Apr 19, 2009

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.

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13 comments:

Jeannie said...

I always love to read about the conferences that you two attend. I was really caught up in your post and then when I got down to the pictures, I couldn't help but to smile. I don't think I've seen either of you before. I feel like I know you both so much more now.

Wish I could help you both with NYC, but since I've never been myself, I can only wish you both lots of good luck and hope you have fun. Now, if you ever find yourself coming out my way, you can count on me to be your tour guide!

Lenore said...

Sounds like you had a great time and learned a lot!

Serena said...

Jeannie: Yeah Anna and I are photo shy! I'm the one behind the camera most of the time. It's another of my passions...but Anna and I have come out of the closet! LOL Trust me, you are the first person we'll ask if we head out west!

Lenore: We learned a great deal. It was a good time.

Carolyn Jean said...

This was really fun to read. I never go to conferences, but I would really love to go to one one day, and it was cool to get this insider view. Sounds like you had fun!!!

My friends and I do that writing exercise. Except we each write a paragraph, but you can only see the last sentence. it's an old surrealist game called Exquisite Corpse. We have also done limericks in that style, which can be very fun and insane. (you carry down the rhyme instead of the sentence.)

If you're worried about writer's block, you should check out Boice (How writers journey to comfort and fluency) a weird academic kind of book that arose from studies of successful writers - expensive as hell and worth ten times the price if you're serious.

Oh, look, I'm procrastinating writing right now!

Yvonne said...

I love conferences. This sounds like a great one.

Serena said...

Carolyn: Yes, that's the name I couldn't think of Exquisite Corpse. Thanks! I knew someone would know what I was referring to. I will check out Boice! Thanks for that tip as well.

Yvonne: It is a fantastic conference. I like them too, though some are better than others.

Janel said...

I agree with Jeannie, thanks for the pictures. I think it's the first time I've ever seen Anna.

After reading your post I think I'm going to check out a local writing conference. I've always thought that there is a book in me, somewhere!

Serena said...

Janel: I'm glad that you enjoyed the photos. I think Anna is more shy than I am about photos.

Do it! Check out a local writer's conference; you'll learn a ton!

Red lady-Bonnie said...

It was interesting reading your post about the conference. How nice that you and Anna can go to writing and book events together.

Toni said...

Fun and useful!! What a blast.. about 9 years ago I went the Jack London Writer Conference in SF. It was great. I learned a lot. I must go to some more of these events. Thanks for the post, pics and for sharing this event...

Rebecca :) said...

I am so glad that you had a good conference! I like the format of reading poems and short stories instead of a speaker as well. Maybe because I have no attention span? lol It was great to see a picture of you, too!

Anna said...

Great recap, even though there is a picture of me in it. I really am camera shy. LOL

I don't think I have much to add, but I'll still do a write up in the next couple of days and link to yours for the pics.

--Anna
Diary of an Eccentric

Serena said...

Bonnie: It is good to attend these conferences with someone you know. It makes it twice as fun.

Toni: Thanks for taking the time to read it amidst all those read-a-thon posts.

Rebecca: Thanks for stopping in and checking out the post.

Anna: I look forward to your recap...