Tuesday’s This and That: Birds, Writing and a Conference

I’m sure birds must have brains — isn’t that where the term ‘birdbrain’ comes from? — but I have no idea whether or not they ‘think’. I’m having a battle of wits agains a pair of Juncoes who are as determined to build a nest in my hanging geranium basket as I am determined not to let them. By sheer perseverance they’re slowly outsmarting me, and that irks!

For some reason I am reminded of a quotation by George Carlin: “Never argue with an idiot. They will only bring you down to their level and beat you with experience.”  

My hubby has inserted a criss-cross of kindling pieces into the one basket that’s been getting the most attention, but it appears the birds see that as more of a sturdy building foundation than a deterrent.

The Juncoes are persistent, but so am I! We’ve lived here twenty years and this behaviour only began a couple summers ago. (I see I posted a similar complaint at this same time last June.)

It’s not like there isn’t a multitude of other potential nesting spots around our two-and-a-quarter wooded acres, so I’m not sure why the hanging baskets outside our family room window are so appealing to them. Certainly their poop on the window as they swoop in for their landings isn’t appealing to me!

We’ve temporarily relocated our two hanging baskets onto the deck outside the patio door so I can more easily shoo them away. At the moment I’m not confident about winning this battle with the birds, but the survival of my geraniums depends on it.

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A member of my writing critique group has invited fellow writers to join her for ‘Writing in the Garden’ one morning a month between May and September. She has a beautiful garden — it was featured during a Maple Ridge Country Garden Tour a couple years ago — and would be an inspiring venue for writing … if the weather would cooperate.  A covered lanai protects from rain, but it’s been too chilly to sit outside, so for May and June we were invited inside to write in her lovely home.

I’m not one of those writers who chooses to gather up writing tools and head out to a local coffee bar to write. Normally, I need solitude to transfer the words in my head onto a page, so it surprised me to produce several hundred words during each session. I guess a little peer pressure must have helped.

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Registrations opened last week for the 25th anniversary Surrey International Writers’ Conference, and, despite a budget that barely accommodates attending every second year, I’ve registered again, for the third year in a row! I’ve been attending frequently since 2004 and it’s always an incredible conference. As much as I might wish my encounters there with industry professionals would result in acquiring an agent or a publishing contract, I’m enthused about just being there — being immersed in all things writerly for a four day weekend of workshops and inspiring camaraderie.

SiWC is one of the most popular writers’ conferences in North America and draws attendees from many different countries. The day after registrations opened, it was more than 50% sold out. One of the more popular Master Classes on Thursday was sold out in a record-breaking five minutes! It’s a very large conference and yes, for an introvert like me that could be intimidating. But the atmosphere is always welcoming and inclusive, regardless of one’s level of writing expertise or achievement. And by booking a room in the host hotel, I’m free to slip away and decompress whenever necessary.

This year the conference dates are October 19 – 22. This is only mid-June but I’m already hyperventilating a bit. 🙂

Best not to think too far ahead. Better I wave a tea towel at these pesky Juncoes and get back to my writing.

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Oh, wow! What a conference!

Conferences are often the brunt of jokes. You know how it is — the annual conference in Vegas that’s little more than a vacation getaway where attendees take in all the entertainment and casino opportunities, and make it to one conference session just to legitimize the trip’s expense claim.

Not so for most writers’ conferences. Maybe the difference is because writing is very much a solitary pursuit and it takes effort to commit to a weekend of being constantly immersed in a crowd of five-to-six hundred people. We have to be convinced the opportunities to improve skills and mingle with so many people who understand our unique lifestyle are going to be worth the stress of putting our introverted selves ‘out there’.

This particular weekend was definitely worth it!

The Surrey International Writers’ Conference (SiWC) has become known as “the most comprehensive professional development conference of its kind in Canada”, unique in atmosphere and what it provides for writers of every experience level. Its reputation has mushroomed and registration sold out well before this year’s event.

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Sheraton Vancouver Guildford Hotel Ballroom – location for meals, daily keynote addresses, and special events

Last weekend writers, agents, editors, publishers and screenwriters arrived en masse to learn, teach, listen, encourage …. a total of fifty-eight of them were presenting ninety different workshops over the three days (a choice of nine in every time slot), and participating in free pitch sessions and ‘blue pencil’ consultations. Yes, it gets mind-boggling, and we came away with information overload, but inspired beyond belief.

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Fraser Room – location for ‘pitch’ and ‘blue pencil’ sessions and the Saturday evening author book signing event

Those things all contributed to the conference’s many highlights, but it was the less obvious experiences that made it truly unique.

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Robert Dugoni and I at the book signing

  • a special atmosphere of camaraderie and inclusiveness that embraced novice writers and famous authors, newbies and industry professionals
  • evening conversations and mingling over drinks
  • warm smiles and words of encouragement
  • a New York bestselling author remembering my name from a previous year and stepping up for a photo.

 

  • tears over an unexpected award for DD Shari Green, and pride in her well-received first time workshop presentations
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Presentation to Shari Green from the Surrey Board of Trade

 

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    Shari leading one of her workshops
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“Mud, mud, glorious mud!”

  • singing along with Jack Whyte’s infamous annual rendition of the Hippopotamus Song

 

  • disbelief that it could already be the ninth year for Michael Slade’s ‘Shock Theatre’

 

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Oh, those tights!

 

 

 

 

  • k c dyer’s distinctive daily selection of colourful tights

 

 

 

 

 

  • and the sun shining at least intermittently throughout the weekend to showcase the beautiful autumn scenery and the mountains of our west coast venue.
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A bright morning view from our hotel room

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Early evening view — last rays of sun on the mountains

I have so many photos but this sampling gives you a taste of what made the weekend special. It’s always memorable, but every year seems more so than the last. If I were to have any criticism at all, it would be that it’s getting too big, but that’s just the claustrophobia in me fluttering its anxious hands in the air. The writer in me loved it all.

Next year will be the conference’s twenty-fifth anniversary. It’s going to be spectacular! You might want to mark October 20-22, 2017 on your calendar right now.

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Conference Reflections, Past and Present

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(Mealtime in the Sheraton Guildford Ballroom)

The Surrey International Writers’ Conference was, as it always is for me, an incredible weekend. So many wonderful people to meet, informative workshops to attend, and inspirational opportunities to absorb. So many books available to buy (I would have liked one of each but settled on four).

Each time I return home and begin reflecting, I say many of the same things here. Perhaps now would be a good time to look back at a few previous years’ blog excerpts…

2008 — Follow the link to see lots of photos and a not-very-poetic list of  Conference afterthoughts, among which you’ll find:

Tired butts
Feverish note taking
Nerve-wracking interviews
Moments of enlightenment
Incredible presenters
Sumptuous food
Purple tights
Exhilaration
Shock Theater script
Daunting dinner table companions
Glimpses of genius
“Glorious Mud”

2010 — “Even if you leave late nights to the partiers, the pace at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference keeps your brain in perpetual motion. Every year I come home emotionally recharged but physically and mentally exhausted. It takes a couple days before my brain kicks into gear again, and I can begin to digest all the nourishment it’s been fed.”

2012 — From morning’s first light to the latest hours of the night, conference coordinator Kathy Chung, her sidekick kc dyer, and their fellow Board and Committee members were everywhere, sometimes white with exhaustion, but still smiling and making sure everyone was having a good conference experience. I don’t know how they did it all, but I know why. Because they believe in the goal that has been the conference mandate for all twenty years: “To inspire, educate and motivate aspiring and experienced writers alike.”

2013 — A reminder from Jim Hines’ keynote speech:
“There are people out there
who need the stories only YOU can write…
Your voice matters.”

2015 — This was my seventh year (I didn’t begin blogging until after the second) and a highlight was discovering DD Shari Green’s short story, SANDBAGGING, won an Honourable Mention in the writing contest, judged by well-known authors Jack Whyte and Diana Gabaldon. (For anyone interested, her story and the other winning stories are available to read here.)

Back in 2010 Shari won top spot in the Writing for YA category of the contest, so this additional award and recognition of her writing ability was very sweet. Of course there was a tiny bit of celebration. Very sedate. Mine was with a decorous glass of Chardonnay; I think Shari’s was a more exotic-sounding Lavender Gimlet!)

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Now it’s time to harness the renewed enthusiasm and put all the inspiration to work. I have a manuscript I want to read through one last time before sending it out into the world, a critique group to prepare for later this week, and then I’ll start thinking about what I want to work on during November’s upcoming NaNoWriMo writing frenzy.

To use a double negative, there’s never nothing to do when you’re a writer. 🙂

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Everything Writing

This week my life is all about writing. Oh, I write pretty much every day, but there’s a special focus on it right now.

On Tuesday I joined my daughter, Shari Green, for an evening hosted by the Golden Ears Writers in Maple Ridge. She and her fellow authors Denise Jaden and Dawn Ius Dalton took part in a panel-style workshop on ‘Ideas and Imaginings: Finding and developing story ideas and exploring the world of re-tellings and re-imaginings.’ Such great insights and so many good ideas emerged!

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(Denise Jaden, Dawn Ius Dalton and Shari Green)

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Now Shari and I are at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference, a long weekend that is always the highlight of our writing year. For our very introverted souls, it’s both exhilarating and daunting to be a part of the hundreds-large crowd of literary peeps — big name authors and writers of all levels of experience, editors, agents, publishers and screenwriters — and be immersed in everything writing for three (very long) days.

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With several dozen workshops and presenters, keynote speeches, book signings and banquets plus all the hobnobbing in between, it provides a huge dose of information and inspiration, boosts our creativity and rejuvenates our writerly souls. It’s also exhausting!

It will be good preparation for November and the annual NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) marathon  — our zany effort to produce 50,000 words in thirty days.

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With it following a week after the conference, we’re always more than ready to creep into our solitary spaces and start prepping for a month of concentrated writing. Then, with the arrival of November, more times than not, we manage to hammer out a rough draft of a complete novel.

So I guarantee you won’t see much of me around here for the next few weeks — there won’t be a lot of musing and mental meandering time — but I’ll pop in with periodic updates. Let me know what you’re up to, too, and I’ll offer encouragement where I can. Any new projects? Are you finishing old ones, revising, mulling, or deep in tearing-your-hair-out frustrations? Let me know. We can console each other. 🙂

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On the Cusp of Conference Time!

You might have noticed (or maybe not … it doesn’t matter) that references to writing in this space have been getting rather sporadic. I have to admit my enthusiasm has been, too. Oh, I’ve been writing, but it’s routine, uninspired stuff, interspersed with editing.

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I think that’s why I’m so excited about the upcoming Surrey Conference. It’s not a giddy kind of excitement this time, but more of a desperation type — the feeling I’d probably get if I were hanging by fingernails to the edge of a cliff and discovered someone above me holding out a rescuing hand. An oh-thank-goodness feeling.

I love this conference and I’m counting on it for an infusion of inspiration. Every one I’ve attended (and this will be my seventh) has never failed to send me away rejuvenated, ready to dive back into my writing project du jour.

Advance registration closes soon — next Friday, the 16th — unless they sell out before then, which is a good possibility. This is a very popular conference, which is why my daughter, Shari and I always register on the very first day. There’s that, and also the opportunity to get first dibs on appointments with the agents, editors and/or authors of our choice.

So, it’s coming, and I know my enthusiasm is going to be building as the days pass and the best conference weekend ever finally arrives.

Is there a conference in your future? What are your go-to resources when you need to revitalize your writing?

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Confidence-building TLC for Writers

My lack of gardening skills isn’t news to most of you. I regularly mutter about the invasion of weeds and wild things throughout my rural garden. We’re on a well, so after their first year, most plants don’t even get watered unless the weather decides to rain down on them. It’s no wonder things barely survive from year to year!

When we moved here eighteen years ago there was a clematis vine that entwined itself around the stair railings on one side of our deck — a Jackmanii, I think (although I never knew for sure). Every year despite severe neglect it faithfully bloomed, albeit half-heartedly, in late September and early October until 2012. That year it didn’t make an appearance and I assumed it had finally given up and died. So last spring I bought a replacement — this time well labelled as a Jackmanii. I found a better location for it where its head would get sunshine (at least as much as any place on our property sees the sun) and its feet would be in the shade.

It grew. That’s about all I can say for it.  Its tendrils clung to the lower trellis and a nearby rhododendron like an insecure invalid while it made a feeble effort to produce a half dozen blossoms. Something ate holes in its rather small leaves.

This spring as I was pouring my usual dose of liquid fertilizer on the assorted bedding plants in our deck’s tubs and hanging baskets, I leaned over the railing and emptied the last half bucket’s excess onto the still-struggling clematis. After a June trip I came home to see lush vines of healthy green leaves enveloping the trellis. Encouraged, I included it in the next regime of fertilizing and watched buds materialize. I recently returned from a brief holiday and discovered — yes, you guessed it — lots of clematis blossoms! (I realize it may not seem like lots to some of you green thumb gardeners, but it’s a relative thing, and trust me, for me this is LOTS!)

Clematis Bush

It’s amazing what a little encouragement can do! Add to that, the fact that the forgotten and presumed dead original clematis has now decided to put forth tentative new growth, and it’s all quite miraculous. 🙂

It reminds me of the rejuvenation I feel after I attend writers’ conferences. By sheer osmosis I soak up the camaraderie and enthusiasm along with all the writing information and success stories. I always come home feeling inspired and ready to resume my creative endeavours with renewed energy. I realize it’s not possible for everyone to get to a conference, and I have to forego attending this year myself, but whenever I’m asked for my favourite writing resources, attending a conference (preferably the Surrey International Writers’ Conference) tops the list.

What’s your favourite writing resource for a boost… your go-to for renewing the glow and rediscovering your excitement of writing?

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Clematis 2

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“Without inspiration
the best powers of the mind remain dormant.
There is a fuel in us
which needs to be ignited with sparks.”

[Johann Gottfried Von Herder]

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Facing Fears: Admissions of a Writing Introvert

Today I’m admitting to something I rarely talk about beyond the circle of family and close friends. And I’m stepping way out of my comfort zone by discussing it in a guest post on Jenn Hubbard’s blogs.

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As gatherings go, the Surrey International Writers’ Conference is a big one for me. It’s my favourite weekend of the year but it’s also my biggest challenge.

DSC06310Approximately 600 people fill the ballroom for keynote addresses and calorie-laden meals, crowd into conference rooms for their choice of seventy-two workshops given by fifty-eight writing professions, and cram into elevators to get between the two.

It’s exhilarating, rejuvenating, motivating… and terrifying! Why? Because I’m claustrophobic. Oh, not wildly so, but moderately, and the challenge is to keep myself under control so I can absorb all the benefits of the annual October weekend.

Many writers claim to be introverts, so I’m not alone in my reluctance to mix, mingle and schmooze with strangers. A lot of us would prefer to hunker down and write in solitude….

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If you’re a fellow introvert, or deal with any degree of claustrophobia, anxiety or panic attacks, click on over to one of Jenn’s two blogs to read the rest of my story and some of the tactics I employ to cope:

Writer Jenn at Live Journal, or

Jennifer R. Hubbard at Blogspot

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