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Where I am this week

GwenStonehengeI’m all over the place this week! Yesterday I wrote a personal post for my group site Kiss and Thrill about how much I love visiting places I’ve read about, and reading about places I’ve visited (complete with pictures). I’d love it if you stopped by to tell me about a book you enjoyed because you were familiar with the setting, or a place you’d read about and finally got to visit.

Today, I’m with the lovely ladies at Eat, Read, Rate divulging my writing secrets. You know, like what I wear when writing, where I write, and the story behind some (really) early manuscripts. Come over and share your own  writing quirks, or ask me a Scrivener question. 🙂

On Friday, I’ll be at the New Jersey Romance Writers Put Your Heart in a Book Conference. My Scrivener workshop starts at 3pm, so if you’re there stop by and say hello in person. I’ll also be participating in the conference book signing on Saturday, which is open to the public.

Wherever this week takes you, I hope you have a good one!

Feeling like a rock star in MT

On the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier NP.

On the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier NP.

Sometimes you feel like a rock star. Last weekend in Montana was my turn.

Thanks to the lobbying efforts of a former student—writing instructor and novelist Dennis Foley—I was invited to speak at the Flathead River Writers Conference (FRWC) in Kalispell, near Glacier National Park.

This was the first time I’d been paid to attend a conference, rather than just having part of my registration fee comped. I was flown in, fed, given my own hotel room, and gifted with treats.

It was non-stop fun the whole weekend.

Shortly after arriving, I was joined by literary agent Paige Wheeler and novelist William (Bill) Haywood Henderson, and we were whisked away for a trip up the Going-to-the-Sun Road that leads to the top of Logan Pass in Glacier.

Top of Logan's Pass in Glacier NP. Cold!!

Top of Logan Pass in Glacier NP. Cold!!
(Photo courtesy of Constance See)

The views were fabulous, though the top of the mountain was bitterly cold and windy. The three of us bonded over scary drop-offs, frozen toes and fingers, and knock-you-down wind. On our descent we stopped for several short scenic walks and a tour of the lodge.

Then we were off to dinner to meet up with some of the other presenters, and members of the Authors of the Flathead.

On Saturday, after a full day of fabulous presentations by Bill, Paige, agent Liz Kracht, and several local authors, I spoke for an entire hour—my longest ever non-teaching speech—about how I (try to) fit in writing, training, family time, travel, and exercise. I was nervous about this one. How to give tips without sounding like I think I’m fabulous or perfect? Based on feedback, I *believe* I managed to find a good balance.

FRWC is one cool conference. You might be surprised how many successful and aspiring authors live in sparsely populated northern Montana. I was. With only 100 attendees, the conference is cozy and welcoming, and everyone is friendly, yet the lineup is on par with any first-class conference. (If I do say so myself. 😉 )

I couldn’t believe how many people thanked me for my speech and for coming to the conference. We all need to feel special now and then, and this weekend, I did.

On Sunday, during my Scrivener workshop, I mentioned that the bookstore had about ten copies of Scrivener For Dummies still in stock and that I’d be happy to sign for anyone who bought it. Several people stepped out immediately and then approached me after the workshop. And the bookstore sold out!

That night, one of the local authors hosted a potluck at her house in nearby Whitefish. Good food, good conversation, and a packed house full of friendly faces.

I almost didn’t want to leave.

At FRWC, I learned new things, made new friends (and met some I’d only known online), and explored the local area on our tour and my Monday morning run. All in all, a great time.

If you’re looking for a well run, casual, and welcoming general writing conference, you can’t beat Flathead River Writers.

Many thanks to the Authors of the Flathead for making me feel like a rock star in Montana!

More pics (click for slideshow)…

Friendship, research, and craft: RWA13

RWAbadgeI spent last week at the Mecca for romance writers, RWA’s National Conference, which took place in Atlanta this year. I listened to inspiring, educational, and sometimes heart wrenching speeches by the likes of Nora Roberts, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Courtney Milan, Cathy Maxwell, and Kristan Higgins.

On my annual tour with the Kiss of Death (KOD) chapter–for writers of romantic mystery and suspense–the Atlanta firefighters shared their lifestyle, equipment, and stories. And, for the fourth year in a row, I made a new friend. The KOD tour is always worth every penny.

ATLFireTruckAt the conference, I learned about self-publishing from best sellers Bella Andre, Barbara Freethy, and Gerri Russell. A former green beret provided information about weapons, training, operations, and jargon. A cop-turned-writer shared undercover procedures and interesting stories from her time working narcotics for the Los Angeles sheriff’s department.

Plus there were the craft sessions. Characterization, hooks, suspense, plotting, and more. On Saturday morning, I even gave my own workshop on creating e-books with Scrivener.

There’s nothing quite like a whole week of rubbing shoulders with successful and aspiring authors, rekindling old relationships, and making new friends. An entire week surrounded by people who “get” me. Those who understand that particular brand of crazy that makes us writers.

That’s why I go to conference.

Hanging with my Kiss & Thrill blog sisters, Manda Collins and Sarah Andre, in Atlanta.

Hanging with my Kiss & Thrill blog sisters, Manda Collins (L) and Sarah Andre (R), in Atlanta.

Georgia on my mind (RWA13)

Out for a run with Laura Griffin in Anaheim.

Out for a run with Laura Griffin in Anaheim.

Next week is the Romance Writers of America National Conference in Atlanta. I have so much to do!

I think my wardrobe shopping is done. I just need to determine each day’s outfit, try it on, and take a picture for Evernote so I won’t forget what I planned to wear. (Yes, I’m THAT type. You’re surprised?) This is how I stay organized and limit what I take to one carry on suitcase and a tote bag. That’s right, I get two cocktail dresses, heels, five days of professional wear, evening outfits, workout clothes, toiletries, and all my shoes into one bag.

Rolling the clothes is key. As is limiting shoes. Luckily, I’m not a shoe hound. 😉

Newbie me with AJ Brower in Orlando.

Newbie me with AJ Brower in Orlando.

Despite all the prep, planning, and expense, I love conference. I learn new things about writing and the publishing industry, make new friends, and catch up with old friends. I come away energized (after about a week of recovery sleep), motivated, and inspired.

This will be my fourth year attending Nationals, and every one has been worth it. Each year has had different personal theme associated with it, and this time is no different. The 2010 conference in Orlando was the first year I’d attended a writing conference of any kind. I hardly knew anyone outside my local writing chapter in the beginning, but by the end I'd made several friends that I still keep up with.

Romantic Suspense Golden Heart® finalists in NYC

Romantic Suspense Golden Heart® finalists in NYC.

The second year in New York, I was a Golden Heart® finalist. The whole week was an absolute whirlwind, but a lot of fun. I  had made a  bunch of online friends in the intervening year, and it was neat to meet many of them in NYC.

My first year as a published author!

My first year as a published author!

Last year in Anaheim was a biggie. It was my first year attending as a published author (though not in romance), and the number of people I knew from previous meetings, my online classes, or online writing groups was staggering.

This year will be my first time presenting at the national conference. I’m giving a workshop on Saturday morning called “E-books Made Easy with Scrivener”. I expect I’ll see many familiar faces and learn lots of new ones. I’m excited!

If you’re going to Atlanta, I hope to see you there. 🙂

Retreat from solitude

J.T. Bock and me

J.T. Bock and me

Writing is often a solitary profession, and though the Internet can provide us with the networking and learning opportunities we need, nothing compares to getting out and mingling with other writers.

I spent the weekend at my local RWA chapter’s annual retreat in a cute college town in Maryland. The mini-conference eats up precious time with my family and a nice little chunk of change, but it’s worth it. Just knowing that you’re in a room full of people who “get” you is valuable. Not to mention the ideas that start pinging around in my head as we discuss our craft, our stories, and our struggles.

Editors and agents become real people—rather than sources of fear and stress—as we sit next to them during lunch, or share cookies and life stories with them after a mean game of Romance Jeopardy.

Bestselling authors share their long road to success, their fight to stay relevant, and the self-doubt that never seems to fade, no matter how many books you sell. We are not alone. Every fear we harbor, every doubt that plagues us, every nasty rejection we receive is part of the process that thousands of published writers have faced before us.

Like a hazing ritual that you must endure if you’re serious about making a living at this crazy profession, it would seem even the best writers have suffered for their success.

Of course, conferences are not just about tales of commiseration and lessons on better pacing or dialogue. There’s fun too. Meeting friends you’d only known online, making new acquaintances, talking to an editor or agent without the strain of trying to pitch to him or her.

Some of my favorite moments this year:

– The epiphany I had while trying to answer questions about the barriers between my hero and heroine during a workshop presented by Kathleen Gilles Seidel and Pam Regis, Ph.D.

– Hanging out with Christopher Keeslar, Editor in Chief at Boroughs Publishing Group, an incredibly well-respected editor in romance, and a super nice guy.

– Learning that publishers (traditional, and especially e-publishers) are realizing they have to compete with the ease of self-publishing. They’re now trumpeting their rights reversion clauses, marketing, and editorial quality.

– Spending time with writer friends old and new, which always gets my creativity flowing and buoys my flagging motivation.

Do you go to conferences or belong to a writing group? Why?

Workshop takeaways from the 2012 RWA conference

Laura Griffin and me out for a run in Anaheim


My annual trek to the RWA National Conference is about more than reconnecting with friends–like my running buddy Laura Griffin–networking with other authors, and a chance to dress up. It's also about learning.

Sometimes one sentence can cause a major shift in your understanding of a topic. Which is why I try to attend as many of the RWA National Conference workshops as possible. Even if I feel pretty well versed in a topic, I usually learn something new, forge a deeper understanding of the subject, or have an epiphany about my story while listening to the speaker.

This year I attended a fair number of workshops and speeches, all of them excellent. With my trusty new iPad and Evernote, I took a lot of notes. Below are some of my favorite takeaways.

Keynote at the Kiss of Death annual general meeting (Brenda Novak)

  • Innovation requires no special thought process. Creative people simply put their mind to the task of being creative.
  • Our creativity suffers when we worry too much about what others will think.

Conflict (Debra Dixon)

  • Push your characters to the breaking point, farther than they're willing to go. They must act against their best interests to achieve the goal. Leave them no other choice but to do the one thing they don't want to do.
  • Every scene needs three reasons to be there or it's not working hard enough. One of those reasons should be to establish the character’s goal, motivation, or conflict.

Emotion: the Heart of the Novel (Brenda Novak)

  • Active writing invokes emotion. To keep the reader in the action, start in the present and move forward in real time, using specific details and “showing” language.
  • Types of writing ranked from least to most active: internal thought, then dialogue, then deep POV, subtext, action, metaphor.
  • The reader needs conflict to really enjoy the happy ending, just like a close game in sports is more exciting than one team trouncing the other, even if the outcome is the same.
  • The conflict has to grow and change if it’s not strong enough to carry the whole book.

How to Put the Thrill in Your Thrillers (James Rollins)

  • High concept: the fewer words needed to describe book, the better (e.g. Jurassic Shark)
  • The character’s goal should be something he has a personal stake in, even if it's a world threat.
  • The hero has to take active steps toward that goal, not just avoiding the villain. Making choices, etc.
  • Incorporate research so it doesn't feel like info dump. For example, have people argue about it, which feeds info and creates conflict.

Make 'em Cry, Make 'em Scream, Make 'em Laugh (Charlotte Carter, Debra Mullins, & Lori Wilde)

  • For greater impact, put the character in a place where the emotion is unexpected (e.g. crying at an office party instead of a funeral).

Plotting via Motivation (Laurie Schnebly Campbell)

  • A goal is term limited and concrete, tangible.
  • Motivation is not term limited; it's a way of being. Motivation doesn't go away even when the goal is achieved.

Treasures, Artifacts, and Curses: Archaeology 101 for Writers (Rachel Grant and Mary Sullivan)

  • Indiana Jones was not an archeologist; he was a looter. 😉
  • 90% of archeologists work in the private sector (as opposed to academia).

Photo Credit: Copyright Laura Griffin. Used with permission.

Quick highlights from the RWA conference

I'm still getting caught up on email, and prepping for Thursday's Scrivener webinar with Lynne Klippel. Plus, company's coming!

But I thought you might enjoy a few pictures from last week's Romance Writers of America National Conference in Anaheim. I had an amazing time as always. Here's a sneak peek. And don't worry, I'll have more to share over the next few weeks.