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

.

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

.

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!

Gravatar???”
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)

.

Glorious Colour or Mud, Mud, Glorious Mud? (Take #2)

When tasks get ahead of me, the calendar gives me the eagle eye, and I don’t have the energy required to catch up… something has to go, and today it’s the blog. With memories of the Surrey Conference still fresh in mind, I hope you’ll excuse me for re-running this post that was originally inspired by Jack’s rendition of the Hippopotamus Song.

~

With apologies to Jack Whyte (from whom I learned the song) and Flanders and Swann (who wrote the lyrics), I could think of no better title for this post.

There’s no getting around it. Colour affects me. I’m forever remarking on the multitude of greens in the early spring, or trying to describe the perfect tint of pink edging a garden bloom. It took literally months (ask my exasperated husband!) before I could settle on just the right shade of sage green to repaint our family room walls.

I haven’t had my oils out for a long time, but I well remember the times I dabbed and mixed colours trying for a hue that was exactly right  – working and reworking the colours on my canvas until suddenly I’d gone too far and they were muddy. At that moment there was no way to reclaim the desired effect. The only remedy was to take a palette knife, scrape the canvas clean and begin again.

This morning as I struggled with revisions to a particular scene I muttered about its lack of colour. Characterization was okay but the setting felt artificial, two-dimensional. There’s no lack of information on this subject but knowing and doing are too often a chasm apart. I thought I knew what was needed.

I closed my eyes for a moment and visualized the scene. Then I let my fingers loose to bring descriptive life to it. I gave them free rein, and when they were done I sat back and read the accumulation of words.

Oh, my! Purple prose, with adjectives and adverbs galore! I went through the paragraphs stripping away the superfluous, but that just left bare bones that poked ugly elbows at me. Like a bad painting, the whole thing was past redemption. I’d gone too far. Delete. Delete. Delete. I’ll rewrite from scratch tomorrow.

Colours1Glorious colour is an ethereal glow. Like stained glass its beauty is not in itself but in the light that pours through it, effortlessly enhancing without drawing attention to itself.

That’s the effect I want in my writing.

That’s also what I hope to achieve with my life.

“I am the Light of the world”

~  ~  ~

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.

~

[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”.]

~  ~  ~

Now THAT was a conference!

Whooo-eeee! A three-and-one-half day whirlwind just deposited me back at home and my brain is still reeling. So many great people, so much information conveyed, such a lot of encouragement, inspiration and motivation provided… not to mention all the fabulous food consumed!

I promised a conference round up, but I’ve come to the conclusion it’s impossible to condense the following into a few paragraphs:

  • the impact of being among 700 people who love writing as much as you do,
  • the contributions of fifty-five authors, agents, editors and screenwriters at the free ‘Blue Pencil’ and agent interviews,
  • the vast amounts of material they presented during more than seventy workshops,
  • the helpfulness of at least a hundred volunteers, staff and organizers, or
  • the luxury of the conference’s first class hotel setting.

You’ve heard the saying ‘you need to see it to believe it.’ Well, in this case you need to be there to fully appreciate it.

Maybe by Wednesday my brain will be better able to sort through the weekend’s highlights, but at the moment it’s still on Information Overload. For now I think I’ll leave you with a few of my photos and the suggestion that you set aside October 24-27, 2013 and plan to come and see for yourself what makes this conference one of the very best in North America.

[A click on any photo will enlarge it]

Just one-third of the packed Conference hotel ballroom

MC, Carol “Sparkles” Monaghan complete with deelyboppers but minus her wand and feather boa

Agent Donald Maass and Conference Coordinator Kathy Chung

DD Shari Green and author Eileen Cook at the Book Fair

Author Jack Whyte giving his annual rendition of “Mud, Mud, Glorious Mud” (after which he lost his voice)

Author Hallie Ephron at Saturday night’s Book Fair

Editor Nancy Marie Bell (and yes, Joylene, I DID give her your hug!)

SiWC writing contest coordinator and author kc dyer…

… and kc’s infamous “sexy legs” tights

There are more, but they’ll have to wait. The weekend’s lack of sleep has caught up to me and I’m off to dream the maybe-not-so-impossible-anymore dream.

~  ~  ~

Research and Writing, an Inevitable Combination

Dead leaves crunched under foot and weeds crowded the path that was the only access to the abandoned cemetery.  Detailed directions from the curator of the small rural museum included the warning that it would be easy to miss the trailhead. But we didn’t, and eventually found what until that moment I hadn’t known existed — the grave marker of my great grandfather.

Only those of you who appreciate the complexity of genealogy will understand the thrill of that discovery. It’s amazing what research can uncover.

I’m impressed at how much research many writers undertake in order to ensure authenticity in their novels. I recently read a series of blog posts by Carla Gade who, in preparation for the writing of a colonial novella, attended a historical society’s presentation on “Dressing a Colonial Lady.”  There is far more to a colonial lady’s wardrobe than I ever imagined!

There can be hours spent online and in libraries gathering details for historical novels. And there is the travelling — sometimes extensive trips such as the ones to Britain taken by authors Diana Gabaldon and Jack Whyte.

Not every writer goes to that length, of course, and some “write what they know” and don’t do research at all.

What about you? If it’s required, how do you handle the research in preparation for your writing?

~

Research and Writing – Part 2, coming on Friday.

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….

Brushing Elbows With SiWC

Surrey1This is THE weekend — the Surrey International Writers’ Conference is underway. I’m not a delegate this year but was there today as a volunteer to help staff a trade table for the Federation of BC Writers. As people drifted past or stopped to chat I was struck with a sense of belonging. I’ve attended before and everything was so familiar.

Surrey2When my task was done I reeeealy wanted to join the stream of hungry writers heading into the ballroom for dinner and tonight’s keynote speaker, Anthony Dalton, and then stay on for Michael Slade‘s infamous Shock Theatre presentation with Diana Gabaldon, Anne Perry, Jack Whyte and, of course, kc dyer. Instead, I left for home. My turn as a delegate comes up again next year. Not until next year…. ::sigh::

Glorious Colour or Mud, Mud, Glorious Mud?

With apologies to Jack Whyte (from whom I learned the song) and Flanders and Swann (who wrote the lyrics), I could think of no better title for today’s post.

 

There’s no getting around it. Colour affects me. I’m forever remarking on the multitude of greens in the early spring, or trying to describe the perfect tint of pink edging a garden bloom. It took literally months (ask my exasperated husband!) before I could settle on just the right shade of sage green to repaint our family room walls.  

 

I haven’t had my oils out for a long time, but I well remember the times I dabbed and mixed colours trying for a hue that was exactly right  – working and reworking the colours on my canvas until suddenly I’d gone too far and they were muddy. At that moment there was no way to reclaim the desired effect. The only remedy was to take a palette knife, scrape the canvas clean and begin again.  

 

This morning as I struggled with revisions to a particular scene I muttered about its lack of colour. Characterization was okay but the setting felt artificial, two-dimensional. There’s no lack of information on this subject but knowing and doing are too often a chasm apart. I thought I knew what was needed.    

 

I closed my eyes for a moment and visualized the scene. Then I let my fingers loose to bring descriptive life to it. I gave them free rein, and when they were done I sat back and read the accumulation of words.   

 

Oh, my! Purple prose, with adjectives and adverbs galore! I went through the paragraphs stripping away the superfluous, but that just left bare bones that poked ugly elbows at me. Like a bad painting, the whole thing was past redemption. I’d gone too far. Delete. Delete. Delete. I’ll rewrite from scratch tomorrow.  

 

Colours1Glorious colour is an ethereal glow. Like stained glass its beauty is not in itself but in the light that pours through it, effortlessly enhancing without drawing attention to itself.

 

That’s the effect I want in my writing.

 

That’s also what I hope to achieve with my life.

 

“I am the Light of the world”