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Conversations & Connections 2009 Recap

Well, it’s been more than one week since I attended the one-day writer’s conference–Conversations & Connections, in Washington, D.C. You can find my previous posts about the conference here and here. I do have a few photos to share with everyone as well.

They changed up a few things for this year’s conference, adding craft lectures for beginning writers on sentence structure, sex scenes, and combating writer’s block. There was an early snafu, but I think the organizers adapted well and filled in the vacant space left by Amy Hempel, the scheduled featured speaker.

Anna and I headed to the first panel on Juggling Point of View, which was populated with writers/teachers and authors. While I did learn quite a bit about the techniques to use in my stories and novel concerning how to choose a point of view that fits the story I am telling, most of the information I gleaned from the session came from just two of the panelists. C.M. Mayo (she is second from the right in the photo), author of The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, provided the most clear-cut information to the audience. She teaches workshops at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Md., so that may have given her an edge on the other panelists. (I’ll be hosting a tour for her book next month! And it was great to chat with her for a bit in person and tell her about my spot on her virtual tour.)

As writers, Anna and I were very interested in the Writer’s Block craft lecture and what techniques we could learn and use to keep ourselves in the writing groove. What I found most intriguing is that one of the exercises, which is based upon a parlor game, is something we have done at parties with friends. It was amusing to hear someone teach this in a craft lecture. The concept is simple. You start with one sentence and as the paper makes its way around the room (or in our case most of the time, as the laptop makes it across the room), each person adds their own sentence based upon the previous sentence. The trick is you can’t look too far back and you don’t know what comes next. Other techniques included borrowing phrases, words, and whole sentences from some of your own favorite works and mashing them up into your own paragraph; this wasn’t as effective for me. And the age-old, use these 3-4 words in your own story and you will write for 5 minutes or so. It’s interesting to see how people use the same four words in a story. I have to say that these exercises warmed up my writing brain, and I was ready to go…but unfortunately, there was more conference to be had!

We went to lunch at Bertucci’s because again we could not locate Chipotle….though we did find the Portuguese Embassy! Then we headed back to the conference for speed dating with editors, and I got some great advice from an editor at The Potomac Review about my novel and where it should lead off. I didn’t get to use Anna’s pass because we bumped into an old colleague and poet, Gregg Mosson. Naturally, I had him sign his book, which was one of the free book choices at this year’s conference, and we chatted about what was going on in our lives. It was great to catch up and learn about his good fortunes.

After this interlude, it was off to the main room for the “featured speaker who wasn’t.” Instead, we got a real treat, listening to Gregg read his poems and Susan McCallum-Smith read from her short story book. It was a great addition to the lineup and I hope they think about replacing the featured speaker with this format instead.

It was equally great to hear the impromptu readers answer questions about their books, publishing experience, and goals.

Dave Housley from Barrelhouse magazine led the readings and the question-and-answer session that followed. I think everyone in the audience could tell that he was none too happy that the featured speaker cancelled the morning of the event.

The final session of the day, other than the end of conference Book Fair, was on Writing Sex Scenes. This was the best of the sessions for me. I learned a great deal about when sex plays a role in a story and when it is simply in there for no reason other than the writer was carried away. It was great to see the difference between a coming of age sex scene and one that is based upon relationships–the instructors were really fantastic at showing what nuances in the scene expressed something about the emotions of the characters.

As I’m sure you all realized by my last Mailbox Monday, I did indeed by something at the book fair. I couldn’t resist Reb Livingston’s poetry book. Overall, we had a great time and are looking forward to next year’s conference and BEA, if we can get there.

Speaking of BEA, anyone live nearby? Anna and I are not that familiar with NYC, so we’d appreciate some advice, looks like the cheapest will be for us to fly into Long Island Airport…Any thoughts? Drop me an email.

***Giveaway Reminder***

Don’t forget to enter The Traitor’s Wife giveaway, here and here.