Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Good for Goose and Gander

I've been thinking a lot recently about what boys read and what girls read.
I have two daughters and we're a pink swathed bunch as we schlep out to the beach, pink swim suits, pink buckets and shovels, pink mermaid/fairy towels. I can barely pull my daughter's attention away from pink/purple/gold-a-liciousness, never mind get her to read something that might have a whiff of a Y chromosome. I understand what a gender bias looks like.

When I was growing up, I read anything. Narnia, Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Agatha Christie -  anything as long as it was an adventure story. I don't remember children's books being so gender specific in the 70's - though maybe that's due to the "Free to Be You and Me" factor.

Whatever the reality was, now there seems to be girl books and boy books and nary the twain shall meet. It's much, much more pronounced as boys get older. Beyond middle grade there seems to be an attrition in books for teen, male readers.

At the Pennwriters Conference last month, Becky Levine and I spoke briefly (while trying to flag down the waitress who was passing with little spinach pie canapes) about this. My question to Becky was, which came first, the lack of interest from boys that age in reading, or the lack of books that boys that age would be interested in? I can't tell you how many people at the conference were psyched to hear that the main character in my YA Fantasy is a boy. Is there really a lack of new releases geared towards boys, or is it that boys are intrinsically (or maybe they are taught to be this way) less able to 'insert themselves' into a book where the main character is a girl - a trick, by the way, that girls had to learn to do through necessity from when only boys were having any fun in children's books. I mean, who would you rather be, Peter Pan or Wendy?

Becky has a cool post about summer reads for boys - books that work for boys AND girls, that she compiled with the help of her teenaged son.

And I found a great post on the Book Whisperer's site - a cool blog about Donalyn Miller, a Texas educator who is all about getting kids to read - on how "We create a crisis when we define readers along gender lines," and what her in-the-classroom experience has taught her about how boys read.

Both these posts include awesome reading lists excellent for girls, boys and even adults.

Tomorrow I'll talk about the Horror, SciFi and Fantasy genres and why women writers in these generes may be getting short shrift.

In the meantime, what's your favorite children's book that's not necessarily for your gender?

Monday, May 30, 2011

School's Out 4EVER Blogfest - Manic Panic & Battleship

As part of Sommer Leigh's blogfest, I'm reminiscing about something that happened just after I graduated high school. Check out all the blogs in the blogfest here and add your own high school memories.

We were dyeing my hair green, but Krissy insisted I hadn't bleached my previously black hair enough. I was wearing one of my dad's white undershirts over my regular clothes, a tartan dress with a pleated skirt-awesome thrift store find-fishnets and army boots (Doc Marten's were for wimps, we'd say.)

This was taking place in Liz's house because her parents were out of town and my parents didn't know that. I had my head over a large yellow chip bowl, trying not to drip electric green Manic Panic onto the nice hardwood floor, as Liz and Krissy decided if the color had taken, if my scalp would always be green, and what tattoos they should get.

"Hey guys."

Liz and Krissy turned to greet whoever it was who'd shown up at the door. I tried to crane my neck to the left without causing hair dye catastrophe. Through my drippy algae green hair this is what I saw:

My husband and next to him, his girlfriend clinging like ivy.

I didn't know he'd be my husband. I remember, really clearly, thinking, "Boy. Girl. Together. Weird cardigan" and going back to trying to squeegee the rest of the dye out of my hair. I later found out that my eventual-mother-in-law bought Tim his cardigans at the Gap. Tim didn't much care what he wore, and if she bought those funky, early 90's cardigans that were way too long and baggy for him, he'd put them on.

After Tim and his girlfriend left, we went to the Ramsey diner and ordered cheese fries. The reactions we got from the patrons and the waitress decreed that my hair dye had been a total success.

Tim says he thought of me ever since that first time he saw me. Even though he had a girlfriend, even though my hair was green and slimy.

I didn't really remember him at all. When he showed up a week later to Liz' 90210 party, then when he called me to see if I was going to the next 90210 party (it was an ironic kind of thing, apparently), I didn't think much more than, cool guy. My radar was so set to find the next Nick Cave look alike that wasn't a jerk and an alcoholic (did that already), that I never thought about Tim that way.

But he turned up, again and again. And we'd talk and be silly. He is the kindest, funniest person I know and I somehow got that into my thick, dyed-green skull. A miracle.

Later, Tim asked me out on a date to the IHOP. He brought Battleship and we played after pancakes. He beat me again and again (he still does) and I didn't mind (still don't). When the waitress came over the fourth time to refill our coffee cups, I got up to go to the bathroom. I looked at myself in the mirror and thought, "Take off the lipstick."

That night we kissed and started dating. We only stopped dating in 2000 when we got married.
October 14, 2011 will be twenty years since that night in IHOP.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Conference Secrets - Say Yes to YA

Check out my fellow conference attendee, Laura Campbell, and her post on: Writing Meditation.

This workshop was lead by writer and lawyer Heather Terrel.

Heather is an interesting writer with a cool story. She was a New York lawyer for years before deciding to write historical fiction. By her own admission she's a research 'freak', loving to delve into source material and find the origins of history, myths and legends.

After writing several historical fiction books she had an idea that was sparked by researching the apocryphal gospels. An idea about angels and vampires. But the catch was, once she started writing it, that it turned out to be a YA book. She shared with us what she learned about some of the differences between writing and promoting YA books

Defining the YA Book
We had a spirited discussion about what exactly constitutes a YA book. There seems to be some discrepancies when talking about actual age ranges, but Heather noted that readers for YA are getting younger and younger. A middle grade student between 12-14 who's advanced will easily read YA that's geared towards 14 through 18 or older. The idea of the main character being about two years older than the age group you're targeting seemed to make sense to most.

Setting - Even for a paranormal or urban fantasy book, the setting should be mired in the familiar. High School can become a Vampire Academy, a middle class suburban home can be an orphanage for kids with special powers. You get the drift. It has to feel familiar to the young adult. No young adult is going to identify with corporate board room settings.

Characters - Need to feel real, recognizable, similar age. Again, despite any paranormal or fantasy world building, the characters are primarily focused on themselves and questions like: Who am I? What am I supposed to do with my life? How do I handle relationships? These are universal teen/young adult issues and they need to resonate with your characters.

Details - The devil or God is in the details, and whichever one it is, you have to get the details right. This means, particularly if you're writing a contemporary YA novel, that clothes, music, technology all have to be spot on - BUT, and here's the tricky part, these details can't be so specific that they become dated in a short period of time. If you have someone using an iPad and two years from now it's an iPad5 or something it can be a problem. That's especially true since from submission to print can take upwards of 2 years. So it takes a careful hand to get the details true enough so they resonate, but not so specific that they become obsolete.

Details also need to be right with the characters actions. Whereas an adult might walk six blocks to a friends house to talk to her about an important topic, a teen would whip out her smartphone and text her friend. Don't get in the situation where your plot hinges on an action that you later find out a real teen would never do!

Dialogue - Similar to details, needs to sound right, have the right tone, cadence. It's not a question of being patronizing or 'dumbing down', teens and young adults are very erudite. But there are words that sound wrong coming out of a teen characters mouth. Find a teen, have them same the dialogue and see if it sounds off to them. They'll have no problem telling you if it does! And just like details, dialogue can't be too of the moment, lingo changes very quickly.

Point of View (POV)
There's a reason why lots of YA is in the first person, and often in the present tense: immediacy. YA readers want to feel close to the action, in the thick of it, embodying the characters. That's easiest to accomplish in the first person.

Show don't tell
This is true of all writing, but with YA particularly, it's important for the reader to see the action, not be told about it. Less talk more plot. Fantasy, because of the world building necessary may need more telling, but when possible show the world, don't explain it. Also, many fantasy readers love the bells and whistles of heavy details as opposed to the contemporary.

Length of Book
Generally, 60K is a good number, fantasy can be longer 70-75k (there's that world building again)

Crossing the Line
We asked Heather if there were any lines that couldn't be crossed with YA. She pretty much said that sex and cursing were acceptable but they had to be handled skillfully. Sex is definitely an element in the YA novel, but 'don't follow them into the bedroom' it's not about showing exactly what happens in the bedroom, it's about how the characters feel about it. Limit explicit detail.

As for cursing, if it's appropriate to the story, it can be used (yes, the f-bomb too.)

Trends & Series
Although she doesn't recommend following trends, because they change too quickly and you should write what interests you, Heather did acknowledge there were strong trends. Paranormal still rocks as does dystopian and urban fantasy. And mermaids are hot. You heard it here first.

Heather also mentioned series, and how important they are to readers and publishers. If you have an idea that is a series, easier to sell.

Young adults spend a lot of time online, and as a YA author, that's where you will do the majority of your promoting. Even more than for adult books, you need to create on online identity. And you need to tend to that identity. When YA readers email or post something on facebook, they expect quick responses, so you have to be online consistently, if not constantly. Same goes for blog posts, they need to be updated on a regular basis. You need to create the impression that you are accessible.

You can also take advantage of book blog tours like this one that Heather took part in. You should also participate in book giveaways, reach out to YA specific review blogs. (YA Highway and YA Bookshelf are great examples)

Finally, remember that YA readers love give aways, so if it's a signed ARC, a special copy of something, or an illustration of your main character, giving away stuff is the way to your YA readers' heart.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Why You Read What You Read

Yesterday, when I posted about Summer Reads 2011, I realized that most of my picks were in the YA/Fantasy realm. I've been slowly sucked into that genre since Harry Potter and Lyra Belacqua hit the scene. Now it's what I look for especially since it's what I'm writing (now.)

Having said that, I love all genres, even the literary 'non' genre. There's nothing I won't read, but I do go through phases. When Bryce Daniels posted on my blog yesterday that he was looking forward to the new Jeffrey Deaver book, it brought me back to when I would devour those books. I had a serious crime/thriller bent in my late twenties. I've also been into golden age mysteries, romance novels, classics and graphic novels. 

It's not that I don't like those things now, it's just not where I'm at. I bought a romance recently by an author who I really liked, Elizabeth Hoyt. It has gathered dust in my TBR pile while other books get whipped through. I pick it up, I put it down. My reading moods seem to last for years. It's a funny thing.

At the Pennwriters conference agents couldn't say enough about the need to be knowledgeable about your genre - specifically reading in your genre. I think it was Kathleen Ortiz that had the rule '2000 in 2000 out', meaning that for every 2000 words you write, you should be reading that much of your genre. Barbara Poelle went a little further, telling us to find the shelf at the bookstore where our book would be. Go alphabetically in the genre and find where your yet-to-be-published book would be. Then buy (or get out of the library) the two books on either side of the shelf. Educate yourself.

So, do you read in your genre? Do you cheat on the genre you write in? Do you mix it up or go through phases like I do? What genre are you reading and why?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Summer Reads 2011

The idea of a summer or beach read is a complete fallacy, at least for me. It's something undoubtedly created by publishers and marketers to move books, create news items and hype. Can you tell I didn't sleep last night? Cranky, I know.

My problem with the summer read is that I won't sit down on a beach to read anytime soon. I won't tuck a book into my cute straw beach bag while I sit on the Hamptons Jitney and I won't while away a Sunday afternoon drinking a pint of Blue Moon and reading the summer book-blockbuster down my local, either.

Because I can only read when my kids are asleep. Like I said, makes me cranky. My biggest hobby before kids used to be reading. I would read two, three books a week. I joined Roof Beam Reader's TBR book challenge in January and I'm still on book three, when I should be on book six. Sigh.

So, when I see the Summer Reads piece in the LA Times, I grump some more, thinking, when the hell will I get to finish the books I already have, never mind new ones?

Then, this happens: I start to drool. I see book covers and I feel like I'm staring at the penny candy bins at the sweet shop. All these yummy books to devour, all these worlds to get lost in. I need new books! I need to read these! THIS SUMMER!

Here are the ones I'm itching to read:

As impractical as buying more books (or even getting them out of the library as I often do) is, I can't help myself. Booksellers, publishers, et al, I am your target demographic. Books are everything to me.

Kids are finally asleep. Going to go read me some Marbury Lens. That will make me feel less grumpy.

What books are you excited to get your book-loving mitts on this summer?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Not the End of the World - But the End of BookEnd

When I went to the writers conference last week I told everyone my manuscript was finished. I fibbed. It was mostly done - the last chapter was a list of things that had to happen like "Fin meets Gilt with Paul and Jenna on way to Village looking for Story" and "Anne has to have that conversation with Rose in the ruins of the bakery."

It was all sketched out, I knew where I had to go, but for some reason, I had stalled at writing the end. Well, nothing lights a fire under your butt like an agent telling you they want to see your full ms. I knew I had to power through those last two chapters (yes, one chapter turned into two) so that I could go back to the beginning and revise it right.

So Saturday morning my husband took my kids out to feed the ducks and I sat in my writing shed with a rather stupid bee for company (I mean, the door was wide open, but still he beat his furry little head against the window again and again. I sympathize, little bee. I know the feeling.) I wrote 5000 words, well 5002.

I typed "The End" just as Tim texted me to let me know that the sprogs were back and not to come into the house since they were destroying it and I'd only lose my concentration. Using my sweater as gently as I could, I grabbed that demented bee and let him go outside.

No matter what happens, nothing can change the fact that I finished this book. And since the world didn't end, I can think about what comes next.

How do you celebrate when you finish a project? Is it anti-climactic? Do you let yourself be proud, or is it right on to the next thing?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Conference Secrets - Revising from Critique

For the next four Thursdays I'm going to be reporting on some of the awesome workshops I attended at the Pennwriters Conference in Pittsburgh this past weekend. Make sure you also check out Laura Campbell's conference blog post on Four Truths of Character

Revising From Critique
Becky Levine lead this incredibly useful workshop, taking us through the process she uses to revise after feedback from her crit group. She made the point that this is what works for her and that everyone learns/writes differently. Having said that, I think that the plan of action she lays out is an excellent strategy. It's designed to make the overwhelming task of revision (one that is before me as we speak) seem less daunting.

Check out Becky's book. It's indispensable.

The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide: 

How to Give and Receive Feedback, Self-Edit, and Make Revisions

1) Join A Group
A group is important, if you don't have one get one, because 'fresh eyes see clearly.' Pennwriters is getting members together for 'round robin' email crits for people who can't access writers' groups. If you're in Pennsylvania check Pennwriters out. If not, look for a group in your area.

The way we get feedback at BCWG is once a month we all submit and comment on each others work, about 20-30 pages each time. Since there are only three of us this means that we each contribute two crits and we each get two crits, which is great. One thing that Becky suggests from the get go when giving a crit is to both include comments in the margins of the submission AND to give a summary of your criticism. That's not something we're all doing, but I'd love to change that in our group. I find the summary so useful, especially since I'm not always sure what the margin notes are referring to and that I can never take as many notes as I should when hearing a crit, too busy cringing I guess.

Another important point Becky makes about getting 'fresh eyes' on your manuscript is that, because you live in your book every day, you see all the details. You might be convinced that something is coming across that just isn't. In other words, something you think is there might not be there. Your crit group is your proxy reader. If they don't 'see' or 'get' something, it's not there, or not there enough.

Lastly, ideas spark ideas. Talking about writing is second only to sitting down and doing it. It's a great motivator.

2) Wait to Revise
Look over your notes from your crit partners right after the crit to make sure you understand what they're saying but RESIST the impulse to revise immediately, especially before the ms is finished.
Polishing is easy, but bigger changes are coming. Give yourself the chance to marinate the feedback you've gotten and to develop your story. Most importantly, don't write backwards, as in go back before you're finished, write forward through a draft. You'll be learning more about your story if you write to the end. Plus you'll be able to see how the end changes the beginning when you go back to revise.

3) When You Are Ready Start SMALL
So you don't start breathing into a paper bag when you drag your stack of critiqued submission out of your drawer, start small.
a) Work chapter by chapter
b) Re-read your critiques, it's a great way to get yourself back into your story.
c) Working from the critiques you've received, use check marks to tick off the easy changes first. These are the little fixes you can easily clarify. For example if you've forgotten some dialogue tags, or if a dog you introduced in the first chapter as a poodle ends up as a doberman in subsequent chapters. Every time you hit one of these easy fixes, use a big check mark to give yourself a sense of accomplishment - you're doing it!

4) The Highlighter is your friend
Use a highlighter to call out any crits/suggestions you aren't sure about. You don't have to agree or disagree, and you don't have to decide just this minute how you feel about something. Highlighting the passage will make sure it doesn't fall through the cracks. Let the comments simmer. You may find that when you come back to it you know how you feel. Or, it might be something you chose not to address at all, your choice.

5) Think through the big stuff
Now that you've been through the little stuff, you see that there's not as much initial revision as you first thought. Now you're in the 'heart' of things.
a) Go through all the comments that you haven't already checked off, this is the big stuff
b) Make sure you understand all the feedback - and if you don't there's no shame in reaching out to the person who gave it to you and asking for clarification.
c) Consider the impact the proposed change will have on your story. How will this suggestion improve or change the story? How do you feel about that?

6) Make the decision
a) When considering a suggested change which isn't obviously a 'yes' or a 'no' to you, consider the source. Every crit group member has strengths and weaknesses. One member may love elaborate detail and may be telling you to add much more detail. But is that in service of your story, or is it really because that's what this person enjoys?
b) If you are really undecided, put it to a vote. I actually did this not too long ago on something I was thinking about. I asked if my group thought I should change the gender of my main character. They both overwhelmingly said NO!
c) If there are some in the group that don't 'get' or understand something your trying to do, consider that this may be something your reader won't 'get' either.
d) There will be comments that you've given careful consideration to that you just decide don't need addressing. That's ok.

7) Revising Beyond the Critique
It's important to realize that people in your group aren't super heroes - they miss stuff. Just addressing their comments isn't enough. You need to go through it again and again, to catch what they might have missed, like:
a) Inconsistencies, spelling/grammar errors
b) Need to tighten character consistencies (so the characters act 'like themselves' throughout)
c) Weaving the changes through the whole plot
d) Tying subplots together so that plots are integrated, not just parallel
e) Deepening character motivation, so it seems inevitable
f) Build a full world, so it's believable and 'visible' to the reader

8)When all else fails
Manuscripts need to simmer and stew in your subconscious, during writing and revising. When you need to give yourself the time and space away from your ms, do it, don't beat your head against the wall.
a) Walk away from your computer
b) Open a new file and write it fresh. Save the old file of course, but try writing it differently just for the heck of it. You'll be freer.
c) Take a walk, listen to music, read (that was my suggestion, not Becky's!)

Becky's most important take away for me? Revision is Magic. It can be as fun and transcendent as writing that first draft when it comes together. Have fun!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Live! from the Pennwriters Conference - Day 2

Note: Blogger Ate My Homework.  I wrote the below during the conference and scheduled it to post, but for some reason it never did. So I'm manually posting it today. Yes, it's not actually 'Live' but it felt live at the time, does that count? 

Tomorrow I start my Conference Secrets posts with Revising from Critique. Conference Secrets will post every Thursdays for the next four weeks. My fellow BCWG writer, Laura Campbell will also be posting about the workshops she's attended on her blog, Writing Unleashed. Check her out, check me out. It will (almost) be like you were there.

I've left the Build Your Brand workshop because despite the copious amounts of coffee I've had, I'm nodding off. It's absolutely not the fault of the workshop or the leader, it's that I'm exhausted. I've got fifteen minutes before my next workshop entitled Welcome to the Jungle! I can almost hear Axl Rose screeching, "You're gonna diiiiiie!"

That's something I didn't think about before, the sheer weight of the information I'd want to absorb, the names of people I've met, the books, blogs and resources I've been told I have to read. I'm worn out but I'm looooving it. Everyone here is a writer, everyone understands how hard that is to say sometimes. I'm sorry for the corniness, but it's like coming home.

And something good has happened. Two somethings.

Because I'm a chicken I chose not to do face to face agent pitching. Barbara Poelle at the Irene Goodman Agency was offering to review and comment on query letter, synopsis and first ten pages in lieu of an agent pitch. That seemed like a pretty amazing deal, to have that much focused feedback from such a high caliber agent. Plus, I thought if I had to talk to someone about my book face to face, I might pass out.

After my first workshop, Perfect Pitch with Rachel Coyne of FinePrint Literary, I found my courage and signed up to pitch to her after lunch. Then I went to registration to pick up my feedback from Barbara Poelle.

I swear I'm not exaggerating, I actually started trembling. Across the bottom of the page she'd written "Alexandra, I'm interested in seeing a full ms."

The nice volunteer at the registration table asked me if I was okay. I think I answered 'oh shit'. She said, "Is that a good thing or a bad thing?" I told her it was good and then went away to hyperventilate. It's so much more than I expected.

The pitch didn't go so well. I was nervous, job interview nervous, and I didn't do a great job of presenting either myself or my story. Rachel was very nice, gave me some insightful feedback and told me to query her when I was ready.

It was a rollercoaster all day long, ups and downs. As soon as the day ended I got into PJs and tried to relax. I seriously considered not going to that evenings Read & Critique, I just felt a bit pummeled. But I've got immigrant-grade work ethic so I scraped myself together and put on my glossy red lipstick.

In room 306 were: A moderator, an editor (Becky Levine) and an agent (Kathleen Ortiz from Nancy Coffey) plus eight nervous people. This was an anonymous read and critique with the moderator reading the two-page submissions and then comments from the editor and agent.

Both Becky and Kathleen were wonderful. Whip smart, insightful, kind and respectful. How they can read just two pages and be so spot on with their advice is a mystery to me. I truly have a lot of respect for agents now, seeing how deftly (and, I say again, respectfully) they handle submissions. I learned as much from hearing their crits on other submissions as I did when they got to mine.

Okay, I feel weird writing this. It goes against my Catholic self abnegation upbringing. But they freaking loved my submission. I was shocked. Becky said she loved it, just loved it. She mentioned a line that she thought was especially beautiful and said she just loved the story, the evocation of an 'other' world. She had some suggested edits, but generally she said it was a home run.

Kathleen said she loved the male protagonist, loved the world building and some other nice things that I don't remember. I don't remember because what she said next was, "Whoever you are, see me after we're done. I want to read more."

There was one more submission after mine. Then Kathleen said "Okay, who wrote BookEnd? You can't leave until I give you my information." I raised my hand like I was back in high school and everyone started to clap. Can you believe that they'd clap and congratulate me? They don't know me from Adam. My face was red and I was all trembly again. People were talking to me, smiling. I felt like I'd won some incredible jackpot. I spoke to Kathleen, who is lovely, and she asked me for 100 pages.

I floated down to the bar in the lobby and drank a pint with my friend Laura. I hardly slept at all last night.

This morning at breakfast I find Laura sitting next to Barbara Poelle. Barbara recognized my name from the submission I sent her and we started talking about my book. She is so smart and funny, so insightful. What is it with the bad rap that agents get? Everyone I met at the conference, even if they weren't interested in my book, were kind and respectful and completely generous with their time. The whole day feels surreal. I can't believe all these good things are happening to me. I expect the sky to fall at any moment (see previous comment about Catholic upbringing).

As soon as I get home from the conference I'm going to throw the kids in front of Spongebob and start polishing my manuscript. Okay, first I'm going to kiss and tickle them until they're gasping, but right after that, it's WORK TIME.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Live! from the Pennwriters Conference - Day 1

The last workshop of the day and someone lost their sh-t. 

"So, what's the point here? Why would anyone do this?"

I'm all for asking questions but there's no need to be rude. The workshop leader tries to explain.

"I just don't believe I've wasted my time on this. You're not telling me anything I don't already know."

But she didn't leave, she kept sitting there silently and not so silently fuming. At the end of the workshop, when the leader asked if anyone had questions I really hoped that she wouldn't go there, but this dissenter did.

"So what you're saying is, just go figure it out for yourselves. You're not telling us anything."

She left maaaaad.

What was the topic? Unlocking your Writing style. The leader was a writer and an educator and the idea was to analyze your learning style (are you visual? verbal? Active, reflective?) so that you can better understand the way you learn. This would enable you to take advantage of the right techniques that exist out there - is Outlining for you? What about character profiles? Journaling? Concentrating on details? Sequential thinking or Global? 

It was a cool little workshop. The leader seemed a little hesitant, a little preoccupied, and I think that's one reason this person felt they could jump on her and vent. It was a pretty intellectual approach to writing, when this unhappy writer, in her own words, wanted 'answers, how tos' 

It was kind of a downer for a good but exhausting day. My butt hurts from sitting so long. I got some great feedback (more on that later) and some lukewarm feedback (from an agent pitch - boo-hoo)

Later Tonight: Anonymous Read & Critique. I wish I could go in my PJ's

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Prep Work: A Conference Newbie Primer Pt 4 - Random Thoughts

I ate this (+bacon)
I'm in no way coherent. I have not slept too well, dashed around like a chicken sans head this morning getting ready and almost bought a pair of pants in the airport Gap kiosk for no reason other than they were there.

I'm nervous about the conference. Nervous that I won't take as much advantage of it as I should. Wishing I could be blase about anything, but I never am, everything is always of overmastering importance. How do we know when something is of overmastering importance? When they have overmastered us. Sorry, slipped into a bit of Dorothy L. Sayers there for a moment. So here's what I'm thinking about:

1) Airports are simultaneously the best and the worst places to be. Exotic, banal, boring, purgatory, exciting, stupid and fantastic. When I'm in an airport I remember all the other airports I've ever been in and there are a lot. The one in San Pablo, LAX, Heathrow, Madrid, Carrasco. Why are all airpot bathrooms so alike?

2) I hate all my clothes. Sorry to be all girly about this, but I always pack at the last moment and always regret something. I know I said it would get cold in the hotel, but how many cardies did I have to pack. I've brought FOUR. That's one for every day plus an extra. I can have a wardrobe change mid-workshop if I want. I also brought pants that make me look fat (see above Gap temptation) but have been dry cleaned. My sister said to me "You're never this nervous before a work event" It's true. I AM blase about 'work' because it's not my personal work out there. My professional life as an event planner is a piece of piss in comparison. I know what I'm doing, I have the credentials to prove it and I don't care what you say. Oh, Lord, if I could only have the same attitude with writing.

3) At least I ate a healthy breakfast. Steel Cut Oats with brown sugar and cranberries, plus decaf coffee (pacing myself). I'm hoping that I can will the three strips of bacon I wolfed down along with it from my memory.

4) I have to pee again. I really dislike peeing. I think it's because both my daughters used my bladder as a footstool in utero that now I can't hold me water. Wait, is that too much information? I did mention that I'm nervous, right? Will try to remember Anna's advice not to drink too much.

Good luck to everyone attending a conference this weekend, and for those of you that aren't have a drink and wear your grungiest sweats for me!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Prep Work: A Conference Newbie Primer Pt 3 - What (Not) To Wear

not business casual
Clean and Appropriate
If you ask my seven year old what my rules are for dressing she can tell you, "Clean and Appropriate."
She will probably also roll her eyes at you and ask if you have any Hubba Bubba, but I digress.

C&A is my mantra with my kids. Not matching, not stylish, not fairies, mermaids, pink, blue, yellow, high/low/no fashion. I don't care what they chose to wear (yes, I let them dress themselves, to the shock and dismay of many of my friends and family.) I just want it to be right for the weather, the occasion and for your age group (no tube tops until you are 30+ and breast feeding your own child) and I want it to be clean.

That's  how I'm approaching conference dressing. I'm wearing pants, a nice-ish shirt and a cardigan (don't forget, hotel air conditioning can be merciless!), pretty much every day of the event. I may wear a dress one day just for the heck of it, but I'll see how I feel. I want to look like myself, that's important to me, so I won't wear a suit, though I think it's fine if people do (though business casual tends to mean you don't have to wear a suit) and I won't wear jeans and sneakers, again because that's not me. I want to be comfortable with the person I'm presenting to others. Now is not the time to try to look different, or how you 'think' a writer should look. Now is not the time for re-invention, it's the time to reveal who you are to a whole bunch of new friends.

Having said all that there is one thing that I must do when I am nervous, when I am in a social situation where I feel the need for 'armor' or a little psychic support. I must wear red lipstick. Putting it on makes me feel confident, ready. It's not 'F**K me' red lipstick, it's church-red lipstick, totally appropriate. To me, putting on the red lipstick signals that it's show time.

I'm bringing:

  • My water bottle
  • My box of Cascadian Farms Vanilla Chip granola bars
  • My box of Planter's Nutrition Heart Healthy mix mini packs (why so many peanuts? why not more pistachios?)
  • MINTS! Because the amount of coffee I will be consuming over the weekend will probably give me awful coffee breath.
  • Hershey's Kisses - to share and to console myself when things go wrong

So, I want to know from you:

1) When you attended your first conference, what's the one thing you wish you did that you didn't do?

2) And, if you haven't attended your first conference yet - what's holding you back?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Prep Work: A Conference Newbie Primer Pt 2

My business card holder.
Did I mention I don't know nothing about attending no conference? The advice I'm passing along is gleaned only from my own (current) experience.

Sign up for Everything (Free)
It's your dime, you need to throw yourself into the proceedings like it's the last day of the renaissance faire and you've got one of those cool pointy hats to show off.
That means sign up for the pitch sessions, the genre lunches, the critiques, the networking lunches/breakfasts/dinners. Anything that's free. Then, if there seems to be a paid event that really speaks to you, splurge on it, if you can. 

Look at the Schedule with a Critical Eye
It's a little like perusing a box of chocolates - all the workshops look good. All of them have something you can learn, something you need. But you can't attend all of them. So what do you do? As my yoga teacher says, create an intention for your practice. Meaning, what, if you could only accomplish one thing, do you want to achieve? Do you want to focus on your writing? On getting published? On meeting the most people? On self-promotion? Or is there a specific topic that you really need to master, like self publishing or using social media? You'll have the chance to accomplish more than one thing, but if you focus first on just one are, you'll be able to hone in on most of your workshops. Then, you'll see that you'll have some time for the extras. I'm concentrating on writing (the first page, story arc, voice) but I hope to throw in some pitching/agent info too.

Once you Choose your Workshops, Prep for Them
Some workshops have specific requirements, first two pages, synopsis, query letter, pitch. Most don't. But I'm going to make a radical suggestion. Even if it's not required, draft one up. Even if no one will ask you for it, have all of the above written and with you. Why? Because you'll go into all of your workshops with that experience already under your belt. Even if it's just the experience of trying to do them you'll understand a lot more about what the workshop leaders mean, if you've already 'trod' that road, at least once, before. 

Another way you can prep for your workshops is just thinking about the topic. What do you think about self-publishing? What questions/apprehensions do you have about it? What is the question you hope the leader answers? You'll have a better chance of getting those questions answered if you think of them, and write them down, before hand

Here are some links for reference:

So what do you think? Anything you want to add? Anything I'm so off base about?

Tomorrow: SNACKS! Not just for hiking or pre-school anymore, and what the hell does business casual mean in the real world?

Monday, May 9, 2011

Prep Work: A Conference Newbie Primer Pt 1

I'm a crappy outliner. I also, as you may have gathered from my empanada recipe, do not hold following directions in high regard. But, because I'm downright contradictory, I faithfully believe in extensive prep. Weird, right?

So here's how I'm prepping for the Pennwriter's Conference that starts this Friday.

Blurb/Pitch/Elevator Pitch
I don't have one. I know what my book is about but I don't know how to tell others in a concise way that doesn't put them to sleep or make me sound like an idiot. In talking with my crit group I realized that it's more than not knowing what to say. When I boil it down to it's essentials, my book sounds stupid, like the most improbably asinine story ever told. No one else agrees with me, and I see their point. When I hear other about other people's books/WIP I have the opposite reaction - they all sound really good, marketable and original.

So while repeating the mantra  that my book isn't the only one in the universe that sucks, I have gleaned the following, thanks to Ramona DeFelice Long, one of the conference's great workshop leaders.

"Alexandra, everyone fears the elevator pitch, and it's really not necessary. Just condense what your story is about (theme) and what happens in it (action) into a few concise sentences. "My story is a (genre) set in (place) with a (character) who must (conflict) after (inciting incident)." Something like that. Write it down on an index card and bring it with you for reassurance. It's just silly for grown-ups to get all out of whack when talking about their work, or to try to spout memorized sentences like it's performance art. I'm sure you love your work, so be honest and enthusiastic about it and you'll be fine."

I'll be honest the line about 'It's just silly for grown-ups to get all out of whack when talking about their work..." stung a bit, but it probably stung because a) I don't feel like a grown up and b) it's true, it is silly.

Business Cards
Some people may think this is over kill, and maybe it is. I don't know if I'll use the cards my husband designed for me and got from Vista Print cheap, but I'd hate to be in a situation where I wanted/needed one and didn't have one. These are pre-blog so I'm getting little transparent labels at Staples today and printing the blog URL, so it's on the back of the card. It can't hurt.

Tomorrow: Reviewing the schedule and planning a strategy, plus how not to drink too much because I'm nervous (advice welcome!)

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Something I Know, Something I Don't Know

Wow. That A-Z Blogging challenge kicked my ass. I didn't know just how much until I went to post a blog and found I couldn't. I was spent. Doesn't help that I have the sprogs all to myself this week as husband is out of town on business. Now I'm ready to blog again.

I have to start thinking about the conference I'm going to in 10 days. I can't just show up to something without mentally preparing myself. I mean, I have to imagine myself there, imagine myself going to workshops, remind myself to bring pencils and business cards. Do some deep, calming breathing. I'm a nerd. Correction, I'm a nervous nerd.

I've never gone to a full on conference, just a one day event last year. I don't know what to expect and that makes me squirrely. I don't want to waste the opportunity, but I just don't know how to approach it. I need help.

But I'm not holding my hand out to y'all without something in return. Something valuable. Yes, my empanada recipe. That's the something I know, and you can read it in full after the jump. What I want from YOU is survival tips on conference attending. And, if you are attending the Pennwriter's Conference in Pittsburgh next week, will you be my beer buddy? Thanks!

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