Saturday, September 24, 2011

Bedazzled, Bewitched and Bedraggled

Bouchercon has come and gone. Like Dorothy, of Oz fame, it was like being  caught up in a tornado, then  dumped again on the Kansas plains again. Yes, I still tell people I’m from Kansas as though my life in Colorado is a sojourn, a side trip. It’s the emotional truth. My heart is still in Kansas. And if clicking my ruby slippers doesn’t work anymore, Toto and I will find another way home.

I love writers conferences and am dazzled by the people I meet. The thought-provoking panels and discussions help me improve. There’s this perpetual search for Dumbo’s Feather, alluded to in Stephen King’s book On Writing. Even after being published, there is a sense that some one person who is extremely successful, some magical author, will impart their secret, that special technique, that will enable us to soar too. As writers, we all yearn for Dumbo’s Feather.

Most of the writers I meet don’t look like Hollywood stars. That’s comforting, somehow. I’m always struck by how nice they are.

Panelists are excited about their work and the next book. They are all so vibrantly eager to tell us about their books.  We’re bewitched by their confident enthusiasm. Over and over, I’m struck by the number of writers who urge the audience to “write like themselves.” This point is hammered home time and again by editors, who say they can fix a book, but they can’t supply a voice if it isn’t there.

 I’m intrigued by the hordes of fans lining up for autographs at certain author’s table. She’s a very pleasant woman, without a trace of glamour. Ironically, I’ve never read one of her books. I vow I will the moment I get home.

In panel after panel, writers who talk about their journey, tell of hard work, and that the main requirement is persistence. The people who don’t understand that learning to write is a process always surprise me. Craftsmanship requires practice. We learn about plotting, characterization, narration, description, pacing, structure, marketing, and voice. Attending conferences shortens this process.

Conferences can be grueling. By the end of the week, I’m paneled out. Overwhelmed by people. This time the bedraggled feeling started with bad airplane arrangements that cheated me out of attendance at any of the Sisters-in-Crime meetings. Taking a shuttle to the wrong Renaissance Hotel compounded the mistake. I’m a panel junkie, so I didn’t get to see much of St. Louis.  

Because of my weird half-life as a historian, deciding on conferences every year is painful. I can’t go to them all. I would never get any writing done, and would end up flat broke.

 I loved meeting more of my Poisoned Pen Press buddies at St. Louis and came back energized by the gathering of talent present at Bouchercon. I met Type M’s own Frankie Bailey, and Poisoned Pen authors Jeffrey Siger, Fred Ramsey, and Carolyn Wall. It’s always a pleasure to talk with Sandra Parshall and Ann Parker.

Next year, I’ll start agonizing again over choosing conferences. I hate to miss any of them. The bedraggled feeling is a small price to pay for the benefits gained.


Donis Casey said...

I'm so envious. Going to conferences is one of the most useful things ever for an author, if for no other reason, because you learn that writing is the same agony for the famous as for the not-so-famous, and you are not alone.

Charlotte Hinger said...

Donis, YES! Somehow we think it's a breeze for everyone else.

Hannah dennison said...

I've yet to go to Bouchercon. I love conferences but as you say, we have to pick and choose. The one thing I always take away from these gatherings is the wonderful sense of camaraderie and the feeling that "we're not alone."

Charlotte Hinger said...

Hannah, some of my dearest friendships have evolved from writer's conferences. Yesterday, I went to Doris Meredith's son's wedding. Doris and I are old friends from Western Writers. She came to my room after the reception/dance and we talked until the wee hours of the morning.