Friday, July 26, 2013

Going to a Big Writing Conference: Is It Worth the Cost and Time?

Here’s the setup: a new-to-RWA author decides to swallow her nausea at the thought of dealing with hordes of people, and scrapes up the money for any of the following conferences: 

RWA National
RT Convention

RNC Convention


...or any number of more regional but just-as-intimidating conferences.

It’s a lot of money and she’s still so new to the whole writing-to-publish game. She has the online form pulled up; all she has to do is fill it in and write the check. Or log into PayPal and hit the button.

Perhaps she’s not a member of RWA and wonders if these memberships—and conferences and conventions—are even necessary. Maybe she’s better off holed up at her laptop or desktop, honing her craft and saving her pennies just in case she decides to self-publish one day. Will she learn anything that she can’t find online amongst all the resources now available on the internet for new writers? Isn’t she better served by staying the course, getting her manuscript all prettied up and not wasting time and money doing something she’s probably unprepared for?

Maybe. Then again . . .

I had been a member of RWA for a grand total of two weeks when I did a late registration for a local chapter conference. I was scared and nervous and nauseous and almost turned back several times on the drive to the conference hotel. I had even bowed to internal and external persuasion, and had decided to pitch my manuscript. It took every ounce of courage to walk into that hotel and pin on the badge I found in my goodie bag, because I am the very epitome of introvert and I usually don’t do well in crowds of more than three.

But I’m glad I went. I learned a lot about myself in those two days, and what I learned served as a huge affirmation that writing truly was my focus, my passion and my future. Of course my pitches were abysmal, my manuscript was laughably so not ready, and I was in awe of everyone else at the conference who seemed to have their stuff far more together.

But I met people, I found I could stand in a room with seventy other like-minded specimens of humanity without freaking out, and I came away with tentative friendships that have since strengthened.

A year later I attended my first RWA conference, threw myself into workshops and pitch sessions and networking. A month after that, I had my very first publishing contract under my belt, and a year after that, I became an editor for the publisher who took a chance on me.

Life continues its frenetic pace but it’s wonderful and uplifting. I’m ever the introvert, but you know what? If you ever meet me at a conference, you’ll never know I still have days when I want to lock myself in a dark closet and avoid people, phones, email messages and anything else that brings me into contact with other specimens of humanity.

That’s what going did for me, and it’s one tiny thing, of many, a writers’ conference will do for you: help to balance you out and teach you that you’re not alone in your creative needs.

I just returned from RWA 2013, in Atlanta. This time around I attended fewer workshops, connected with more friends, made myself available for the authors my publisher now works with, and had a wonderful time. I took pitches; in doing so met some nervous, talented authors and collected some wonderful synopses that I look forward to seeing in manuscript form, coming soon to an inbox on my desktop.

I became more of a participant but still retained my people-watching habits, and I saw myself in so many faces throughout the conference. That is, I saw my old self: that deer-in-the-headlights newbie who walked around as if wondering what on earth she was doing there. I also saw my future self, the author with more books published and more name recognition both as a writer and as an editor. I saw myself giving a workshop instead of just attending one. I don’t even have to think twice about it, because that’s where I’ll be. I’m secure enough now for that kind of affirmation.

Conferences instill confidence for even the shyest attendee. You can’t wander around during an event like that and not connect with people, especially if you have already developed a few friendships within your local chapter or writing group. Other writers want to smile at you, talk to you, perhaps offer up some of the mojo they have gained over the course of their own creative journey. You sit in a workshop and others will sit near you and start up a conversation; all it takes is one glance and a smile from you. Nobody ever has to be alone for any reason at a conference.

For anyone who wonders if a conference is worth time and money:
Yes, it most certainly is.

You not only learn, but you experience, and you need that as much as anything else usually found at an RWA-type event. Going to chapter meetings is only a part. It’s a very important part, of course, but it’s like a conference ‘seals the deal.’ Whether on a local/regional level or national, or a conference like RT, you need it. Time away from your normal life, for several days or just an all-day mini-con, is important to your creative juices. It affirms your status as a writer and we all need that.

Because in spite of everything else you are to others; a spouse, a parent, someone’s child, someone’s co-worker or someone’s boss . . . you’re also a writer and it’s a huge hunk of your life. Otherwise, you’d be doing something else.

When I’m asked if a conference is worth it, I always say ‘yes.’ Because it is. The cost can be horrendous and not everyone likes staying in hotels or flying to get there, but it’s worth it.

So when you go to your first conference, and you’re nervous and wondering why you shelled out all that money—or if it’s your second or third time at a conference and you still can’t figure out why you bothered . . . come find me. Make eye contact, offer up a smile, and I’ll sit down next to you, talk to you. I’ll listen to your pitch if you have one ready. I’ll have lunch with you if you find yourself sitting all alone. Because someone gave me the same courtesy at my first conference, and it meant a whole lot.

See you in 2014, somewhere!

--- Char Chaffin

Char Chaffin is a member of AKRWA, CNYRW, and the LaLaLas writing group. She is the author of three published works, currently working on her fourth novel, and is an Editor with Soul Mate Publishing. A displaced Alaskan, Char currently hangs out in Upstate New York and plots to return to Fairbanks, every chance she gets.

Friday, July 19, 2013

The RWA National Meeting on  Extrovert-ism
(and 6 hours of Sleep)

 As I write this it is just edging past midnight on Thursday (morning) of RWA 2013. I’ve been here in Atlanta since 10:00 a.m. Tuesday morning and, truth to tell, I have very little recollection of packing to leave home or the trip to Georgia. All I can say is, it’s a good thing I’m a night owl, extroverted, and run on the energy I gather from people during the day because this has been a truly interesting start to a conference!

The run up to this trip really began three and a half weeks ago when I got edits for my second book back from my editor and a deadline of July 15.
Since my brain is getting older by the day, it took me a week of editing to realize this was going to take me right up until I had to pack for the conference. So, I planned my editing schedule to finish a day early. I did well on this plan until the last week, when the wheels might not have come OFF the bus, but one of the tires went very flat. 
Suffice it to say, that due to a couple of family issue and some previously scheduled obligations, I watched the sun come up on Monday morning the 15th after a full night session of giving my manuscript a final read-through. I watched the sun come up, took a three hour nap and then finished the last of the work. I did get brownie points for meeting my deadline. But I didn’t have a stitch of anything packed for Atlanta.

So, good thing I’m a night owl, extroverted professional procrastinator.
I’m used to pulling projects together last minute. I started hauling things out of my closet, matching folded clothing items by color to make outfits and plopping them into a suitcase hoping against hope I’d remember most of what I needed.
I got bags packed and plants watered and dog brought to my son’s house for dog-sitting...and fans running in the basement (oh, yeah—hubby is at Boy Scout camp this week and the basement flooded a day before deadline J ).
I spent the night at my parents’ home so I could be at the airport at 5:15 a.m.
As I said, there’s very little recollection of packing. Or sleeping. Or getting to the airport! But, I must have done all that, because I did arrive safely and it’s been an amazing two days so far.
What’s my point in all this? It’s that no matter how insane the lead-up to RWA, how many necklaces that match earrings you forget (that would be three) and how many half-pairs of earrings you bring (that would be two) or how little sleep you get (that would be eight hours in three nights) it is so very worth it to be at this meeting.

Granted, I wouldn’t recommend this prep routine for a first time conference go-er, but this is my sixth time and there’s little to get my undies in a bunch about anymore.
I am just thrilled to meet up with some old friends, to be making new ones and to just sit in the wide open bar area and watch the writers chatting, laughing, joining up and hugging.
The energy is full-on; inspiration just plain floats through the air, and I already want to head home and just start writing my little fingers off.
Can you tell I enjoy coming to this? This is our professional organization in all its glory. There are controversies and there are opinions about things but, mostly, there are kindred spirits. And that’s the real reason I come. My life would hardly be ruined if I didn’t come, but it would certainly be missing a little spark that comes with hooking up with the mother ship once in a while.  It really is a cool place to be—even if I only managed to bring one of those favorite swirly dangling earrings with me – dang it!
 Next year’s RWA is in San Antonio. If you’ve never come to the meeting or only come once in a while, I hope you get the chance soon.
 There are spots waiting for us in the bar. J
--- Liz Selvig


Friday, July 12, 2013

Who'd a Dreamt It Back Then...

When I was in High School and College – back in the last millennium – I could never have dreamed I would end up on a Dutch Island in the middle of the Caribbean. So that is probably why I never took Dutch as a language. Russian, heck yes, we were in the middle of the cold war and I have always wanted to go to those dangerous and exotic places that chilled my parents’ blood, not to mention scared the living daylights out of my grandparents who lived through WWII and saw the atrocities enacted on our family still in the old country of Finland. Spanish, gee that was a no brainer. My college offered an exchange program with the University of Guanajuato, Mexico and those dark latino men held such an allure for a nineteen year old majoring in languages and psychology (you are probably asking yourself how those relate… they don’t – it’s just the way my brain and personality fight each other…). Chinese? Of course, I was going to live there at one point and teach English. I got there, but only as a tourist, which made me think twice, or five or nine times, about actually living there. But Dutch? Really? No, not really. I don’t think it was even offered at any college in Oregon in the seventies.

So now I find myself on this lovely Dutch island of Bonaire with a total area of 111 square miles of land, trying to buy groceries in a Dutch Supermarket where everything is mostly in Dutch, thinking I should have taken Dutch! Take for example the name Kralendijk (the capital). It is pronounced crawl-en-dick. Any name with the word dick in it should have been reconsidered as the capital’s name! Of course, that’s a romance writer’s opinion (we tend to zero in on “dick” words), and I am sure it is a venerated name from Bonaire’s long and colorful past.

Who knew VDT Speklappen would turn out to be some of the best pork belly I’ve eaten (and possibly the only pork belly I’ve eaten). It’s like a cross between bacon without salt and a very thin pork chop. We got hooked after thinking it was bacon and buying some. Wow – pork with no preservatives and a huge amount of real taste. It makes you forget all about American pork. We still think koelkast smeerbaar is butter and it sure tastes like it. We have Dutch pastry every morning with our smeerbaar on it. Schoulder-ham we got right off and the packaging was a dead give away. Thank heaven for growing up with Oscar Meyer in the plastic wrap!

Well, I never learned Dutch, but I am not starving either. What we are learning here is how several diverse cultures live quite amicably on this tiny island and how after years of political strife and ecological stress, this island’s waters are coming back alive and flourishing. And so is the tourist trade. The politics, I’m told, are still a bit dicey. Hey… I’m from Alaska. Dicey is the norm.

So here’s a little Bonaire history lesson for all of you curious people who think America’s beginnings were difficult! The earliest inhabitants of Bonaire were Indians who came from Venezuela about 1000 AD. They left notes in the rocks. You can still see the petroglyphs today. Can you imagine being an author back then?

They were happy, tall Indians, the tallest of the South American Indians. That was probably their problem – when you stick out in a crowd you always get in trouble! I learned that in the 4th grade when I was taller than the teacher. Anything happened, she pointed at me because I stuck out about a foot above everyone else. Tall did not bode well for the Caquetio.

The good old Europeans arrived in 1499 and proceeded to screw everything up. They were probably short people. Eventually deciding the island was useless, they forced the natives into slavery and removed them to the copper mines on Hispaniola. That left Bonaire without cheap labor and, God forbid, the Europeans work hard themselves! That’s what conqueror means – the conqueror forces the conquered to do the hard stuff. Well, a dozen or so years later, Juan de Ampies, the Spanish Commander of the island brought some of the Caquetio Indians back to work the plantations on their own island. After all, they were tall and easy to see! Nice. Gotta love those Spaniards.

Around 1623 the Dutch started visiting the island to buy groceries (just like us) and dump their prisoners (not like us at all). I’m told the Dutch are some of the tallest people in the world. Well, the Dutch and the Spaniards didn’t get along, so says history, and eventually the Dutch conquered the ABC Islands and Bonaire became a plantation of the Dutch West India Company. They brought slaves from Africa to work alongside the enslaved Caquetio Indians and the convicts - a great combination; working away in eighty to one hundred degree heat in huge solar saltpans. But they had low-income housing provided; cement block houses about the size of a king sized bed with a crawl hole in the front and a small hole for a window in the back. Entire families lived in the huts. Reminds me of inner city Detroit, but smaller and hotter!

In the early eighteen hundreds Bonaire bounced back and forth between Britain and the Netherlands. The British tried out the “possession is nine tenths of the law” idea building and settling most of Kralendijk. It generally worked for them in most of the world, right? Eventually they lost to the Dutch in 1812. Bonaire remained a Dutch government plantation until 1862 when 607 government slaves and 151 private slaves were freed by proclamation. Unfortunately the Netherlands sold most of the island to two private owners – we know all about privatization don’t we? It caused a great deal of hardship and many people had to leave. Sounds like the FAA. Gee, they freed the slaves who then had to leave their own island because they had nowhere to live. Ya gotta love politics.

During WWII, Germany occupied the Netherlands so Bonaire became a British protectorate. The British, no doubt, were smiling cause they got it back without a fight. We jumped in as well because we were fast friends back then, and as usual, built a big airport as a military base. We also built an internment camp for the tall Dutch and German citizens who lived on Bonaire during that time. Turn about is fair play, right? I wonder how they felt about being locked up on their own land? Hummmmmm… Come on… we let them out after the war, right?

They got us back though, by turning the camp into the first big hotel on the island and painting the airport pink! That was then. This is now.

The Flamingo International Airport is still pink. The hotel is much bigger and much more expensive. Today, Bonaire is one of the world’s best scuba diving locations. Which is why we are here. Most of the surrounding ocean waters are protected as a marine sanctuary and respected by the diving community. Bonaire is known for its shore diving and the island is ringed with large yellow rocks marking dive sites. You just park and dive. Well sometimes there’s a hike involved. Or a bit of a climb!

Sorobonne, on the southeast side of the island, is a wind surfer’s paradise on huge Lac Bay, only a few feet deep inside a breaker reef. Atlantis Beach on the south west side is a growing and very popular kite surfing locale.

The descendants of Bonaire’s tumultuous history live here in peace, most of the time. There are no more slaves. There is no more war for ownership, only political jostling. And Dutch words on the supermarket packaging. And I still have a bit of a time saying the capital’s name out loud. It’s such a small problem and we’re not starving! Life is good. The water is warm and the sun shines every day. However, I still feel bad for those tall Caquetio Indians!

--- Miriam Matthews… a very tall, scuba diving author

The Good, the Bad, and the Bet

Ever wonder what happened to DB Cooper? 

Why he hijacked a plane and jumped into infamy?

He did it for her…and she loved him anyway

Friday, July 5, 2013


Mr. July 2013

As Alaskan Romance Writers

we are always on the lookout for
Hot Hunky Hero types ---

So please, Mr. Alaska Man - tell us about yourself.

1. Were you born in Alaska, and if not, then how did you end up here? What do you do for a living, and what do you do for fun. Age, height, favorite food, and any other statistics you are willing to share. Just remember though, we are a PG 13 site and blush easily.

I was not born in Alaska, I'm a born and bred New Yorker.
I came to Alaska on a travel assignment (I'm a Respiratory Therapist) and returned to stay a few years later. I'm 35 and 6'. I have a fairly strict diet, but when I go home to NY, I try and ingest all the pizza (the ONLY real pizza on the planet) and bagels (see comment about pizza) I can.

2. What kind of woman appeals to you, and who do you let make the first move, you or her?
I love a woman who is independent; someone who isn't afraid to try new things. I look at life as an adventure, so a woman who can share that view is what I like. As for first moves... I will never knock a woman for making a first move. It shows that she is confident and knows what she wants and that usually pays off later ;)

3. Where is your favorite place to take a girl on a first date, and why?

For a first date, I like to stay away from movies and dinner. That is so impersonal. Its Alaska! How about some outdoor activities? Summer hikes or bike rides... Winter snowshoeing.. Then perhaps somewhere to warm up?
4. What is the wildest thing that's ever happened to you while with a female companion?
The wildest thing that has happened to me while with a female companion was taking a hike though some pretty deserted (by humans anyway) trails and hearing the animals and seeing the footprints (pretty fresh ones at that) and trekking on, watching each other's back.

5. Winter can be long, dark, and very cold here in Alaska. What are your favorite frosty pastime activities? And, what is the coldest temp you'e seen/been in?
I love to cross country ski. I haven't made my way up something high enough to slide down since I've been here. Nothing beats a fire and watching the snow fall. That always ends nicely.
6. And, if we ask about winter then we simply must inquire about the too short, wonderful summers.

I definitely feel the pressure to accomplish all I can during the summer weeks. Besides camping, I love hiking and mountain biking. I love the water so I hope to get some kayaking and stand up paddle boarding in.  I just competed in my first triathalon last month. 

7. Alaskan men take their vehicles very seriously. What is your favorite mode of transport and why?

I drive a truck, but nothing beats taking something on 2 wheels and going fast enough to be considered stupid.. I do enjoy the snow machine, but its 2 wheels for me!

8. What is your favorite Alaskan animal – to see along the highway or on your dinner plate?

I'm a vegetarian so I don't like to see animals on my plate. I am a dog lover so my favorite would have to be our very own Alaskan Malamute.

9. Have you ever wrestled a polar bear, mushed a dog team, panned for gold, eaten muktuk, done the polar bear plunge, climbed Denali, run the Mt. Marathon, or any of the other Found Only In Alaska activities?

Sadly, I have done none of those things, but there's still time so I better get on it!

10. In your opinion, what exactly is it that makes an Alaskan Male so wonderfully macho and appealing?

The Alaskan Male has to be a part of nature. He has to fend off deadly animals and be pretty handy with an axe to for all those winter fires. 
11. What’s the biggest fish you’ve ever landed?
I caught a 45lb halibut a few years back. That was when I still ate them though.

12. Other than making love under them, what is your favorite thing to do when the Northern Lights are out and putting on a show?

Umm... there's other things?

13. And last but certainly not least, what is the most romantic thing about Alaska, and why?
The most romantic thing about Alaska is the never ending opportunity to be out in nature with that special someone totally isolated. Its like having your own Eden... before the leaves ;)

Our thanks to JOHN - 'Mr. July 2013' for a great interview on what REAL ALASKA MEN are all about.

Check back on the AKRWA blog to see what 'Mr. August' says!

Thanks for stopping by - see you next time...