The steely sky pisses on me as I run through the parking lot for the main entrance of the courtyard Marriott. At least I won’t miss the usual Memorial Day family barbeque; with this weather, it will certainly be cancelled. Spending the weekend inside on Kauai might not be such a bad idea after all. Late, as usual, I bolt for the doors of the Paddle Room just as they swing shut. Surprise! The room is full of people! Rows of cloth covered banquet tables with over 50 people (most of them I don’t even know, already seated pens in hand) face an orchid laden podium. I had anticipated our usual Wokians (Write-On Kauai) group but this is so much bigger. Everything is so professional looking, even a welcome folder with my own name on it!
Deciding to be a part of the writer’s conference and spend a whole weekend learning what writers do to be successful was something I fell into without much forethought. Here I was a, novice with a few blogs under my belt, part of a very serious weekend with real writers and presenters. I felt a little intimidated but excited too.
After a beautiful Hawaiian chant and blessing, Jill Landis, the keynote speaker, hit the stage. One thing about being at this writer’s convention, the quality of the presentations is outstanding. Kind of makes sense when you think about it -- which I had not. I have read a few of Jills books; they make great beach reads. I love that they are set on Kauai and have copious amounts of drama. Her first words were you have to be a little crazy to do this, totally crazy to stay with this but if you can’t do anything else even though it is not easy, don’t quit. She tells us to learn our craft, learn how to write...learn about texture and point of view, who is telling the story. Tell the story!
Jill speaks fast and peppers her speech with fun euphemisms. She tells us it is good to join a writers group but to remember not to defend our work, but to go home and change it or leave it. Opinions, she says, are like assholes. Everyone has one. I love that her message is one of just do it, find your rhythm, find what works for you. If you only write one page a day at the end of a year you will have a 365 page book! If you decide in the middle of a book that your character is the wrong sex don’t go back and change it perform an immediate sex operation and continue writing, get it down, keep going revisions can come later. She talks like she writes -- fast, furious and funny. If you have read her books, you know, you just can’t put them down. I love her advice that whatever drama you have going on in your story make it worse!
Next up is Joe Clifford, young, good looking in a bad-boy, haven’t shaved for a week kind of way; Joe talks even faster and is all over the place. I am immediately enticed, lost and mesmerized all at the same time. To make matters worse he mumbles and I can hardly hear him! I do pick up that he is a crime writer and believes that
setting is supremely important; that we have to set up the scene to tell the story. I like that he is talking about memoir, something I am striving to write. In fact I have recently sketched out my very first page. I love that he gives us an exercise to write out a setting and that I get to read mine. Somehow, I have never realized just how important setting is to storytelling.
After lunch, during which time it was fun to meet other writers from across the Island and the ocean, Elisabeth Kracht from Kimberly Cameron and Associates instructs us on how to write the perfect Query letter to get our work seen by a publishing house. She emphasizes that you need to make your work stand out to an agent. Also, you have to follow the rules of your genre and not expect too much at first. It is difficult finding a publisher. Less then 1% of writers ever do and it will likely take many submissions before any kind of success. Social media expertise, having your own blog and published short stories she considers pretty much essential for acceptance. I thought it interesting that the thousands of manuscripts she needs to screen yearly she must read away from her work on evenings and weekends. They do not represent part of her job description!
A Read-a-Palooza of participants’ work follows. The experts critique the works and give valuable feedback to the writers. By the time we break my head is swimming. This writing game is quite involved and who knew there were all these rules to follow? One thing is certain, at the end of the day I am more jazzed about writing then ever before.
The evening session by our own Kauai Writer Tom Corson-Knoles is titled “Exploding the Myths About Self Publishing.” Unfortunately I am too bushed to attend. Word on the floor the next morning is that the session was awesome and really informative. I am sorry to have missed it.
Sunday dawns rainy and overcast again. This time I arrive on time and ready to go. The morning session with Liz titled “101 things to Check before Submitting Your Manuscript” could be a book in itself. Joe follows with an entertaining scenario on “How to Make your Clues” add up! He says if you get stuck have someone enter the room with a gun! Also be a good thief and steal all the good ideas you read about in other books and make them your own. Another of his tips is to have a pen and paper ready when reading or just everywhere you are to jot down your ideas. Do not let them get away!
I am touched by how friendly and accessible Jill, Liz, Joe and Tom are. They really have poured their hearts into their presentations and are helpful and engaging whenever we talk. Jill invites us to email her for a character sheet. I do and it arrives the next day. Joe invites us to friend his Facebook page and subscribe to his blog. Best of all Liz tell us to mention that we attended the Kauai Writers Conference and she will give us special consideration when we submit work to her.
As the day winds down I look out the front picture windows of the Paddle Room. Ten or so fancy-dressed umbrella-toting guests have gathered chatting in the rain oceanfront. Here comes the bride and groom braving the raindrops. The servers are hastily wiping off the chairs neatly spaced facing the view. Just as the minister arrives the clouds part and a gorgeous double rainbow appears as the wedding ceremony unfolds. The scene is set!
The people that made this weekend possible my neighbors, David and Hiyaguha, Christophher , David Dinner, Camile and Rick and the presenters take the stage to loud clapping from all the participants. It was truly a memorable experience for all of us and we are all feeling grateful. Our hopes and prayers are that it becomes and annual event.
In the end we learn that the hardest profession on earth is to be a published author. Even if we do get published we likely will not be able to make a living from our work alone. Very few people get to do that. Maybe I’m crazy, but my interest in writing has only grown stronger over the weekend. I know I will leave pens and paper all over the house to capture my ideas and random thoughts. I will steal from my favorite authors and set up a scene on paper whenever I can. It might not pay but what can you do when you can’t do anything else!