From the first time I discovered writing conventions, they have been one of my favorite ways to spend a few days. My first was in 1982, the Romance Writers of America Conference, being held that year in Long Beach, California, aboard the fabulous Queen Mary. It was a small convention--only a couple hundred writers--but it hooked me on their value for life.
Where else can a writer commiserate with so many others about how their characters won't speak to them or how to make settings come alive?
Where else can you sit down with several other writers and work on a plot problem and come up with some fantastic fictional answers while hanging out in the bar? Where else can you meet editors and hear directly from them what sort of books they are looking to buy? Or pitch your work directly to editors?
I joined RWA after that Long Beach convention and made the conference my vacation the next couple of years. I even sent in several proposals. Alas, I didn't get a contract out of that convention, but every conference I attended after that made me a better writer and kept me in touch with the audience of readers. Years later it was another convention in southern California--RWA in Anaheim--that got me back into the writing realm. This time I did get a publisher!
I've continued going to various writing conventions ever since, from RWA to Emerald Cities in Washington, to Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers in Colorado. But perhaps my favorite convention of them all is Left Coast Crime. What I love about this gathering of writers and would-be authors is the various panel discussions featuring mystery, suspense and thriller writers. This isn't a teaching convention like RWA, but more of a fan convention. Still the learning possibilities are endless. Where else can one hear directly from so many fine writers about how they craft their mystery novels or work on characters or voice?
The entire event was inspirational as well. So many writers spoke of how they brought their characters and their settings to life. But they also spoke about their connection and "contracts" with the reader. It's important to forge that connection with a reader so that it becomes a bond that keeps the reader coming back for more. Best selling author William Deverill talked about how authors need to develop their voice because it's not just the words readers remember when they close the book, it's the voice of the author. Readers may not identify it as such, but it is the author's voice that remains with the reader and drives them to look for more books from that writer.
Mystery author Terry Shames said good authors are sure-handed about what they are putting on the written page. Danny Gardner put it more directly. "If it isn't on the page, it's not on the stage."
The panelists also said that writers shouldn't expect to find their voice immediately, but they need to keep searching for it and it will eventually emerge. They also cautioned about forcing yourself to write something you don't want to write. "Write what you want," Danny Gardner said. "And don't be afraid to shoot for the moon."
Good advice for writers at any stage of their career. It's also the sort of advice that only can come from one author to another, which is why conventions like Left Coast Crime keep me coming back. Having the opportunity to talk writing with others who have struggled with their characters and their works not only helps our writing, it keeps us going.
And those stories keep the readers coming back for more!
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