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 Aftermath…

Every event has a highlight. For the Surrey International Writers’ Conference, it has to be after the Saturday evening’s theme banquet, when author Jack Whyte offers up his annual rendition of ‘The Hippopotamus Song’. This year’s performance was especially poignant because many of us know we almost lost Jack last year following his November 30, 2012 surgery to remove a portion of his left lung.

Last Saturday night he sang with every bit of his usual gusto. I won’t soon forget it. Here’s a taste:

Memories are highlights to savour long after the event is over, and I have so many…

Lots of memories:

Meeting new friends,
reuniting with old friends from previous years’ conferences, and
celebrating their achievements

Sharing a special weekend of  mother/daughter camaraderie

Attending eight excellent workshops (out of a choice of 72),
listening to six sensational keynote speakers,
being brave and bold through two agent and editor interviews,
and an oh-so helpful Blue Pencil consultation with Hallie Ephron

Author Hallie Ephron

Author Hallie Ephron

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Being reminded,
“There are people out there
who need the stories only YOU can write…
Your voice matters.”

(Jim Hines)
and yes, Jim, we do have Internet here in Canada!

Author Jim Hines

Author Jim Hines

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Lots of smiles:

A young women, barefoot and wearing scanty pajamas,
creeping out of the elevator in the hotel lobby
“I locked myself out of my room”
(No, of course I didn’t have my camera handy!)

The heartbeat at Michael Slade’s Friday night ‘Shock Theatre’…
“Ba-boom! ba-boom! ba-boom!”
and Robert Dugoni with a pumpkin over his head!

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and exchanging great lunchtime conversation with
Seth Jaret

Borrowing extra wine glasses from the bartender

“You gotta be bad. You gotta be bold. You gotta be wiser…”*
(the finale to Bruce Hale‘s keynote speech Sunday)

There are umpteen more memories lurking in remote crevices of my overfilled brain, but it’s time to take myself to bed and begin the post-conference decompressing.

How do you extricate the gems after a condensed period of ‘information overload’?

~  ~  ~

 

*You Gotta Be (Des’ree)

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More Conference Thoughts and an Inadequate Thank You

I’ve been reflecting on the people involved with the Surrey Conference. So many people! They all had an impact on how I experienced the conference and yet many of them I didn’t directly encounter. For every visible contribution there were at least ten more from behind the scenes, and every one was important to the success of the whole. I’m thankful for all of them. This conference is always the highlight of my writing year.

From its small beginnings, instigated in 1993 by Ed Griffin, the conference has mushroomed in both numbers and impact. It has a reputation for drawing people well known throughout the writing community. The 1994 conference featured the late best-selling author Maeve Binchey as a keynote speaker. Since then, author Jack Whyte has been coming for nineteen years; Diana Gabaldon for eighteen. Anne Perry arrives annually from England. Michael Slade and Robert J. Sawyer have become regulars. Top NY agent and author Donald Maass figured this was his sixteenth or seventeenth year. Why do they keep returning? Why do so many others — authors, agents, editors, publishers and screenwriters — willingly join the panel of over sixty presenters every year?

Yes, they probably enjoy the camaraderie, and perhaps they benefit in ways beyond selling additional books, but I suspect it’s more about the giving back. One thing I’m learning in my journey is that every successful writer was once a newbie, and those memories prod many of them to reach out a helping hand and an understanding heart to those who are still en route.

Donald Maass

Not one of them keeps the ‘secrets of their success’ to themselves. They’re always more than generous about sharing their wisdom and experience. Donald Maass was wrung out with the last of a cold when he arrived at the hotel, but he still gave us a dynamic three-and-a-half hour workshop Thursday evening, and then offered to carry on the conversation over his meal and a glass of wine in the lounge afterwards. (That last bite of burger must have been very cold, Don!)

Jack Whyte

Jack Whyte didn’t disappoint with his memorable annual rendition of the Hippopotamus Song, “Mud, Mud, Glorious Mud” on Saturday evening, despite lapsing into total laryngitis afterwards. When he had no voice for his final workshop Sunday morning, he didn’t just send his regrets… he brought them to us in person. (Sure hope he’s feeling okay now.)

Kathy Chung

k.c. dyer

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.”

I know I came away inspired, educated and motivated thanks to their dedication and efforts, and that of all the others who were there working for my benefit. It was another awesome conference weekend, and a simple ‘thank you’ hardly seems adequate.

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[There are a couple flashes of static in this video, but for those who’d like to hear Jack sing it, here’s my 2007 YouTube version of his “Glorious Mud”.]

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One Writer’s Admission and a Giveaway

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Fifty-three. That’s how many books I have on a particular shelf in my office, and that doesn’t include reference books or any borrowed from the library. All of them tell me how to write a novel. I counted them because I thought it would bolster my confidence. After all, if I’ve read that many books about writing, surely I must know something about how to write. Right?

Then again, the more how-to books I read, the closer I edge to the precipice of information overload. I don’t like to admit the truth, but here it is: the more I read, the harder it is to remember what I’ve read, and that’s frustrating.

But this week I discovered an excellent check list on Rachelle Gardner’s blog — in fact, not one, but two extensive lists about what “an editor looks for when reading a manuscript.” The perfect refresher course for my foggy brain. On Monday her post was all about characters. On Tuesday the topic was the story itself.

I can’t begin to reproduce all the information, but please consider clicking over to read Rachelle’s posts for yourself. You shouldn’t miss them.

Then come back here and tell me which point you found the most valuable. From the comments left here between now and 11:59 p.m. (Pacific time) Thursday I’ll choose one person at random to receive their choice of one of the following books… ‘oldies but goodies’ that are either duplicates or I’ve read more than once and am finally willing to part with to make room on the shelves for new purchases. (What? You didn’t think I was going to stop reading, did you?)

Negotiating With the Dead: a Writer on Writing (Margaret Atwood) 2002

The Maeve Binchy Writers’ Club (Maeve Binchy) 2008

The Writing Life (Annie Dillard) 1989

Thunder and Lightning (Natalie Goldberg) 2000

Writing Historical Fiction (Rhona Martin) 1988

So, what are you waiting for? Go click on the links to Rachelle’s posts, then come back here and tell me which point you found the most helpful.

I’ll announce the winner Friday morning.

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Unresponsive Brain Cells Don’t Matter, Do They?

Information Overload’ is a reality. I know, because I’m afflicted. Just home from four days at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference and my fuzzy brain refuses to offer up coherent words for a timely post of writing inspiration. Not that it doesn’t contain lots of said inspiration. It does. It’s just that the great helpings of it acquired this weekend are nestled away in sluggish grey matter that refuses to release it. I need to go to bed! Hence, a shortened version of my weekend’s highlights:

Awesome Thursday Master Class on ‘Next Level Fiction’ with James Scott Bell

… who had the greatest gelskin for his laptop!

Daughter, Shari Green, winner of the SiWC Writing Contest, YA category.

There’s a brief podcast interview with Shari here.

Hundreds and hundreds of fellow writers, authors, editors, agents, and publishers making connections, attending workshops, sharing good ideas, good news, good fellowship, and good food.

Bottles of wine, late night gatherings, Tweeted directions.

(Of course there is no picture! Would you really expect one?)

A Silent Auction, huge Trade Show, books and bargains galore.

(I wanted one of everything!)

The Saturday evening Book Fair and its author book signings.

The annual rendition of “Mud, Mud, Glorious Mud” by Jack Whyte.

(Just ignore the bottle… a little pre-song fortification.)

There’s tons more, but eyes are glazing over. Have to sleep now.

To be continued….

Conference Time! Yaaaay!

Today has finally arrived! My camera and I are headed for the Surrey International Writers’ Conference with sessions today through Sunday. Talk about awesome! My choice of Master Class for this evening’s session is James Scott Bell’s “Next Level Fiction”.  Over the next three days there are more than seventy workshops to choose from, all led by great presenters. Wow! Decisions, decisions, decisions!

I received word that I had been shortlisted again as a finalist in the writing contest, so that was cool. Didn’t win… but I know someone who did, and that’s more than cool.

I’ll be back on Monday to tell you all about it and share my conference experiences and some fresh photos. (These ones are from the last time I attended.)

View from the hotel room

A Quote of Note

Found on Jessica Page Morrell‘s blog yesterday:

“Forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not. Habit will help you finish and polish your stories. Inspiration won’t. Habit is persistence in practice.”

~ Octavia Butler

In my opinion, that’s worth memorizing!

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