Saturday, November 5

Adventures in Surrey #SIWC16

Don Maass giving the closing keynote at SIWC 2016

I spent the weekend of October 20 – 23, 2016 at the Surrey International Writer’s Conference in Surrey, British Columbia, a suburb of Vancouver. I had an absolutely fabulous time. This conference was a boost of inspiration. It was also the kick in the pants I needed.

I arrived on Thursday morning and in the afternoon I took in Diana Gabaldon’s master class on Writing Sex Scenes. I figure if anyone knows how to write sex it’s her. And she didn’t disappoint. That evening, agent Donald Maass in his master class called “Fiction Mastery“, talked about questions to ask yourself and your protagonist about your story. He was the first presenter of the weekend who talked about digging hard for story. That was the beginning of the “kick in the pants” theme.

For the next two days I took in many interesting workshops from great presenters. As per fellow Word Wrangler Margie’s recommendation, I took in two of thriller writer Robert Dugoni’s workshops – one on setting and about avoiding common writing pitfalls. She was right when she said he was a very good presenter. I learned a lot. The key note speakers were funny and inspiring. Most made some mention of the importance of digging hard for our stories, for not settling for the first story or plot point to pop into my head. I wondered if I had been playing it safe in my writing.

That feeling gained momentum when I went to my first pitch appointment. The agent didn’t sound thrilled when I told her I was pitching contemporary romance (“a very crowded field,” she said. True enough.) but after I read my pitch, she gave me her card and asked to see the first 50 pages. Later that same day, I arranged a second pitch appointment and pitched the same manuscript to another agent. (On sober second thought, I wished I’d pitched a different story, but c’est la vie.) Anyway this agent politely declined seeing any more of my story, saying it didn’t sound like it had enough conflict. And I had to agree with her. Why hadn’t this occurred to me before? I felt like I’d made a rookie mistake. More on that later.

The next day I did a blue pencil session with author Cathy Yardley. In a blue pencil session, the writer takes a maximum of three pages of writing to the presenter, who gives a quick critique, offers suggestions and/or answers any questions the writer may have. In our fifteen minute session, Cathy Yardley offered some suggestions that I think will give my opening (a different manuscript from the one I pitched) more tension. It was a very positive experience.

One of the really wonderful things about the weekend was meeting so many interesting, friendly, fun fellow attendees from all over North America, and even one from Australia. People were willing to give advice, share names of editors and just talk to people they didn’t know. The volunteer staff was friendly and efficient, and despite the large number of attendees (this year sold out more quickly than in any other year), everything hummed along smoothly. Best of all, there’s a very happy, collegial atmosphere at SIWC. Several presenters and key note speakers mentioned it. Presenter and thriller writer Hallie Ephron said that SIWC is “the best, and sweetest” conference she’s ever attended. I wholehearted agree.

About that kick in the pants. Sure, I was disappointed that the second agent turned me down and the first agent was only lukewarm about my work. But I didn’t let it get me down over the weekend, and I won’t let it stop me now that I’m home. The inspiration I soaked up at SIWC will keep me going for a while, hopefully till next year’s conference. I’m determined to rework my story to make it the best it can be. It won’t be just “a” story. It will be “the” story.

What’s the best conference you’ve ever attended? How do you "discover" the story you should be writing?

12 comments:

  1. It sounds like a great conference. My favorite ever was probably two or three years back when Nan and I went to Spring Fling in Chicago. I think my "story" has to find its way out of some of the unnecessary stuff I surround it with. Not at all efficient!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'd love to go to a conference in the spring. There seems to be so many in fall. Let me know if you plan to go again. I know what you mean about some of the "unnecessary stuff". I seem to have to flail around a lot before I figure out what my story is, and no, it's not very efficient at all!

      Delete
  2. Great post, Jana. Thanks for sharing your experience! I haven't beet to a writing conference yet, but am looking forward to RWA in 2017!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've never gone to RWA national. It's so big that's it's a little intimidating for me, but I'd like to experience it, at least once.

      Delete
  3. I have to agree with Liz--Chicago Spring Fling 2014 was amazing! We got to hear Kristin Higgins and Mary Balough speak and we met so many fun writers and attended several interesting sessions. I pitched at Spring Fling 2016 in May and am still waiting on responses--it's nerve-wracking, but all part of the game. Glad you had a good time and thanks for sharing it with us.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Do you go to Spring Fling in Chicago every year? The speakers you spoke of would be very interesting to hear. This is sounding like a conference I should take in someday.

      Delete
  4. SIWC is an amazing experience. I fully intend to go next year. Sorry your pitch sessions didn't turn out how you'd hoped but I know with all the info and inspiration you'll knock it out of the park next year.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's all good, Karyn. Honestly, I didn't expect much from the pitching I did. I hope to go next year, too, and it would be great if you were there. I didn't feel lonely like I thought I would going by myself because everyone was so friendly. Gotta save my pennies until next year!

      Delete
  5. Sounds like an exciting time. I've only attended a small local conference,(several times) but the speakers were good most years and included NY agents and editors. A good experience all around. So glad you enjoyed yours.

    ReplyDelete
  6. My problem is there's no local conferences in the romance genre, or genre fiction generally, where I live. The only local conference I know of is geared to literary fiction. So I have to travel. You're so lucky to have small intimate conferences close by.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I'm so glad you took my advice and enjoyed Robert Dugoni's workshop. I've been to over ten Willamette Writers Conferences in Portland and to Surrey once. Surrey was my favorite. Maybe because I got to go out of town and stay in a hotel. Lol

    WWC is minutes away so I just go from home. Plus, a lot of the presenters and workshops get repetitive. I'd love to go to RWA! And Sprong Fling because Nan and Liz always have great stories.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Wouldn't it be great to all meet in Chicago sometime for spring fling? That would be too cool!

    I'm so glad I took your advice and went to a couple of Robert Dugoni's workshops. Very worthwhile!

    ReplyDelete