Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Crested Butte Writers Conference 2009 Recap

Hi All,
So this was the BEST writers conference EVER--though I have to admit, a small part of my joy is due to the fact that I'm co-coordinator of it. I say a small part, because, volunteering at a conference gives one opportunities to make more friends and network more with the agents, editors and speakers, so I get to know them on more than just a professional level. I feel like much of the professional barriers are broken down and I've made new friends. Hmm . . . which could be a problem if I ever wanted to have an agent/editor relationship. I'd have to think about that. But meanwhile, I've got no worries.

I have to tell you, after reading Don Maass's wonderful books Writing The Breakout Novel and The Fire In Fiction, I was thoroughly intimidated to be around him and convinced that I was NEVER going to let him read ANYTHING I've ever written--even after I revise all 4 books using keys I've learned from his and Lisa Rector's workshops. Though there was some consolation when I realized I didn't want him for my agent. I can't have an agent who intimidates me.

It all started out horribly. I picked Don, Lisa (Don's wife--a sweetheart and a brilliant freelance editor and writing coach of her own company -Third Draft), and Colleen Lindsay (Fine Print Agent) up at the Gunnison airport. I drove the 30 minutes from Gunnison to Mt. Crested Butte, thankful that in the beginning, they did most of the talking amongst themselves.

Then they talked to me. At this time, I had a horrible headache and just
wanted to get them there without hitting any of the chipmunks that dashed across the road seemingly intent upon committing suicide under the tires of my Expedition. I'd answered a few simple questions Lisa was kind enough to ask, about myself and my children--unfortunately, in one of those questions, I revealed that I have a BSN--bachelor's of Science in Nursing. Four years of studying biology and nursing in depth, and when Don asked me exactly what altitude sickness was . . . I blanked.

I stuttered, and hemmed and hawed, and he persisted in clarifying his question--"no, the biology of it. It has something to do with the lower oxygen, right?" I agreed that it had something to do with the lower oxygen in the air, but exactly what that meant to the cells and lungs . . . I confessed I just couldn't remember. Then he asked if all the land was privately owned--and I said that I believed it was government owned. His eyebrows shot up and his tone was surprised, when he repeated "government owned?" making me feel that surely I'd said something very stupid.

I thought the land around Gunnison that we drove through was national forest land--like Rocky Mountain National Forest. Like Estes Park. Now come on, guys, help me out. Government and civics isn't my thing, but doesn't the government own National Parks? I wasn't certain, I told him he'd have to ask a local to be sure. Boy, did I feel stupid.

Then he asked which government agency oversaw it and made a suggestion. Thank GOD Lisa or Colleen chimed in with their opinions here, and then Don read a sign that said the Dept. of Agriculture. So by now all I want him to do is ignore me and never ask me another question. EVER. Which of course he does not.

We get to Crested Butte and Don keeps saying how "sweet" everything is--which for some reason I found his word choice oddly endearing and distracting. I don't know what I thought he'd say, cool, unique, charming--just not sweet. I point out the main street--Elk Ave., and tell them there is so much personality in the city; do they want to take a quick look on our way up to the mountain? Of course they do--after I pass my turn. So I swing into a parking lot to circle back--and Don helpfully tells me when I need to make a right on the street clearly marked Elk Ave.--like I didn't know that (I hadn't screwed up on the directions--just everything else that came out of my mouth!).

Oh--and did I mention that Don speaks very softly? So at least three times on the drive I had to say, "excuse me, or I'm sorry, I didn't hear?" So by now he thinks not only am I an idiot, I'm a deaf idiot! And damned if he didn't keep asking me questions that I couldn't answer--what mountain is that straight ahead? I don't know, but I tell him my hiking husband could identify them all for him--very helpful as John was home in Niwot watching the children. I wanted to bang my head until I achieved blessed unconsciousness!

And I still had the dinner with all the guest speakers, agents, editors, and Crested Butte Writers Board to "enjoy". Can you guess how I was looking forward to that? Needless to say, having many other people to talk to, I successfully avoid Don, Lisa, and Colleen during that dinner, so I could recoup some confidence.

To make a long story not so short . . . I had a grand time with the Maasses and others at dinner-- a different night-- and I faced my fear of Don Maass. I have to say, I was VERY proud of myself. I moderated and coordinated one of the most fun workshops--a first page cold reading of unpublished work by the agents and editors volunteered by attendees--and me.

I also wanted to make it a little more fun by planting four best-selling authors' first pages mixed in with the unpublished and challenged the agents and editors to identify them. They only guessed one. In fact, they guessed that two of our unpublished works were published! Those talented individuals got invitations to send their work from just about all five of the agents and editors on the panels. I was so happy for them!

Luckily, our agents and editors were quite impressed with our keynote speaker's first page--William Bernhardt gave me the opening of his Sept. '09 release, Capitol Offense. Overall, it was a terrific workshop. Don and Colleen--the least tactful of the group, were a bit harsh at times, but to give them their due . . . it's a VERY harsh industry. Harsh for them too. Though . . . I had enormous fun watching Don bang his head on the table when someone opened with the weather, passive voice, or ANY inaction. And Kate Nintzel's hot button was openings with first name, last name-which I would have planted on purpose, had I known, just to watch her groans of agony--evil grin.

But in general, when they failed to identify the published works, the group decided that Alice Hoffman's, The Story Sisters, David Baldacci's, First Family, and Stephenie Meyers, Breaking Dawn, were not those authors' finest openings. I helpfully confided to the room of 50-or so, that I was sorry I hadn't taken detailed notes of their opinions so I could have shared it with each bestseller. Then all of us agreed that those authors had acquired such a following that they could get away with a weak opening once in a while--we unpublished hoping to break in, cannot.

So I bravely put my own work in--two actually-- my Amazon semifinalist and the first draft of my new book I just wrote last week. Lisa Rector later teasingly accused me of stacking the deck, and I nodded in agreement. Damn right. What's the point of spending hundreds of hours a year working to help coordinate a conference if there aren't any perks?

Anyhow, guess which agent and editor I had read them? What did they say? No . . . I wasn't one mistaken for a published author, but . . .

if you want to know more stay tuned....


Audra Harders said...

LOL! What a conference; what a time! Theresa, I can picture the entire scenario. Is that a good thing?

I've attended Donald Maass's workshop before. He is awesome. I'm glad they enjoyed themselves at the Crested Butte conference. Sounds like you had a good attendance, too.

So when are you going to tell us what they said about your work? C'mon! The suspense is killing me! I'm especially interested in the opinion for the Amazon finalist. Actually, I lied. I'm interested in it all!!

I'm so sorry I had to miss the conference. Besides doing writer things, I just love Crested Butte!!

Can't wait to hear more of your adventures!

Edie Ramer said...

My gosh! You made this come to life! I wish I'd been there. I can't wait to hear your next installment.

Tiffany James said...


I laughed out loud at this post! Gol, I feel like such an idiot when I get around industry professionals - like I'm meeting rock stars (they kind of are in my world). :0) But having spent enough time around you, I'm absolutely positive you were more eloquent than you're leading all of us to believe.

I'm going to do my best to be there next year!

Gotta go now and rewrite that first sentence which begins: "Hayden Questra..."

Tiffany :0)

Donnell said...

T, only you would have the guts and the savvy to do this. Well done!


I want to have a big following so I can write weak openings too.

Theresa said...

It was a fantastic conference and though it started out terribly embarrassing, I had a ton of fun. And Donnell, it's not guts and savvy to post this, it's the truth and it was so classically comical that how could I not laugh at it? I was a clumsy disaster! It's laugh or cry and life is too short --I like to save my tears for the important-life-altering sad events.

The only up side was that they didn't ask me what I wrote. I was forever grateful for that, 'cause I cannot memorize anything!

Edie, I'm glad you enjoyed my little tale. Next installment coming soon. SO much happened and I learned SO much from the Maasses and others. I can't wait to spend the next few weeks writing 6 hrs a day--or more!

And Tiffany, I'd like to say I was more eloquent than that, but I bet Lisa, Don, and Colleen would call me a liar if I did-grin. It REALLY was that awful! BUT . . . I recovered fairly nicely, I think. And since they're not around to naysay me . . . I'm going with that--grin.

So far next year we've got James Scott Bell coming! I can't wait. And as soon as I catch my breath, I'm gonna start finding other terrific authors, agents and editors to ask, any suggestions? Requests?

Leslie Ann said...

Hi T,
I love that you tucked in some pubbed first pages.

I'm sorry I missed it. It's time for a scribe get together.

Great blog. And you know they can naysay you...via this blog! So maybe we'll find out.


kellyannriley said...

Hi Donnell,

What an awesome sounding conference! I got chills when you wrote about Donald Maass. Sounds like you did great though. Now I need to go pull out Maass's new book and finish it. It got stuck in one of my To-Be-Read piles. Thanks for the recap--that was fun.

Donnell said...

Hi, Kelly, I agree, and *wish* I could take credit for this hilarious, gutsy post, but the Crested Butte Writer's Conference 2009 Recap was written by Theresa Rizzo. She's going to have several posts about what she did as co-coordinator of this conference and coordinator of the Sandy. I hope you'll stop in!!