What I Learned from Bouchercon 2015

On May 5, 2015 I found myself on the corner of Blind Faith Boulevard of Hope and Dreams Avenue. There I was, staring at the Bouchercon registration page. My information filled out, the only thing left was to hit the send button.

Flash forward five months and a few days. I found myself on the corner of Salisbury and Lenoir Streets in Raleigh, North Carolina. It was really happening. Not only had I drowned my social anxieties in enough Starbucks to float a pontoon boat, but I was also ready to mosey up to the Sheraton hotel to check in at the Bouchercon registration table.

The moment the volunteer handed me a swag bag filled with a wide range of mystery books, I was sold. Within a few minutes I found myself in the company of a couple of other Bouchercon newbies. Over the next few days I’d happily run into them again, making me feel more welcomed and included than I could have imagined.

If you’re planning to attend Bouchercon 2016, here are some things you should consider:

Arrive and check in a day early, if you can. There was no line on that first morning, but I skipped anything scheduled before about 10 o’clock in the morning. I’m pretty sure I checked in smack dab in the middle of the Welcome to Bouchercon event, which would explain the lack of a crowd. Arriving a day early not only gives you a head start on checking in, but it also allows you to locate other essential locations, like the bathrooms and Starbucks.

Attend the Bouchercon 101 panel. Even though I won’t be a newbie next year, I still hope to attend this panel as it’s full of tips and advice specific to that particular venue, which is the Marriott on Canal Street in New Orleans.

Wear comfortable shoes and clothes. The dress ranged from very casual to business casual. Wear what is comfortable for you. I saw someone wearing a business suit and sneakers, and another person wearing a t-shirt, yoga pants and flip-flops. The fashion statements covered a wide range.

Take a refillable travel mug or sports bottle. The convention hosts do a great job of providing refreshments. During Bouchercon 2015, a few times during each day, hotel staff would bring snacks into the hospitality area. Coffee, water, and sometimes lemonade would remain available throughout the day. Take a travel mug or sports bottle that you can keep with you during panels.

Silence your phone. I can’t stress this enough. Some of the rooms where panels were held had horrible acoustics. Sometimes the microphones didn’t adequately amplify the speakers’ voices. And in one case, the speaker’s voice was naturally soft. A ringing cellphone is annoying under the best of circumstances. When other conditions apply, it’s worse.

Take your business cards – especially if you’re a writer or aspire to get published. I didn’t take my cards the first day because I didn’t want to look presumptuous. This was a huge mistake. Three people asked for my card – and I am pretty sure my path never crossed with two of them again. I met so many people, there’s no way I could remember their names.

Brush up your knowledge of Who’s Who at Bouchercon. I asked one person, “Are you a writer?” I mean, his name tag didn’t say otherwise. Turns out he was nominated for an Anthony Award. Smooth! He was humble enough not to mention it, and fortunately I figured it out later that day. You don’t have to know every author there, but you should at least know the Anthony Award nominees so you can wish them luck. (Next year I’m putting an alphabetized cheat sheet in my phone.)

I’d love to hear your tips for attending a writing event like Bouchercon. Let’s chat about it in the comments below!

7 Ways Writers Differ from Everyone Else

Writers are not normal. I know this because I am a writer and my family tells me all the time how abnormal I am compared to them.

I like to think I’m the normal one and they’re weird, but whatever.

However when I get together with my writing group, it makes me realize that they might be onto something after all. Here are some common traits I see among members of my writing group as well as in other friends who are writers.

1. Writers always think about writing.
Whether it’s a character in their book, an idea for a new book, or someone else’s book, writers are always either jotting down or making mental notes about something writing-related.

2. Writers get really excited about writing.
If you really want to make a writer happy, then give them time, tools, and space to write. They will love you for it. My favorite gifts from my family include a journal covered in pink faux leather and a Doctor Who themed ink pen.

3. Writers get more emotional about writing.
They also get more emotional about reading, but that’s a different blog post for a different day. Only my fellow writers understand when I tell them that I cried over something that happened to the characters in my book.

4. Writers surround themselves with writing.
This one is huge. My desk not only holds my laptop, but it also bears host to a pile of hotel scratch pads, a small milk pitcher full of various writing utensils, stacks of journals and notebooks, sticky notes, and a pile of books on topics ranging from romantic fiction to how to organize your next novel.

5. Writers enjoy talking about writing.
If you want to make friends with a writer, then ask them about their book. Really listen as they explain it to you. Better yet, read the things they write, regardless if it is their blog or their latest bestseller.

6. Writers often balance chaos.
Getting lost in your writing means being distracted from things that might otherwise need your attention. Writers are gluttons for slipping into “the zone” and forgetting to do things like eat lunch, stay hydrated, sleep, and so forth.

7. Writers don’t give up.
Writers have terrific highs when things are going their way, and terrible lows when things don’t work out so well. Regardless of how it’s going, they don’t give up.

Are you a writer? Do you agree with the list? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

3 Reasons Why Writers Need Blanket Forts

I want to build a blanket fort. It is not for my sons, who are aged 18 and 17 and entirely capable of building their own stereotypical manly blanket forts. I don’t want to share it with my husband, because he thinks the idea is silly.

When I close my eyes and picture my perfect blanket fort, it has things like a chenille bedspread roof, fairy lights along the tie-dyed , a bean bag chair floor, a small bookshelf, and a maybe a goldfish bowl full of skittles.

Come on, everyone knows it’s not logical to put a goldfish in a blanket fort.

But getting back to my point, everyone could use some time in a blanket fort. This is especially true if you are a writer, and here are three reasons why:

1. Relaxation
Going into a blanket fort transports you into another realm. All the stress from the world outside the blanket fort disappears. You don’t have to look at your phone or laptop. You can read a book, take a nap, or just curl up and daydream about stuff.

2. Inspiration
All that daydreaming can lead to inspiration. One minute you’re wondering why the unicorn is Scotland’s national animal (Go on, look it up!), and the next your main character butts in with a thought. Then another character pipes up. Before you know it, the ideas are flowing like crazy.

3. Socialization
Can you imagine having your next writers’ group meeting in a blanket fort? Put away your notebooks, pens, and laptops in favor of a board game like Boggle or, my favorite, Scrabble! As soon as you tell your friends and family you have a blanket fort, they will beat down the fabric door to join you. (If they don’t try to have you diagnosed with Peter Pan Syndrome.)

So who’s ready to build a blanket fort? If you aren’t sure where to start, then check out the following YouTube video.

I’d love to hear your thoughts (or see the results of your fort-building) in the comments below!

OMG Shakespeare – Innovative or Idiotic?

OMG is right. Have you seen this? Someone butchered classic works of literature. I’m talking timeless treasures from the Lord Bard himself, William Shakespeare.

Juliet: Srsly U R so hawt.
Romeo: IKR?

However, this is not the first time someone has altered a Shakespearean work. Let us review:

While the above works were inspired by Shakespeare, they all retain a certain amount of literary integrity. They respect basic elements of literature such as spelling and grammar. The OMG series, on the other hand, fails to do that. Here’s an example of what you can expect from OMG Shakespeare:

So what do you think? Are the “greatest stories ever told from the greatest playwright of all time in emoji” an innovative attempt to gain popularity with the current generation of teenagers? Or are they just idiotic?

Leave your comments below!

MAFWI 2015 PART 3 – Why You Never Really Say Adieu

During the first full weekend in August, I attended the annual Mid-Atlantic Fiction Writers Institute conference. This article reviews the last day of the event.

After a failed wake-up call from the front lobby, I grabbed a couple of strips of bacon from the hotel’s complimentary breakfast area. Fortunately I’d packed everything up the night before as the first event on the final day was scheduled early in the morning and we wouldn’t have a chance to get back to the hotel before checkout time.

Don’t Be Afraid to Change Your Mind

Although we missed the opening remarks from the MAFWI representative, each person in our group made it to their respective breakout sessions. I originally planned to attend the following breakout session:

Demons, Angels, Ghosts, and Monsters: The Fantastic World of Paranormal Fiction
The breakout session offered insight from three presenters, including:

I got as far as the front door of the building, turned around, and took a seat on the half-wall spanning the length of the sidewalk. The previous day’s conversation with Jim Rada kept coming back to me. In the next building over, he was leading a different breakout session:

Pirates, Gunfighters and Jack the Ripper: How to Write Historical Fiction

At the time I was on the cusp of finishing the final chapter of my book, HAUNTED WOMEN OF THE APPALACHIANS, a collection of 13 fictional short stories inspired by actual folklore. I soon made up my mind, and five minutes after the class started, I entered the historical fiction breakout session and took a seat in the back.

Over the next 90-ish minutes I learned so much. It answered questions like:

  • What is a historical novel?
  • Is historical fiction right for you?
  • Is it history or historical fiction?

More importantly, I got to ask Jim Rada questions I had about my book. He offered some great advice that helped me get the final chapter into the hands of my editor before a final deadline that marked the beginning of her autumn sabbatical. I shudder to think what might have happened if I hadn’t attended this session.

Wrapping Up the End of a Great Weekend

After the morning breakout sessions, we congregated in the auditorium again for a panel discussion titled Marketing, Branding, and Social Media, Oh My! with:

Following the panel, we visited with authors, both the ones offering book signings and the ones just mingling around. Everyone in our group connected to new people, whether it was a presenter or another attendee.

And that wraps up my weekend at #MAFWI15. I loved every minute of it, and cannot wait to attend my next conference. Thanks to everyone who made this a fabulous weekend!
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This is the final installment in a three-part series. If you missed the first two articles, then you can find them here:

MAFWI 2015 PART 1 – Why Attend Writing Conferences

MAFWI 2015 PART 2 – Why It’s Okay to Sit Out a Session

MAFWI 2015 PART 2 – Why It’s Okay to Sit Out a Session

During the first full weekend in August I attended the 2015 Mid-Atlantic Fiction Writing Institute conference at Hagerstown Community College featuring Keynote Speaker Tess Gerritsen. It was a fabulous choice of first-ever writing conference and I’m so glad I went. You can read more about it in last week’s blog post titled MAFWI 2015 PART 1 – Why Attend Writing Conferences.

On the second day of the conference, the schedule was:

  • Keynote Speaker – Tess Gerritsen, “I’ve Got a Great Idea for a Book…Or Do I?”
    Maybe you think you have the perfect premise for a novel. But is it, really? How do you recognize when you’ve got an idea that will translate into a killer plot? Join international bestselling author Tess Gerritsen as she shares her experience and insights.
  • Morning Breakout Sessions– Why Every Writer Should Collaborate– The Importance and Purpose of Dialogue
    – 
    Social Media Basics: How to Get a Grip on Your Social Media Campaigns
    – 
    Writing Emergency Room Scenarios
  • Lunch
    Lunch was a buffet-style meal of salad ingredients including grilled chicken, a wide range of non-alcoholic drink choices, and a few dessert items, like watermelon and cookies
  • Panel Discussion
    The Details of the Dream: Worldbuilding for Writers of Fiction, Fantasy, and Everything in Between
  • Afternoon Breakout Sessions
    – Jumping into the Self-Publishing Pool
    – The Prince and the Pauper: The Real Deal Behind an Ideal Publisher-Author Relationship
    – Why Character Consequence and Reaction are Necessary for Conflict and Tension
    – Deviant Diagnosis: Creating Characters with Psychological Conditions
    -So You Want to Write a Thriller
  • Dinner
  • Open Mic
As with any event, there were parts I loved and also parts I did not like at all. Let’s get the negative out of the way first.
Even though I understand the reason for it, the morning keynote building (which had the auditorium) and the lunch session building (which had the cafeteria) were spread out across campus. The emergency room themed session was also in the lunch building, due to having a room with some of the medical equipment being discussed.
The walk sucked. It was partly my fault. I’m not athletic. It was a hot day out. I wore a dark-colored shirt. Going toward the lunch building, I took my time and plenty of breaks. All in all it took about half an hour. (Did I mention plenty of breaks?)
On the way back it was all uphill. I left ahead of my friends but they quickly caught and passed me. Fortunately one of them offered to give me a ride in their vehicle, or I might still be making that walk right now.
Everything I Loved about Day Two
There may not be enough room in this article for me to list everything I loved.
  • Tess Gerritsen is not only a gifted author, but also a gifted speaker. I could have listened to her the entire day.
  • Because I skipped the morning breakout session and found a seat in the empty cafeteria just over an hour early, I was able to chat with both Jim Rada and Robert Bidinotto. This was a real boon, as it led to me switching breakout sessions for the following morning. (More on that in next week’s article!)
  • During the in-between times the conference staff offered plenty of bottled water, granola bars, and other snacks. The bottled water was a real plus, and I for one really appreciated it.
  • The afternoon breakout session with Nik Korpon regarding analyzing characters who suffer from (and revel in) various psychological conditions. We talked about fictional characters in a wide range of media types, from Norman Bates to Walter White.
Get Your Work Out There Any Way You Can
Wrapping up the end of the evening was the Open Mic event. I surprised the other members of my group (and myself) by volunteering to read a short story. It was something I submitted to Morning Rain Publishing‘s contest, the 2014 Freaky Flash Award. Because the story, titled The Funeral Home is No Place For a Child, won first place, I thought I probably couldn’t go wrong.
The entire time I stood in front of my peers of writers, it was a struggle. I could hear my voice shaking. Was I talking too fast? Were my words comprehensible? Where others had printed copies or a laptop handy, I’d copied and pasted the story from MRP’s website into an email on my laptop minutes before the start of the event and then read it via the minuscule screen on my phone.
And then I was finished. With a big sigh of relief, I returned to my seat just glad it was over, never to be spoken of again. Except it was. A few people came up to me after the open mic and said how much they really enjoyed they story – especially the twist at the end. The next morning, even more attendees — and even a couple of the presenters — stopped to compliment me on the story.
And I’ll wrap up my MAFWI 2015 review next week, rounding out my thoughts about the final day.

MAFWI 2015 PART 1 – Why Attend Writing Conferences

I always loved the idea of going to a conference or convention and this year I finally took the opportunity to attend the Mid-Atlantic Fiction Writing Institute’s annual conference, formerly known as the Nora Roberts Writing Institute at Hagerstown Community College.

Along with panel discussions, #MAFWI15 offered breakout sessions and workshops. These mini-events held themes ranging from how to write scenes that take place in the emergency room to tips for self-publishing. When I saw that a friend from my writing group was on one of the panels, I jumped at the chance to attend.

After treating my husband to his birthday lunch, I abandoned him and met up with members of our local writing group, The Mountain Scribes. The group, which is invitation only and limited to less than a dozen members, meets bi-weekly but this was the first time several of us would attend an event of this size.

#MAFWI15 Kickoff

I met up with Julie at the hotel. Like myself, Julie is also a professional blogger who dabbles in literary fiction. Soon after, we were joined by MK Rath, an urban fantasy author from our local, invitation-only writing group. 

After dinner and drinks, because nothing cures my anxiety like a frozen, salted margarita, we attended the meet-and-greet where we touched base with fellow Mountain Scribe Alicia Drumgoole (aka Agnes Jayne), who was a presenter at the conference. Alicia introduced us to her childhood friend and fellow author, Kendra Leigh Castle. The discussion was light and fun, and the perfect way to kick off the evening.

Attend All the Panel Discussions

From the meet and greet we transitioned into a banquet room for a panel discussion. If you have never attended one then I highly recommend it. Panel discussions offer multiple, sometimes diverse viewpoints on a topic. During one of the discussions a question I asked received four different answers, all of which had information I could use.

This particular panel discussion covered the topic of Getting Started and featured the following people:

Just like you can’t tell a book by its cover, you also can’t tell an author by their book jacket photo. No two authors in that panel answered any question exactly alike. If their answers were similar as to their process for writing their book, then they had different ways for getting inspired or editing.

Wrapping Up the Evening

Perhaps the best part of the night came after the panel. Alicia had given a shout out to The Mountain Scribes while boasting the merits of belonging to a writing group. Once the panel broke up, Julie, MK and I headed over to let Alicia know how much we enjoyed the discussion. Other writers hedged about, some being more talkative than others.

I’m not sure who said it during the evening, but they captured the feeling spot on with the comment: These are my people, my people who understand me and get it. The group eventually fizzled out and we returned to our respective hotel rooms with a 7:00 A.M. wake up call for the next day.

Tune in next week to read Part 2 of this article!