Hello from Mountain Mecca and Hippie Heaven!
Talk about your whirlwind tours! Wow. A frantic scramble to prepare my manuscript for the Surrey International Writer’s Conference (SIWC), long drive back to Surrey and snacks at the Kozak Mansion, eight straight hours of Master Classes on the 19th, two-and-a-half conference days while batting the flu Prez was kind enough to share with me, pick up the U-Haul (Enjoy those long stretches of am/fm silence through the mountains!), pack, long drive back to Nelson, unload U-haul while teetering on precipice of divorce (U-Haul trips can do that to you), unpack, pick up rest of our stuff from the chalet & clean, start two jobs, and finally, FINALLY, wait for cable guy to arrive and connect our high speed internet!!
Whew. I’m officially pooped.
What a conference though. Three and a half days spent among people who only want to talk about books and writing…bliss! There were highs and lows, martinis were drunk, lies were told, speakers were heckled (post-martinis), and lessons were learned (though not all to do with writing). So come with me now as I take you to the SIWC through the mind of the Princess!
Imagine sitting a room with 400 of the most pathetically hopeful, socially challenged, creative, well-read, geeky people you can imagine and that will give you some idea of what it’s like to attend a big writer’s conference. The standard question at this event is not, “Where are you from?” (there are name tags for that), or even, “So what do you do for a living?”, (most do something they’d give up in a heart beat if someone would pay them to write – present company included), no, the question is, “So, what do you write?” The answer is usually long, and interesting only to other writers, so I’ll skip it.
Day one was a four hour afternoon class followed by a four hour evening class. Luckily there was a fifteen minute break between classes so I was able to squeeze in a nutritious dinner of diet Pepsi and a Kit Kat bar. Class one was beneficial even if it was given by a macho-pig-man (he opened his presentation with a list of his military credits?) but it was the evening class where I would have my highest high of the weekend (which I will shamelessly re-live yet again). The class was called “The Excruciating Tension Workshop”, taught by Don Maas, a big New York Agent (who, if he has any military credits, did not show them).
“Put away your pens and paper!” Mr. Maas ordered soon after all eighty, or so, of us were seated. “What you learn tonight you will know by heart by the time you leave.” Our speaker was engaging, witty, and, best of all, he really knew his stuff. He told us of the frightening numbers of query letters he receives from writers (about 400 per week) and the sad number of manuscripts that disappoint (about 99.9%). He asked us how long he thinks a novel has to “hook” a reader browsing in a book store and the answer was startling – 3 lines, number one being critical. Then we began our first exercise. Mr. Maas went around the room collecting the first page of every person’s manuscript, he’d read out only the first line from each, and then we were to put up our hands if, based only on that first line, we would like to hear more. Ah ha, they called the workshop “Excruciating” for a reason!
Lines were read, a few hands went up here and there – most half-heartedly. You could see the writer of the line being read looking around in desperation. I knew what they were thinking… But I love that line! “What’s wrong with it?” Maas would ask and back came the brutal, yet honest, replies from the audience: Too long, boring, cliché, hard to understand, etc. etc. Our speaker then dissected the disappointing sentences and demonstrated ways to cut the fluff and ratchet up the tension.
Then it was my turn.
He read the opening line I’d spent months revising. I turned my head to see the response (oh please, please let there be more than five hands up!). Every hand in the room was enthusiastically up in the air. I fought the urge to dash to the podium and make an acceptance speech. That was possibly the most exciting and gratifying moment I’ve ever had. It got better from there but I won’t bore y’all with the writerly details, I’ll just say that I floated back to the Kozak mansion on wings that evening!
“My chocolate brontosaurus, that’s the last true happy memory.” That was the opening line, in case you’re curious.
The next morning I woke up with Prez’s Deluxe Flu from Hell. So, drugged and happy, I darted off to the first official day of the SIWC. I bopped from seminar to seminar soaking it all in. Anne Perry, Diana Gabaldon, Jack Whyte, and many more authors were there to speak (Jack Whyte has the sexiest voice on the planet and has now usurped Sean Connery as the #1 Old Guy I Would Still Do). For some reason I turned up a little late for the dinner seating (no, I was not in Jack Whyte’s hotel room…camped outside maybe, but definitely not in) and I found myself seatless. Turns out they’d oversold the banquet and there were now little groups of stranded writers dotting the room. A girl with platinum hair streaked with black waved me over and we commiserated about our tardiness. Mrs. J and I were soon joined by two gentlemen in the same boat. We were refugees.
The only table that the staff was able to find was a tiny little thing but the four of us, due to the onset of starvation, declared it to be perfect – and the Refugee Writer’s Association was born. We grabbed drinks, sat down and began our conversation thusly: “So how many people have you killed?” Meaning, of course, in our writing. The winner was "300 at once" but then we learned he was an aerospace guy and the scene was a plane crash so we didn’t really think that counted (writer’s are notoriously jealous). By the time the speeches began, the four of us had downed a fair amount of wit juice*, so the devilishly clever comments were flying and the proximity of our table to the stage gave us a strategic heckling advantage. Aaaaah, life as a rebel writer!
Saturday was my scheduled meeting with Big New York Agent. FYI, it is always best to be sick, exhausted, and slightly hung-over before meeting with an agent. And here’s where I learned a BIG non-writing lesson. But I have to back up…
I’m usually pretty cool with my appearance, self-assured, comfortable, but this conference was a big deal and I really, really, really, (got the idea yet?), really wanted to look stellar to impress Big NY Agent. I bought a new outfit (very business-like) and got the crazy idea that I would put some ultra blonde highlights in my hair. But aren’t you blonde already? You might ask. Ummmmm…yeah…but I wanted my hair to look extra special! So I put the goop in my hair and then, as usually happens, got distracted and realized, too late, that the maximum leave-in time had passed…ten minutes ago. How did it look? There’s a reason I’m not a hairdresser. I managed to disguise my bright yellow and orange locks in a ponytail, determined to rush out during the break and have a professional fix the mess. Oh, she fixed it all right. She made my previously blonde, now orange, locks red-brown! ACK! I slunk into my agent interview in yet another ponytail disguise.
And here’s the thing, I could have had bright purple hair and Big New York Agent wouldn’t have noticed. He barely looked at me, never mind my hair. Lesson: It’s about the writing, stupid! The writing, my writing, which he said was excellent but then told me I should change the entire structure of the novel (long, boring reasons I won’t get into). Oh well, nothing that a martini, a bag of ripple chips, and a box of L’Oreal Ultra Blonde can’t fix.
I’m almost back to my normal colour. Kind of. Doh!
If green is the colour of envy, orange is the colour of vanity.
When it was all over – the SIWC, not my many colour changes – I came away with a U-Haul load of knowledge and loads more excitement about novel number two!
We’re getting settled into the new digs and our flu’s are clearing up. And, joy of joys, we have high speed internet once more!!
Question: What’s the biggest mistake you’ve ever made in an attempt to look good?
Until next week, I hope this finds you healthy, happy & lovin’ life!