Tag Archives: Writing Conferences

The Truth In the Details

I wanted to title this “Learning to kill” but refrained from tempting the search engines and NSA quite so much. I’ve finally got time to recap the best things about recent appearances – namely World Horror 2016 and Spring Into Books.

World Horror was a convention rich in guests and very lean in attendance. It was a shame for the organizers but those of us who were there got unprecedented access to authors and other guests that normally would never happen. I’m not complaining that I’m now on hugging terms with greats like Kevin J Anderson after spending a convention weekend in Provo – we even talked politics and religion for an hour over drinks.

Best part of World Horror was the ballistics gel presentation by D.K. Goddard, a local author and publisher. He brought a lifelike slab of ballistics gel and let us all pretend to stab and maim it with weapons. All in the name of authenticity when we are writing action scenes. I learned that if you’re going to stab someone, it is much easier to push the knife into flesh than I anticipated and far more difficult to pull the blade out. Fully-engage-your-muscles difficult. Also, slicing someone’s throat – something that looks as easy as cutting through room temperature butter in the movies – takes great effort. It’s more like dragging the blade through six inches of crusty bread. If your weapon of choice is a hammer, you can do far more damage using the pointed side designed to extract nails than the blunt side. Here I am in the throws of intense research…

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Best take-away from this intense experience was realizing that the truth is in the details. It’s sufficient in my writing to say a character was killed by blunt force trauma to the head. But it’s much more intense to describe the sensations of what it feels like to wield the weapon. The lesson was invaluable and will be called upon in the future for certain.

A month later, at Spring Into Books, I got to meet an adorable eight year old who loves horror. (Shown here with permission from his mom.)

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I had the pleasure of teaching a presentation on writing for beginners, the last half of which we spent plotting an action scene where a mutant zombie destroyed a tank. We took that one sentence and showed how it happened rather than telling that it happened. It was both interactive and fun and I thrilled to see several attendees pause to take notes during the workshop. I love giving back and mentoring young writers. This annual event put on by the League of Utah Writers is a great place for young and old to find free workshops and meet local authors and I enjoyed being a part of it.


Evolution of a Writing Conference Attendee

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The premier writing conference in Utah (if you write science fiction and fantasy) is arguably Life, The Universe and Everything Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing Symposium (LTUE) that happens every February in Provo, Utah. This was my third year attending. When I sat down to recap the experience, I compared this year’s attendance to the prior conferences and found that each year was markedly different.

My first year, 2014, I was a new writer, relatively speaking. I had been writing for several years without knowing there were such things as writing conferences where I could learn from more experienced authors – three days of multiple panels to choose from every hour, in fact. That year I was wide-eyed and hungry for knowledge. I wanted all the inside secrets, all the things I didn’t know yet, on the craft of writing. I gobbled up the how-to and the writing craft panels and left with what I needed to take my writing to the next level, beyond hobby writing. This was a business and I’d just found the insider track.

I spent a year applying what I’d learned, networked and joined professional organizations, wrote short stories and gotten published in my first anthology. At LTUE 2015, I was focused on the excitement of launching the book as part of the conference and didn’t put a lot of thought into the conference itself, other than being there. I did the same thing as the first year, picking panels on the craft, and was disappointed that I didn’t get much new information out of the ones I attended. I left feeling the conference wasn’t as useful as the year before and wondered if I’d already grown beyond what it had to offer.

This year, I was a seasoned conference attendee committed to getting the most out of the three days of programming offered. I’d also spent the last year getting to know more successful authors and learning there are tricks to conferences. I analyzed the offerings every hour and picked only the panels that applied to where I am currently with my craft and my publishing path/career. Turns out there are so many choices because there are so many ways to look at the business of being a writer. (Those whose job it is to put together programming at this thing are genius.) Here’s the ones I attended:

  • “A Glimpse of Horror” showed me how to grab and amp up the emotional response of my reader through the different levels of horror.
  • “Ten Things Every Writer Should Know About the Brain” taught how to write so my work is appealing to a reader’s brain without them knowing why – I didn’t get in because it was full, but I got great notes from a writing pal.
  • “Time Travel and the Nature of Light” gave me details on such incredible science that my brain has taken off plotting about three different story tangents that I could write as either novels, novellas, or short stories (or all three).
  • In the keynote address, Shannon Hale talked about the unconscious bias of sex in literature affecting both women and men (when boys can’t read a story because it’s too sissy or women authors don’t get read because they are women) raising awareness in order to fight it. It changed the way I look at what I offer my kids to read.

This year, I also did something new. I spent a lot of time writing – soaking in the vibes of all those writers and their creative energy over the weekend. In the past I was away from home taking little advantage of the distraction-free time that opportunity offered. I’m drafting a novel now and it was great to continue making progress instead of pausing for almost a week while I attended the conference. (I also started writing a short story because it was screaming at me from the depths of my subconscious and wouldn’t go away until it was at least a living document on my hard drive…) This addition to the conference activities was uniquely valuable to me since I have to squeeze every moment of writing time from an already full schedule. Finding large chunks is not easy but I found at least three of them while attending this year.

Another addition this year, I was honored by a friend and fellow writer who asked me to fill in for him on several panels when he was unable to attend last minute. I moderated two panels – Marketing Through Book Signings, and Hooking Your Reader – and got to talk about upcoming scifi/fantasy/horror movies as a panelist. It was so much fun, a lot of work to prepare last minute, and something I would love to repeat in the future. Who could have predicted that I would be one of the seasoned veterans others come to learn from in just three years but that’s what happened. I hope I helped someone like those veterans helped me in years past.

One of the best parts of any conference is talking to people. Having the support of fellow artists and creative folk who understand the struggles we face as writers is invaluable. This year I consciously helped foster the kind of community I want others to have available – you know, Madam President and all that… Most creative writers are introverts, more comfortable walking past a stranger than engaging in conversation. I’m a rare “extroverted motivator” (according to one of those self-help business books my boss made me read a couple of years ago to find my five greatest strengths) who happens to be a creative writer.  I used my powers for good and collected groups of people to sit and talk craft and foster friendships. It was nothing short of amazing.

If you’re a writer and you’re not attending writing conferences, find one in your city or close to you to attend. They are invaluable no matter what stage of writing you are in or what your goals are. If you’re in Utah, LTUE is a fabulous and affordable conference to attend.