I did it! I went to the NCWN Fall Conference. I learned a lot. I'm exhausted. It was worth every dollar I spent (well - except for perhaps $30).
I promised a full report once I got home, but there's just so much to report. I'm going to have to break it up into a few separate blog entries as I absorb what I learned over the next month or so.
For today you get the quick recap.
I woke up early. I drove to Charlotte. This weird guy with purple headlights wouldn't leave me alone on the highway. I think I finally lost him around Statesville.
I found a parking spot. I found the hotel. It took me awhile to find the lobby. The building is one of those triangle designs like that famous building next to Times Square. And there weren't any signs that said: "Lobby upstairs - take the escalator to get there." Before I went up the escalator, I was literally in the hotel, but I couldn't find it!
Then I found the place to sign in. The breakfast panel discussion had already started. I was surrounded by about 100 people I didn't know. And they all looked like introverts like me. I had all these business cards to hand out, but I didn't know how to do it.
I went to my first workshop (a future separate blog entry) about promoting yourself. I gave out my first business card - to the presenter. She gave me kudos for stepping out of my comfort zone.
I felt like everyone was avoiding me. During the break I went to the exhibitor tables. Those people were happy to talk to me. One publisher asked me to send a query package to him. I'll have to look him up.
Next came the second workshop about critique groups (another future blog entry). I was too nervous to listen - as my Manuscript Mart was coming at 11:30. My hands were shaking, which is funny - as I've never had stage fright since elementary school when I learned that my desire to perform usually outweighed any nervousness I had.
At 11:30, I left the workshop and met with Dan Lazar, an agent from Writer's House. When I saw him, my nervousness went away, mostly. It stayed with me enough for me to say a few random things, but in all it was a good experience talking with him (another blog entry).
When that was over, I think I relaxed enough to enjoy the rest of the day. I went back into the second workshop when they were talking about what destroys critique groups. Afterward, I gave my business card to the presenters and asked them a couple of questions.
Next came lunch. That's when I started talking with other authors and getting to know them. That's another blog entry or two where I'll describe the people I met. Any one of them could be the next John Grisham / T. S. Eliott / etc.
During lunch, Georgann Eubanks gave an awesome overview of some NC history related to literary people. After her presentation, she took us on a tour of Charlotte to talk some more about literary history in that area.
But before the tour, she signed books. There was momentary confusion as we writers were trying to figure out where she went. We didn't want to be left behind. After ten minutes of aimless wandering, we learned that she was behind the table signing books. Funny!
While waiting, I met my first sci-fi/fantasy writer (more on him later). When he met me, he said, "Another genre writer!" I was excited, and we ended up talking to each other a lot. It turns out that we sci-fi writers are a minority among writers. In fact, I was amazed at how many writers there were working on projects related to North Carolina. I guess people like to write about "real" things. No wonder most people were trying to avoid me!
During the tour, we stopped at Charlotte's ImaginON. That place is a literary dream for children. In front of this library, there's a little playground area featuring a set of old style typewriter keys stuck in the ground. (This playground also happens to be a few feet away from the high voltage blue line - funny!)
We kicked the kids off the playground to take a group picture on the typewriter keys. I took the "X" key to sit on. While there, I yelled to the kids looking at us, "Read more books!" My colleagues laughed. One of them said, "Tell your mom to buy our books!"
After the tour, it was time for the third workshop (you guessed it - another separate blog entry) about creating a good website.
By then I was business card handing-out pro. I was already getting exhausted and it was only 4:30 PM. I had to rest. I sat down and ended up sitting with two authors who self-published (yet another separate blog entry).
Then came the faculty readings. I listened to Suzanne Adair read the first chapter of one of her Revolutionary War novels - very interesting stuff. Jessie Carty read some poetry from her collections "The Wait of Atom" and "At the A&P Meridiem". She laughed at her own decision to chose playful titles that people can't spell. Then Julie Fenderburk and Maureen Ryan Griffin read some poetry as well. I don't do well listening to poetry, so I was surprised not to be bored.
Happy hour came next, where I talked with a few more people and handed out business cards left and right. Some people said, "Okay - thanks," as if they didn't know what to do with it. I got back quite a few business cards. Funny thing about happy hour: everyone had to pay for their own drinks. I don't drink, but I learned after the fact that "happy hour" means you pay for drinks at reduced prices. A soda would have cost me $4, so I'd hate to see the regular price.
Next came the dinner banquet. I sat at the same table as Margaret Bauer of the North Carolina Literary Review. When she heard I did science fiction, she got excited and said I should submit a story. She also talked me into buying a copy of their science fiction issue from 2001. At the reduced price she was offering, it was a good deal to get all the information contained in that magazine. I also talked with someone else who I'll mention in a later blog entry.
At the banquet, Cathy Smith Bowers (NC Poet Laureate) read some poetry and told stories about poetry. It was good stuff. She decided to go with the humorous stuff.
The night finished off with an open mic session. I can't believe I actually signed up. In the morning, I said "Heck no!" Then around lunch, when the announcer said, "There are still slots," I told myself, "If there are still slots, I'll sign up." There were still slots, and I signed up.
They split us into two separate rooms. We speakers had 5 minutes each to read excerpts of our work. Everyone of us had something to say. Some of us were better than others in delivering, but there was definitely no trash and drivel. I went with comedy - reading my IRC blog entry from last month. It was a hit and got lots of clapping. A person before me gave a very well rehearsed performance of an entertaining dragon poem (he claims it's a poem for people who hate poetry). We went between funny readings and very serious readings that take the listener's heart and stomps it on the ground.
Then one person said something that nicely summarized my experience at the conference. He had recently left his job to write full time, and he said, "These are my people," talking about all the other writers at the conference. We all have something to say. We are all at different stages of our writing career, but we're all trying our best to do what we love the most: Write, write, and more write.
Then I left the conference. I learned a lot. On the way home, I turned the radio off so I could absorb everything I learned. I realized that I'll be spending the next few months fully absorbing it all. Now I'm exhausted.
Till later - happy writing.
P.S. If you're ever driving downtown, don't use the "Yeti" voice setting on your GPS. It doesn't help at all. Whenever the Yeti said, "Uh ugy-uh hewgug-ug uh" it was because he was fussing at me for missing my turn. Also, at random points during my trip, it would yell, "Uggh!" I guess that kept me awake. But for my next trip, I'm going back to the British chick's voice.