Friday FabOoolousness – A Weekend Away: What Writers Really Do at Conferences

Last weekend marked my second trip to DFWcon.  Granted it’s not a long trip for me, considering the conference usually takes place halfway between Dallas and Fort Worth, but it was a weekend away nonetheless.

So Friday night Jillian Dodd and I filled our hotel room with drinks (the adult kind) and snacks, and we mingled with some from our local writing circle and a few from different parts of the country.  Already, my conference experience was off to a better start than last year.

Don’t get me wrong; last year’s DFWcon opened my eyes.  For the most part I attended craft workshops and learned all about synopses, beginnings, plotting, and social media.

However, this year I experienced a different element all together – the human element.  I was fortunate enough to meet so many of the online friends that I’ve only known through social media over the past year.  And let me be the first to say that mingling at a conference, versus only attending the classes, makes all the difference.

But more on this later…

First let’s discuss the business side of attending writing conferences.  Probably one of the most important tools a writer can take to a writing conference is – get this – a pen and pad.  Jess Witkins had the right idea when she showed up with this:

Yes, this is Jess Witkins’ notebook… Rockin’ notebook, right?

Immediately, I knew Jess and I would be life-long friends, and not just the online kind.

Once we’re prepared with supplies in hand, the next important decision a writer must make is which workshops to attend.  Unlike last year, I took more of an interest in the business side of writing.  I attended workshops led by agents discussing the publishing world today, panels made up of other writers sharing their self-publishing experiences, and even a class presented by an entertainment lawyer/agent who gave the rest of us the inside scoop on what kind of money a first-time published author can expect to make in the traditionally published world.  Let’s just say that each and every one of these workshops solidified my decision to self-publish.

But still, even though I’ve attended this conference before, I still selected a few craft workshops that I felt were crucial to my writing career.  After all, knowledge is the key to success — right?

My first craft workshop was led by the New York Times Best-Selling Author James Rollins – “Putting the Thrill in Thriller.”  James’ class was fabOoolous, but my favorite lesson he shared was this: never kill your characters the same way twice; make sure there is blood on the page (okay, so not literally).

And let me just say how fabOoolous James himself is.  Our group of MyWana faithful was lucky enough to get to spend more than the Key Note speech and workshop hour with James, no doubt due to his friendship with Kristen Lamb.  But I can honestly say now that I’ve had dinner (twice!) and lunch with James Rollins.  I’d say NYTBSA again, but everyone gets the point; instead, I prefer to call him my friend.

Just havin’ lunch with James Rollins… Somebody pinch me!

The next craft class I knew that I must attend was “Writing Love Scenes” by erotic romance author Roni Loren.  As a YA writer, I shy away from the love scenes (my first book, Football Sweetheart, has a classic “fade to black” love scene,  because that is what the genre calls for and what I am comfortable writing).  The first point Roni made was probably the most important lesson she shared, and it sounded almost like a duh! moment once she said it: all love scenes need to keep the story moving forward and/or change the characters; otherwise, it’s unnecessary.

And just how awesome is Roni?  She provided the class with a “Why Does this Love Scene Suck?” Checklist.  All I know is that when I’m ready, she has me prepared and ready to move forward with writing some sexy-time.

Partyin’ with Roni — you know our group closed the reception down… Literally.

The next craft workshop I selected was absolutely full of potential: “Crime Scene Investigations: Fingerprints, Truth & Myth” taught by a local DFW CSI.  There was so much information to cover, that our instructor was clicking through the slides every two seconds.  Every time I’d write something down, he’d move on to the next slide.  It got to the point of ridiculousness and I just started laughing.  I wasn’t alone; Donna Newton can back me up on this one.

So I just sat back and listened – so much wonderful information about fingerprints – but I think I may need to buy a book.

Donna and I ready to learn all about fingerprints… thanks for the picture, Dawn Alexander!

The last few workshop hours of the final day were a bit more difficult to choose from, but along with what seemed like the entire conference, I chose to attend the “Writing Emotion” class by NYTBSA Lori Wilde.  Similar to what Roni mentioned earlier in her love scenes lecture, all emotions should lead to decisions and keep the story moving forward.  Ms. Wilde’s class on emotion was simply fabOoolous (I’d say fantastic here, but it is Friday FabOoolousness after all).  She was generous to offer the class email copies of her notes; I need to get on that…

As everyone can see, I wasn’t kidding about my statement that the entire conference attended the emotion workshop.  Julie Glover and I had to sit on the floor at the front of the room.

Sittin’ on the floor like the star pupils we are, right Julie Glover?

For my final workshop of the conference, I selected the “12 Do’s and Don’ts of Thriller and Mystery Writing” taught by agent Ann Collette.  I’d seen Ann around the conference, particularly at the Gong Shows, but didn’t experience the full Ann until attending her class.  She’s hilarious y’all – if you don’t already follow her on Twitter, find her.  She’s friendly too; we’ve already had a Twitter conversation.

And in going out with style, being the last session of the conference, somehow Ann knew we’d be tired of writing so she distributed a fabOoolous five-page handout listing not only twelve, but thirteen Do’s and Don’ts.  My hand thanks her.

Now back to the social story of this past weekend’s adventure.  As if we didn’t already know it, writers are fun:  no subject is off topic or inappropriate (I’m talking about the “Big O” conversation at the lunch table Sunday… poor James); sleep is overrated (this one’s for you, Kait Nolan – since you put me on your “poo” list for keeping you up too late and having margaritas in our room); and silent auctions are a murderous game (right, Piper Bayard and Jenny Hansen?).

“Winning!” with Piper Bayard and Jenny Hansen

I ended my 2012 conference experience with a huge smile on my face — maybe it’s because of the people (okay, it’s definitely because of the people); maybe it’s because I felt like I was actually in my element; or maybe it’s because I won a rocking door prize (admission for two to Southfork Ranch, a one night stay, and breakfast for two).  All in all, I’d do it again.  And again.  And again.

Did I mention the people?

Lunch time with my new English bestie (Donna Newton) and my roomie (Jillian Dodd)
Posin’ with the beautiful Ingrid Schaffenburg
MyWana 0311 – this one’s for you! (with Jenny Hansen, or the More Cowbell blogger as she’s known around social media)
Me and my friend Jess Witkins from Canada. I mean Wisconsin…
Showin’ off my signed copy of Red with Kait Nolan
And one last photo with the brave and fabOooolous Nigel Blackwell

Did you attend DFWcon?  What do you find the most beneficial in attending writing conferences?  Have you had the opportunity to meet any of your online friends recently?  I’d love to hear from you!    

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