate, post, push, and praise much better this month, especially where #writemotivation is concerned. I did a fair job with this goal. I visited my #writemovitation friends’ blogs and hopped on Twitter from time to time, but there’s room for improvement, for sure.
2. Revise, revise, revise! I worked revising on my middle grade novel this week and it is going very well. Some of the major changes I’ve had to make turned out great and actually increased the tension and added to the mystery element perfectly. I should have made those changes so much earlier.

Why are we so resistant to the changes that are the best for us? Hmmm.

For extra credit, I made some headway on critiquing my friend’s manuscript that I’ve put off forever. I hope to have that done by the end of the month, even though that wasn’t an official goal. It’s just way overdue.
3. Keep on freaking exercising. I actually picked this up again and did well this week. I’m feeling so much better as a result.

4. Read, read, read. I’m almost done with my second book for the week. Matt de la Peña’s Mexican WhiteBoy. It also fits into Banned Book mexwb_tp_cvrWeek as it was challenged by an Arizona school for its racial issues, which I find so ironic. This book is about struggling to find your way in the world when your biracial. I didn’t see it as racist in the least. It’s a very important book for a huge section of the population; kids who can identify with the main character and understand the struggle of straddling two worlds and know what it means to feel the guilt of striving for success, of trying for a better life while leaving your parents and relatives behind. It’s also about baseball. It’s a heavy book.

I had the pleasure of seeing Matt speak again this week here in Tulsa. One of the things I took away from this talk was how a single book can change a person’s life. He talked about how the right book at the right time can do that; change lives. For him, it was Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. A professor at college gave it to him because she thought he would get something out of it. He did. It was the first time he really connected with the characters of a story. He thought his life, his childhood, had been awful.  This story opened his eyes. This book changed his course and he became a writer.

Then, while he was in his MFA program, his dad was laid off from his job at the San Diego zoo, where he’d worked ever since dropping out of school when Matt was born. It was a devastating blow to his sense of identity and he was depressed for a long time. One day, when Matt was visiting, he asked what Matt was reading. It was One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. His dad asked him if he could read it. Matt had never seen his father read a book in his life, but he said of course. His dad read it and then asked for more books. Eventually, his dad started checking out his own books from the library, then secretly got his GED, went to college and is now a third grade teacher.

Wow. I love that story.

Books change lives. That’s why I’m a writer.

We’re taking a break from #writemotivation in October and will return in November, just in time for NaNoWriMo. I’ll probably have one more update for September. Meanwhile, some exciting things are coming up soon on the blog, so stay tuned!

Exercising Patience – A Few Words from Matt de la Pena

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I have a confession to make.

I came away from the SCBWI LA Summer conference with a brand new author crush.

 

Matt de la Peña.

-Resources-Image-1Matt de la penaH175W175A1

And not just because he is ruggedly handsome. Or because he took the time to notice where I was from when I was in line to get my book signed and then asked me where exactly Broken Arrow was. He even talked to me about an upcoming author event he had scheduled in my area. Very nice.

And it wasn’t because he said it was great to meet me. See?

MAtt Autograph

Or because he took the time to stand up to take a picture with me. Not many authors do that. So thoughtful.

Me and Matt de la Pena. The flash went off and I froze like a deer waiting to be shot.
Me and Matt de la Peña. The flash went off and I froze like a deer waiting to be shot.

Or because he gave me a copy of his short story, Passing Each Other in Halls,  por nada. So awesome of him, wasn’t it?

Matt Books

Okay, okay. Ma-ybe he did that for all of his quasi-mental, yet adoring fans. Still, not all authors take this kind of time with their readers/stalkers/fans, believe me. Better than any fabulous swag I may have gained from the conference was the knowledge he imparted during his keynote speech and break out sessions. For that, I will be eternally grateful and a forever devoted stalker reader.

During his break out session on exercising patience, one of the first things he said was:

The first page is important but don’t mistake this for EVERYTHING has to happen on the first page.

You don’t have to cram all the major drama – the break up, the car crash, the gun shot – in that first page to make your story great and to keep readers interested. Allow your characters to tell the story; let it unfold naturally. Sometimes you have to get out of your own way and let your readers come to their own conclusions.

Which brings me to de la Peña’s next nugget of wisdom:

Not every reader has to get every thing.

He shared the opening pages from Denis Johnson‘s Tree of Smoke with us as an example of writing that allows the story to unfold without tree of smokeprejudice or narrator comment. The opening line is “Last night at 3:00am President Kennedy had been killed.” Within this passage, as the young soldier stalks through the jungle, there is a 2nd assassination with the death of a monkey, but the narrator doesn’t draw attention to it. If the reader gets the parallel, great. It adds another layer, a deeper connection to the story, but the reader doesn’t need to understand this connection to follow the plot.

De la Peña does the same with his own writing as well. In Ball Don’t Lie, a story about a foster kid who’s only constant in life is basketball, you don’t have to understand the game of basketball to appreciate it. In Mexican WhiteBoy, there are tons of Spanish passages that he doesn’t translate. You don’t have to know what’s being said to appreciate the story, but it enhances the experience. De la Peña says that when a kid who isn’t a big reader can translate a passage for a teacher who’s reading aloud to the class, he takes ownership of the story, which is what you want.

When reading a book, you are doing half the work; you take ownership of it. You picture the action in your mind.

 I love that.

When de la Peña returned to the discussion of how we as writers can show patience in our work, he talked about his experience in his MFA program. At one point, he was trying to show off, be a real stylist by throwing everything he’d learned into his current writing project. His advisor told him the story was suffering because of it. She told him to slow the f*ck down.

Just slow down.

She was so right.

This advice has followed him throughout his career.

Sometimes the slow build is the best build.

 When something big is about to happen in your story, slow that moment down. Car crashes, gun shots, even break ups can take seconds. You can slow it down in a book with many different strategies. Do you go with hypersensitivity? Backstory? Try different ways and see what works.

Sit there with the audience in the palm of your hand and make them suffer.

 Ooh hoo hoo! Gives you chills doesn’t it? I’ve heard of hurting your characters, of torturing them until it hurts, but your reader? I’d never thought of their suffering while I write, have you?

But he does make an excellent point. Some of my favorite books have those delicious scenes that have kept me on that edge, prolonging the moment. It’s almost an agony, suffering the pain of the moment along with the character, but I find myself rereading these passages again and again, soaking up every bit, until I’m satisfied enough to move on.

If you are lucky enough to live in the Tulsa area, come see this dynamic author for yourself. Matt will be speaking on September 24th at the Martin Regional Library.

Learn more about Matt de la Peña here.

Follow Matt on Twitter here.

Follow Matt on Facebook here.