Apr 24, 2012

In praise of small conferences

Big conferences provide excellent opportunities for brush-with-greatness stories. Sitting behind that famous agent, saying hello to a dream editor, sharing an elevator and small talk with a big-name author: these are certainly moments to remember.

Small conferences offer more than moments.

In 2009, I attended my first little gathering and ended up having a long chat with Lin Oliver, one of the two founders of the Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).  She listened while I awkwardly described my book and then assured me I belonged. Remembering that conversation still brings tears to my eyes.  It would have been a thrill just to hear her speak.  At the local gathering, she changed the trajectory of my career.

The next fall, I traveled to Utah for the SCBWI conference in Salt Lake City.  Not only did I have wonderful conversations with Laurent Linn, Elizabeth Law, and Royce Buckingham, but I also attended my first workshop with Terri Farley, an author I now count among my writing friends.

You're seeing the pattern, yeah?

At bigger conferences, I've been thrilled to see wonderful authors across the room.  At these smaller events, we talk.

A couple years ago I talked with Chris Crutcher at a local conference in Boise.  This last winter he was keynote speaker for the big SCBWI conference in New York.

That same year in Boise, I met Kelly Milner Halls, Jill Corcoran, and Cheryl Klein.

Does it seem like I'm name dropping?  Because it should. There may not be a surplus of big names at each conference, but the quality of time spent with each guest and the cumulative effect over time?  Wow.  Just wow.

Last weekend, I attended at my 4th local SCBWI conference and my teenage daughter attended her first.

We learned so much from Alane Ferguson's workshop and from talks given by Gloria Skurzynski (Alane's uber-talented mom) and Matthew Kirby (who looks like Alane's son, but we're assured the Edgar-nominated author is not). We talked with Kate Kae Myers and Sarah Tregay. We sat at a table with Kate Testerman, Amy Cook, Miriam Forster, and maybe the most important person there:  Neysa Jensen, the new Regional Advisor for the Utah-Idaho Region of SCBWI.  Together with Sydney Salter, Neysa has been instrumental in bringing all these iconic authors, agents, and editors within driving distance of my Idaho home.

If you write for kids or young adults, you owe it to yourself to find out what's happening in your SCBWI region.  If you write romance, find out what Romance Writers of America has to offer in your region.  If you write mysteries, check out Mystery Writers of America.  Whatever your genre, there's probably a professional organization that's right for you---and they just may have a conference coming up in your area. You should go!

Apr 10, 2012

Plot Arc


I recently had the great pleasure of speaking to the Coeur du Bois Chapter of Romance Writers of America.  I couldn't ask for a warmer audience.  They were wonderful!  My topic:  using timed writing to make use of small bits of time throughout your day.  I held up my own writing notes as examples and took a leap of faith when someone asked if I would pass them around.  It's not so much that I have any great secrets in them.  It's just that they contained my very raw, very undeveloped ideas---my working thoughts.  They were not in any way polished.  I was even more confused when a few people started taking notes.  And then a few more did.

I didn't know what to make of it. These were my boring, day-to-day, throw-my-thoughts-together notes.

Then someone explained:  they were copying down my plot arc.  And they would love to have a copy of it if I would put it up somewhere, perhaps on a blog.  Maybe one for Idaho writers.  Gem State Writers, perhaps.

Okay, so here it is:  my oddball, everyday, yes-I-really-work-with-this Plot Arc---the one that captured their attention.

This arc is heavily influenced by Blake Snyder's beat sheet as well as Michael Hauge's 6-stage plot, but it's also neither of those.  It's a weird conglomeration of what works for me.  If my arc somehow works its way into your own weird conglomeration of what works for you, this would make me very happy.