Wow, I’m a slacker. I really had planned to finish the second blog post Saturday night, and then wrap up the conference yesterday, and…stuff happened. Saturday I crashed right before dinner – there was a good hour and a half of nothing between the last workshop and the fancy shmancy meal, so I went back up to the room and napped. It was awesome.
Soo, backtrack – pitches. Thank goodness Sue didn’t have me do all the talking, because I’m pretty sure I adapted a ‘deer in headlights’ look the few times I was asked do you have any questions for me? I’ve never been able to answer that adequately, in any given situation that query comes up. Any questions I have mentally prepared get sucked down a black hole, and then my brain’s a total vacuum and I’m groping around for the right question like trying to find the light switch in the dark by slapping my hand all over the wall. I should probably write questions down ahead of time, that would be the freakin’ logical thing to do. Anyway. The first woman hooked me the minute she said ‘postmortem memorial photographer.’ Immediately, I thought of the creepy photographs from The Others, when Nicole Kidman finds the photo album of all those dead children and elderly people. I’m really easy to make happy, for real – toss in a weird profession like that, and you bet I want to read more. The second pitch didn’t leave much of an impression – I don’t recall too many details from the notes I took. Which is the point, isn’t it? I remember quite a bit of the first pitch, and a few others, right down to the protagonists’ ages and the time periods. The point of the pitch is to make me remember you, or remember some cool detail or plot point that I want to know more about. Note to self, heh.
The third pitch comes around, and I swear to God we got the same, “You looked lonely, so I thought I’d come over.” Stop it! I know you’re trying to make small talk and whatever, but – correct me if I’m wrong – I’m pretty sure that’s just not the thing to say to a potential publisher or agent. They’re not lonely. They’re there for you, and just like a job interview, you better put your best foot forward. I feel like that doesn’t include a pick up line. So just…don’t. It tripped me up both times, and it’s just weird. A little funny, but a whole lot of ‘wut.’ The fourth pitch impressed me because the writer clearly did her homework. I really enjoy it when I can tell you know a lot about your subject, where you’ve either worked in the profession of the main protagonist, or you jumped into the research with both feet. Makes me feel like I’m in good hands when I’m reading the story. It was a murder mystery that ordinarily would’ve had me, ehh – heard this before, but…we’ll see. She talked a lot – it was too much information too fast. She tossed out a bunch of character names and other back story and subplot elements that I couldn’t keep up with, and I don’t want to work that hard to pick out which details are telling me the main plot of the story and not some segue your brain decided to take mid-sentence. I know it’s nerve wracking – I can’t even imagine, since I’ve never done anything like that – but if you’re afraid you’ll start running off at the mouth, notes are okay. A couple of them read off a paper or note card, and a few were confident enough, and rightly so, to go right from the old noggin.
Have a business card! Please have something the publisher can get a hold of you with, don’t make them write it down. Business cards are so easy to get. Office Depot has a $9.99 per 100 with free shipping thing going on. I’m sure there are other rates, and it’s a good investment. You don’t even need a picture – just your name, email, web address, phone number if you want, and the name of your book(s). Fast, easy self promotion right thur- leave that sucker everywhere. Thursday night, I was at the bar with one of our authors, and this lonely creeper business man saddled up next to her like a pervert ninja and chatted her up for over half an hour. He left disappointed, but she made damn sure he left with her business card and a promise to buy her book. She’s pretty much my hero.
Saturday afternoon, I attended this awesome workshop about details – ‘small things that make a big difference.’ Hank Phillippi Ryan, who’s not just the writer of the Charlotte McNally series, but an investigative reporter for Boston (I had no idea until much later), talked about how the simple act of changing the setting livened up an otherwise boring scene. The character needed to retrieve some files, and instead of having her remain static, Ryan took her out onto the streets, and made her play an active role in the search – to paraphrase, she got the exact same result as sitting in the office, but in one page, she’s out of her office and showing the reader what it was like to be in her world. The reader is more invested in the journey, because of the smells, and sounds, and encounters the character has along the way. It’s so funny to look back at the horrific notes I jotted down during the workshop, because I have random little sentences scribbled in there about changes I could make in my own manuscript. They reiterated that little details about the characters aren’t just informative, they’re fun, and sometimes they become a staple of that character. It made me think of Mr. Gordo, Buffy’s stuffed pig (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), and Feigenbaum, Fred’s (Angel) stuffed bunny. No, including them in there wasn’t necessary to any plot advances for the characters, but it certainly made me relate to them more. There are fanfics out there for those stuffed pets, y’all – that’s the power of little details. They mentioned, and I wholeheartedly agree, that certain character quirks and details like that are great in a series, because you can carry it throughout the books. Linda Mickey (Kyle Shannon mystery series), also on the panel, dropped this awesome line: “The right detail is like a drop of iodine in a glass of water. It colors everything.”
Later that afternoon I attended a workshop presented by Marco Conelli, an ex-detective and undercover police officer for the organized crime central bureau in NYC. He talked about what his job undercover was actually like, and how to write that profession realistically. He mentioned over and over that it’s not an undercover cop’s responsibility to make an arrest, and if they see a crime in progress while they’re undercover, they literally can’t do anything within earshot of anyone if it would blow their cover. I found out where they keep the wires…yeesh. I also did not know that vials of cocaine are capped differently depending upon the seller and the territory – fun fact for the evening. I’m so glad my life is far away from that kind of work.
Saturday evening after dinner, I spent a good three hours having a fascinating conversation with Dr. David Ciambrone – I picked up Poisons Handbook for Writers by him (hehe) and heard the most outlandish stories about his previous work that kept me up way past my bedtime. It was so cool to hear things like, “You know, if you deliberately withhold MAO inhibitors from an individual who needs them, and feed them aged cheese and wine, their blood pressure will go through the roof and it’ll kill them. If you want them dead. Fictionally, of course.”
I spent three days living in a bubble that completely insulated me from the outside world. I spent all that time surrounded by people like me, where talking about your characters as if they were real people wasn’t just the norm, it was expected. I met amazing, smart, funny people from all over the country, who came to the conference to geek out about mysteries and characters and writing. I’m not a huge mystery reader, and I don’t read the same books as the majority of those at the conference, but that didn’t matter – characters and everything to do with them transcends genre. I learned that a conference is about making connections, and sharing a common, profound interest with people you otherwise would never have met, and it was better then any vacation to some resort. I felt at home there, in my element – I carried that notebook with me everywhere, because I didn’t want to forget a single bit of information about the writing process, about marketing and libraries and any drop of advice or wisdom from people like Donald Bain, David Morrell, and Hank Phillippi Ryan. I didn’t know who they were last week, and now I sure as heck do – and I’ll be picking up their stuff one of these days. Everyone is there to support each other, and help one another, help other authors get published and learn how to market and hone their craft, and this is where every single person there knows writing is not a hobby – it is NOT a hobby. It is not career or a job – it is a way of life, and for many of us, it is essential to our happiness. We write because we have to, because there are stories in us that have to get out.
I’ll end this by saying I highly recommend writing conferences, even if it isn’t in your preferred genre but it’s in your area. It is so, so worth it. I had the time of my life, I met fantastic people whom I hope to meet again and stay in touch with, and I cannot wait to attend another. And, this: