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Is a Writers Conference Right For You?

Each September for the past nine years, St. Augustine, Florida, has hosted the Florida Heritage Book Festival and Writers Conference. Since I’m fortunate to have my lovely, artistic town present this writers conference and book fair, I do my best to attend. I’ve made it two out of my three years here (couldn’t last year, as the hub and I were full-on into our house renos).

Let me give a quickie explanation: The FHBF is both a writers conference and a celebration of books and authors Floridian. It’s organized around critique sessions on Thursday, a full day of conference workshops and lectures on Friday and a series of author talks on Saturday.

I decided to attend only the Friday conference this time around. My Saturday was full-up with another FWA meeting (great tips and tools for writing press releases, courtesy of Nancy Quatrano) and more house-y everything. Yep, one year later, and we’re still finishing the renos. You know, those whole-house remodels really take some time when you’re not working on them full-time. Here’s hoping we’re done before next September. : )

As many of you know, when I’m not renovating, I’m writing my second adventure-mystery novel, the sequel to Emerald Obsession. I’ve been struggling with it here and there. Partly from a time perspective, partly from an exhaustion perspective, partly from a distracted-creative-brain perspective. I think many of you can relate; we all have things we like, want or need to do, but we don’t necessarily have the bandwidth or energy to do them (or do them well). At least, not as much as we’d like to. The rest of life often disrupts our best intentions: family, work, home, friends … all grab and hold our attention, stealing it from our other endeavors.

Well, that’s where a writers conference can help. I’ve mentioned on a number of occasions how incredibly helpful my critique group is. Well, picture a writers conference as a critique group on crack. Super-charged and offering valuable advice and information.

FHBF Sign
FHBF Sign

This year’s FHBF conference offerings resonated with me, and I knew attending would fire my imagination and rev up my commitment to writing. Several sessions were geared toward: scene development, plot building, and characterization, as well as writing strategies and book marketing. Two presenters I enjoyed for their engaging, entertaining and truly informative presentations were Roy Peter Clark and John Dufresne. So glad I heard them, but sorry I couldn’t make the concurrent sessions. So many workshops, so little time. ; )

So, is a writers conference for you? Obviously, I can’t make up your mind, but hopefully these few items in a “pro” list will help you decide in favor of attending:

  • You’ll learn so much on a wide range of writing topics. The whole idea of a conference is to share ideas and knowledge. You want to be a better writer? A single conference can cover a huge spectrum of information; it’s like one-stop-shopping on both the craft and business of writing. Fabulous!
  • You’ll meet lots of people with the same interests, so networking and sharing ideas can happen almost automatically, even for introverted writer-folks such as we may be.
  • Being with other artists can energize and inspire you and your writing. Plain and simple.
  • The experience of a new place can provide excellent writing material. And even a familiar location can come alive when you view it with a new perspective.
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Stairway at Markland House, where sessions were held.
One of the classrooms; caveat, this photo is from a previous conference.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No surprise, there are more factors to consider when deciding. Two important points are location and cost. But something to keep in mind is there are many conferences of varying sizes and across hundreds of locations for you to choose from. You may even find free workshops or seminars to get you started. By the way, don’t forget to talk to your accountant, because you may be able to write off your conference expenses.

Here’re three good conference listings to get you started: http://writing.shawguides.com/ and http://thewritelife.com/28-fantastic-writers-conferences-authors-bloggers-freelancers/ and https://www.awpwriter.org/wcc/directory_conferences_centers. But be sure to google for yourself, especially based on the type of writing you do. And don’t forget to check your local library for info.

Another big thing to consider is what each conference offers. Most present a broad variety of activities to participate in, but among the usual suspects are: focused lectures, keynote speakers, workshops, critique sessions, agent and/or editor appointments, discussion panels, author signings, writing prompt activities and pitch sessions.

With so much fun and thought-provoking stuff going on, you’ll wish you could attend every conference. : )

How about you, friends and readers; have you been to a writers conference? If so, which one(s) and what was your favorite takeaway? : ) Please share your experiences in the comment section. I’m looking forward to hearing what you’ve found helpful.

Thanks for hanging, and don’t forget tell your friends about my website, so they can sign up for my newsletter and read all the latest. See you again soon!

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Under Pressure

I haven’t blogged since after Thanksgiving. Over two months ago.

Scary stuff for a new author trying to build an audience and build rapport with her readers and fans.

Along with many other events of the past months, Alan Rickman, Glenn Frey and the inimitable David Bowie have all died. Incredible artists without whom the world is less vibrant. One of my favorite Bowie/Queen songs is “Under Pressure.” It pops into my brain under many circumstances, good and bad. As I pondered ideas for this post, I found myself thinking of the song and the pressure of life, the pressure of writing.

Bowie

I haven’t the foggiest idea how Mr. Bowie sorted himself when he wrote songs. And I wish I had a magic formula to keep me writing well. If only. But when the pressure builds, I remind myself of the “marathon-not-a-sprint” adage, that my writing business and I are a continual work in progress. Then I plop myself in front of my laptop again.

Pressures come from every direction.

December turned into a chaotic month, the likes of which I’d previously not experienced. I won’t even go into that stress here. Haha. In January my husband and I flew to Europe to visit his family. It was an incredible, beautiful and very busy few weeks. Between jet lag, the introduction to my in-laws and daily travel, I didn’t write much.

Now that we’re home, we’re full-swing into our renovations again. I’m so glad for the progress, but as a work-from-home freelancer and author, I have to say nail guns, drywall sanders and power saws don’t have the best influence on my productivity.

Excuses, excuses. We all got ‘em.

Pressure is part of our lives, and it can be a good thing in moderation.

With the stressors of the past months I haven’t felt super-inspired, and my writing has been less than prolific. Not to mention blogging … that’s been completely MIA until now. Eeks!

But there is one professional pressure I’m glad for: my weekly writers critique group. We have simple rules: email your pages by Tuesday noon for at-home critiques and meet Thursday one o’clock for in-person reading and discussion. Pretty basic. Very effective.

Last week a creative cold front moved in. My obligation to the group weighed, and the strain of not knowing what to write grew. So I took a cue from friends who’ve been writing flash fiction, needing to borrow their brilliance. (Click here for info on flash fiction; snippets of fabulousness.)

Being accountable to this critique group motivates me. Though it’s a source of anxiety, it’s also a repository of constructive feedback and inspiration. It kindles the writer’s mindset. And the positive response to the piece I wrote, “Why Not,” was a huge balm to my beleaguered writer’s brain. Check it out here, it’s a short read.

People always ask writers how they come up with ideas. The specific answer is different for everyone, but the basic holds true: we find ideas everywhere and in the silliest, strangest or scariest ways.

In the case of “Why Not,” I chose the genre after deciding on the story framework (thanks Lori and Frank). I’d heard Adele’s song “Hello” on the radio countless times, and one of the lines stuck. The song played right before I sat to wrack my brain for last week’s submission, so I parlayed one of the lines into my deviant little short. I doubt my story is what Adele had in mind, but that’s the fun of creativity.

With the story and the blog both done now, I’d like to say the writing pressure is off for the moment. But that’s a big fat lie. Both the need and the desire to write loom constantly, lingering in my brain. Regardless of how good or bad the words first come out, the pressure is always on.

Wish me luck this week, and I’ll do the same for you. ; ) And use the comment section to let me know what work pressures you face and how you deal. What tidbits help you hurdle the obstacles? Thanks for sharing.

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Where Do I Begin?

I’ve discovered an awful lot about social media and how to make it work for me and my writing. I’ve learned enough to know I was supposed to put a couple relevant keywords in this blog’s title. Since I decided not to, this post probably won’t go far in the realms of Google or Yahoo or the other search engines.

I don’t mind. This one isn’t about numbers, it’s about heart. And despite a title  that sounds like the lead-in to an epic miniseries, this blog is short.

People around the United States celebrated Thanksgiving this week. Many others the world over have their version of this celebration at other times during the year. And still more simply strive to be thankful whenever possible. I try hard to be like those people; even if I fail at times, they say aiming for and missing the moon still leaves you among the stars. I like to think that means I’m not too far off the mark.

Despite a year of a lot of changes and challenges, I find myself exceedingly grateful for a world of blessings.

I have everything I need in this life. That’s incredible and strange to realize when you believe that. And while I don’t have everything I could wish for, I’m glad for the all the wonderful things I do have: my brilliant artisan husband Lubos who’s turning our house into a home, scads of family and friends who surround me with love, good health, the ability to write and work all the time, food that prompts me to make yummy noises. And sleep. (I do really love sleep, whenever I can get it.)

With Thanksgiving on my mind this week, I want to acknowledge everyone who has touched my life. I’ve had such extraordinary, unique, mind-boggling experiences that have brought me to this point. And I’ve met so many dear and kind people. Thank you to every one of you for being part of my life. In big and small ways, you’ve all made a difference.

I’ll still aim for the moon. And be fortunate to know I’ll have loads of company among the stars. Thanks for hanging with me!

What are you grateful for, my visitors and friends? Please share your thoughts in the comment section. Right now, I’m glad for the squirrels chasing each other through my trees. I get a kick outta them. And I’m glad my website is back up, so I can post again. : )

PS—On a strictly novel note of thanks : ) Emerald Obsession has already received five 5-star reviews on Amazon! I do believe I’m over the moon now! Thank you all!!

PPS–And hell, I’m ECSTATIC that Emerald Obsession is finally available in print on createspace.com!!! So happy.  : )

EO Print books

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Pleading Insanity

It takes a lot to make me want to throw something through a window. Should I ever get hauled into court for property damage, I’ve already decided to plead temporary insanity.

Even though patience isn’t always my strong suit, I often have a long fuse in vexing situations. That said, computer problems can make me lose my cool. My laptop looks innocent, but it’s really not.Laptop at CC 11.4.15

I know I’m not alone with regard to frustrating computer issues. To my fellow authors who’ve designed and distributed their books when self-publishing was in its fledgling stages, I give huge props for tenacity and commitment. I hadn’t planned to self-publish when I began novel writing years ago. I hadn’t researched the process, nor realized that the onus would fall on me, the author, to do so much more than write.

After I decided to produce my own book, about two-and-a-half years ago, I had to step up and learn the game with its ever-changing rules. And so began my info-gathering trek and my computer-cursing habit, which will continue the rest of my writing life.

Boy, was I shocked by the intensity of my learning curve. Maybe I’m overly curious or a bit of a nosy parker, but I want to know why things happen and how things work. A blessing and a curse for sure.

I chose to handle all the steps myself (except professional editing and cover designing), because acquiring new skills and trying new ventures makes me happy (usually). In order for me to self-publish, I had to become a jack-of-all-trades. My dad used to say he was a “jack” and then add in “master of none,” after which I’d remind him how incredibly knowledgeable that made him, knowing something about everything. I love that. So I strive to master all the trades. Ha-ha, as if. I pretty much fail at the mastering, but I’ve succeeded at a good portion of the rest. As with lots of things, I have to pick my battles.

These days, my battles involve the marketing for Emerald Obsession. As well as finishing the remaining versions (print and other e-versions), so I can truly say I’ve launched the book. Before this, my tussles and computer woes encompassed building my website, learning to blog, creating my social media presence from scratch, developing a basic marketing plan; all while working, writing, doing house renovations and occasionally fixing dinner for the hub. ; )

Even though I understand much of what I’m doing now, I still struggle with some of the technical parts. One of my biggest computer crazies is when I do the same—correct—thing and get different—and wrong—results. WTH?

Sort of the anti-definition of insanity; isn’t that amusing? Insanity = doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Here I am, doing the same thing, trying to get the same results, and it doesn’t work and I go insane. Hmm… I think something’s wrong with this picture. Oh well.

I’ve found my best course of action is often to stop working on the computer, shut it down and let the darn thing rest. Like a cranky, overtired child. Who’d probably take offense at my bad analogy.

The breather usually works. If not with the computer, then at least with my tired and peeved self. Until the next day, when I plant my butt in the desk chair, boot up and begin all over.

What about you, my friends and readers? How do you handle those things that make you want to tear out your hair or toss your laptop through the window? Please share your coping techniques in the comment section below. I’m always open to new ideas for taking my insanity level down a notch. Thanks for the help.

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Pinning Murder

Pinning murder on someone is one thing; pinning murder ideas on Pinterest is a complete other thing. There’s effort involved to make sure I get both right.

Fortunately for the population, my pinning murder on someone happens only in my novels.

When I began writing Emerald Obsession, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, Pinterest didn’t exist. What did exist, though, were magazine images, index cards, notebooks…. You get the idea, the old-school version. Life redirected me for a while, and by the time I began editing to prep EO for publication, Pinterest had exploded.

I created a board I named Emerald Obsession—Novel Inspiration and that became a handy place to gather visuals for some of the changing elements from my story. Pinning gave me great alternatives for locations, weapons, etc, while I edited my manuscript.

After I completed EO, I created a separate Pinterest board to showcase some of the real foods, locations, restaurants, etc. that I wrote about. Parts of the book are made up (fiction, ya know?), but many aspects sprang from personal, happy experience. I’m such a huge fan of those places that I wanted to share that with my readers.

Whenever I read EO, I re-inhabit the scene. I recall the savory taste of the food, the brilliant angle of the sun, the tangy smell of the sea air. It’s an incredible experience, one I hope to convey to readers as much as possible. The novel sets the words; Pinterest adds the images.

I’m in the early stages of outlining (sort of) and writing (also sort of) the follow-up novel to Emerald Obsession. I say “sort of” because I don’t outline in the traditional sense, but I’ve got the bulk of the story arc in place, so I’ve begun some early chapter work for my critique group. Now that writing is underway, I’ll start a new idea board. I’ll let you know when it’s up and running.

I hope you’ll check out my story boards. EO—Novel Inspiration, contains the photos that kept my creativity flowing through the editing process. EO, the Novel, includes those visuals of actual locations where the story is set (parts of the Bahamas and NYC), some foods I obsess over (garlic shrimp tapas, anyone?) and other fun images I found relating to my tale. My version of a before-and-after show.

I’d love to hear how you use Pinterest, for pleasure or work or both. Let me know in the comment section below.

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Not Exactly How To Get Away With Murder

Florida has sinkholes that shock people with their sudden severity. I wonder whether I could hide a body in one of them. Or can I kill someone “by sinkhole?” That’d be a new twist.

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Not that you thought I would, but I’m not going to teach you how to escape capture if you decide to become a murderer. I’ll remind you I’m a novelist, not a killer, even though I hash out my occasionally violent imaginings on paper and computer screen.

People wonder where and how I get my ideas, especially when it comes to killing. Friends and family would—I daresay—call me sweet and silly, a good person. So how come all the murder and madness? Because writing and releasing into the cosmos the emotions associated with those subjects, and writing about so many other feelings, is powerful and fulfilling and entertaining on a level that’s manageable and acceptable. People enjoy being scared to a certain extent, and writing in the realm of fiction is one safe way to encounter that fear and overcome it.

And, gosh, stories are everywhere.

No, I don’t have hundreds and thousands of good homicidal schemes running through my brain at any particular point. I’m no executioner. But curious notions come at me in the most random manners. True; murder by sinkhole—it could happen. All I have to do is turn on the news or surf the Internet. Whee … ideas aplenty.

A major point to remember, though, is that coming up with ideas is only part of the writing battle. And a battle it truly is at times.

An author must finesse the story into something logical, entertaining, suspenseful and heartfelt.

Just because I can kill someone with a sinkhole doesn’t mean I can write it gracefully and alluringly enough for you to want to read it. That’s one of many things I love about great authors. Their words make you part of the story. Their stories take you around the room, around the world, around the universe and leave you wanting more. You’re transported. Love that.

My tales aren’t only about killers, though they add a certain something to writing mysteries. I also enjoy writing about adventures, fun locations and food. I think that combination makes my stories engaging on different levels and appealing to people who love an escapist read.

I grew up on Staten Island, one of the boroughs of New York, and lived in Manhattan for many years, but I’ve always been a beach bum at heart. Now that I live in St. Augustine, I can draw material from both worlds: the vibrant city experience and the relaxed vibe of a small town. This gives me a fun, unique perspective from which to write and explore. How great is that?

My next stories—yep, I have a few swirling—will take my characters and me back to the Caribbean, solving old mysteries in one and trying to uncover long-buried Spanish maritime secrets in another. Well, that’s the idea right now.

I hope you’ll stay tuned to learn how I manage to kill off a few folks. It wouldn’t be quite the same mystery without a little bloodshed, now would it? And if you have any dispatching suggestions you’d like to offer, please add them in the comment section below. I’d love to hear from you.

 

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How I Escaped the Rat Race and Learned to Love the Swamp

A swamp is a good place to hide a body. Florida is full of swamps. I should move to Florida, so I can have plenty of swamps in which to hide the dead bodies.

Okay, my syllogism isn’t perfect, but you get the idea. And that rationale wasn’t exactly what went through my mind when I decided to uproot myself, leave my hometown of New York and move somewhere warmer.

What was on my mind was the need for a major life overhaul.

I lived a crazy/content existence in Manhattan. I had a crash-pad studio apartment in the West Village; an unending crop of nearby restaurants-du-jour; bars, concerts, shows and new experiences on every corner. And I had a job that provided funds for lots of cheeky adventures. Life was very good to me for a very long time. I’m a lucky SOB, and I get that.

Then life intervened, as it often does, and had its way with me. My cousin, who I grew up with like a sister, got sick, very sick, then died after years of fighting leukemia. She was thirty-seven years old. She was, and will always be, one of the hugest parts of my heart. I can’t write about her without crying, though sometimes I can think of her without pain. Sometimes.

While she battled, I tried to live as I had been, but that didn’t work. Life had imploded. Before she’d gotten sick, I’d felt the need for some sort of change building inside me. I plodded through a job that often left me exhausted and demoralized. I grew tired of the bar scene. Friends got married and moved. Life lost its color and zest. I’m not knocking my previous life, but my cousin’s illness reminded me that I longed for other adventures, new experiences, a different narrative. If I waited for life “to happen,” the choice might be taken out of my hands.

I’ve written stories forever, but maybe a bit of Manhattan mayhem crept into my psyche and planted the urge to write out my diabolical thoughts. My experiences have been great fodder, and my cousin was the first to encourage my novel writing. The first to see my potential as an author. Under her encouragement, the bodies began piling up. Then I needed a place to bury them.

“I must soon quit the Scene.” –Benjamin Franklin

After she died, and after a long period of dealing with the initial grief, I felt ready—as ready as I could—for the change I needed. I felt ready to make a conscious choice about the direction I wanted my life to go: to a warmer climate, to a different lifestyle, to a new career.

So with a fair bit of planning, but no job and few contacts, I ditched my rat race and set up a laptop in Florida, land of swamps. And fabulousness. And history. And so much more. There’s plenty to come on all of that, but let me say this: St. Augustine, the oldest city in the United States, is a history lover’s and storyteller’s dream.

My overhaul didn’t happen overnight, nor was it without its share of setbacks, but deciding to change everything has been the best thing I’ve done. Also one of the hardest.

I look back now and marvel at the detours and side roads that brought me here. What if I hadn’t taken the chance to move and to write? Where on earth would I be if I hadn’t escaped? I can’t answer that, not with 100% certainty, but I do know this: I still am one lucky bastard.

If you’d like to share your story of change or inspiration, please do in the comment section. Sharing challenging experiences is cathartic. And sometimes, it’s good story material. You’ll see … check out my next post.

PS—Florida is by no means all swamp. Here’s another St. Aug snapshot, of the Castillo de San Marcos.

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