The workshops I've attended have been packed with valuable information. I took so many notes this morning, my hand cramped up. I'm eyeing the netbooks many of my colleagues are using. They appear to be uber-portable and easy to use. The iPad is shiny and cool, but for what I need, not practical. One writer sitting close to me in a session seemed to be struggling to type on the touch screen.
I attended three workshops before lunch. "We Don't Need no Stinkin' Muse" with Elizabeth Hoyt, "Doing it with Dialogue" with Karen Rose and "Humor, Heat, and Hooks" with Katy Madison. All three focused on craft, and all three provided a wealth of information. I leafed through my notes and counted 23 pages from those three sessions alone.
Elizabeth Hoyt's session was about developing sound writing habits that will keep you moving and finding strategies for those times you get stuck. She reminded us that the Muse is, in fact, a myth, and if you wait for her arrival, you'll never get anything written. Her strategies fell into two categories: practical stuff and woo woo (her words, not mine). The practical stuff was geared toward Pavlovian habits...a routine that informs your brain it's time to write. The woo woo involved techniques to put your brain in an active writing state during non-writing activities. Interestingly, I already do a lot of the woo woo, my daydreaming during Jazzercise being a case in point. It's the practical I need to focus on.
I have eight pages of dense notes from the dialogue session. Karen Rose is a former teacher, and it showed. She had that teacher skill set going for her as she walked us through the information. She writes romantic suspense, a sub-genre that requires intense pacing. She had great tips on using dialogue to control the pace of your story.
The most interesting thing Karen said, "The way a character sounds is more important to a reader than what he/she looks like."
Katy Madison did the "Humor, Heat, and Hooks" session. She writes under the name Karen L. King. I don't know her books, and I'm guessing they're good, but I think the woman could have a career in non-fiction if she chose. Her session focused on using humor and heat (sexual tension) to keep the reader hooked. She spent half the session on each of those elements and turned them into a science. We looked at both the physiology and psychology of humor and heat and why they keep a reader hooked. People like funny and sexy. That's no secret, but understanding the why helps a writer use them effectively in her story. Good stuff.
After three intense workshops, I was ready for lunch. I met a couple of charming Canadian ladies who write historicals, and as I was chatting with them, my friend Suzanne from dinner last night sat down. It was nice to talk to someone without starting from zero. I ran into my Australian friend, Vanessa, later that afternoon and we chatted like long, lost friends. It's always nice to see a friendly, familiar face.
Jayne Ann Krentz spoke after lunch. She writes under three different names, each in a different sub-genre. She told us about her journey and then distilled it down to the three things each writer should do.
- Identify your core story...the timeless conflicts and themes we keep returning to and adapting.
- Know the market. How can you fit your core story into a different landscape.
- Understand how different fictional landscapes speak to different readers. Readers will not follow you anywhere. She learned this through bitter experience. Hence, the three pen names.
I have read numerous times that there are only twenty plots in existence. Writers just keep adapting them to make them seem fresh and new. Example: Romeo and Juliet and Titanic have the same core story. I've thought about this as a teacher and a reader, but I hadn't thought about it in terms of my writing. I love it when someone helps me think about something in a different way.
After lunch and an hour time-out in my room, I went back to the convention hall, intending to check out Linda Howard's session on the twelve steps to intimacy. Yes...a lot of sessions focus on sexual tension, but this is romance after all. I felt like I had already gotten the info in Katy Madison's session, but I was going because I'm a Linda Howard fangirl.
I never made it to that session. I was waylaid by free books. I know...I need more books to carry home like I need a hole in the head. But check this out. Throughout the conference, different publishers have signing sessions in which they bring in their authors, cases of books which the authors sign while talking to you....this is the best part...and then they GIVE them to you. When a guy in line (the first male author I've met) explained the process to me, I looked at him like Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop. I wanted to say, "Get the **** out of here!"
He was not lying. I acquired 13 more personally autographed books, including another Claudia Dain. Talking to her was just as much fun as listening to her in the workshop yesterday. I told her about immediately buying her book when the session was over, and she hugged me. I officially love her. The give-away book at the autograph session was different, so now I have two of her books. I also have brand new signed hardcovers from Kelley Armstrong and Jayne Ann Krentz, although I had the Jayne Ann book signed to someone else...Patricia, I'm looking at you!
I did finally pull myself out of there, mostly because I couldn't carry anything else, and went to my last workshop of the day. This was a session about maintaining an online presence. Jill Salvis and Teresa Medeiros were on the panel, and the session was moderated by Sarah Wendell of the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books blog. Sarah was as funny in person as she is on her blog, and all three of the ladies had practical information. The key is to find the social media that works for you...blogging, Facebook, Twitter, etc. No one can do everything. If you tried, you would never get any writing done. I feel pretty good about what I'm doing here on the blog. (Although, I do need to be vigilant in getting new content up more often.) I also got another free autographed book from Teresa Medeiros for asking a question.
I ran into Roxanne St. Claire in the bathroom and had a conversation with her about her session from yesterday. She was concerned she had used too many examples. I told her I've learned the more models you use in teaching, the better. Having a NYT bestseller ask your opinion on something in the bathroom is a surreal experience.
Tomorrow morning, I pitch my book to an editor. I'm viewing it as practice because my book isn't exactly what she publishes. Word on the street is that these editors are pretty personable, so I'm hoping she will be amenable to conversation. This conference has been such an amazing learning experience, that I can't be disappointed, no matter what happens.