The official Day One began with (no surprise here) a hangover—it wasn’t terrible, just a bit of a headache and some drymouth. I got cleaned up and headed into town for the official first day of the DFW writers’ convention. Now, I am not a fan of driving, especially in cities, especially in big cities I’ve never driven around in before. So naturally, I was a bit frazzled upon arrival, but I found the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre without any difficulty, and parking was a snap.
Inside, I grabbed my name badge, bought my official DFWcon coffee mug (they were green this year), and spent the next 45 minutes riding the elevators, trying to figure out where everything was.
I had signed up for a couple of limited-seating workshops that I was pretty excited about. The first was called “Read and Critique,” presented by Harry Hall and David Goodner. The group would be reading the first several pages of our manuscripts aloud for comments and advice from the presenters and our peers. I attended a similar workshop last year, and it was pretty painless, so I was feeling really good about this one. The other workshop I signed up for was “Query Letter Workshop,” presented by Jenny Martin, Julie Murphy, Rosemary Clement-Moore, and Janet Taylor. This one had me a bit more nervous, because I didn’t know what it would entail, but I knew my query needed a lot of help.
The first open-access workshop I took part in after the opening remarks, was “Pitching Practice,” presented by Jenny Martin, Julie Murphy, and Rosemary Clement-Moore. Now, I wasn’t going to go to this workshop at all, because I didn’t want to terrify myself before my real pitch session. But, I decided at the last second that maybe if I humiliated myself early, I would be looser and a little more relaxed. Nowhere to go but up, right?
So, the room was packed. We were given a pep talk—some pointers and encouragement, and then told to break up into groups, pick a professional, and make our pitches! I got to sit down with the absolutely lovely Julie Murphy, and I delivered my pitch at about 900 words a second.
She asked a few questions, was very generous with her complements, and gave me some great advice. And then, like a robot on autopilot because my organic pilot had passed out from sheer terror, I thanked her, shook her hand, stood up, and left. Zerrt zerrt! Thank you very much! I will excuse myself now!
Okay, so, I’m not psychic. I’m not in her head, but I’ve done some face-to-face selling in my time, so I know what it looks like when I’ve made an impact, and when the shutters of disinterest come down.
I failed to make an impact, but she never shut down on me, so that’s good! This was a dry run, and I walked away with some great pointers: describe how magic works in the story—name the characters; give them some personality. Relax. Great advice! I wrote it all down. I even made myself a cheat sheet with bullet points so that if I choked, I could just pull it out to remind myself of critical topics and discuss.
I’ve been working on this story world since 1999; I know it like the back of my hand. All I need to do is start talking, and it will all flow. I even wrote down a catchy “elevator pitch.”
Confident! Excited! Ready.
Immediately after the workshop: my pitch session, for which I was late. Yeah, somehow I had convinced myself that my end time was actually my start time, and I was prepared to walk in at 10:10—exactly when my session should have ended. Fortunately, I caught my mistake a few moments after my group was sent in to make their pitches, and the gentleman at the door allowed me to skulk in after them. And skulk I did.
I tiptoed over to my scheduled agent, sat down, and proceeded to forget everything. I forgot my notes, my bullet points… that perfect elevator pitch. Poof. Big purple head of cotton candy.
She was so patient. She smiled and asked me questions about my novel, but I drew nothing but blanks. Hell, she could have asked me what my main character’s name was and I would have forgotten! So, I just stammered and laughed. Oh yes—my fatal nervous laughter. My skull is empty of brains but filling up with the sweat of a thousand terrors. Let’s laugh.
Anyway, after much effort, I managed to squeak out a hint about my plot, so she asked more specific questions. “Why is the world of magic coming back into the real world? Why is it coming back now? How will your villain do spoiler with spoiler?” My brain collided with itself again and again.
“I know the answer to this,” it said with glee.
“But what does she care about how the world got the way it is? None of that information is in the actual book,” it retorted. “To carry on about details that are not actually present in the manuscript would be downright irresponsible.”
To which my brain replied, “Yeah, but I know the answer! It means I know my world! I’ve thought all this out! All I have to do is get the mouth to start, and then charisma can take over and everything will work out.”
And then, “Charisma is being able to answer the question without this kind of one-man debate gumming up the works, so that’s right out. Besides, look at her. The shutter’s come down. She doesn’t care how well you know your stupid fantasy world.”
My brain actually sputtered then, “Then why the hell would she ask?!”
The response being, “Probably just to shut you up.”
“That doesn’t even make any sense!”
“YOU don’t make any sense!”
“Now you’re just being juvenile!”
“And she’s just being nice!!”
“… yeah, probably …”
“Now, chuckle like a good little idiot, and let’s get out of here.”
And, what comes out of my mouth is, “Uhhhh *nervous chuckle*”
In the end, she said it sounded a little too quirky for her. Heh, yeah. How else could it sound coming from a big fat, purple-headed doofus? She invited me to send her five pages and a query anyway, (which I did last week, but of course I’m not holding my breath).
As I walked out, I remembered my cheat sheets, my elevator pitch, my bullet points—all of it. I just wore my best smile and chuckled, and when my buddy outside asked me how I did, I told the truth.
“I choked like a joke.” One of these days, I’ll look back on this and laugh for real.
Anyway, I know that I’m supposed to be all up-beat professional with my blog, but this is the way it happened. I’m not the only person whose brain turned to tomato aspic when it was needed the most. Maybe next year I’ll do just a little better.
But, I couldn’t mope around! I had a day and a half left, lots to do, and there were far too many people around to go about looking like the family dog who got left out in the rain on meatloaf night. So I hopped on the elevator and rode it upstairs, where I was just in time for my next workshop.
“Read and Critique.” Two pros and a handful of peers—read for a few minutes and we all critique each other. Man, there were some neat stories around the table, and some very useful critiques, too! I was still reeling just a little bit from my pitch session, so nerves got the better of me when it was my turn to read. I went way too fast, and I stumbled a little bit, but everyone was very kind and gave some great advice.
Then came lunch, catered by Wolfgang Puck. Two tables stood outside the lobby, piled with boxed lunches. I had no idea which one I had originally signed up for, but I was pretty sure it was the turkey option, so that’s what I grabbed. Lunch was… cute. It comprised a sandwich, a sliver of dill pickle, a chocolate-chip-esque cookie, and a bag of potato chips. Well, it was free, and it was food, and the flavors were on point, so I can honestly say I had no complaints about lunch.
Some of the ladies from the workshop invited me to sit outside with them, which was pretty intimidating, because I’m not very used to being invited to have lunch with other people. But, DFWcon is about networking as much as it’s about learning the craft and grabbing an agent, and how will I ever build up the courage to attend the receptions if I can’t even hang out with other writers? So, I put on my brave face, joined them, and we all ate and talked about our writing and inspirations. After that, we all exchanged cards and Twitter information.
I felt good, had some food in my belly and some caffeine in my blood stream—I felt pretty excited about my next workshop. Well, I guess it was just time for a brain fart. I ended up in the wrong room and sat through10 minutes of a class about writing creative nonfiction before I realized my error. So, I snuck out and tiptoed over to the “Query Letter Workshop,” but it was already going in full swing. I didn’t want to interrupt. So, I headed back downstairs to relax for a little while.
That was when I saw that Tex Thompson was giving a presentation called “Comma Sutra.” Now, if you have never had the opportunity to attend one of Tex’s classes, you absolutely must! She is brilliant and funny! I never don’t learn something from her. I attended, and I have to say I am happy I got mixed up previously, because I learned a ton! And, I laughed a lot too, which is what I really needed.
After this, I attended the class, “What to Expect when Publishing,” presented by Kendel Lynn. This was another eye-opening experience. *Big sigh* I tell you, this changes every year, it seems. I was just getting used to being responsible to organize signings and press releases and all that, but now there’s a huge focus on social media and… Blog tours?! I’d never heard that term before Saturday!
Well, as I sat in the class, trying to cram of this new information into my tomato aspic brain, I found myself wondering what I would write next—now that Saundra was finished. Our instructors said—and this was definitely not the first time I’d heard this—that once we get published, we are done with freedom. Our job is marketing and writing what our agent and publishers ask for. So, we are advised to write anything and everything we can before then—find what we really love.
I got to thinking about this after the class ended. I’ve written fantasy, both high and urban. I’ve tried my hand at sci-fi. While I thought about writing other things, I realized that I am finally done with Saundra’s story. There will be tweaks along the way, and I am sure that an editor some day will ask for edits, but the novel is finished, and I am finally ready to move on to something new. At that point, I had reached maximum brain capacity and was ready to shut down.
There was time for one more class before the dinnertime break, and the keynote and agents’ reception followed that. I was exhausted though, and while I felt bad for skipping the speech, I just did not have the fortitude to attend (or even run away from) the reception. So I called Chris to come get me, and we joined our friends for dinner at El Corazón de Tejas, where we shared the Sizzling Beef Parrillas, and I got a little tipsy with a Madria Rita. Fantastic dinner!
After all that, we headed back to our friends’ place, played a little WiiU, and then I crashed early with the hope of getting enough sleep before day 2.