A Different Conference Experience

A Different Conference Experience
Terry Odell

If all has gone well, when you’re reading this, I should have had my first cataract surgery yesterday, so forgive me if I don’t respond to comments. Surgery went very well, so I’m back at the computer.

I attended the Flathead River Writers Conference, where I had the pleasure of meeting fellow TKZ blogger, Debbie Burke. In her post yesterday, she said I’d have pictures to share, so here are a few to start.

Middle Ford of the Flathead River flowing through Glacier National Park

Lake McDonald

I’ll stick in a few more throughout the post.

This was a very different kind of conference for me. My decision to attend was to get away for a few days, meet some new people, and, most importantly, recharge the batteries. I’ve always attended genre-based conferences, and most have been much larger. This one (under 100 attendees) didn’t hit my overload button. Also, to fulfill the battery recharging goal, I arrived two days prior to the opening session. Debbie was generous enough to play tour guide, so I got to see a lot of the area. Including, I must add, places Debbie used in her books. An added perk: she knows where the best rest stops are.

A few highlights for me from the sessions. (Let me point out, this was not a ‘business networking venture’ for me.) John Gilstrap swears that all of the business takes place at the bar. He’d have been disappointed here, because the conference hotel didn’t have a bar. Or a restaurant.

Trail in Glacier Park

McDonald Falls

One of the “speakers” Dr. Erika Putnam, a chiropractor/yoga instructor, had everyone participating in stretches and poses designed to counteract the “all day in front of a keyboard” neck, shoulder, and back stiffness. Another was the Montana Poet Laureate, Chris La Tray, a member of the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians, who gave poignant yet very entertaining talks.

Another highlight was when the two agents in attendance, Zach Honey and Julie Stevenson did cold reads of the first page of anonymously submitted manuscripts. (Sound familiar?) The submissions were read aloud by conference staff, although the agents had hard copies so they could read along.

Honey focuses on representing thrillers, and Stevenson wants literary fiction. Most of the submissions leaned toward the literary end of the spectrum, and I was left cold. I could hear JSB saying “Nothing’s Happening!” Pretty Prose doesn’t do it for me. Their comments were kept short and superficial, but there were one or two submissions they thought they’d want to see more of. I’m sure those authors were thrilled.

Totem at Lake McDonald Lodge

Author Mark Sullivan’s talk on day one about his path to success was interesting, but it was his talk on day two that gave me my biggest takeaway. He spoke of the connection between the body and the mind. He suggested that if you’re having trouble finding the emotional center of your character, picture what that character’s body position would be, then get into it yourself. Something to try, for sure.

He did something else I’ve never seen at any other conferences, which was to lead the group in a meditation session. Sue Coletta talked about breathing, and we did similar  exercises. He also addressed something that resonated with me. “Too much to do” anxiety. Sullivan pointed out there’s no point in getting upset about something that happened in the past. It’s over and done. Likewise, you can’t fret about what’s in the future. You can only live in the “now.” Do one thing at a time, and wipe out the rest. Looking at a ‘to do’ list of 20 items is daunting. Don’t think about the 20, deal with the one.

This suggestion came in handy when I arrived home and considered everything I had to do. There were the household tasks, the ‘catch up’ tasks, and the ‘get everything done before my cataract surgery’ tasks. Instead of freaking out, I was able to focus on one thing at a time, and the usual knotted stomach wasn’t an issue.

He left us with these words: The universe is in a state of expansion. If you’re in a state of retraction, you’re fighting the universe. Don’t get involved with yourself.

Playing with Textures – Glacier Park

What about you, TKZers? Do you ever need to get away and do something a little different? Was it worth it?

Cover image of Deadly Relations by Terry OdellAvailable Now
Deadly Relations.
Nothing Ever Happens in Mapleton … Until it Does
Gordon Hepler, Mapleton, Colorado’s Police Chief, is called away from a quiet Sunday with his wife to an emergency situation at the home he’s planning to sell. A man has chained himself to the front porch, threatening to set off an explosive.

Terry Odell is an award-winning author of Mystery and Romantic Suspense, although she prefers to think of them all as “Mysteries with Relationships.”

Reader Conferences – Sliding Back Into the Groove

Reader Conferences – Sliding Back Into the Groove
Terry Odell

Left Coast CrimeI very recently returned from my first in person author/reader get together since the pandemic began: Left Coast Crime in Albuquerque, NM. I refer to this as a way to ease into dealing with being surrounded by people, inundated with information, and having to speak in semi-coherent sentences.

Left Coast Crime is a Reader-based conference. Presentations are panels of authors addressing a topic, not craft workshops. Thus, in a Writer-based conference, a workshop or discussion of setting, for example, would focus on how to deal with setting in your books. What to include, what not to include, examples of vocabulary, why it’s important, etc. In a Reader-based conference, the panelists will be authors selected because their books are set in “interesting” places and they’ll talk about the locales they use.

A Reader-based conference gives you the chance to talk to … readers. If you’re me, it’s likely very few have heard of me (unless they’ve picked up my lip balm—I get lots of “I love your lip balm”; very few “I love your books.”)

If you’re an introvert or just need to get away, for a writer, a Reader-based conference allows more chances to escape to your room or a quiet corner without the guilt of missing Very Important Craft Information.

However, there was the opportunity for learning craft in a pre-conference add-on workshop given by David (Rambo) Morrell, and I attended it. Four hours, even with breaks, is a lot of brain time, but I survived—in part, I think, because he spent quite a bit of time talking to aspiring or new writers, so I could coast in neutral for brief periods of time. Not that his “beginner” advice didn’t contain gems, but they broke through any mental meanderings.

Some of my takeaways from his talk:

He first addressed what it takes to be a serious writer, going into Myers Briggs personality tests. Basically, you have to know how long you can sit at the keyboard in isolation and maintain your focus. If you need to interact with people, this could be your biggest problem. Bottom line: whatever your approach, you have to have a schedule and stick to it. Morrell said Stephen King claims he writes 5 pages every day except Christmas and his birthday, which isn’t true. He writes on those two days as well, but he didn’t think people would believe it.

Next, you need to know why you want to write and what you hope to accomplish. (Hint: a goal of being a best-selling author and making a ton of money isn’t a smart move.) Morrell’s goal was to write something that would influence other people the way Stirling Silliphant, the screenwriter of so many shows Morrell watched as a youth, affected him.

Per Morrell: Being a writer is an insane thing to want to do. Become a hermit to write something other people will find interesting.

Two mantras Morrell gave as advice.

  1. Be a first rate version of yourself and not a 2nd rate version of another author.
  2. Don’t chase the market; you’ll always see its backside.

He mentioned Nicholas Sparks as an exception. He looked for a niche and found there were virtually no other men writing romance, so he exploited it.

Other bits:

  • If you set out to write the book you want, you’ve met your goal when you finish even if it doesn’t sell.
  • If your goal was to write a best-seller you’re imitating and you won’t have anything to show for it.

As a professional, if something interests you, you ask yourself WHY? Look at how it was made rather than plot. He spoke of the importance of awareness and told the story of not being able to come up with the character’s name in First Blood. He was busy working, and didn’t appreciate his wife interrupting to show him the apples she’d bought. He gave her noncommittal responses until she insisted he EAT one of these apples. Reluctantly, he did, and it was exceptional. He asked her what kind of an apple it was, and she said, “It’s a Rambo apple.” Ta Da.

He gave us an exercise to do when starting a project—have a conversation with yourself and write it out. Pages and pages of dialogue, what you want to write about and how you’re going to do it. Eventually, you’ll have enough information to start writing the book. It’s writing on the page. Writing is a perishable skill. If you don’t write something every day, it won’t stay with you. The conversation will help bring you back when you get stuck.

Other questions Morrell threw at us:

What can you do that nobody else can do? What is your dominant emotion? Examples: Anger, lust, envy, fear. Find yours and dig deep into it.

Morrell does his homework, probably more than most of us are willing or able to do. He studied photography, got a pilot’s license, drove race cars to be aware of what his protagonists could do.

Once you know your direction, you’ll find the questions you’ll need to answer. Fill in the blanks, one step after another until you find the story and where it begins. He adamantly cautioned against starting with a flashback. Emphatically. His example: “She woke up with the worst hangover she’d ever had”…and then the story shifts to where and what resulted in that hangover. If it’s important, start there. He related this to a sign Frank Sinatra had on the door to his house: “You’d better have a damn good reason for ringing this bell.” Because it felt right isn’t an acceptable answer.

  • We all find archetypal situations inherently interesting. “A stranger comes to town.”
  • Daydreams are an excellent source of information.
  • To tighten dialogue, take out every other response.

On the use of senses. Morrell suggests taking sight for granted, then including two others, but ‘sneak them in’ so it isn’t obvious. The object is to make the reader feel, not see. Be very light. Don’t tip your hand. Makes a book feel three dimensional.

(I liked this better than the “use all 5 senses in every scene” approach, which to me, often feels forced.)

The writer’s job is to keep the audience paying attention. You have to decide if the window they’re looking through is cleaned by Windex, or if it’s stained glass. Whatever you do, you need to be clear and not require the reader to do extra work.

One thing (probably the only thing) David Morrell and I have in common is part of our writing process. We both believe in printing out the day’s work and looking at it away from the “office.” I do it in bed at night, and he does it as his first step of work the next day. Seeing it “off screen” helps fool the brain into thinking we’re seeing it for the first time.

In his words: Yesterday’s work is terrible the next day. Writing is Fixing. We think, “In my head it was a lot better.” Our task  is to make them the same.

What about you, TKZ peeps? Have you joined the live and in person group yet? Did it take readjusting?

In the Crosshairs by Terry OdellAvailable Now. In the Crosshairs, Book 4 in my Triple-D Romantic Suspense series.

Changing Your Life Won’t Make Things Easier
There’s more to ranch life than minding cattle. After his stint as an army Ranger, Frank Wembly loves the peaceful life as a cowboy.

Financial advisor Kiera O’Leary sets off to pursue her dream of being a photographer until a car-meets-cow incident forces a shift in plans. Instead, she finds herself in the middle of a mystery, one with potentially deadly consequences.