Tag Archives: Willamette Writer’s Conference


I’ve been having the craziest, vivid dreams lately. It’s probably a result of not creating new writing as of late (life, ya know, and then when I have time I’ve been working on editing/querying/synopsis tasks), which is what usually brings on the crazy dreams. The latest ones involve a coherent storyline with stereo surround sound and full color. A few nights ago I actually woke myself up in order to write it down because I didn’t want to forget.

I’m not sure if it’s because of a class I attended at the Willamette Writers Conference, but they seem even more coherent and meaningful… or maybe I’m just paying more attention. The themes seem more obvious and the characters more developed, instead of just place holders or stereotypes. It’s odd.

Needless to say, I don’t feel very restful when I wake up. Though my brain telling me stories as I sleep is rather neat.

Does anyone else get these vivid, often coherent dreams that keep you company all night?

Thoughts from the Willamette Writers Conference: Part Four

In my previous post, I talked about the end of the first day of the Willamette Writers Conference, and the beginning of the second. In that post I discussed what I learned about making book promotion fun, horror writing, perfecting a final draft of your manuscript, and different applications that can aid you career in writing. If you haven’t read it, you should go check it out.

I ended on a cliffhanger, right as I entered the room where all pitches to agents, film producers, and acquisition directors were held:

All of the “buyers” (those that were interested in pitches and what you had to sell) were all seated at two person tables with their name cards. I scanned around briefly and then finally saw who I was looking for: Kisa Whipkey of REUTS Publications.

Kisa Whipkey is the acquisitions director of Reuts Publications, a boutique publisher that takes the traditional publishing method and puts a self-publishing spin on it. Basically, they do things traditionally, but give authors more control and more percentage of the royalties.

As I sat down, a sense of calm came over me, and I got through my pitch really well. I explained my Concept and then my Premise (go to my last post to understand!), and then set up my two main characters personalities in one sentence, and then ended on the final conflict.

I was rather impressed with myself, actually. I didn’t stutter or act meek! And apparently Ms. Whipkey was impressed too, because she asked for 50 pages to be sent to her for review!

I’m still between elation and dead calm, because I know that my manuscript has to be next to perfect if I want this relationship to progress further.

If nothing comes of it, it’s been an amazing experience and a serious boost to my confidence. Meanwhile, I’m editing the heck out of my manuscript (again) and pulling all comments possible from my beta readers.

After my pitch, I was in a daze, and got in line for lunch a little like a space cadet. I’d signed up for a lunch with a panel of NY Bestselling Authors, and during being fed, attendees could submit questions via Twitter. I got two of my questions answered! The panel was good overall, and I got to sit next to some amazing writer ladies, one of which I taught about how to use Twitter as a writer, and how to find other writers. That was fun.

After lunch I headed to How to Develop an Author Platform, which was… unhelpful. It was a lot of generalizations and me being really confused as to how the information was helpful at all. So I’m going to skip over that bit, because I’m not sure if I was just being oblivious or if the panel really didn’t know how to impart information.

Anyway, so after that, I didn’t feel like sitting through another business related class, so I didn’t end up going to How To Negociate Your Book Contract Like a Pro (which I probably should have gone to), and instead went to Dream World: The Irreducible Image by Susan DeFreitas.

That was an interesting class. DeFreitas was an amazing speaker, and the class was based around those images or symbols in fiction that you just can’t forget, long after you’ve forgotten the main points of the actual story. She examples such as Pennywise from Stephen King, Daenerys suckling baby dragons from George R. R. Martin, and several other images from other authors.

DeFreitas said that creating those Irreducible Images comes from using both the unconscious and conscious brain. The unconscious brain holds those images and feelings that have the power to stick in your mind, and the conscious brain is the part that can be used to implement those powerful images into your writing. Apparently, the best way to tap into the unconscious brain is by dreaming. Those strange things that stick in our mind after dreams are the things that hold power as images in fiction; by remembering those strange things in dreams and using them in your writing, you can create the things that people remember, long after they’ve forgotten the details of your story.

It’s something to think about.

After that, classes were done with. I headed for the ballroom, where they had food and a few other things going on. I ran into a guy I’d briefly explained my manuscript before, and we set up at a table with two other people we barged in on (it’s fun to barge in on people. You make friends), and were soon followed by two ladies who one of the group knew.

The talking began. We had to try to be quiet, as there was an award ceremony of some such sort going on, and after that they showed a short film that won the Willamette Writer’s short screenplay contest. The film was pretty neat, actually.

It took me a bit to realize it, but one of the guys that joined the party was an agent I almost pitched to (named Dongwon Song). I only ended up pitching once because of money constraints and because I wanted to attend classes, and Whipkey won out because she mentioned she loved snarky characters and complex narrative (of which my manuscript is filled with).

There was a funny moment where Song realized I wrote fantasy and he represented fantasy. I smiled slyly and told him I wouldn’t force my pitch on him, and he laughed and said he’d listen for free. I decided not to, because he’d just gotten through his story about how he and his fellow “buyers” were stuck in a room from 9 – 5, changing people every ten minutes, and after a while it was nearly impossible to absorb was people were saying (how many people is that? 9 – 5 is 8 hours… every ten minutes there’s a new person, so 10*8 = 80? That’s 80 people A DAY, and this conference is 3 days. Holy moses on a cracker). The last thing he really wanted was to be done with work and drinking a beer and have some overly eager unpublished author trying to get him to listen. Besides that, it sounds like he’s really looking for High Fantasy, which mine doesn’t really fit into.

Anyway, I was between Song and a gentleman who was an expert in self-publishing, and got to listen to them duke out the pros and cons of traditional publishing vs. self-publishing for almost an hour. That was very interesting. And somehow, talking about farming and goats came up as well (if you’re hanging out with me over a few hours, you kinda have to figure I pull out the goat pictures at some point). Needless to say, I found some new friends at that table.

But it was great: as Song went to leave, he handed me his card and told me to email him. I don’t know if he’ll be interested in my project and want to take on fantasy that’s more Urban than High, but hey, the personal contact always helps. And he was great to talk to.

The next hour and a half was filled with more talking about all things ridiculous and writer-y, including us finding a lady who writes adult children’s novels. She was freaking great!

And that, my writer friends, about concludes my Willamette Writers Conference adventures. I did not attend the final day of the Conference (Sunday) because of money constraints of because it was my mother’s birthday, so I don’t have much information to impart about that day.

But! I met some amazing people, pitched my ideas to all sorts of friends and professionals who thought my work sounded great, and learned so much about both writing and how to pursue a career in writing. I’d say the experience was invaluable, and not necessarily because of the classes and professional contacts. That might be about 60% of it; but the rest is because of the newfound friends and the, well, nourishment of being surrounded by such talented and like-minded people.

If anybody can afford it, I really recommend going. There’s a lot more there than just classes and professional contacts, at least in my experience.

Hey, thanks for reading through my journey! I hope it was interesting and that you learned a few of the things. Anybody have any questions?

Thoughts from the Willamette Writers Conference: Part Three

Welcome to the next segment of my Willamette Writer’s Conference adventures! In my previous post, I talked about the first day and a half of the Conference, and what I learned about querying, researching for better authenticity in Historical Fiction, and World Building. You should go check it out, if you haven’t already. It was pretty great.

After the World Building class on Friday, I went on to a class called Beyond Book Signings: Making Book Promotion Fun by Kerrie Flanagan. I’m dreading the time when I need to be marketing my book, so I figured I needed to take this class. And actually, it was quite nice. Nothing revolutionary happened, but it was a great class for setting your mind at ease and realizing that marketing is not supposed to be painful. Her best advice, after discussing all the ways that influence people to buy books and all the ways you can reach people to buy your books, was this: pick one that sounds fun to you, and try it. Just one. Don’t worry about the rest. Don’t even think about them. Just do one. Do it the best you can. Because you’re not going to be able to do all of them.

Flanagan also said that the point of marketing was to gain loyalty. And there were 3 keys to gaining loyalty: connection, trust, and relationship. Connection is the start (finding a book on FaceBook, or having a conversation with someone who gets interested to buy you book), and then trust has to do with your readers believing they are going to get what you advertise: whatever drew them to you in the first place. As in, always putting out good quality fantasy. Or autobiography. Or romance. Whatever is your shtick. And relationship, the final one, is about engaging readers and making yourself approachable. Responding when someone says hey on twitter. Replying back to emails. Being connectable.

Her final note of advice about marketing was remembering these three things: Keep it Fun, Make it Memorable, and Build Your Tribe (of loyal readers). Overall it was good stuff, and put me at ease that marketing isn’t going to be complete awfulness.

After classes completed for that day, there was a social gathering dinner eating type event, and my brain felt like it was oozing out of my eyeballs. I could not believe how tired I was after learning and talking all day!

My newfound friend came back after her second pitch, which didn’t go very well. She was pitching a screenplay instead of a manuscript. and apparently film-makers are notorious for being uninterested and not getting back to people even if they request to see pages. Such a strange thing – I wonder why they come to conferences at all?

Anyway, after the dinner there was one last group of classes I decided to stay for. I ended up attending Tips for Terror, Hints for Horror, both because it sounded interesting and because I was curious whether or not my manuscript could be classified as “horror.” It’s an odd genre I don’t understand; I’ve seen books I didn’t think were that gross or psychological that were classified as horror, and vise-versa.

The class overviewed common elements and themes in horror, and then went through a few exercises where we did a mash ups of non-horror with horror to come up with crazy ideas. That was fun. Overall it was good info, but the most important bit was that my manuscript is definitely not horror.

By Friday evening I had a general pitch that I was decently happy with: it covered my complicated world in one sentence, the push of the story in another sentence, and then set up the personality of my characters and the dramatic line at the end. I was pretty happy just relying on general points to go with: I was going to come at my pitch with the attitude of a conversation. That way, I at least would engage and not be monologuing, which is never good. And if I memorized a speech, I’d just end up sounding robotic.

By the second day of the conference it was fun to be able to recognize people I’d seen around. It gave an easy excuse to start a conversation with someone. I ended up eating breakfast with the friend of the producer of The Amazing Race (who I also had met the day before) during the opening ceremony.

She and I both headed to The Pursuit of the True Final Draft by Larry Brooks. Since I’m at that stage in my manuscript, it seemed like a good idea. This class was… equal parts irritation and fascination for me. His personality grated my nerves a little, but he had great information to impart.

Brooks began the class declaring that you can’t write a story without knowing the ending. If you don’t know the ending, you’re not writing foreshadowing or the story itself. I’m not sure I agree completely, but he had a point, depending on what your story is.

The main gist of the class came from the idea that there 12 criteria you must master before your manuscript is complete. These separate into six core competencies (concept, character, theme, structure, scene execution, and writing voice) and six realms of story physics (compelling premise, dramatic tension, optimal pacing, hero empathy, vicarious experience, and narrative strategy).

Brooks went on to say that there were two main reasons a manuscript (or pitch) gets rejected, both because the manuscript isn’t final. The first is that that the story isn’t executed well enough, and the second is that the story idea itself isn’t strong enough. Then he started discussing the difference between concept and premise, which he emphasized were heavily different things. Concept has to do with the main idea of your story, the thing that is new or refreshing, and almost always has nothing to do with the hero. A story set in an alternative history, or on another planet. Or a story about ghosts. The hero can be the conceptual creation (superman, Sherlock Holmes), but most likely are not. The premise is the main, exciting “dramatic thread” that runs through the story: Character A has his life interrupted by X, has to accomplish Y by doing Z, but Character B (or environment, or whatever) stands in the way for PQR reasons.

Beyond that, you have your usual thread of storytelling, with the climax, plateau, etc, etc. Multiple premises can come from one concept (see multiple stories set in the same interesting world, like Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern and numerous other stories set on Pern), which is where you see series popping up and so forth.

Brooks kept emphasizing, over and over, that most people didn’t know the different between concept and premise and didn’t have the distinction in their story (thus, they get rejected by agents and publishers). When he started talking about concept and premise, it took him almost a half an hour to actually define the difference and tell us what he was talking about. I got really excited that I thought I knew what he was talking about, and got irritated that he wasn’t being clear about the definition.

So when Brooks finally got around to defining concept, I raised my hand, and like a complete smart-ass, asked: “Do I get a gold star that I knew what you were talking about before you defined it?” He asked what the concept was, and I gave him the one I had for my story (which happens to be the alternative history/world setting), and he told me I was exactly right.

Which was exactly what I needed to hear before going into my pitch. One, because it was encouraging, and two, because tweeking my pitch just slightly had my concept and premise defined and distinct from each other.

The next class was Own Your Time Like A Boss by Cheri Lasota, most of which I was going to be able to attend before I had to leave for my pitch. Lasota’s class was mostly about applications and software that can aid a writer in saving time while reading, collaborating with other writers, and editing. She talked about applications like Scrivner, Write or Die, Grammarly, PicMonkey, and so forth, which can do very different things to help a writer and author in their career. It was good information overall, and though I did leave about half an hour before it concluded, and she sent her powerpoint slides with links to the applications to anyone who wanted them. So I have that to still go through.

Anyway, so I left early and walked to the pitch room, replaying my pitch one more time in my head. The teacher of the Hints for Horror class was actually seated next to me in the waiting room, so we chatted briefly while I tried to breathe through nerves and make light of my cold and quivering hands. Making light of things always helps. Make fun of yourself. Somehow, it works. At least for me.

Then 11:40 hit, and we all walked into the pitch room.

Aaaand that is where I’m going to leave you until tomorrow’s part, just because I’m evil. Stay tuuuunnnnned. 😉


Thoughts from the Willamette Writers Conference: Part Two

Here’s the introductory post!


The first day (on Thursday) was only a half-day basically consisted of meeting everybody. There were two class-like things you could do, one about succeeding at the Conference and the other about finding the right agent, and then a competition for who had the best Pitch (a pitch, if you don’t know, is talking directly to an agent/publisher, as opposed to the query letter via email or snail mail. It’s even more condensed than a query, if you can believe it).

I went to the success at the Conference basics class, and it was about what I expected it to be. But a pivotal thing happened: somehow, when one of the panelists asked me what my story was about (in reference to a discussion about complicated worlds/settings), somehow what came out of my mouth was: coming of age horror.

Which certainly covers certain elements of my novel (she’s younger, and the story is very dark with some creepy monsters), it didn’t cover the main elements. But it didn’t really matter, because the entire room went:

Ooooooo ~ !

Which was pretty dang encouraging. And put my story in a new light I hadn’t considered from it before. So I began to think of it differently, pondering on all of it’s possibilities. And then people started coming up after the class, asking to hear more about my idea. Which was both very encouraging and helped with forming how I wanted my pitch to sound.

I stayed for the Pitch for the Prize Competition even though I wasn’t going to participate (I didn’t feel my pitch was ready) to make sure I was on the right track about how to pitch. Now. I signed up for a Pitch and I knew it was important, but it didn’t hit me until this point that I was pitching to a publisher who could want my book and possibly sell it. Somewhere halfway through the competition I started not feeling so good.

Fast forward a few hours, and I was home and kinda rather freaking out about my pitch. The sentences for my pitch didn’t work together. I couldn’t say them out loud without stumbling over them. It was too much information. There wasn’t enough information. It didn’t flow right; didn’t sound conversational or easy.

On and on and on.

Which was very frustrating for me, because I knew that if I worried about this pitch the whole weekend, I wouldn’t enjoy the conference as much as I could. Thankfully, my lovely and wonderful partner talked it through with me for a while, and then made me go to sleep. He’s also a writer, with much more technical than me, and talking it through with him always brings clarity.

Somewhere between sleep, the encouragement and help, and repeatedly telling myself that the Conference was for learning and fun and wasn’t going to make or break my career, Saturday morning was much better.

Weird writer self-loathing freak over with!

I met a friend during the opening ceremony (tip: if anyone is ever standing alone, GO UP AND SAY HI. Most people are there trying to work up the nerve to say hi as well. It often starts a conversation that will at least last a class, if not the day or beyond the conference. I feel like 99% of people there are looking to make friends. And 99% of those are introverts and don’t really know how to make a conversation either.) who went with me to the first class I attended: Agents’ Tips for Successful Queries and Proposals.

Jill Marr from Dijikstra Literary Agency and Clair Gerus were there and, after giving an overview of query-making, answered everyone’s questions. It was mostly standard, but in the discussion of writing a great hook, something interesting was posed: your hook could be why you’re querying that person. Ms. Marr said that she’s much more likely to read a query that immediately shows the sender has done research on the agent and the agent’s desires.

Anyway, food for thought.

My next class was Research Strategies and Methods for Writing Historical Fiction taught by Judson Roberts. Roberts writes early Viking Historical Fiction, and walked us through his process on how he goes about writing something like that. He stressed the most important part was to always start with the general and then move to the specific. In other words, start with a overview book about Vikings times, figure out something you’re interested in, and then start delving deeper. The basics were to finds as many original sources of information (exactly like writing a research paper for college) for the time period that you’re interested in writing, because the author will filter and have their own interpretations that are not necessarily correct. Putting your own interpretations on original sources are half the fun, anyway.

So the advice was basically the same for researching characters of the same era. Roberts said to get as much information as you can about particular characters, and that stories from other eras will often have character-pieces about the people you’re writing about. Then the playing with the details can begin: just enough to be fun, but not so much as you’re historically “inaccurate” and loose authenticity.

Roberts also stressed to try to go to the place you’re writing about (if you have the means, of course). There are things that are can seen/heard/smelled that can’t necessarily be understood unless you go there. For example, ruins on cliffs that are never talked about but your characters would see (or that you could incorporate into your story!), what it smells like on this particular street, what the trees look like, etc, etc, etc.

It was all very good info.

Then it was lunch time, and my newfound friend and I drove down to a French bakery she works at. Apparently, she follows the agent she was pitching to on Twitter, and found out that the agent has been looking for the perfect apple turnover. Lone behold, my newfound friend works at a French bakery. Like, a real French bakery.

So we trotted down there and got her thing, and I got a chocolate covered pistachio macaron for FREE. Probably the best thing I’ve eaten EVER. That was AWESOME.

After lunch, I headed to The Wonder of World Building by Karen Azinger while my newfound friend headed to her pitch. We did some practicing and some encouragement and off she went.

World Building was quite neat and informative. It was very structured, and looked at each different aspect of making a world and how important it was to develop from the stand-point of your story. She included in her important aspects to look at: Language (and then Foreign Language), Architecture, Culture, Maps, Religion, Government, Monetary System, and Magic. This is all in the context of Science Fiction and Fantasy, mind you.

Azinger had us all write out diagrams with three columns, and in the first column we wrote down our main characters and our main themes. In the next column, you wrote down the skills the character uses to accomplish his/her goals, or the tools you use as a writer to express the theme you’re depicting. In the third and final column, you wrote down what elements of the list were most important to your story to develop.

Here is a quick (and rudimentary) one that I did:


As you can see, culture, government, and magic are pretty important elements in how my characters use and perceive the world around them (A quick note about magic: Azinger stressed that the laws surrounding magic were particularly important when developing a magical society. And the laws/limits of magic should be believable and the same for everyone otherwise you lose your reader).

From there, you can separate out the things that are not important to develop. You can add the “flavor” of the things being present in the world, but do not have to explain or highly develop them. In fact, it can become boring to the reader to do so. Language is slightly important to my story due to my MC’s research taking her into old Latin texts, but I can simply add the “flavor” of things by adding a Latin word here and there but keeping the rest in English. Then it feels fully developed without having to learn Latin (or make up a whole new language: see Tolkein). On the other hand, the monetary system and religion are next to not important at all. I can just mention Euros at some point in my story (since this one does take place in Europe), and the readers can fill in the rest. A similar situation for religion.

Making up a religion, by the way, is much more interesting than borrowing from an already present one (if it’s important in your story). You could combine two religions together (like Buddhism and Islam in Frank Herbert’s Dune). And Azinger also mentioned (somewhat jokingly) that all Epic Fantasy since Tolkein has to have a map; it’s practically a requirement to have one in the first pages of the book.

Architecture, by the way, is rather important whether you think about it or not. It often sets mood, character, and description of the scene. It’s something to think about; and also something that probably should have unique characteristics per city or place.

Almost at the end of the class, my newfound friend came back very excited that her pitch went well. The agent requested 30 pages, and a request to see more is the best you can get at one of those! I’m very excited for her and hope there are all good things happening there.

And this, my friends, is where I’m going to stop. Alas, I have two more classes on Friday and Saturday to get through before I’m done. But we’re already over 1,600 words and I’ve much more to get through!

Stay tuned! 😉

The next segment can be found here.

Thoughts from the Willamette Writers Conference: Part One

Well. The Willamette Writer’s Conference was AMAZING. And it wasn’t just the classes, or the pitching to agents and publishers; it was the connection with other writers, the discussions of ideas, and the introverted writer world coming together in a very nourishing environment. I’m still exhausted by constantly learning and talking to people for 12 hours a day for almost three days, but I feel revitalized. Excited. Re-purposed.

It wasn’t like I didn’t understand my purpose as a writer and want to succeed, but there’s nothing like meeting a group of like-minded people. Or feeling like you’re a part of something. Which is funny, coming from such a introverted, self-focused profession.

Anyway, I’d love to share all of what I learned (both from the classes and from the people) in blog posts, so I’m going to! Of course, personal notes and addendums will be added, because that’s rather half the point of going to a conference anyway. Since a single post (even on just what I learned) would probably be a mile long and nobody is going to read that, I’m going to split up the three days into two posts. Then I’ll edit this post and put the links below! Stay tuned!

Part Two!

Part Three!

My First Writer’s Conference

I have officially done it: I’ve signed up for my first Writer’s Conference. I couldn’t have done it without the support of my loving and wonderful partner, who I’m trying to convince to come with me on one of the days.

It is the Willamette Writer’s Conference, which takes place only about 30 minutes from where I live. That makes expenses and transportation a heck of a lot easier. This year the Conference has a focus (along with the usual classes) on science fiction, fantasy, and historical fiction – which is perfect, since I mostly write in the science fiction/fantasy realm, and have started adding elements of historical fiction and steam-punk.

I’m nervous already. It seems as though Conferences are really what you make of them and I tend to be introverted under pressure. I’m very excited for the classes and know I’m going to learn a lot – it’s the pitching and meeting people part I’m worried about (which I’m guessing is probably true for most). I’ve dabbled in making an elevator pitch for my book before, but now I really need to hone one and make it as perfect as I can. Since my default mode under pressure is meek and mild, I’ve got to figure out a way around that, too. Be confident! Even when my face feels like it’s on fire and I start stuttering because somehow I picked up that annoying habit too! Yay!


Anyway, I’m very excited overall. It’s in a week, so I’ve got a bit of time to perfect my pitch and mentally psyche myself up.

I know I’ve read a few posts from you all about attending writing conferences; any advice you’d like to impart before I go? What should I be looking for? Are there things you’d wished you’d done? What’s the best thing of which to take advantage?