SIWC 2016 Recap

 

So, I gushed a bit after my first time attending the Surrey International Writers’ Conference last year, which I blogged about here.

siwc

I still love this conference. As a second-time attendee, there was still a huge variety of workshops to choose from. Not each one was a winner, but I enjoyed the majority and would like to go back again. SIWC does a good job of having several recurring workshops as well as adding in new variety each year. This is a fun, inviting, professional conference that is certainly beginner-friendly. No matter what your skill level is, everyone there is welcoming and comes with a similar level of commitment to the craft.

Great keynotes all weekend long, kicked off by Canadian author Angie Abdou on Friday morning and followed by authors: Daniel Jose Older on Friday night, Jael Richardson on Saturday morning, Larry Brooks on Saturday night, Cat Rambo on Sunday morning, and closed out by literary agent Donald Maas at the Sunday luncheon. Food was fine, just like last year. I can be a bit of a picky eater but always found enough to eat in the buffet, plus the Sheraton’s restaurant is pretty good too (though pricey…it’s hotel food). I bought a full conference package which included lunch/dinner in the ballroom, but there was also a small snack bar set up near the room where the Blue Pencils and Pitches were held that sold coffee, bagels, pastries, etc.

SIWC has four sessions a day, each an hour and fifteen minutes long—great for having enough time for the presenters to go a bit deeper than 101 level and still have time for questions. Each session has 8-9 different workshops going on at once, so there’s plenty to choose from—both a good and a bad thing! If one workshop isn’t panning out, the conference encourages you to try one of the other ones. The Blue Pencils and Pitches run throughout the day all weekend so people are always quietly coming and going (thank you, door monitors) and it’s not awkward if you get up to leave.

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View from the hotel. I don’t think I left the building all weekend.

I had an informative pitch session with Moe Ferrara this year. I went in more for practice/experience than anything else since my novel isn’t complete, and I almost chickened out and canceled the pitch, but I’m glad I went through with it. Moe was great and gave me some tips on how to tighten up my phrasing, and invited me to send a query when the novel is finished.

I got in for a second Blue Pencil this year in addition to the one included with registration. You can try to get extra Pitches or Blue Pencils if there are openings with the presenters (I think there usually are), and I got in with Daniel Jose Older on the last day. My first Blue Pencil was with Cat Rambo, and both were great. You can bring a maximum of three pages to the critique session, which is only fifteen minutes long. I brought the beginning of a new short story and got some good feedback on how to mete out the backstory better, as well as some markets to approach when the story is ready. The fifteen minutes goes fast, but I’ve gotten valuable feedback within it—especially helpful in the beginning of a short story.

It’s a big conference, but I’ve made some amazing writing friends both years that I’ve gone. A real “finding my people” kind of event. It’s not inexpensive being a three-day conference, plus the convenience of staying in the hotel, though it being in Canadian currency does help. But, if you can afford to go, SIWC is a wonderful experience. Next year is the 25th anniversary! I wonder what they’ll have in store for us…

Cascade Writers 1-Day Recap

A bit late in writing my post on the Cascade Writers one-day workshop, The Business and Craft of Writing, that happened last weekend. I had a great time meeting up with some old friends and making new ones.

I like the one-day format because it’s a lot of information, but isn’t as draining as a 3 or 4-day workshop. Being within driving distance helps. We were fortunate to be graced with the presence of authors Spencer Ellsworth and Mark Henry, as well as agent Sara Megibow. They each offered something different to the workshop, which lent it a nice feeling of depth.

Admittedly, I primarily went for the opportunity to practice my pitch with Sara. It went pretty well, and she gave me some tips on how to focus my pitch better. This was interesting for me as she wanted pitches with a tighter focus than other “formulas” I’ve seen online that were more summarizing/broad. I still need to play around with it, and come up with a few versions/lengths for different circumstances.

The programming was great because I thought that Sara covered a lot of the business/publishing side (duh), which is in its own way more straight forward and no nonsense. As she put it, there are two circles in writing: the art of writing circle, and the business of publishing circle, and they cover distinct aspects of the process. I need to start reading more of the current releases in my genre. *looks mournfully at stack of new YA books*

Mark sort of bridged the gap between Sara and Spencer. His programming (to me) seemed more career/life-oriented, complete with war stories from his writing career thus far. He went over how to manage social media, ways to reach and keep your audience engaged, and in a sense how to not burn out when you reach that inevitable point. If only it were sunshine and roses after getting that initial acceptance, whether that’s an agent or a book deal or whatever.

Spencer covered more of the craft component, with sessions on pacing and dialogue, complete with handouts, a whiteboard presentation, and several film clips. I missed part of the dialogue session because my pitch appointment fell during it, but the pacing segment also included dialogue and how the two work together to progress the story. I liked this approach and the use of film clips because they were great visual examples expressing how good dialogue does what we want it to: reveal character, move the story forward, be entertaining, etc. That programming might be enough to tip me over the edge into watching The Wire. Maybe. Drug dramas aren’t really my thing. I watch Food Network for a reason.

An interesting part of this workshop was that we pretty much stayed together as a group the entire day. Meals were taken as a large group (20ish people) inside the hotel restaurant, which was nice…for the most part. I liked that we stayed together because it made it easier to chat with new friends and the speakers in a relaxed environment without people having to break off into tiny groups (again, for the most part. The hotel restaurant wasn’t really set up to accommodate all of us). The not-so-great part was that the La Quinta restaurant food, while ok, was served at a snail’s pace. It took so long for our lunch orders to come (and we were basically the only people eating at the hotel) that it threw the programming schedule off. Dinner was only marginally better, despite our group number going down as some people had left early.

Still, a fun and informative day. My novel is plugging along, though I don’t know if I’ll have a polished enough draft to submit to Sara, who graciously offered to take the first 50 pages if the manuscript is complete by June 1st.

Norwescon 39 Recap

Norwescon ribbons

My lowly assortment of con ribbons.

Norwescon 39 has come and gone, so here is my recap of a fun weekend. This was my first Norwescon, but hopefully not my last. There were more positives than negatives, though the negatives were aggravating. Thankfully (I guess?), most of the negatives happened right at the beginning and the con experience greatly improved once I got over those hurdles.

The main negatives: 1) Parking is atrocious. The lot at the DoubleTree isn’t small, but for a con with a few thousand people in attendance it doesn’t cut it. Being in Seattle that’s not surprising, but the hotel didn’t do anything to help the situation. The ticket booths to enter the lot were unmanned, so the poor souls that didn’t arrive early on opening day (I didn’t get there until 3pm) got to drive around for however long you could stand it until giving up or being fortunate enough to find someone leaving their spot. I get it, parking frustration isn’t a new thing, but it would’ve been nice if Doubletree had posted a staff member at the ticket booth either directing people away or putting signs up indicating the lot was full (they did start to put up signs later on during the weekend). Because the hotel is right next to the airport there was airport parking/garages available, which kinda sucks, since the con rate for parking at the hotel was $8, and parking at the airport garage was running somewhere in the $20+ range.

2) Registration at the hotel (not Norwescon reg) was super slow when I got in. This is really more on the hotel than Norwescon, since you’d think if the hotel knew thousands more people than usual would be in that weekend then it might be a good idea to have an extra person or two at the registration desk.

Again, not the end of the world or all that unexpected, but coming on the heels of the parking frustration, seeing the row of empty stations at the registration desk and the lone person trying to handle it all…

My #3 actually got fixed by the second day, but originally programming was scheduled up to the hour without a break. As in, panel A goes from 10-11, panel B from 11-12, etc. Without a break period, you’d have panels cutting into the subsequent panel’s time. At the end of each panel there’d be an awkward shuffle to get people out of the room and then to get people waiting in the narrow hall (that’s my #4 gripe) in, settled, get the speakers situated, etc. It really sucked for the authors’ who had readings where the panel before them ran over and ate into their reading time (usually 30min). This did get fixed though, and panels started ending at 10min to the hour.

4) Norwescon is so-so, in my opinion, on being accessibility-friendly. The big plus is that the elevators were decently sized, there were 4 of them, and they ran quickly. I never encountered long waits or broken elevators. The Doubletree in Spokane for Worldcon was a different story. However, the halls for the conference rooms where the panels were held weren’t very wide. I guess Norwescon can get away with it since attendance is only around the 2-3k mark, but there were times where the flow of traffic had to completely stop so that someone in a scooter or wheelchair could move forward because the halls weren’t wide enough to accommodate a lane of traffic moving in both directions.

There also wasn’t a lot of seating available if one needed to sit while waiting for their panel, and what seating there was could end up being a long way from the room where the panel you wanted to attend was located. I know there were volunteers running around, but I’ve been to cons in the past where each room has a door attendant who usually handles getting someone with accessibility needs into the room without fuss or fanfare. I didn’t really see that at Norwescon, but that’s not to say they weren’t around. I’m also not sure if people were issued accessibility badges or stickers or whatnot to access rooms ahead of time.

I went solo to Norwescon and am fortunate to be in a position where most of the accessibility issues don’t impact me anymore, but having been in the situation where they once did I tend to be sensitive/aware of them or the need. Norwescon isn’t the worst with regard to accessibility, but it isn’t the best either. Some of that isn’t its fault in a direct way; they can’t control the physical width of the hallways. But these are things to consider for non-able bodied people.

Now that I’ve ranted about all the negatives (oops. I’ll cut some of it down in post), Norwescon really is a fun con. I think of it as Worldcon Lite. Lots of programming dedicated to the many aspects of SFF fandom, writing, cosplay, etc. An eclectic mix in the Dealer’s Hall, and a nice-sized art show. It was great to be able to meet up with friends that I rarely see otherwise, and to meet some in person that I’d previously only conversed with via social media.

Oh, and the DoubleTree’s food is actually pretty good. Not inexpensive (not surprising), but tasty, and they re-worked some of the items on the menu to cater to attendees with dietary restrictions. Example: the roasted cauliflower soup apparently is normally a vegetarian option, but they made a vegan version for Norwescon. And it was good. Maybe the server who told us that was making it up, but considering that she went back to talk to the chef, I doubt it. Or bravo for going through the work to make up an elaborate story. Never did find out why the bread pudding wasn’t considered vegetarian though.

I mainly attended Norwescon for the Fairwood Writers’ Workshop, which was lovely. My critique session was Saturday night with Catherine Montrose, Elizabeth Guizzetti, Tim McDaniel, and Pat MacEwen. I submitted a short story for the workshop, and was selected for an individual critique. The critiques were held at the top of the DoubleTree tower in the Mountain conference rooms, which do have a few stairs down to the table, though they were quick to note this during the workshop registration process. I imagine accommodations are made if you can’t navigate stairs. Our only gripe about the room was that we couldn’t get the lights to go above what we were calling “mood lighting.” The other room didn’t seem to have that problem, but we managed just fine. It was light enough at 7pm to get by, and dim lighting is a better trade than getting roasted by the sun with all those windows.

The workshop was great from registration to the actual critique. The guidelines were clear, and the workshop was great with communication. They make accommodations so that you don’t get put in the same group for a round robin session with someone you’re already critiquing with outside the workshop if that applies.

My critique went well, and I’m all squeeing inside because overall my story was well-received and doesn’t need a complete rewrite. They gave suggestions for ways to tighten it up and other revisions, and it was pretty nice—and telling—that all four agreed on what the structural flaws were. Onward to revisions I go, and hopefully can get it out to markets in April.

The novel’s progress is steady if also a bit slow. I’m past the first act of the rough draft and wading into the soggy middle. I think I said last blog post that I was hoping to have a post about the novel/my writing quirks…well, maybe next month! It’s only a few days away after all.

I was able to get a crash course on pitching as Jennifer Brozek offered to teach a 2hr class for the workshop participants on Thursday night. My takeaway is that the cobbled together logline I had for the novel was actually decent, but my title needs work. Brozek is a big proponent of titles not being generic, and fulfilling a promise to the reader in that it tells a little something about what the book is about. So I need to work on that. I’ll be attending the one-day workshop hosted by Cascade Writers next month covering the business of writing and will be doing some more pitching there, so this was a nice starter.

Cascade Writers July Workshop Recap

I’ve been horribly slow about posting my recap on the Cascade Writers July workshop back on July 23-26. It was a wonderful experience for my first workshop, and registration is already open for next year.

There were three highlights for me from this workshop: Networking, Critiques, and Panels.

Networking: I’m pretty bad at networking. Introvert, exudes frigid vibes, and good at being nonobservant when I don’t think I need to be, are all descriptors that can fit me. For that last one, an example would be the weekend my husband proposed—on at least two occasions leading up to him popping the question, both my mother and his mother made statements that would’ve ruined the surprise if I’d been paying attention. I believe one of the phrases uttered was, “so, was it a big ‘yes?’” when I walked in the door at my future in-laws’ house. Apparently they hadn’t gotten the memo that my future husband’s plan had changed. To which I replied something like, “no, we didn’t end up going horseback riding.” True story.

Back to the workshop. One of the great things about this particular workshop is that registration was capped at around 35-40 attendees, not counting the speakers, staff, etc. This made it a lot easier and less overwhelming to meet just about everyone. Making friends happened a bit more seamlessly, and remembering/recognizing people was made easier since often we were attending the same panels. Plus, all of the panels were hosted in the hotel. Extra thanks to people who wore the same jacket or other noticeable piece of clothing/accessory each day–it made it easier to remember names without resorting to the awkward and obvious look-at-your-name tag-trying-not-to-be-obvious. I made connections with emerging and established writers, chatted with several industry pros, and made new friends, all without encountering one bit of nastiness, snobbery, or diva-ness.

Critiques: for this workshop most of the critique groups were I think between 6 and 8 attendees with submissions capped at 3,750 words, led by an established writer. My group was fearlessly led by Everett Maroon, and was a wonderful experience. Critiques were two-hour sessions, two on the Friday of the workshop and a final one on Saturday morning. I’ve participated in critiques through online classes and with a private online critique group, but this was my first experience with the Milford style. Giving an oral recap of my thoughts within 4 minutes per submission was daunting, but we all got through unscathed (I think). My submission was up for critique first, and I received some great feedback and discovered a few patterns and impressions that were unintentional on my part. Looking forward to getting it revised so I can send it out to markets.

My only criticism of the way the critiques were run is that three of the groups all met within the same room, while two others got smaller, separate rooms. The room we were in was large enough that we weren’t cramped together, but it could be hard to hear a critique if one of the other groups had a loud moment (we were guilty of loud laughter a time or two). However, I’m not sure the workshop will be held in this same hotel (Ramada Inn in Kent) again, so that comment may be moot.

Panels: the panels were great, and usually only two ran at once so it was easy to meet everyone and not feel like you were missing out on a bunch of other stuff you wanted to see/hear because of time conflicts. They also were scheduled so as not to conflict with the critique groups or meal times (a luxurious two hours allotted for meals most days). There was great variety in the panels, ranging from worldbuilding/setting type panels (Maps and Geography) to character development, managing the publishing side (queries with literary agent Jennifer Azantian, pitches, contracts, and how to manage social media), and a panel each for long form and short form works. With the workshop being on the smaller side, it was great for the panels. They had a more relaxed, informal vibe that is harder/impossible to have when you’re speaking to a room of a hundred or more instead of maybe fifteen or twenty people. We had the opportunity to ask questions and chat with the speakers without feeling rushed or running out of time (ever been to a panel where twenty people line up to ask questions when there’s only ten minutes left?).

A wonderful workshop experience, and I hope I can attend next year. I’ll be interested to see the similarities and differences when I attend the writers’ workshop portion of Sasquan later this month.

1st Workshop Recap- Cascade Writers- How Not to Write a Novel

I recently found out about a local writing group called Cascade Writers. Founded something like 15 years ago by Karen Junker (she uses the title Outreach Coordinator), this group has an impressive number of events–both public and paid–still to come this year.

Karen is lovely. I’m an introvert and generally come across as shy or indifferent until people get to know me (as I think most writers are). So I was hesitant about getting involved with this group.  From my first tentative email Karen has been kind and inviting. She wants people to feel welcome and included, and immediately invited me to a get together she’s hosting for anyone who can come. Whoa. Dude people, workshops are gold for networking opportunities. I’m awful at networking but Karen made me feel comfortable and not like the total dork who knew no one at the event that I totally was. Honestly, everyone was nice at the workshop–the representatives from CW, the authors, and the audience.

Getting ahead of myself. I went to the “How Not to Write a Novel” 3-hr public workshop held at a local library.The four author-speakers were Cat Rambo, Jennifer Brozek, Tina Connolly, and Raven Oak.

Note to Self and others: Don’t forget to eat before a workshop that starts at 12:30. Also, if you arrive half an hour early like I did, don’t wander off on foot in search of a nearby Starbucks because you think you know the general direction of one, like I did. I ended up going into the workshop 15 minutes late (I did eventually find a Starbucks, it wasn’t worth it) and was able to get a seat all the way at the end. And I wasn’t even the last person to get there, yay. I didn’t count, but there was a good number of people there…guessing (and I’m terrible at this) around 60? I’ve never been to a workshop before so I had no idea what to expect. Seemed like a good turnout to me, and apparently about half had never been to an event hosted by a public library. Fun fact.

Anyway, when I walked in the authors were answering some pre-determined questions with Raven Oak acting as the moderator, if you will. They answered questions like “worst advice you ever got,” “best advice,” “tips to writers,” & “what piece of advice do you wish you’d had from the start?”  Not entirely new answers if you’ve taken writing courses, read author interviews, or done some general poking around the net, but the fact that such answers like “butt in chair writing, it sounds easy but is actually one of the hardest parts,” or  “it’s ok to break the rules, but only if you understand and know why you’re breaking them,” continuously pop up shows that they should be taken seriously.

They talked about how they start a novel, and it was interesting that many of them either were from the start or shifted over to becoming more outline-oriented. Nothing wrong with being a pantser (someone who writes from the “seat of their pants” aka no plan), but at some point you need to have an idea of where you’re going and what you’re looking to accomplish with the story. Not setting it in stone because stories will change from start to finish, but having at least a rudimentary road map. They also cautioned about not being the opposite of a pantser–the person who outlines obsessively and spends a year building the-most-perfect-world-ever that they never get any writing done. This is a trap SFF writers in particular seem drawn to, and some never get out. Oh, and revise, people. Just finished that NaNoWriMo novel? Don’t send it off right off the bat. Revise, revise, revise. I hate revisions, but that’s where the real writing happens.

I’ve taken several online classes (that I’ll eventually review) so this wasn’t really “new” information for me, but if you’re a newb to the writing scene, definitely go to these kinds of workshops! Even if you write short fiction or non-fiction, there’s information useful to everyone. The authors encouraged honing your craft with short fiction, or saving those scenes you have to delete because they don’t move the plot forward and using them in short stories later. They gave some general publishing tips. Editing tips. Just because “novel” was in the title didn’t limit the discussion. Don’t be afraid to venture forth!

They introduced people to submission sites like Ralan and Duotrope. These are great ways to find markets for your work, and Duotrope also serves as a submission tracker. I was skeptical about Duotrope until I trialed it. Goodbye Excel spreadsheet tracking my submissions. Ralan is free, and looks like a web relic of the 80s, but it is updated and a good alternative to Duotrope. As Cat Rambo said, if you use it, like it, and are able, please consider donating a few bucks to sites like Ralan so that they can stay around.

There was a Q&A session, then a 5min break. I think it’s time for an interlude with cats and fish.

Cats and Fish

Beth is on top of the tank having a drink, Cogwheel on left, and his sister, Juniper, on the right.

After the break, the authors each read for about 10 minutes from their current or forthcoming books. I haven’t been to a reading since I was a tween (John R. Erickson and his Hank the Cowdog series is much beloved in this house), so I was interested to see what it would be like. After Raven Oak’s reading using a southern drawl true to her character, I’m afraid to ever read my work in public if I need to use an accent. Mine are awful. Hers, on the other hand, was great. A performance that makes you not want to have to go next because you’re like “craaaap. Way to set the bar.” I always wondered how much “acting” you should do to relate what’s going on in the story, and it looks like it’s whatever you makes you comfortable.

After the readings the authors were available for more informal questions and book signings. I chatted with a few to get their opinion on attending WorldCon even though it’s more of a geek con than a writing workshop (they encouraged me to go), and introduced myself to the CW folks. As I said earlier, workshops = great networking opportunities. Even if you’re awkward and afraid like me. Thing is, writing is a solitary gig so it’s nice to have a group of people to commiserate with once in a while. And it’ll be a good excuse to get out of the house.

Looking forward to the premium workshop in July.