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.
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:
- We pulled things from storage.
- Everything is here at the hotel and ready to go, except the attendees.
- If the attendees are missing, we must have left them in the storage units.
- 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 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 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 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!
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.”
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!
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….”