Conference Tips

I recently attended my first Conference as an author – Left Coast Crime. I had a fantabulous time! It was far better than I’d anticipated. A few pointers that worked for me:

Swag (to giveaway at Author Speed Dating and to handout to potential readers and anyone within spitting distance): I created pens displaying my book cover and website, attached with a ribbon to my bookmark. The pens were a huge hit. In fact, I found a few bookmarks sans pens.

One minute talk: I had the happy challenge of explaining my book in one minute or less during the New Author Breakfast. Nerve-racking? Yes, but oh so much fun! I found it helpful to have my book in hand while on stage. It’s a confidence booster and reminder of what one is capable of accomplishing with a little (read between the words: a TON of) work and determination; a dream come true. My speech went something like this:

“I’d like to invite you on an adventure with me. In and around Southern California. With a heroine who lands a dream job in a movie studio, and is blackmailed into investigating a co-worker’s suspicious death. And, is persuaded to look into a catnapping, a possible alien abduction, and a low speed car chase. All because she’s the daughter of a renowned private investigator and together they cracked a few high profile cases. This is a recipe for disaster. MURDER AND OTHER UNNATURAL DISASTERS, which is the title of my book. I hope you’ll enjoy reading.”

I also mentioned the award my book won and my Conference panel (which was later on in the day). Much to my surprise, I wasn’t as nervous as I’d anticipated. No fainting spells, no stammering, no heart leaping out of my chest and landing with a thud in an unsuspecting audience member’s bowl of oatmeal. I survived! And it felt satisfying. But my survival wasn’t the best part. We new authors had assigned tables with our names posted. I was thinking who in their right mind would sit at my table? I was a nobody or maybe a very small, if not microscopic, somebody. But my table was full! And I made some marvelous friends, two of which bought my book. I got to meet the lovely Ruby from Victoria, Canada, and her equally wonderful friend, Anna. I sat next to another author, Annette Mahon, who, after my one minute babble, said that my book was one of four she’d starred to be read. Who could ask for more?

To top it all off, I won a beautiful quilt signed by four big-name authors in attendance. Hard to believe that the day before the Conference I’d wavered about going, worried that I couldn’t handle it. I would have missed a special opportunity packed with many happy surprises. Courage is to know that one is afraid, but to go forth and act anyway. So glad I did.

The Setting is in the Details

In novels, the setting can breathe life into fiction and make the book world real. My setting is Southern California, a sprawling, mostly metropolitan, densely populated area, known for many things, including ever present, intimidating traffic. I once overheard two men aboard Boston’s rapid transit system, bemoaning that they were visiting So Cal soon and how would they ever contend with the assertive driving? My heroine encounters freeways, frantic driving, a low speed car chase and horn-honking, the latter of which plays a small but significant role in daily driving. Here’s an example from my real-life:

I recently walked in a well-marked, clearly designated crosswalk on Wilshire Boulevard. Even if you were blind, you’d feel its very presence. Before making a right turn, a Ford Mustang patiently waited, at a red light, for pedestrians to complete their trek to the other side. Smog was light. Shopping was plentiful. Life was good.

Suddenly, a silver Lexus stopped behind the Mustang and leaned on its horn for about the length of time it takes an average person to peel an apple. In Los Angeles, people don’t just tap or beep, they lean and blow like contestants vying in an Olympian horn honking competition.

I once read that a car horn should be used the same way as you would use your voice. Just what was the Lexus telling the Mustang driver?

“What the hell are you waiting for? Turn those peds into pancakes already!”

The lengthy ear-splitting honk made me want to plant my feet firmly to the confines of the crosswalk and take up the stride of a three-legged tortoise. Somehow, I managed to cross without incident.

Minutes later, at an entirely different intersection with different cars, I heard it again: this shrill blare took so long that I considered the possibility that the automobile sound mechanism went haywire. The horn must have either broken or been part of some sort of alarm. But in fact, a car was stopped at a red light. Behind it sat a queue containing four vehicles. Motorist number four was doing the honking. The lead car had failed to press the accelerator petal during the .05 seconds allotted to move once the light turned green.

Where I live, in the northern tip of So Cal, people do not use their horns. Yesterday, I sat behind two cars, waiting to make a right, onto a highway. When the light turned green, the motorist upfront dozed comfortably and unaware. I could almost make out the pillow behind his head. Quail quietly crossed the street, squirrels took their sweet time posing on hind legs in the middle of the highway. No one honked. Not even me, the former Angeleno. Eventually, the motorist awoke from his dream-state and moved.

The napping driver had stepped away from reality for a moment or two or three and returned the moment he realized his mistake. It was not for us to punish him. Using the horn is a deliberate choice. In this instance, we simply chose not to.

Honk-happy L.A. motorists lack the necessary survival virtues of patience and awareness. They regard their cars as suits of armor. While wearing the suit (or in this case, sitting in the car,) they maintained an air of false bravado. Remove them from the vehicle, and it’s a different story. A reminder for this author to exercise patience and awareness in life…and in writing.

Overcoming Writing (and Life) Challenges

The first book is written and published, now what? Writing book two should be a cakewalk. Main characters are fully formed, the setting is known, and all the author has to do is concoct a new round of adventures. You did it before, you can do it again, right? Excuse me while I go zip myself deep within an undersized tent somewhere in a dense, smoke-filled forest with no power source, little light, and an oxygen tank that’s nearly empty. That’s how I sometimes feel while writing book two. So what’s an author to do?

I’ve sought a boost from other authors who usually offer up the same comment, “The second book is the hardest.” Maybe so, but how’s that going to turn around the situation? Or at least help it along. I hunt down anecdotes from far and wide to fuel my will power. Stories to live by. Here’s one example:

A wise teacher sat with a group of students, one of whom was worried about getting through a troublesome situation. The teacher told this tale: A man was trying to make his way home, walking in darkness with a hurricane lamp in his hand. The lamp only threw a few feet of light around him. He was lucky if he could see ten feet ahead. Supposing the man were to say, ‘My lantern is tiny and weak. I can’t see the whole path to my house. I’m never going to get there.’ What would happen to him? He could forget about reaching his goal. But what if he instead thought, ‘Just a few more steps. Just a few more. This light will certainly guide me home.’ Taking one step and then another, the likelihood of making it would be strong.

Of course the man in the story could be confronted by a robber (in this writer’s case, a time robber, perhaps in the guise of Internet surfing and shopping), a wild animal (a kitchen sink that needs unclogging) or another interruption, distraction or anything demanding attention. But the beauty of these interferences are that all may be overcome. The writer can:
– outrun the robber (stay away from the Internet);
– slay the wild animal (by chaining oneself to one’s chair), ignore the creature or scare it off;

There is nothing so gratifying as completing a task, especially the monumental one of finishing a novel. All the more reason to nurture fierce determination above all else.