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!)

Shari-Contest-Award

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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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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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!

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’?

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*You Gotta Be (Des’ree)

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Photos from THE Conference

I promised some photos…

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The opening session in the hotel’s main ballroom

"Roomies" at the hotel: Janet Smith, DD Shari Green, and me

“Roomies” at the hotel: Janet Smith, DD Shari Green, and me

 

SiWC Coordinator Kathy Chung as Wonder Woman at Friday evening's Heros & Villains Theme Dinner

SiWC Coordinator Kathy Chung as Wonder Woman at Friday evening’s Heros & Villains Theme Dinner

Superhero Tyner Gillies - winner of the Non-Fiction Category in the SiWC writing contest.

Superhero Tyner Gillies – winner of the Non-Fiction Category in the SiWC writing contest.

The sixth annual "Shock Theatre" at SiWC: (L->R) authors Michael Slade, kc dyer, Diana Gabaldon, Anne Perry, Jack Whyte.

The sixth annual “Shock Theatre” at SiWC: (L->R) authors Michael Slade, kc dyer, Diana Gabaldon, Anne Perry, Jack Whyte.

That’s enough for tonight. I’ll have a “conference catch-up” post on Monday.

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‘Taint Happenin’

I know, I know… this is Friday and you’re expecting a blog post. ‘Taint happenin’, to use a friend’s favourite phrase. I’m currently holed up in a hotel room, getting set for the start of the Surrey International Writers’ Conference. I’m still trying to decide between a couple workshops, but it isn’t easy when there are fifty-eight writing professionals presenting over seventy-two different workshops this weekend.

So I leave you with an apology, but also a promise.  I’m sorry to be shirking on my scheduling commitment, but I WILL post occasionally over the weekend… maybe share a few photos or writing epiphanies. Although I’ve heard adaptations of the saying, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” being bandied around here, so I’m not sure how much I’ll be able to share. (Just kidding.) Time will tell.

One roomie is already asleep. Turning out the light now.

Click.

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Are you leaving footprints?

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A bear wandered through our property the other night. He left his ‘calling card’ and other evidence of his presence, plus his ‘footprints’ in the fence boards as he scrambled over.

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(A click on the photo will enlarge it for a closer look.)

I sometimes wonder at the footprints I’m leaving. Do you? What will people remember of us after our wandering and scrambling are done? Will it be our lives, our faithfulness, how we have loved, the words left behind on pages, or … what? I doubt I should be concerned it will be my dirty windows (and they are dirty). Then again, I recall someone saying eyes are the windows to one’s soul, so perhaps I should be wondering what of my inner self, if anything, is visible to those who may be trying to peer in.

Neglecting to reflect God’s love and lordship contradicts my purpose in life. If His presence within me is not visible to others in how I live and write, I will be a failed creation.

So much to ponder as I re-evaluate my destination!

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Included in the planned blog changes I mentioned last week is a shortened blogging week. I will be reducing my posts here to two a week instead of three, writing on Mondays and Fridays. Although few people regularly leave comments, five years worth of statistics indicate those are the two days receiving the most visits here. This scheduling change will give me a wee bit more time during the week to devote to my other writing. I have a novel that needs serious attention between now and October’s SiWC.

I hope my ‘musings’ here will still be of interest to you despite being less frequent.

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“We writers, as we work our way deeper into our craft,
learn to drop more and more personal clues.
Like burglars who secretly wish to be caught,
we leave our fingerprints on broken locks,
our voiceprints in bugged rooms,
our footprints in the wet concrete.”

Ross MacDonald

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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

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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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