Last but not Least–ACFW Conference Prep #3

businessAre you ready for your interview at the ACFW Conference? Do you have your query letter, submission packet, a quick and coherent description of your book and why you think it’ll fit with the folks you’re pitching to? Do you have your elevator pitch down pat? Do you have a pitch partner who calls you at odd hours and orders, “Spit it out!” to catch you off guard, just like running into your favorite agent or editor would.

I imagine you do–if you’ve finished your novel, pitching it may be the primary reason you’re going to the conference. If you aren’t prepared, get a move on–times a’wastin’!

But even if you’re not pitching, you should have a business card to hand to anyone you want to connect with. Name and contact info are the very least you should put on the card. Identify yourself as an author–or if you’re an editor attending the conference to find clients, identify your editing business. A picture of yourself is always nice, but not necessary. Your brand, if you have one, or the genre you write in. It’s not too late to design and order these. I’m sure folks have their preferred on-line store they order from, but I’m fond of Vistaprint.

Do you have a new release? Or a soon-to-be released? How about something to promote it while you’re at the conference? A postcard, a bookmark, or maybe a pen. Or maybe there’s something else you can create, something that’s inexpensive yet will still remind the recipients of you and your book.

Last year, there were over 600 in attendance in Indianapolis. That isn’t just 600 writers, although that alone is worthwhile because it’s 600 potential friends to turn to when you need them. But it’s also 600 potential readers, 600 potential promotion helpers, and 600 connections to even more potential readers and promotion helpers. It’s a huge group of people you can choose mentors from or you can be a mentor to. It’s an opportunity to receive or pay forward or pay back. It isn’t a time for shyness. If you’ve spent the money to get there and stay there (Hyatt ain’t cheap!), then make the absolute most of every minute you are there.

The best part, to me, of the conference is memory building and friendship developing. Cyberspace is wonderful and cyberpals are invaluable, but when space is diminished to a hug away and cyberpals take on flesh . . . there’s nothing better. Moments to treasure. So, yeah, take advantage of the opportunity to get your name out there. Be creative, be prepared. But also expect to be blessed beyond imagining.

Which reminds me. I need to take a huge stock of tissues and my waterproof mascara. Anyone who cries as easily as I do shouldn’t be caught without them.

 

 

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Conference Packin’

packingIn continuation of Monday’s post, “Conference Prep,” here’s more advice about what to take with you to be sure you’re ready for one of the most exciting events of your year. Things you may want to consider about packing:

1. Clothes. (Yes, clothes. Stating the obvious is part of my charm.) St. Louis is already getting cool–not too bad for those who live north of it, but for some of us who live in the south–where 65 degree weather requires a sweater–it’s good to be warned. Even if you plan to spend the entire time indoors, it’s good to dress in layers.

While I’m on the subject of clothes, I want to reiterate something I’ve said often before an ACFW Conference. This is a big deal for a lot of folks. We’re all professionals–we need to remember that and dress the part. You don’t have to have a wardrobe of three-piece suits and straight skirts that require infant steps in order to move from point A to point B, but slacks and nice blouses/shirts work.

The banquet Saturday night is a formal affair, which doesn’t mean you have to dress in an evening gown (you can if you own one), but definitely glam up as much as your budget allows.

These days, we’re allowed a costume night, when each of us can dress as according to our genre or characters. If you’re participating in this, don’t forget all the components that make up your costume. And don’t forget to bring your camera.

Oh, and if you’re one of those people I admire, envy, and wish to high heavens I could emulate (but gave up trying years ago), pack your workout clothes. They have a gym.

2. Shoes–the comfortable kind you can race around in. My preference is the kind I can slip out of easily so I can sit at a table barefooted (which reminds me, I need a pedicure).

Did I tell y’all what happened to me last year? I tried the stride of Lauren Bacall, but looked like Lucy on Vitameatavegamin. Then, just seconds before a mentor appointment, I realized the toe of the sole had curled toward the heel of the shoe, which made rushing to my appointment nigh unto impossible. I yanked both shoes off and ran barefooted from one end of the Hyatt Regency to the other. Moral of the story: take an extra pair of comfortable shoes.

Of course, since there are special dress-up days, you’ll need special dress up shoes. I, however, have served my time in stilettos and platforms, so I’ll stay with my low-heeled shoes. The ones that have the soles glued on tight.

3. Perfume–Don’t pack that, or if you do, don’t plan to wear it to conference classes, appointments, meals, banquets, book signings, etc. Since there are people who have allergies, it’s best not to inadvertently send someone into a sneezing frenzy just as the speaker is delivering the punch line.

4. Hairspray, etc. If you’re flying–and this is the first time you’ve ever flown–you may want to be careful what you pack in your carry-on. I’d totally forgotten about the regulations about bottled/canned items and MSB and I both wound up with our hairsprays being thrown in the trash during the security check.

I’d always heard to take a carry-on that holds enough things to tide you over until the airlines located your luggage in Kyoto, Japan. But what I didn’t realize is that so many things we use daily can’t be carried on planes anymore. So, study the regs and know what is allowed and in what sizes.

I hope this helps someone, even though these are things adults already know to do. But it gives me something to write about. Don’t be surprised if I write more on Monday.

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Conference Prep

packGoing to the conference? Already wondering what to pack? Here’s a check list for you:

1. Pack a mental image of the people you want to connect with. If this is your first conference, you’re going to be meeting a lot of friends you currently know only in cyberspace. Before my first conference, one of my cyberpals admitted he’d gone to his friends’ Facebook pages and downloaded a close-up shot of them so he could recognize them when he saw them. That sounded creepy at first, but it’s still a great idea to study the images so you’d know who’s who. If you are planning to pitch to agents and editors, be sure you know what they look like, too. That way, if you have one of those wonderful elevator happenstances, you can take full advantage.

2. Pack a smile, a hug, and a firm handshake–and keep them close to the top, so you can grab them at a moment’s notice. Of course, you probably couldn’t chisel that smile off your face if you wanted to. This is an exciting time. I’m just warning you, next time you need this trio this much will be at a family reunion (well, if you have a family consisting of over 600 members).

3. Pack a spare memory–and I don’t mean for your computer. If you’re anything like me, the minute you find yourself in the position you’ve been dreaming about for a year, absolutely everything you’ve prepared is going to fly out of your brain through your left ear. If you can’t keep your wits about you, at least have a spare.

4. Pack your wits to keep about you.

5. Pack your rhino-hide. If you’re getting ready for any kind of interaction with an agent, editor, or mentor, be prepared just in case what you hear isn’t what you were hoping for. And remember not to take anything personally. These folks are on your side, and any information they give you is for your benefit.

6. Pack your woot! just in case you do hear what you were hoping for.

7. Pack your grace, humility, and love if you’re a finalist in one of the contests. Win or lose, you’ll need them (and if you win, you can always whip out your woot!).

Oh, and don’t forget the practical things–you know, clothes, shoes, deo, etc. Maybe I’ll cover these things Friday. I don’t mind playing the role of mom. “Don’t forget your toothbrush!”

 

 

 

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Count-Down to the ACFW Conference

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Can’t believe that in just two weeks, MSB and I will be heading to St. Louis for the conference! This will be number three for us–should’ve been #4, but the Minneapolis trip got canceled by a hurricane.

This is the first year I’ll be going with nothing particular to do. Twice before, I went because I was a finalist in either the Genesis or the Carol; last year, Brad and I had our new manuscript to pitch. This year, I’m giving back, volunteering many of my hours there to giving back to an organization that has done so much to help me. I’m excited about it.

We’re leaving early to enjoy a few days of vacation. We’ve never been to St. Louis. We’ve been to Branson, to the Bass Pro Shops in Springfield, and to the Precious Moments Chapel in Carthage, but never to St. Louis. Both times we were in Indianapolis, MSB got to go sight-seeing–there’s a lot a person can see there that’s just a walk away–but by the time the conference was over, I was too tired to go to places he’d visited. This time, we’re doing vacation first. I need to get busy, though. We only have two things planned: an evening riverboat cruise that includes dinner, and a trip inside the arch. And of course, dinner out with the Penwrights, my ACFW critique group. Totally excited about that!

But I’m also looking forward to seeing everyone again, networking with friends, learning from the stars in the business. No matter where you are in this writer’s journey, there is always something more to learn, and there is always something you can do to help others. Organizations like this rely on the “pay it forward” mentality. The visible handful can’t do everything. They need the behind-the-scenes folks to chip in and help. I’m excited to be able to offer my time this year.

Are you going?

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A Driving Discovery

I’ve gotten lazy, or haven’t had enough time to write for my blog–or just haven’t had much to write about. Pick one. They’re all true to some degree. Anyway, I decided to share one of my old posts with my new readers, let y’all get to know me better, though I don’t think this is my good side . . .

June 2010:

(Flickr Photo by Old Shoe Woman)

I don’t like to drive in the rain. The harder it falls, the more I hate it. Keep in mind that dislike is not the same as inability. I can do it, I just don’t like it. At all.

I don’t like not being able to see out my windshield even for that split second before the wipers clear it.

Water sluices off the road, threatening to take me with it. I hate that.

The guy who races past me because he trusts his rain tires? Don’t like him. Some day, he’s gonna get us all killed.

But what I discovered this past week is that when I’m following an eighteen-wheeler, I go beyond hatred of driving in the rain. I slide into panic. And if there is anyone behind me, I break out in a sweat.

Last Wednesday, as I drove for my monthly visit with Mom, the rain was falling hard–like whiskey down a drunk’s throat. The only thing I could see ahead of me was a trucker’s tail lights, and my eyes fixed on them like they were the salvation of the world. The rig was moving appropriately slowly, and I was as comfortable as I could get with my white-knuckle grip on the steering wheel.

Soon, the sky cleared a bit and the rain stopped, but my car was getting hammered by the road wash the truck kicked up. I slowed down to let him get ahead of me a bit and took my first breath in roughly twenty minutes. Then, a 1968 rusty-blue Chevy pickup with what must’ve been a hot new NASCAR Truck Series motor zoomed up on me and threatened to sit on my bumper if I didn’t move. At the same time, the eighteen-wheeler decided to slow down. I was trapped between them.

The big-rig’s spray surrounded me like a cone of water. I couldn’t see anything but his red lights and the NASCAR wannabe behind me–and I swear that Chevy driver was twirling a mustache suitable for a 1920s silent film.

And I panicked.

I started driving like an idiot, watching the yellow line in the road, looking for signs that I could pass, but I couldn’t see around the truck to tell if the road was clear of on-coming traffic. I’d go farther and farther into the wrong lane trying to get clearance to pass. There were several times I could have, but I just couldn’t see well enough to commit. I wove in and out of my lane and literally lived up to the reputation of female drivers.

The thought of pulling over to the shoulder and letting Mr. Chevy pass me crossed my mind, but my mind wasn’t functioning at that moment. I was terrified that he’d trap me on the shoulder, matching my speed and running me into a bridge railing when the road narrowed. Or he’d drive me off the road entirely.

At one point, the road held a long curve to the left, and I could see well enough to get around the rig. I floored it and shot past him at 90. On a wet road. I seriously overworked my guardian angel that day.

Once I put some distance between me and the others, I realized something: That must be what claustrophobia feels like. I was panicked by an irrational fear, and desperate to get myself out of a harmless situation. Or, if not harmless, at least there must’ve been a better way to handle it.

When I hit the red light in Madisonville, the pickup driver pulled up beside me. He looked at me like I should’ve been commited, and I looked at him in search of that 1920s mustache. He didn’t have one.

Bring on the straight jacket.

Posted in Personal | 6 Comments

Characterization Multitasking

(Flickr photo by Victor Llarena, 2010)

Your two main characters are in the same scene, but they’re not together. He’s doing his thing, she’s doing hers. You can reveal so much about both when you illustrate your POV character observing the other. Of course you can describe the observed character’s physical features, but why leave it at that? Why pass up the opportunity to tell your reader something about both characters?

As the author and creator of these people, you know things about them that 1) you want to introduce to the reader, and 2) you want to introduce to each of the of the two people in the scene. What you know about them is called “backstory,” a word I recently discovered was unfamiliar to some newbie authors (I also recently discovered that Miriam Webster has “backstory” as one word, so when you type it on your computer, ignore the little squiggly red line under it).

Whether you pre-plan your novel with outlines and character bios or, like me, you look at a scene and think, “How can I make the characters more interesting here?” and do a character interview on the spot, you need to have a backstory for each of the primary folks who populate your books. What you don’t need, though, is to dump the entire backstory into one scene and explain everything you think the reader needs to know about your hero and heroine all at once.

Let me introduce Anna Roberts and Cody Batson.

Anna was a late-bloomer, the ugly duckling who didn’t become beautiful by shedding weight until her early twenties. Although she’s a knock-out now, her self image, ingrained by kids’ cruelty during high school, is that of a fat girl. Today, she’s a computer scientist at the NOAA, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and spends the bulk of her time alone.

Cody was the star quarterback and played the role of  “popular guy” in school, but in truth, he’s shy and longs for a relationship that goes deeper than an appreciation of his athletic skills and build. He’s highly artistic, but since he got the bulk of his positive reinforcement from those who valued his athleticism, he played up to that image. Today, with his PhD, he’s a professor of English Literature, specializing in the Romance Era, at George Washington University. His biggest daydream is for sonnets to make a come-back.

Anna and Cody catch furtive glimpses of each other at their high school graduating class’s tenth reunion. She knows him, because everyone knew Cody Batson. He knew her as “Anna Fat Banana,” although he’d never used that name for her, but today, he doesn’t recognize her. He stands near the snack table, swirling the ice in his glass, surrounded by jock-types intent on recounting their glory days. He doesn’t hear them because~~~

His attention was drawn to the striking woman in the corner, talking softly with a couple other women. Who was she? He should remember a beauty like her. Probably a cheerleader. That might be why he didn’t remember. He’d never been attracted to the perky leg-kickers on the sidelines. Cheerleaders tended to be all show, with the depth of a pancake. No appreciation for Keats or Byron. Still, he should’ve remembered the smile, the dark wavy hair, the slender curve from her waist to her hips.

Randy Colbert, his tight end back in the day, slapped him on the shoulder with a loud guffaw. “Isn’t that right, buddy? A thirty-yard bomb, right to my hands.” Randy threw both arms up. “Touch down!”

Cody allowed himself one more glimpse at the cheerleader in the corner, and smirked. She’d find him more attractive as a quarterback than a poet. He threw himself into the sweaty conversation with the rest of the former team and clapped Randy on the back. “That’s right! Batson to Colbert. Connected every time!” He drained his glass and assumed the position. “Go long!”

In this short clip, I did more than present a physical description of Anna. I provided Cody’s backstory, illustrated how he filters his impressions through his personal experiences, and showed Anna’s personality simply by putting her in the corner. The fact that she’s hanging in the shadows with a small group of friends doesn’t dawn on Cody as being contrary to his idea of “the beauty” as a cheerleader. That speaks to his character, also.

Later, I could do the same thing through Anna’s POV, and after presenting their misconceptions, I could illustrate how the two overcome them to succeed in whatever plot task I set before them.

If you looked only at the story clip, how much would you learn about the characters? If you compared the clip to the backstory I provided, you’d see what I chose to omit from the scene. Since I wrote in Cody’s POV, Anna may still be a bit vague, but what the reader learns about her later will be consistent with the woman standing in the corner.

Instead of dumping backstory of each character into your work, find creative ways to illustrate them. Use every opportunity to deepen your characters through different techniques. Populating your novel with realistic, sympathetic people can bring your story to life.

Posted in Writing, Writing Tips | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

Monday Morning Stuff

Monday MorningAs always, the Monday after Mom finds me tired. We had a great time, in spite of the fact that our visit consisted of one doctor’s appointment after another. All good, thank you very much, but still, they made for long days.

Mom’s knees bother her, but she’s a trooper. Simple things tickle her no end. Like grocery shopping. She never gets to go for herself anymore, so she wanted to stroll (i.e. push her walker and hobble) through the aisles just to see what’s available out there. She was on a See-Buy mission. If she saw it, she bought it. I’d be embarrassed to admit how much she spent on groceries for one person. Some things she brought home, tasted, and decided she didn’t like them, which is why they’re all sitting in my refrigerator right now. Not that I’m complaining . . .

And I can’t really complain about being tired, either. MSB has been working overtime–including Saturdays–for several weeks now, so the fact that he had yesterday and today off is a bonus for him. Now he can do all the work around here he’s been meaning to do, like mow before the grass and weeds tower over the house. His schedule is rough right now, so we tend to focus on the bulging paychecks instead of the bags under his eyes.

So, considering how things are for the other loves in my life, I can’t complain at all. And if I can get enough caffeine pumped into my system, I won’t need to. 

The imagination sparkers last week received only two responses for a short story contest, so that’s not going to happen. The posts got a lot of hits, but not many viewers wanted to take me up on my challenge. Oh, well. Maybe some other time.

I do have some good news, though–at least good to me. I received an invitation to speak with a book club. What can beat that? Instead of chatting with other writers, I actually get to chat with some readers! But I’m also honored to be asked to chat with other authors at the Bayou Writers Group Bridge to Publication Conference in November. I’ll be on the panel with authors Elizabeth Ludwig and Edie Melson, and also Jessica Kirkland, marketing and literary agent with the Blythe Daniel agency. I loved this conference last time, so I’m definitely looking forward to it this year.

The other bit of good news is that The Simulacrum is available on Kindle for 99c this week!

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I hope you take advantage of the offer (and if you do, don’t forget to leave a review)!

Posted in Misc., Personal, Promotion/Publicity/Marketing, The Simulacrum | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Imagination Sparkers

As you know, this is “Mom Week,” and I’m not here. But for this past Monday and Wednesday, as well as today, I scheduled pictures from my Photo Shopping spree. As I said Monday, I’m toying with the idea of holding a short story contest for my readers. What do you think? Let me know if any of the photos I post this week inspire you and if you’d be interested in writing a 3500-word short story. If enough folks are interested, we may just have ourselves a little competition.

Here’s group three (click on any picture to enlarge it):


 

So, these were some of the ones that sparked my interest. How did they do for yours?

I didn’t show the one that actually got to me, though. And don’t ask me why it did. I really don’t know–but I have a great plan for it, one that began to develop almost immediately:

Posted in Misc., Writing | 6 Comments

Visual Inspiration

This is “Mom Week”, so I’m not here, but if you were here Monday, you know what’s going on: I’m scheduled pictures from my Photo Shopping spree. As I said Monday, I’m toying with the idea of holding a short story contest for my readers. What do you think? Let me know if any of the photos I post this week inspire you and if you’d be interested in writing a 3500-word short story. If enough folks are interested, we may just have ourselves a little competition.

Here’s group two (click on any picture to enlarge it):

Anything strike you yet? Anything making you want to start writing?

More on Friday!

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Photo Shopping

After I finished my short story, “Slider,” I went on a deliberate hunt for more pictures that would spark my imagination for another. Since I’m going to be gone this week, I thought I’d post my findings here. I toyed with the idea of holding a short story contest for my readers. What do you think? Let me know if any of the photos I post this week inspire you and if you’d be interested in writing a 3500-word short story. If enough folks are interested, we may just have ourselves a little competition.

Here’s group one (click on any picture to enlarge it):



 

Depression Relief

 

More to come on Wednesday.

Be sure to leave a comment!

 

Posted in Misc., Writing | 2 Comments