Category Archives: Pikes Peak Writers

Book Review: Divinity by Michelle L. Johnson

Divinity CoverI met Michelle at the 2014 Pikes Peak Writers Conference and, as writers will do, we got to talking about what we write. When she told me about her book, I knew I had to have it. As soon as she let me know that the pre-order for Divinity was available, I slapped down my credit card on the virtual counter top at Barnes and Noble’s Web Site, and through some miracle they shipped it to me almost a month early! I don’t know how that happened. I don’t ask questions of divine intervention. I just smile and nod and continue on with life.

Anyway… This means that I have the pleasure of being one of the first people to read her novel (outside the normal circles of critique groups, agents, editors, ARCs, beta readers, etc.) Since I’m one of the first outside her inner circle to get the book, I get to be one of the first to review it.

I rarely write book reviews, so bear with me if this is a little sparse or shoddy. I’m doing my best not to give away spoilers that aren’t already given away in the back-cover blurb, so that’s why I’ll be intentionally vague about certain parts.

First off the official description as given from the B&N web site:

When Julia climbs into a flaming car to save a trapped child, she’s left wondering why either of them survived. Then she learns that her father is the Archangel Gabriel, and that she is half human, half Archangel.

With guidance from Michael, the most powerful Archangel, Julia sets out to discover her own history and explore her angelic powers. But her journey is cut short when an evil force, invisible to human and angel alike, tears her world apart.

Now Julia must fight through her despair, harness her newfound gifts, and risk her very soul to stop the A’nwel and protect the family she never knew she had.

What she doesn’t know is that Archangels have secrets too.

My review and thoughts:

Michelle does just enough world building and scene setting to let me get to know Julia before ramping things up with a car crash that Julia dives head first into. She’s saving a child from a burning car despite all mortal danger she’s presented with. I immediately know what kind of person Julia is and that I’d love being friends with her. Her selfless actions (and love for coffee) tied me to her right away. When strange things happen during the rescue of the child, Julia reacts as any person would and this made the “strange things” that much more believable.

After the rescue in the flaming car crash, things escalate pretty quickly from there. There are some authors that slam down the accelerator and never give the reader a chance to come up for air. Those books have their place, but it’s a rare one of those that finds a place on my shelf. Michelle doesn’t roar through the book at a breakneck speed. She masterfully has highs and lows in the book that kept me guessing at what was to come next. I smiled when I got things right. When my guesses were off the mark, I was very pleasantly surprised at the turn of events. Some were shocking. Many were emotional (yes, I cried in Jimmy John’s while reading this book…. several times.) All of them were wonderfully done.

Michelle carried me through Julia’s story and showed me how Julia changed from the first day of events through the last moments of the book. The closing scene of the book, well, no spoilers, so don’t worry. That closing scene left me worried, concerned, and deeply wanting more of Julia’s story. I’ve been assured there is a sequel in the works, which makes me incredibly happy. I hear some people saying, “But I want a complete story, not a ‘continued next week….’ kind of series.” Don’t worry. You get a fully story. There are incredibly character, plot, and theme arcs within these covers that carry through to a satisfying conclusion. That closing epilogue is the cherry on top, though.

Now for one downside that I found with the book. There are scenes from the archangels’ points of view. I did not expect this at all. The first few jarred me out of Julia’s story, but when I realized there were two story lines traveling side-by-side, those scene transitions became much easier. Michelle does this fairly early in the book, so it’s not like you have 200 pages of Julia and then we pop into the heads of the angels. That would be incredibly jarring. In this case, it was a mere mental stumble on my part, but once I got into the rhythm and groove of moving between Julia and the archangels, the read went much smoother. I want to say that it took me about three back-and-forth switches for me to realize the purpose of the breaks and how things were going.

This leads me to my favorite part of the book: the angels. Even though the stakes of the book are incredibly high (for angel and mortal alike), the angels still have a wry sense of humor about them. These brief moments of levity were some of the “breather moments” I mentioned above. In addition to their sense of humor you quickly learn that the angels are not of a like mind, nor are they perfectly allied with one another against “evil” or the dastardly deeds of Lucifer and his minions. Just the concept of angels being individuals rather than a perfectly molded extension of God brings whole new levels of thought to my mind.

Well done, Michelle.

I can’t wait to pre-order the sequel!


PPWC 2014 Recap

I’m at a loss for where to start.

Our annual Pikes Peak Writers Conference has been the works for about 15-18 months. Yeah. It takes us that long to get everything ironed out and going properly. Now that the 2014 PPWC over, we’re focused on 2015, but not after taking a well-deserved break for a week or two. I won’t bore you with the logistics and planning that go into a conference. This means I’ll be focusing on what happened Wednesday through Sunday of this past week. I can’t really think of a better way to present things for you other than chronologically. This means some very cool stuff will have to wait until later to be talked about.

Here goes….

Wednesday

I hit Tri-Lakes Printing to pick up schedules, handouts, programs, inserts, and other goodies. It turned out our handouts weren’t quite ready, and this was entirely on PPW’s shoulders. Charise was in their lobby on their laptop hastily rearranging the PDF to get them a corrected copy. I applaud Charise for her dedication to perfection with our handouts. Well done! I picked up what was ready, and headed out.

I was about 90 minutes early for my meeting with Bonnie and Shannon at the storage unit, so I swung by the Colorado Springs Marriott to see about getting checking in early and offloading my bags into my room. This would make more room for unloading the storage unit. I was in luck! My room was ready for me, so I raced my goods from my car to my room and hit the road again.

Despite my side-trek to the Marriott, I still arrived at the storage units about 30 minutes early. After thinking about what goes where, I packed my car to the gills with the small-to-medium size boxes. This took all of 20 minutes, so I sat in my car with the A/C on and chilled out for a few minutes until Bonnie arrived. We moved more of the small-to-medium size boxes into her car and pretty much filled it up as well. Shannon texted to say she’d be a few minutes late, but arrived just in time to allow us to put the larger items into her Jeep, and off we were.

Once back at the Marriott, we offloaded what felt like a metric ton of goodies from our cars and into the staging area, which was destined to become our bookstore once we launched the conference.

I took this chance to run away from the Marriott for a few hours. I had to get food (and schlop mustard all over my “Super JT” t-shirt), do some last-minute shopping for goods for the conference (and a new t-shirt for me).

Once back at the Marriott, packet stuff, bag stuffing, moderator packet assembling, and bookstore set up was well underway. As president of PPW, I swung by all stations and checked in. Everything was under control as it always is. I stood around for a few moments just to catch my breath, before launching into telling people to tell me what to do. I collated packets, folded signs, schlepped things around the hotel, and did a handful of the small things that keep everything glued together. The energy and enthusiasm during prep time was outstanding!

During all of this, I caught word that our transportation director, Jason, had a sudden, personal emergency, and had to leave to take care of it. Ironically, he was going to be unable to pick up the agent he had scheduled himself for. Don’t worry, everything is fine with Jason. Someone else stepped up to pick up the agent, and then we found out the agent wouldn’t be arriving until fairly late due to flight delays. Jason’s backup had conflicting plans that evening when the flight was to arrive, so MB went in search of me. Since I was The Guy That Picked Up An Agent At Two In The Morning last year, I was sought out and when MB was halfway through explaining the situation, I interrupted her and told her that I was in.

I continued helping move things hither and to and stuffing things into envelopes, bags, boxes, and what-not. A few of us took a break from the work to hang out with some of the higher-ups of the Marriott and chat for a while. Since we do so much business together, it’s best to get to know each other better. We had a good hour (or so) of hanging out, eating a very yummy chocolate cake made by Ray, and drinking some really good wine.

Once that was over, the packing/stuffing was nearing complete when one of our volunteers fell ill. She’d gone too long without food, and her blood sugar levels crashed and burned. I have low blood sugar issues as well, so I spotted the symptoms and problems. She wanted to drive home, but I wouldn’t let her drive in that condition. I escorted Jade to the lobby where I bought her some protein and carbs to snack on.

When this mini-crisis was resolved, I took Jade back up to where the prep room was at and found that most everything was finished up.

That brought me to my next task: Getting to the airport in time to pick up Michelle Johnson. As usual for the day, I was early for picking her up, so I hung out at the airport and people watched. Normally, I’d mess around on my phone, but the battery was almost dead, and I didn’t want to kill the remaining 2% of my battery by playing Angry Birds. Michelle arrived, and we had a fantastic conversation about loads of different stuff while on the way to the Marriott. It mostly revolved around coffee, fantasy writing, and the various presentations we know how to teach.

Once I got Michelle settled at the hotel, I hit the bar and had a few drinks with some friends. It wasn’t too late when we all hit the sack because we knew had a long few days ahead of us.

However, I didn’t sleep well. I had some stress-induced dreams (which are rare for me.) In this case, I had this chain of logic going on in my head:

  1. We pulled things from storage.
  2. Everything is here at the hotel and ready to go, except the attendees.
  3. If the attendees are missing, we must have left them in the storage units.
  4. Therefore, the attendees are in the storage unit.

Yeah. That led to a restless night until around 4:30 in the morning when exhausting finally conquered the stress, and I got some decent sleep.

Thursday

Thursday started off with me moderating a half-day session about how to do a pitch. Linda Rohrbough gave a fantastic session which received high praise from the attendees. I chose that session to moderate because Linda taught the very first PPW Write Brain I attended way back in August of 2008. I always love hearing her speak and teach. She is, quite simply, one of the best out there.

I somehow managed to end up late for lunch, but there was still a meal for me, so I scarfed down a turkey wrap while talking with some folks. I made a few new friends and reconnected with some old friends. It was a good meal with great conversation.

From there, I left the Marriott to get some PPW brochures printed up and run a few other errands. I got back later with the brochures in hand, and spread them about our area in the Marriott.

About this time, I sped (okay, I followed the speed limit) back to the airport to pick up Hank Phillippi Ryan and Chuck Wendig. Hank’s flight was a little early, and Chuck’s was a little late, so I had a good twenty-minute gap where I hung out with Hank and some of our other transportation volunteers that were early for picking up their folks.

When Hank and Chuck had their luggage collected, we tried to leave the parking lot, but between entering the lot and getting to the payment booth, I had lost my parking ticket. I know I had put it in my badge holder for the conference, but it simply wasn’t there. I had lost it somewhere along the way. I sighed and pushed the “Lost Ticket” button on the automated machine. The fees are $1.00 per half hour with a maximum of $8.00 per day. The machine mechanically intoned, “Your total will be -pause- one -pause- thousand dollars.” *gasp* With the price structure, and the pause between “one” and “thousand,” I was completely shocked at the amount it was demanding. Had it been $20 or something like that, I would have paid it. Instead, I had to back out of the slot and go to the attendant’s booth. I managed to get out of there (after paperwork and ID check and stuff like that) with an $8.00 payment. I safely got Hank and Chuck to the hotel, and immediately hit the bar to snag some food and drinks.

Again, I ran into friends, and stayed up Way Too Late with them before getting to bed.

Friday

Friday morning started with me moderating two back-to-back sessions.

The first was Fiction Genres by Linda Rohrbough. I already have a solid grasp on genres, but I wanted to moderate this one for my good friend. The session went over very, very well, and I always love hearing Linda enlighten the people in her audience.

The second session was a “Read & Critique X” with Beth Phelan. Basically, up to 11 people can sign up for an R&C X session where they get up and read their first page. The agent/editor then gives them feedback on that page. The entire interaction lasts five minutes, and the moderator there is basically for keeping time and calling people up in the proper order. I learned quite a bit from hearing Beth speak to people about their opening pages. Even though my first page was not on the line, hearing what someone has to say about another person’s work is educational.

Up next was lunch with our welcoming lunch, and after that were the two hours of speed pitch catching I had signed up for. Turns out that there were too many staff on hand for me to be required. I politely bowed out of the first hour and took that time to hang out in the lobby and green room. Getting that hour to myself was a blessing. Thanks to Debbie for letting me sit out the first hour. When the second hour of speed pitching arrived, I headed back down to the room it was in.

Here’s the set up for speed pitching. The attendee has two minutes to pitch their book. The staff member (always a qualified author or experienced writer) “catches” the pitch, and then gives then two minutes of feedback on the pitch. There are multiple catchers in the room, so the pitchers can get multiple sets of feedback. This repeats until the time runs out for speed pitching. The pitches I heard ranged from good-to-great-to-superb. I helped the good get great, and the great polish up a few things. I felt sorry for the ones with a superb pitch because I couldn’t help them out much at all. I listened to so many great stories during that hour. I wish all of them the best of luck with pursuing their publication goals.

During the afternoon break, I vanished. I ran off to my room for a few minutes just to veg out. Doing speed pitch catching always drains my brain and I needed a few minutes to myself.

The next (and last) session for Friday was a Read & Critique Author with Carol Berg. Like the R&C X, the R&C Author sessions are all about getting feedback from an industry expert. As you might expect, this time the expert was an author. Carol is one of my greatest PPW friends. She probably doesn’t know it, but she pulled me back from the brink of flipping the table on my writing career and walking away after some particularly harsh feedback. I’ll always be indebted to Carol for keeping me sane. Anyway, the R&C Author sessions are limited to 8 people, and there is no audience. Each person reads the first two pages of their work to the author, and the author gives them constructive feedback. These conversations last 8 1/2 minutes for each attendee. Like with R&C X, my moderator duties are there to keep an eye on the clock and keep everything running smoothly. Carol proclaimed herself to be more nervous than the attendees in case she gave them bad advice or misspoke. This just showed to me how much Carol truly cares about helping others.

Once the session was over, I hit the staff/faculty mixer, which is a closed door (and open bar!) event where the staff (folks that run the show) can finally meet, face-to-face, with the faculty (speakers at the show) that we’ve all been exchanging emails with over the past year or more. It’s only an hour, but I wish it were more. This is where I presented a custom-made, one-of-a-kind movie poster to Chuck Wendig. Find an Angry Robot podcast with him and Mur Lafferty, and you might have an idea of what it’s about. Many thanks to Patrick Hester for putting together the poster that Chuck loves so much.

(PS: I just shipped the poster to him today. Yes, that means I have Chuck’s home address. No. You can’t have it. It’s mine! All mine! I have the unlimited power to stalk Chuck now! Muhahahaahaha…. Shit. I can already feel him filling out the paperwork for a restraining order now.)

After this was a keynote dinner with Gail Carriger. She taught me that, as a writer, I have to remember that writing is as vital to my existence as breathing. It’s natural. It’s automatic. Sometimes it takes effort, but without my writing, I cease to be who I am. She was, of course, much more eloquent in her presentation than I am being now, but I think you get the point. While at this meal, I sat with Michelle Johnson again and we chatted more about her own writing, her agency, more about my writing, and all that good stuff. During the conversation, she asked for a full manuscript from me, which jazzed up the night quite a bit. I’ve already sent her the full manuscript, and I can’t wait to see what she thinks of it. In addition to the car ride and the meal, we hung out a few times here and there as well. She’s an awesome lady, and I would love to work with her. Let’s hope she thinks the same of me and my writing.

That cycled down the official day, but BarCon ensued after the meal. We all invaded the bar at the Marriott and downed a great amount of spirits, soda, water, wine, and beers. Goods times were had by all, and the end of the night rolled to a close for me at shortly after Midnight. However, as I walked down the hallway to my room, I passed by our Green Room and heard copious amounts of girlish giggling with a snort of humor interjected. I recognized the twittering voices and knew that Bonnie, MB, and Shannon were hiding inside having a good time. I knocked on the door (and almost growled, “Hotel Security!” but resisted). The door cracked open a bit, and when they saw me, they waved me in with a conspiratorial motion. That got my hopes up for some shenanigans, but it turns out we just had a good time talking, chatting, eating a few snacks (PS: Gluten-free crackers are not as good as regular ones. I must be in love with “gluten flavoring.” I wonder if they make “gluten-flavored” sno-cones? Anyway, I digress.) It was close to 2 AM when I finally hit the bed. I was beat, but in a good way.

Saturday

Saturday is our Big Day at the conference. It runs from 8 AM until… well… sometime Sunday morning if you count the unofficial goings ons. I’ll try to be brief.

I slept in (by accident) because I apparently don’t know that setting an alarm for 7:15 on Friday will not wake me up at 7:15 on Saturday. Oops. That’s okay. I needed the rest, and I had no responsibilities until 9:20. I managed to drag myself out of bed right around 8:30.

My 9:20 responsibilities were to myself. This is the one personal thing I hold more important than anything else in conference, and I get selfish about making sure nothing interferes with my pitch appointment. Period. I normally shed all personal thoughts while making sure everyone else is having a good time at conference, but not in this case. Okay. Enough about me being selfish. My pitch appointment was with Carlisle Webber. I’ve lost track of the number of pitches I’ve done, but they’ve all resulted in a “Sent It.” This was my first pitch that I walked out the door empty-handed. Turns out that my sword and sorcery novel isn’t the type of fantasy story Carlisle is looking for. That’s fine. Please don’t send her hate mail on my behalf. She was incredibly gracious and polite when she informed me she would not be the best advocate for my novel. As an agent, they must 100% believe in the project and enjoy the project, or it’ll go nowhere. I’m really thankful to Carlisle for not stringing me along just to be polite. She’s a great woman, and if you write the type of stuff she’s looking for, she’ll be a wonderful person to work with.

After my pitch, I chilled out for a little bit to collect my thoughts.

Then I headed to my next moderation duty, which was Kris Neri‘s Super Setting Workshop. Man, she blasted the doors out of their hinges with great information. It was a great session! Well done, Kris.

Then we had lunch with Jim C. Hines where I sat with the always-smiling Amy Boggs. We had great conversation around the table about life, likes, dislikes, and our writing. At the end of the meal, Amy requested partial manuscripts from all of us at the table. She wasn’t doing just to be nice. We all mini-pitched our books, and (I was sitting next to her), I could see that she was genuinely interested in everything we were working on. She didn’t have to request anything from us, but she did. That shows how classy she is. Getting a partial request from Amy was not the best part of the meal, though. Jim’s speech on diversity in writing, publishing, and urging everyone to do their best to be all-inclusive and wholly-understanding of other people inspired me completely. I’d love to have the text of his speech. He’s a fantastic man that is advocating some vital changes to the way we do things.

After lunch, I attended Michelle’s session on Keeping the Unreal Real. She nailed it. Most of the session reinforced things I already knew and practiced, but there were many ideas and thoughts in there that made me realize I have some weaknesses in my approach of doing magic and the supernatural. Those are things I need to shore up.

Up next was a panel session (look for the recording on The SF Signal Podcast in the near-to-medium future) about diversity in writing. On the panel were Carol Berg, Jim C. Hines, Chuck Wendig, and Amy Boggs. Patrick Hester was the facilitator (or moderator if you wish) of the conversation. The panel was about diversity in writing and publishing. I’d love to sum up the massive amounts of wisdom dispensed during the session, but I know I’ll fall far short. Instead, I’ll just leave it up to you to find the podcast when it’s released. If you like, follow my RSS feed in your favorite reader program/site, and I’ll link to it when it’s released since I asked a question and got great answers, which should be on the podcast.

Up next was the afternoon break, which I spent roaming around and chatting with people.

Then I moderated a session for DeAnna Knippling about Genre Promises and How to Keep Them. Instead of puking out a list of genres and their rules/styles, she went through the types of genres (age, style, concept, etc.) and broke them down with key information about them. She came at it from the angle of “Here’s what you’re promising your readers with this genre, and if you do XYZ action within a certain genre, you’re breaking promises and will upset your readership.” Great information. Well done. She was supremely worried about going over time, but she nailed it. I stood up to signal the end of the session right as she finished with her last point. Well done, DeAnna!

Saturday Banquet

This is our Big Night, so it gets its own header.

We started the banquet off with some wonderful food, a few great drinks from the bars, and then got “down to business.”

2014 PPWC Volunteer of the Year Award

2014 PPWC Volunteer of the Year Award

After Aaron Michael Ritchey started us off, the wonderful Laura Hayden took the stage to award the Pikes Peak Writers Volunteer of the Year Award… To Me!!! I knew I had been nominated because the president of PPW is normally part of the selection committee for awards. However, they left me out of the loop on purpose. This tipped their hand that I was a nominee. However, we have such a wonderful group of volunteers in our organization, I was surprised when I was chosen. The kind words Laura said about my efforts for PPW damn near brought me to tears. I’m actually kind of surprised I wasn’t a wet, sobbing mess when I hit the stage.

After this, it was my turn to give out an award. Our Pikes Peak Writers Conference  Volunteer of the Year Award went to MB Partlow. She shared the award last year with Jen LaPointe, but stepped up her game for a second year in a row, and earned the award for a second year in a row. I’d have to check our archives, but I’m fairly certain this has never been done before. Congratulations to MB for a well-deserved piece of recognition!

Once I clambered off stage, Laura Hayden took the stage again to award Bonnie Hagan with the Pikes Peak Writers Legacy Award, which is earned by long-time volunteers that have gone above and beyond the call of duty year-after-year. Bonnie definitely earned this. She’s been (and still is!) a person that I’ve always looked up to within PPW. When she congratulates me for a job well done, I get all warm and fuzzy inside. When Bonnie received this award, I felt even more warm and fuzzy than ever before. Great job and congratulations Bonnie!

Then we brought all of winner of The Zebulon Writing Contest on stage and gave them a rousing round of applause. They deserve it. Here is the list of winners.

Once PPW wrapped up all of our official business, we got to listen to great stories from Hank Phillippi Ryan, and be inspired by her sage words of advice. I think I own Hank an apology. I was on Cloud Nine from my award, and I don’t recall much of her speech. Shock had set in about what my peers (and people I look up to) thought about my efforts.

When the evening was over, BarCon resumed and we hit the bars again. What a night. I talked to so many great and wonderful people throughout the night and into the deep hours of darkness. I felt like I didn’t move my feet a bit, but just floated through the throng. It was surreal with how many people congratulated me for my award. I’m still blown away. Thanks to everyone that nominated me, voted for me, spoke on my behalf, and to everyone else that shook my hand and congratulated me. It’s an honor to be so kindly recognized.

…. and you haven’t seen anything yet! I still have more plans for improving PPW and making us a stronger organization!

Sunday

AAAAaaaaaahhhhhh….. The final day. Thankfully, it’s a half day for our attendees and most of our volunteers, but I still didn’t get home until around 5:30 PM. I’m getting ahead of myself, though.

I snoozed once too long, and was getting to the first session of the day as it started. I cracked the door open and found that Sarah Peed‘s session on dialogue was standing room only. I quietly closed the door and crept away. I really wanted to sit in on that session, but it was not meant to be. While I’m mentioning Sarah, I need to point out that she is one incredibly funny and nice lady. I talked with her a few times throughout the conference, and she’s incredible. I would love to work with her, but somehow never managed to get a chance to talk to her about my book. I guess I’ll have to query her at Hydra.

This downtime gave me a chance to mentally prepare for the last two sessions of the day, which was a good thing since I was moderating both of them.

The first of my moderation duties included moderating for Chuck Wendig in his theme session. The man is a dead-on, natural-born teacher. He did a fantastic job at defining advanced and complex concepts in a simple and easy to understand method. Great job, Chuck!

The last session before the going-away lunch was Becky Clark’s session on how to market and sell your own stuff. She talked about all of her tips and tricks that have (and some that have not) worked for her in the past. It was a great closing out session for me. Oh. Did I mention that Becky is a hilarious person? Yeah. She is. Love being around her for the laughs she gives to me.

Chuck’s closing out keynote speech was one of inspiration. He talked about trials, tribulations, successes, failures, and most of all persistence. He left all of us at the Sunday lunch with a great sense of, “We can do this!” …. because we can.

Once the conference was over with, I helped out a bit with the packing and moving (but not much) since I had to get my stuff from my room, get it to our temporary storage, and take care of my own stuff. Then later in the afternoon, I had to track down Carlisle and Gail to get them to the airport in time. There was some chaos around finding Gail because she was hiding out with Patrick and Chuck doing a podcast recording for SF Signal. Once we tracked her down, my blood pressure went down, and we all went to the airport. The ride there was hilarious because it turns out that Carlisle and Gail don’t know each other even though they live five minutes apart on the West Coast. They both had to come to Colorado at the same time to discover this fact. Weird, eh?

Once I got these two great ladies (Gail hugged me! SQQQUEEEEE! Okay. I’m fine. *deep breath*) dropped off at the airport, I headed back to the Marriott one final time for the weekend. I loaded all of my personal gear into the car, and wandered around the strangely quiet public areas for a few minutes. I reminisced about the weekend that had just rolled to a close and all of the great friends I’d seen, all of the new friends I’d made, and how much electricity we brought to such a grand hotel.

I got in my car and headed home with one thought in my head, “I can’t wait for next year….”


Five More Tips for Making a Conference Great

I’ve been thinking about my first post that contained five tips for making the most of a conference. I jotted down a few notes on adding five more tips, and I wanted to share them with you here.

1) Practice Your Pitch

If you’re going to be pitching your book to an agent or editor, then you need to know it inside and out. Depending on the conference, you only have a few minutes to “sell” the idea of your book to the person sitting on the other side of the table. They will have questions. You will have questions. Leave some time for those queries to flow across the table. As an example, my pitch takes roughly 70 seconds. That’s only a little over a minute, and I wrap it up by asking them what else they want to know about the book. Don’t get nervous about answering the questions. You’ve written the book. You know the book. It’s come from your soul, so you probably know it better than you own child. The questions are usually easy to answer. I’ve had a few people ask me if their manuscript needs to be completed before they pitch. I used to answer, “Yes, always,” but I’ve come to soften that stance a little. If you can finish the novel in a high quality manner in a professional period of time, then you can be close to done, but not quite done. If you can polish things off within a few weeks of the end of the conference, great. If you can send a full manuscript their way within a day or three of the agent/editor asking for it, all the better! Here are some resources from Linda Rohrbough and Delve Writing that may help. Check out the Delve Writing link sooner rather than later. It’s a class that happens very soon. What happens if you get a “Send It!” from the agent/editor? Well, I’ll cover that in the next day or two as it’s a large topic. It’s something you should be prepared for, so keep an eye out for that future post.

2) Plan Your Schedule

As soon as you can get your hands on the schedule of classes, look it over. Make plans. Combine the scant information in the schedule (the font can only get so small, and the boxes are only so large) with the expanded information in the conference program. Get the information online if you can. If not, get to the registration desk early. There will be lines. Plan on that. Once you’re through registration and have your hands on things, find a quiet corner to scour the schedule. Have a two different colored highlighters handy. Use one color (I usually use yellow) for the primary thing you want to go to. Use the other color (blue, for me) as a backup session in the same time slot. If you get to the primary and find all the seats taken or the doors already closed due to fire safety measures, hustles to your second pick. Near the end of the current session, quietly pull out your highlighter marked schedule and find out where your next #1 session is going to be. This will help guarantee that you’ll be one of the first in and will be able to pick a prime seat.

3) Don’t Bring Your Manuscript With You

There’s no need to have a copy of your manuscript with you. It doesn’t matter if it’s a copy on a thumb drive or a perfect-bound copy you had made at the local copy store. People interested in your novel will want you to contact them via their already established methods. Agents/Editors at a conference already have enough crap to haul back to their home. Many of them are from out of state and will be flying home. They don’t want to haul more paper back with them. “But a PDF on their laptop won’t make it heavier!” Yeah. I know. But that inadvertent virus on your thumb drive can destroy everything on their laptop. You don’t mean to do it. You might be the most cautious computer person in the world, but they don’t know that. They can’t risk their laptop (which is probably tied to their livelihood) when they already have an established manner for you to get your novel to them. Just bring a notebook and jot down how they want you to send it and follow the instructions.

4) Get A Room!

While looking at the published schedule, you might notice that things end between seven and nine in the evening. You think to yourself, “Self. I can just drive home after things and come back in the morning. Ah, the joys of sleeping in my own bed.” What you may not realize is that there are unofficial, after-hours events going on. Some of it happens at the public bar. Some of it happens in other attendees’ rooms/suites. Some of it may happen in a semi-official (or completely official) “con suite” where drinking, talking, networking, and other socializing goes on. These after-hours events can go until two, three, even four, in the morning. Wanna lose some vital sleep while driving home and back again? I think not. Getting a room for the night is a vital way to snag another hour or two of sleep that night. When you’re only getting three-to-five hours a night, losing two hours (or so) can be a direct path to coming down with ConCrud. No one wants that.

5) Attend BarCon

As I’ve said above, there are some after-hours events. Go. To. Them. Hang at the bar. Chill out (if invited) in someone’s suite where the party (and, sometimes, absinthe fountain) is at. While you’re in sessions, you’re learning. Your brain is being filled, but that social animal in you is being ignored. There’s hardly any time between the sessions to truly socialize and network. Meals are a great time to meet people, but you’re at a table with (at most) nine other people. You need to expand the chain of people you know (and that know you!) more than those nine people. Hitting BarCon is the way to go. The most powerful words to get someone’s time and rapt attention at a conference are, “Can I buy you a drink?” It’s not a cheesy pick up line. It’s a ice-breaker. It’s a door-opener. Maybe that door that opens is the one that will lead to a great leap forward in your writing career. You never know!


Five Tips for Making the Most of a Conference

Pikes Peak Writers recently hosting our second annual Write Your Heart Out Event, which is a free half-day showcase of what to expect at our annual Pikes Peak Writers Conference. Congrats to Shannon and her staff of volunteers for putting together a fantastic event!

I had prepared a series of interludes between the main speakers in which I was going to cover five tips for making the most of a conference. When we sat down to hash out speaker order, timings, and such, it turned out we were going to be over our allotted time for the event. My five tips was removed from the programming, so we didn’t go over.

So my humongous time and energy efforts don’t go to waste, I’m posting the tips here…. Okay… I can’t lie. My “humongous” efforts boil down to a single side of a 3×5 index card. :)

Here are the tips for you to use to get the most out of your conference experience:

1) Business Cards

PPWC has around 300 attendees, staff, and faculty movin’ and shakin’ through the rooms and hallways. You’re going to meet quite a few of them. You’re going to connect with some, and will want to maintain those connections long-term. Let’s assume you want to foster those long-term connections with a mere 15% of the people there, that’s about 60 people. In addition to meeting people, you’re going to sessions, meals, events, and BarCon in the after hours. That’s too much for your brain to take in and lock down tight. Everyone else is in the same boat. I don’t care how interesting and wonderful you are. If you don’t have something to hand to your new connections, they’re going to have a hard time remembering you in full detail.

To this end, you need business cards. Here are my rules for business cards.

  • Matte, white (or ecrue or eggshell or something like that) card stock. If it’s black or glossy, pens won’t work too well. If the other person wants to jot a mnemonic note, it’s impossible unless your base cardstock supports that.
  • Clear text with only the contact information you’re comfortable giving a stranger. I have web site, Facebook, Twitter, and email. My phone number is not on my business cards. If I want someone to have it, I write it on the back.
  • Be professional in the layout and imagery on the card. These are business cards after all.
  • An image/icon/logo/photo is fine, but remember to keep it simple. This will keep your costs down, and that “perfect” headshot of yours will look like crap scaled down to a small picture on the business card. Save your money and go with a logo/icon of something the recipient will remember.
  • Have a few in your wallet. Have even more in your briefcase/backpack/purse/messenger bag. Have even more in your luggage. Have even more in your room. You might run out of the “easy to grab” pile and will have to restock. I also stash a few in my Nook, my laptop case, and other vitals that I might lose track of during the conference. These “stashed cards” are invaluable at ensuring I have the best chance possible to have my item(s) returned to me.

2) Avoid ConCrud

ConCrud. Yeah. It’s real. You’re already taking vacation time to attend a conference. Don’t burn more of it while you recover from that mystery bug you picked up while shaking peoples’ hands. There’s lots of that going on, and with each handshake you up your chances of getting a bug. I’m not trying to scare you into a weird phobia of touching people. It’s just a fact you should be aware of. There are some things you can do to avoid ConCrud:

  • Hydrate — Water intake (especially at altitude) will help keep your immune system purring along smoothly.
  • Hand Sanitizer — A small bottle of this stuff can go a long way. Keep a stash of some spare bottles in your room or bag.
  • Wash Your Hands — I sometimes hit the bathroom just to wash my hands. I use lots of soap and get the water as hot as I can stand it.

3) 3-2-1 Rule

You’re going to be running around like crazy as you meet new people, find old friends, attend wonderful sessions, and stay up way too late at the bar and the after-hours parties in the rooms. It’s a wonder you’ll get any sleep at all. Well, it’s vital for you to take care of yourself. Nothing sucks more than paying for three, four, or even five days of programming only to bonk hard on the next-to-last-day and spend the last day commiserating in your hotel room.

To this effect, I have my 3-2-1 rule. I really don’t remember where I picked this up from. If someone knows the origin of this rule, please let me know, and I’ll gladly give credit where credit is due.

Three hours of sleep per 24 hours — minimum. (Get more if you can.)

Two meals per 24 hours — minimum. (Guess what? PPWC provides these!)

One shower per 24 hours — minimum. (This last rule is not for your benefit! It’s for everyone else!)

4) Note Taking Devices

I take tons of notes at conferences. I’m “old school” in that I use pen and paper. At the 2012 PPWC, I was in an all-day session with Donald Maass as a speaker. I had a brand new gel pen, and a brand new spiral notebook. There were about 40 minutes left in his teaching for the day when my pen just stopped working. I don’t know if it jammed, gunked up, ran dry, or what. I didn’t care. What I cared about was capture as much of Donald’s brilliance as I could. I jammed my hand into my messenger bag and come up with a writing device…. A Big Fat Sharpie. Crud. Well, the last 8-9 pages of my notes from that day were written in Big Fat Sharpie. Hah! My point? Keep two writing devices immediately handy and plenty of paper. I actually recommend having two pens per day of the event already in your bag. If you don’t go through them all, then you have some spare pens for the next conference.

If you’re the type that has to take notes on an electronic device, don’t assume you’ll be able to plug it in. Actually, assume the opposite. Power cords are trip hazards. This means they are generally not allowed within the sessions. Make sure your laptop, tablet, phone, or whatever, has the battery oomph to last 3-4 hours with continual use.

5) Relax

Now for the most important rule. RELAX! You’re going to be running at an engine’s equivalent of “red line” for many days without much time to stop and breathe. Force yourself to skip a session. Maybe you chill in your room for 20 minutes and you get to BarCon late. That’s okay. Endurance racers don’t spring (or red line their engines) for the entire race. It’s a pacing thing. Find your comfortable pace and stick with it. If you find yourself dragging a little, take a small break. It’s okay to miss a session or two during a 3-4 day event. Maybe more if the event is 5-6 days in length. It’s okay to show up late to BarCon. You also don’t have to shutdown the bar and be the last to stumble to your room. Different people have different endurance capacities. Find yours, and stick to it. There’s no need for you to force yourself to keep up with someone that has those abnormally huge energy reserves.

I hope this post helps someone out there get more out of a conference!

If you have any tips of your own, drop them in the comments. I’d love to see what folks have to say.


PPW Blog: Writing From Your Future

Heya folks. I just wanted to drop a quick note that I have a new blog post up over at the Pikes Peak Writer’s Blog. It’s entitled “Writing From Your Future.” If that catches your eye, follow the link and check it out.


Time Management for Writers

This is based on a presentation I have at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference earlier this year. My co-presenter was Cindi Madsen, but these thoughts here are based off my notes and what I wanted to present.

I’m putting this here because I attended the Castle Rock Writers Conference today, and one of the sessions I sat in on was how to juggle writing and a full-time job. Most people consider me an expert in this area because of how much I get done when I’m not at the Day Job.

However, I’ve been slacking on my writing these days, and I felt I needed a refresher course. The session helped me out a great deal. While I didn’t learn anything new, I was reminded of several tips and tricks that I had let fall by the wayside.

In an effort to remind myself further of how to manage my own time, I’m putting this together for everyone out there to learn from. Let’s get started!

Make Time

You can not find time. It’s not a quarter on the ground waiting to be picked up. You are allotted the same 168 hours in a week that everyone else gets. There’s no way to get extra (except for maybe that pesky hour shift during daylight savings, but an extra hour a year won’t make a difference to anyone.) You have the same time as everyone else. What you make time to do is what matters. Every time I hear someone say, “I’d love to write, but I can’t find the time,” I grind my teeth. Here’s why I react so strongly to such statements:

Flashback to 2010

The busiest time in my life was in 2010. Here’s what my typical week looked like during this year:

Activity Hours/Week (168/week)
Full Time Graduate Student 20
Full Time+, Lead Software Engineer 45
President of the CSFWG 8
Webmaster of the CSFWG 5
Commute to/from Work 8
Sleep (~6 hours a night) 42
Family (Wife + 2 Year Old Son) 25
Writing 15

I’m not posting this chart to brag. I’m showing you this to illuminate how busy Real Life can be. I was left with a mere 15 hours each week to work on my writing. During this year, I wrote (and finished) most of a novel, and roughly a dozen short stories. This is not counting the endless pages of critiques I did this year.

Because of my busy life during 2010, when someone claims they can’t find the time to write, I call bullshit. Everyone can make the time to write if they are passionate enough about it.

Now to the meat of things. How do you go about making time to write?

Stolen Moments

You don’t have to block out hours on end for writing (that does help, though). You can steal moments from your life with which to write. This means being prepared to write at any location and at any time. Make sure you always have a writing device and some paper with you.

If you can, drag your typical writing implements with you everywhere. This can be your laptop if that’s your preferred writing method. At a minimum invest in a pen that is comfortable for your hand and a few Moleskin (or similar) notebooks. Keep one in your car. Keep another in your purse (for the ladies). Keep another in your office desk. Keep another in your back pocket if you can. Scatter them around your life. You never know when you’ll have a moment or five to write.

Last winter, I hit a pretty hefty patch of ice and found myself up against a fence and in a bar ditch. I couldn’t get out of my car, but I was unharmed. After calling my wife to let her know what happened, I called AAA for a tow truck. They told me it would take about an hour for the tow truck to arrive. I pulled out my notebook and outlined five short story ideas. I didn’t get to write any of them as I was in “idea mode,” but it was still forward progress on my writing. This was a stolen moment for me.

Here are some places/times where you can steal moments. These are all things where waiting and doing nothing is common.

  • Emergency Room
  • DMV
  • Lunch Break
  • Driving (voice only or percolate on your story)
  • Public Transportation
  • Oil Changes
  • Waiting on others
  • Auto repairs
  • Napping Baby
  • Child goes to bed early

Make sure to keep your laptop battery charged at all times. You never know when a moment will strike to write!

Schedule Time

Stealing moments of time is great, but if you can schedule time, even better. As a writer, you are a small business. Yes, you are also an artist, but remove that “artist hat” for a moment, and put on the “business hat” for a bit.

As a one-person small business, you have to treat your writing like it’s a job. Sure, it might be a part-time job for some of you, and a full-time job for others. Whatever the case may be, jobs come with meetings. We all hate them because we feel horribly unproductive while sitting in a conference room instead of being at our desks doing what we do best.

However, in this case, putting something down on your calendar can pull you away from your Real Life distractions (the dishes can wait) and put you in a place where you can get some words down on paper.

Make meetings for yourself in your calendar. Stick to those meetings. If something non-essential comes up during your meeting, decline it. Tell people, “Sorry, I have a meeting during that time.” If you want, you can tell them it’s to write, but you don’t have to. If you just stick to the line I’ve just given you, people will understand and know that you are busy at that time.

If you get to the meeting early, or if you stay late after the meeting is over, reward yourself. Maybe you get to go to the movies on Friday night, or have a date night with your spouse. Perhaps you get to buy that book you’ve been eagerly awaiting. Maybe it’s a spa day or just a candy bar from the local corner store. Set up appropriate awards for yourself that reflect how much of a “dedicated employee” you’ve been while working for your small business.

If you are late to a meeting or miss one entirely, then it’s time for punishment. Think about what your boss might do to you. Maybe it’s more work or additional meetings (e.g.: additional writing time). Maybe you don’t get to go to the movie. Maybe you don’t see it at all until it’s out on DVD. Maybe you have to get black coffee at the coffee shop instead of a frappachino. Maybe you call your massage place and cancel your appointment for next week. While you’re not going to the movies or getting a massage, guess what you’ll be doing? That’s right! You’ll be writing! (See how that works out?)

Reduce External Interruptions

When you’ve scheduled that meeting with yourself, get rid of external interruptions. These are (usually) things out of your control that try to steal the time you’ve made for yourself. Some of these are within your control, so grab them by the neck and wrangle them to your will.

Here are my tips for reducing external interruptions:

  • Close the door (if you have an office or bedroom to use)
  • Put a sign on the door warning people away.
  • Go somewhere else.
    • Coffee Shop
    • Library
    • A mostly vacant diner late at night
    • Panera Bread
  • Turn the ringer off on your phone. (Don’t even let it vibrate!)
  • Turn off the WiFi on your laptop.
    • The Internet will still be there when you’re done with your meeting. I promise.

Most of these are establishing solitude for yourself. However, don’t become a hermit. You still need to have fun with family/friends and socialize. Balance your life.

Reduce Internal Interruptions

Internal interruptions are probably more destructive to the time you’ve made than anything else. These are things you do to yourself to keep you from writing. I’m not talking about writer’s block or anything like that. I’m talking about activities that you actively engage in that distract you from your writing.

  • Again, turn off the Internet. If you need it for research then avoid:
    • Facebook
    • Twitter
    • Tumblr
    • Pinterest
    • etc.
    • Email
    • Non-vital research
      • Avoid rabbit holes.
      • Set a timer to limit research

Idle Your Engine

You obviously can’t be productive ever moment of your day/week/month/life. Attempting to do this will lead to a miserable life, and will only burn you out on the concept of writing. This will, of course, kill your productivity, and that’s not what we want to happen.

You need to, from time-to-time, step away from the keyboard (or pen) and just let your brain run at a slower pace. You’ll be amazed at the ideas that spring forth when you’re not actively thinking about your prose. Again, be prepared to capture these moments with a pen and notebook handy.

Things you can do that idle your brain:

  • Laundry
  • Dishes
  • Vacuum
  • Change the oil on your car yourself
  • Go for a countryside drive
  • Shovel some snow
  • Walk the dog (or alone if your dog-less)
  • Play with your children
  • Talk with your spouse

Increase Your Productivity

We’ve talked about ways to avoid productivity killers, but there are some tricks to increasing your word count during a scheduled meeting. These are broken down into external and internal motivations. These can be used in combination with each other.

I’ll say this up front, though. Some of these work for most people. Some don’t. Give them a try. If you find something here that doesn’t help you out, then either adjust it until it does work, or you can walk away from the suggestion. It won’t hurt my feelings either way.

External Motivations

Find the #1k1hr Twitter hashtag and participate! Wait. I thought I told you to turn off the Internet and Twitter? Well, the 1k1hr hashtag on Twitter is a challenge you share with other writers during the same hour. The goal is to write 1,000 words from the top of an hour to the top of the next hour. Guess what? This means you fire up the Internet and hit Twitter just before the top of the hour and join in the fun with a tweet. Then you kill the Internet and close the Twitter tab in your browser. Just before the one hour is up, get back online and prepare to compare word counts with your fellow writers.

Find a “support group.” This can come in the form of a critique group, beta readers, or writing partner. They are your initial audience for your writing. They expect submissions from you. They want your words. If you haven’t written anything by the time the next meeting (or scheduled email) date rolls around, they’ll be disappointed. Don’t do that to them! This kind of motivation can help you churn out the words.

Similar to #1k1hr on Twitter, you can sometimes find a “word war” going on at Facebook with your fellow writers. Perhaps you challenge someone to a word war. Sometimes you put out the fact that you want to be challenged. The idea behind this is to set a time limit (usually 15 minutes, 30 minutes, or an hour) and see who can crank out the most words during this time period. It’s actually great fun to cheer on someone else ‘s word count at the end, and you get cheered on as well.

Write-ins are great fun, but only if done right. A proper write-in will start at a certain time, and the first 10-15 minutes are for socializing. This allows everyone to get set up, get the chatting out of their system, and then it’s down to business! The rest of the time is spent hammering the keyboard, except the last 10 minutes or so when everyone compares word counts. The energy (even when the only sound is the skritch of pen on paper or the clattering of keys) in the room is palpable. It’s a great time. Another thing I’ve sometimes seen at write-ins is that everyone brings a book they no longer want. The person with the highest word count production at the end of the write-in gets to take all of the books home. I recommend bringing books on the craft/business of writing as rewards, but any kind of book is cool. There seem to be more write-ins during November and NaNoWriMo than other times of the year, but they do happen year-round.

Internal Motivations

How do you get into the right headspace to write? How do you stay there? What triggers those mysterious Alpha Waves in your brain that drive your creativity?

You can write to music. Some people can do this. Some people can’t. Perhaps you think you can’t, but maybe you haven’t found the right music yet. Some writers make a playlist for their story and put it on repeat. This helps keep them in the mood and tone they need to be in to execute their story properly.

Personally, I find the music that fits the current scene type that I’m writing. If I’m writing a fight scene (I do lots of those), then I put on some heavy metal. If I’m writing dialogue, I put on more lyrical and melodic tunes. If I’m writing narrative or description, I put on music without lyrics.

As I’ve mentioned above, you can reward yourself for accomplishing certain goals. Set a reward at certain word count markers. Set a big reward for typing “the end” on a story. You’ve earned the reward! Make sure you claim it. Just make sure it’s appropriate for the level of accomplishment reached. On one of her episodes of I Should Be Writing, Mur Lafferty said she will reward herself with an hour of Skyrim on the XBox for every two hours she writes.

Magic Spreadsheet

Another thing I learned from Mur’s podcast relates to this magical creation called The Magic Spreadsheet. You can earn points for each consecutive day in which you write. If you miss a day, you reset back to zero points and start over. You can create different awards for yourself for attaining more points. Set up larger rewards for larger point levels.

Conclusion

As you can see, there are tons of ways Real Life can get in the way. There are also ways you can get in your own way. There are methods to battle these distractions, and also approaches to increase your productivity when you write.

I hope this (rather lengthy) blog post has been useful to my fellow writers. If you have any tips or tricks of your own, please drop them in the comments.


I’m Batting .000

If you recall from my PPWC recap, I pitched Warmaiden twice. Through some miracle I managed to land four requests for the full manuscript from those two pitches. How? Well, check that post for the details.

That was April. Now to fast forward to today.

The final rejection from those four requests rolled into my inbox today.

Of the three agents that requested materials, two of them sent me very nicely worded rejection letters for the novel. One of them sent me nothing, even after I sent a polite follow-up email. Nada. Zip. Zilch. I could go on a tear about responding to people you meet at conferences (as opposed to those pseudo-anonymous queries) as the polite thing to do, but I don’t see that as being productive. I’m assuming the “no response after almost four months means a solid, ‘No Thanks.'”

The one editor that requested materials from me also sent me a rejection a few days ago. He gave me some really sound advice and some great pointers on what to improve in my work. He didn’t have to do that. He’s a really nice fellow for taking time from his busy schedule to give me four paragraphs of feedback rather than a simple, “No.” Good on him. If you’re that editor, and you’re reading this, you know who you are. To you, I say, “Thanks!”

I’ve taken his advice to heart and am already working toward learning what I need to in order to improve upon the weaknesses he pointed out in my writing. I’m not quite ready to delve into the serious revisions of the story just yet. More learning and help from friends is necessary first.

This has been a rough time for me. So much time and energy has gone into something that may end up in that proverbial trunk. I’ve accepted the fact that this novel may go nowhere. That I may strike out again and again if I refuse to let it go.

I’m not ready to let it go just yet. I’m willing to step up to the plate and take another swing with the novel.

Will I end up continuing my streak of batting a solid .000? Will I hit that home run? Will it be a “game winning” chance at the plate?

I don’t know yet.

That’s why I’m not giving up.

Until I know for sure the project is dead, I can’t bring myself to resign.


Pikes Peak Writers Conference 2013 Recap

This past week and weekend saw the 21st Pikes Peak Writers Conference come and go. Since I’m on the steering committee for next year’s PPWC, I asked tons of people how things were going to look for ways to improve, maintain, or fix the conference. The responses I received were overwhelmingly positive. Long-time attendees said it was the best they’d been to, and quite a first-timers kicked themselves for not attending earlier conferences and swore to themselves to make sure they made the next one!

Now I’m going to focus on my experiences with a day-by-day accounting of what went down for me throughout the conference.

Wednesday

Even though the conference officially started with the Thursday add-on day, planning for the conference started over a year before the doors were opened. Outside the planning, the setting up of things, fetching equipment, getting people from the airport to the hotel and so on started for me on Wednesday morning. I picked up an opaque project from a local middle school Wednesday morning and got it to our faculty/programming director.

Then I bounced around town sitting at various coffee shops. While doing this, I answered a ton of emails, polished my pitch, worked on my query letter a little, and just got my mind geared up for the conference.

That afternoon, I helped haul things from the storage units to the hotel and got things set up as much as we could. That evening, I met one of our faculty at the airport and took him to the airport.

Now for the catch. Throughout all of this, a pretty good snowstorm was going on, and I found myself snowed out of my house. I couldn’t get home, and my hotel reservations didn’t kick in until Thursday night. I approached our conference director and faculty director with my quandary. They told me not to fret, and had a roll-away bed set up in the room that was slated to be used for pitch sessions on Saturday. For the rest of the night, I tested projectors, Mac-to-VGA dongles, the opaque projector and helped out with little things around the green room. I finally crashed out sometime around 1 AM.

Thursday

This day started out fairly early, and with a frantic phone call from one of our agents. She was in Boston, but without an airplane to get to Denver and on to Colorado Springs. Her plane was stuck in nasty weather in Chicago. I passed word along to our faculty director, and they worked out to have the agent sit tight until flights could be fixed. I was this agent’s ride from the airport to the hotel. I was supposed to pick her up at 6:45 in Colorado Springs. I was told I’d be picking her up later in the evening, but to stay tuned for details of when she would really be arriving. No worries. All of this caused me to miss the opening session of Thursday, but that’s okay.

I managed to catch the afternoon session with Sorche Fairbank about improving query letters. This is where the opaque projector came into play, and it just didn’t create a clear enough image on the small screen the hotel provided for the room. Had we been able to move the projector back some or had a larger screen to project on, it would have worked well. It was a small snag, and we worked around it by having the moderator (the great and wonderful Shannon Lawrence!) read the query letters out loud. The session went fantastic! I learned quite a bit and made great progress on polishing my query letter to where it is more potent.

After the sessions ended, BarCon started up as many of us hit the bar and lobby area. I finally received word on the agent’s flight and used my Kayak App on my smart phone to keep tabs on the flight. The initial arrival time to Denver was 11:45PM. That’s too late for the connecting flight to Colorado Springs. I reached out to our faculty director and transportation coordinator and informed them that I’d be going to Denver to pick up the agent. Someone got word to the agent that I’d be meeting her in Denver, no Colorado Springs. As the night progressed, I kept an eye on the clock and the Kayak App. The flight kept getting more and more delayed. It finally read a 2:30AM (yes, AM!) arrival time. I kept downing the Mountain Dew and energy drinks to keep bright and alert. The time came for me to get on the road, and I checked the app one more time. Still 2:30AM. Good. Not great, but good.

I drove from Colorado Springs to the Denver airport (by this time the snowstorm of Wednesday had passed) and arrived there around 1AM. I received a text from our conference director asking me if I was busy and had Internet connection. I texted her back with the affirmative and immediately got online fearing the worst. She had sent me an email asking if I could do some research for her on our contest winners. I had nothing to do for about 90 minutes and was grateful for the chance to do something to keep me awake and engaged. I got online and checked my email. I did some research on our past contest winners for her and sent her a few emails with what I found. Then I checked the Kayak App and, somehow, the landing time for the agent’s flight got pushed up to 1:45AM. Somewhere, they had gained some time! Yay!

About the time I finished my research and put away the laptop, the agent’s flight landed. We contacted each other via cell phone and I told her where I’d be standing. When she came up the escalators to the main terminal and spotted me, I saw her physically change from an over-stressed, exhausted and beat-down traveler to a somewhat-relaxed, smiling, and grateful human being. It made me feel good to be able to be there for her. I drove her to the hotel in almost record time. During the drive, we had a great conversation about computer security, encryption, physics, mathematics and science fiction. The funniest part was that we were both really tired and stumbling over our words. Once I got her to the hotel, I parked my car and got up to my room to crash for the night. It was right around 4AM when I finally crawled into bed.

Friday

The morning came early at around 9:30AM. I was supposed to moderate a session at 9AM, but from the events of the night before, I tracked down our moderation coordinator and told her that I had to bail on the 9 AM session, but I would make the 10:15AM one. I managed to get into the session with bare minutes to spare, but I made it! This was Chris Mandeville’s session on plot. She did a fantastic job, and my job as moderator was super easy because Chris is a pro. I barely had to do anything, which was good because I was still a little out of it from the night before.

The Friday lunch keynote was given by long-time PPW member and supporter, Barb Nickless. She had lost her home in the Waldo Canyon Fire of 2012 along with many other people. This gave us the conference theme of “Writing from the Ashes,” and Barb’s emotion-packed speech was fantastic. Usually, during a keynote, you can hear small whispers or hushed conversations going on. Not this time. It was pin-drop quiet in there. Everyone was enraptured by her words, experiences, losses, and gains from the fire.

After lunch, I participated as “catcher” for our speed pitching sessions. This is where people come in with their prepared pitches and throw them at a catcher for 2 minutes. Then the catcher gives gives feedback and suggestions for 3 minutes. That’s a pitch every 5 minutes. I did this for two hours. At the end, I’ll admit that my ability to focus was stretched very thin. I don’t see how agents and editors can do this most of the day on Saturdays! My hat’s off to anyone that’s ever received pitches for most of a day and stayed focused through it. Bravo!

After speed pitching was over, I took a break and hung out in the lobby for a session. I just couldn’t crank up the energy needed to focus on a session. There were some great ones for that time slot, too! Ah well.

After the break came the staff/faculty mixer, where the people running the show get to mingle with the famous authors, editors and agents. This was a great time. I got to talk to so many different people and meet some great folks! It also helped me (I think) come pitch time on Saturday because the agent and editor I planned to pitch to were there, and I got to meet them before the pitch.

Then came dinner with David Liss as the keynote speaker. He put up a great speech, but he had some big shoes to fill from Barb’s speech earlier in the day. I still think he did a fantastic job as a keynote speaker and really inspired many people in the room to work harder and do more with their craft. Good stuff there.

The rest of the night was taken up with some time at the bar until it closed. Then some of us retired to “the party room” where I hung out primarily with the editor I’m going to be pitching the next day. We conversed about many topics, but few of them touched on books or publishing or work. That was nice. Quite honestly, it felt like I was hanging out with an old friend that I’d not seen in a few years. That’s a good feeling, ya know?

The night ended right around Midnight for me as I ran off to bed to get some sleep.

Saturday

This is probably the longest and hardest day of the conference. Pure energy can get an attendee or staff member through the first bit. This is the day I have to draw from my internal reserves and focus on staying attentive to what’s going on around me. There’s also the added stress of having to pitch (twice in my case), but for some reason the stress of pitching this year was drastically lessened. I think this was because I’d met both of the people receiving my pitch in a casual, social environment first. I’m also pretty experienced in my pitch, so I’m all good there.

The day got off to a start with an 8AM PPW board of directors meeting that lasted right at an hour.

Then I raced off to my first pitch of the day. It went great! The agent asked for the first full manuscript of the trilogy and synopses of all three books in the series. I ended the pitch session with a huge smile on my face. I mean, who wouldn’t smile after a great response like that? I hung out and chilled for a short while before running to my 10:20AM session with Cindi Madsen. This session was all about time management, how to make time for your writing and what to do with that time once you’ve got it. It went down incredibly well. I had a good time teaching folks and fielding the questions that popped up. I had a good time co-presenting with Cindi. I was told later by our moderator that we nailed it and everyone gave the session high marks. Yay!

Lunch rolled around with a speech by Barry Eisler. It was informative and an interesting viewpoint. However, it came out as being controversial. Twitter exploded with news of the speech, and several blog posts have arisen from the speech as well. I think Eisler pointed out some good stuff, but may have gone a wee bit too far with the words he used to describe the traditional publishing industry. He was by no means insulting or demeaning toward the traditional publishers, but he certainly did not paint them in a good light. To prevent this post from erupting into a storm of pro-Eisler vs. anti-Eisler sentiments, I’ll stop commenting here on the speech and move on.

After lunch, I moderated a session by Kathryn Eastburn on how to write sympathetic villains, antagonists, and other bad guys. She did a fantastic job of drawing from her real life experiences as a reporter and covering some of the most horrible crimes out there. She drove home the point that no matter how vile and reprehensible a person may appear on the surface, there is always something deep down that makes them human, makes them sympathetic, makes them someone to care about.

I took the next session “off” as I needed to mentally prepare for my upcoming presentation on computer security. I also had my second pitch of the day at 3:30PM. This was with the editor I’d hung out with the night before. Again, the pitch went great and was very casual because of the short-term, yet friendly, relationship we’d established the day before. In the end, he asked for my full manuscript. He told me that he’d only asked for one other full manuscript earlier in the day and might not ask for another, depending on how the day went. Wow. I practically danced out of the pitch room and to the green room to relax a bit before my presentation at 4:45PM.

Then an amazing thing happened. I’m sitting on the big couch in the green room when the agent I’d picked up in Denver walked in. She walked up to me and said something along the lines of, “[Editor’s name] told me you had a great book and pitched it to me. I want to see a full from you.” *gasp* *shock* *awe* I was stunned. I looked at the editor and threw me a smile. I looked back at the agent and almost broke into tears. I recovered myself quickly enough to choke out a thanks to the editor and ask the agent for her email address. An editor (from Del Rey no less!) thought so highly of my book, he deemed it necessary to spread word about it on my behalf. I’m still shocked by this. I’m still so incredibly elated by these turn of events, I have a hard time putting together the right words to express myself.

Before my session started, I was hanging in the lobby telling folks how I had two pitches that turned into three full requests. That’s like killing two birds with one stone! Another agent overheard my story and she walked up to me. “Make that four!” She didn’t even know what my story was about, but trusted the tastes and instincts of her peers so much that she jumped on my bandwagon of supporters. Holy cow! What a great day. I still can’t believe this happened to me.

Of course, this put me in a great mood for doing my presentation on “Practical Computer Security for Writers.” My bubble was quickly burst. Three people showed up. Yeah. Three. Ouch. Then again, I was up against a handful of great speakers with wonderful topics in the same time slot. Despite having three people show up, I demanded the best of myself and taught them to the best of my ability. The presentation went really well (for those three people, at least) and I made my way to the bar for a consolation drink.

After a drink and some hanging out, I went to my room and threw on my suit for the fancy awards banquet we always have on Saturday nights. I entered the ballroom ahead of the main crowds (being on staff has its perks!) and wandered around. The ballroom was Drop. Dead. Gorgeous. I can still picture it in my mind and it was so incredibly well put together.

I want to take a moment to congratulate Shannon Lawrence for earning the PPW Volunteer of the Year award. She’s a great woman that does so much for us. I’d try to list it all here, but I’d be sure to miss something. She’s a true blessing to us. I also want to thank and congratulate MB Partlow and Jennifer LaPointe for their awards as PPWC Volunteers of the Year. They’ve both been amazing people and have truly helped in every area of the conference you can imagine. The success of the PPWC wouldn’t have been as great as it was without their Herculean efforts.

While I’m at it, I want to extend my thanks and gratitude to everyone involved in PPWC. This is especially true of Bonnie Hagan, our 2013 Conference Director. She’s a fantastic woman that drives to succeed and excels at everything she does. It’s her true leadership that helped all of us bring our “A Game” to the conference and make it such a success.

The keynote for dinner was Libba Bray. I can’t say enough good things about her speech. She walked us through her darkest moments as a writer, and showed us how she triumphed above all else. It gave me hope. I think it gave many people in the room hope for their writing efforts and careers. Her truly emotive style of speaking was engaging and inspiring. Thank you, Libba.

Once the official events had drawn to a close, I hung out in the bar and lobby for a short while. My Sunday was going to be an early one with a 5AM alarm and a 6AM meeting. I think I finally crawled into bed around Midnight or so.

Sunday

The morning started with my incessant alarm. Ugh. 5AM had hit, and I finally crawled out of bed around 5:20 or so. I showered, got dressed and headed to the lobby to meet David Liss and an agent (the one I had pitched to!) to take them to the airport for their 8AM flights home. I did get them to the airport on time, but not without some issues. It had rained a little the night before and snap-froze sometime in the wee hours of the morning. It was a chilly 27 degrees out, and I had forgotten my jacket. When we got to my car, I found it covered in a thick sheet of the smoothest I’ve ever seen on a car. It took me 15 minutes to scrape the windows clear. We finally got on the road, and I got them to the airport in time for their flights.

I made it back to the hotel in time to catch the tail end of breakfast and hang out with some folks before running to my first session of the day where I moderated for Pam Van Hylckama Vlieg on another session about query letter writing. She did a fantastic job throughout talking about, “The Hook, The Book and the Cook.” The second half of her presentation was all audience interaction where people shouted out story ideas and she wrote query letters on the fly. It was a hoot! Well done, Pam.

From 10:10 to 11:10, I hosted a round table with our esteemed president, Laura Hayden. We talked about, “Now that conference is almost over, what do I do now?” We had some good conversation about everything from finding critique groups to joining specific organizations to future conferences. It was a great talk.

The next session for me was moderating (yeah, I did that quite a bit this year) Deb Courtney’s session on pacing. She’s a fantastic speaker, and did a great job with her teaching. Then she took writing from the audience and read it out loud. She was incredibly supportive of everyone and really helped them break down where pacing had fallen short (or had hit the mark) and how to fix or continue doing it well.

Sunday lunch rolled around, and we had a good lunch where I hosted a table of conversation before the farewells and thanks kicked in. One thing that surprised me, I’m talking totally caught off guard, was when Laura Hayden and Bonnie Hagan presented me with a “Super JT” t-shirt in the style of a Superman uniform. I’m going to have to take a picture of me wearing it and post it here. It’s a great t-shirt, and I’m completely and utterly humbled by their recognition. Later on, I found out that many people knew about it and were in on the construction and design of the shirt. Not one of them let slip that I’d be getting the t-shirt. Well done and thank you everyone!

After the official conference wrapped up, I met with the agent I’d “rescued” from the Denver airport and took her on a quick (about an hour) tour of Garden of the Gods. We had a good time walking, talking and teaching each other things. She taught me more about the publication and editorial process, and I taught her more about Garden of the Gods. We also got to know each other on a more personal level while talking some about family and such as well. It was a good time.

I when I got the agent back to the hotel, I ran into a few more people and said my “see ya laters” to them. Then I got on the road and headed home for the first time in almost a week….

Man, what a GREAT conference! I can’t wait to do it all over again next year. It’s going to be a blast.


No Posting This Week

Sorry folks, but I’ll be ignoring my blog this week. It’s for a good reason. This week is the Pikes Peak Writers Conference. I’ll be moderating 3 or 4 sessions, presenting in 2 others, and acting as host for 2 open table conversations. I’m also doing some transportation duty to get folks between the airport and hotel and back again. I might even be moving some chairs around or hosting a dinner table conversation. Someone might find me some envelopes to stuff while I’m at it. Hah! I guess I’ll be doing a little bit of everything. That’s cool with me. I love helping out PPW during its most hectic times.

Oh.

I’ll also be drinking in the bar in the evenings Thursday through Saturday. :) If you’re going to be at the conference, look me up and let’s hang out!


Vice President, Pikes Peak Writers

As most of you may know by now, I’m the new vice president of the Pikes Peak Writers. This has been in the works for a little over a month, which is one of the reasons I chose to not run again as president of the CSFWG. Things went as I had hoped because it was time for me to move on from the CSFWG. I’d done all I could as president of that organization, and I wish the new president, Andy Burns, all the best as he builds his own legacy in the group.

As for my role in the PPW, I’ll be backing up the new president, Laura Hayden. She’s a little remote from the organization, being in Alabama, but she’s a wonderful leader and a pleasure to work with. With the Internet shrinking the world, I’m sure we won’t have any issues with communication and collaboration. I’m really looking forward to working with Laura and the rest of the board members to guide the PPW into the future.