Thursday, November 22, 2012

2012 Fiction Writers' Bootcamp on the Beach - Part 2

Photo by member Karen Hudgins.
Having been the conference chair, for me to say  this year’s conference was fantastic kind of screams bias. (But it was.) So instead I’ll talk a bit about what we are trying to do with our conferences and what is making them a new and unique experience every year.

This year, our theme was Mardi Gras. Aside from the fabulous workshops by Deb Dixon and the wonderful keynote by Deb Smith, we had a king cake with a surprise prize for the person who found the coin hidden in the cake. We had so many critique donations from published authors, editors and agents that everyone was able to leave with a critique. We also took a tour of the Whetstone Chocolate factory with free samples for everyone. Those are just a few of the unique things we offered our attendees this year. Next year, our theme is going to be (oops, can't tell you yet), so who knows what we’ll find in our (oops, can't tell you this either!) for our attendees.

First time I’d had a really good laugh in weeks was the Keynote address by Deb Smith. 

Another impression was the warm, caring ladies from Belle Books on a one to one basis:

I had an appointment with Deb Smith that I’d been so looking forward to, but hadn’t yet prepared for when Philip was killed. I had my laptop with me in NY and every once in awhile the thought passed through my mind that I needed to get it out and at least LOOK at the series proposal and the completed synopsis that I wanted to pitch, but it never got beyond the thinking. So, when the conference started, I told Elizabeth that if there was a waiting list for pitch appointments, to give mine to someone more prepared. But one of my tasks was to keep track of those appointments, and in a quiet moment between appointments, Deb asked me what I was working on. I’ve no real recollection of what I came up with off the cuff, but she said it sounded like something she’d be interested in seeing and to send it to her. Deb Dixon was just as sensitive to my current state of emotional exhaustion when I won a critique by her. She gave me an idea of what she was interested in and how to submit it, then told me there was NO EXPIRATION DATE, take my time.

And while the workshops remain just copious notes – thankfully the result of long years of habit, most of the conference is a blur of friends, both dear and new, smiles, hugs and support. I know that as a chapter and as familiar attendees of this particular conference, we are close and supportive of each other as writers, but this particular conference I felt supported well beyond my life as a writer. I tried not to bring my personal tragedy into the conference, but it was there in spite of me and everyone was generous in their love and caring and their willingness to listen. You’ve all seen cartoons of a broken heart with a Band-aid stuck across the hurt – well that’s what this conference was for me. Everyone who reached out to me, even with just a few words of acknowledgment or a hug, you’re all part of that Band-aid. I love you and thank God for putting you in my life.

For the Boot Camp this year, I summoned my courage to pitch my book to Guest Speaker, Deborah Smith, Editorial Director of Belle Books. She offered ten minute appointments. When the schedule was announced, I was first…So, I fretted on the drive to St. Augustine, shaking inside and worrying about my ten minute window of opportunity. I arrived a few minutes early for the appointment on the opening day of the conference.

When I was taken to meet her, inside I was chanting “You-can-do-this! You-can-do-this!” I have a terrible tendency to rattle on when I’m nervous. It was the first time I ever pitched anything in person. She was wonderful, so kind and funny. I relaxed into the chair and answered her questions. The ten minutes flew by and ended with Ms. Smith requesting my manuscript. Whew!

After that, the conference breezed by. I met some wonderful writers and participated in some great workshops. And won two wonderful gift baskets in the raffle held at the end, as well as two opportunities with agents.

It was a great conference, the best I’ve ever attended. Next year promises to be spectacular! Here’s a hint: ARRRRRRRRRRRGGGGHHHHH!!!!

I loved seeing the excitement of the authors as they came out of the editor appointments. You just knew the editor had requested a manuscript. Who could forget the oohs and aahs over the donated baskets or the critique evaluations by editors, agents and authors. It was an outstanding conference, and as one ACRA member said, it's the best little conference in North Florida.

What was the best thing I got out of the 2012 ACRA Boot Camp? Only choose one? Impossible. As always, you paid a little and got a lot.

I would say there were at least two important things that will help my writing. The first was that if you only have conflict at the end of your book, you don’t have enough. With romantic suspense it’s easy to have conflict between the hero and heroine. Throw in a villain, and you ramp it up. However, when you write a book of suspense, you don’t have that romantic element to aid you. You have to come up with something else that causes conflict in your character’s lives.

The second thing I brought back was that sometimes the little details throw us from the deep point-of-view we as writers try for. Your heroine isn’t thinking, “I turned on the shower, now I’m stepping in. The water is cold” etc. We, as humans don’t think like that. It’s an everyday occurrence to turn on the shower. We don’t think about it when we do it. Instead we just “step into the shower. The freezing water jolted me awake.”

There were so many more things. It just makes me look forward to next year.

Once again ACRA's Boot Camp on the Beach for Fiction Writers impressed me. The atmosphere was upbeat, the speakers willingly shared their knowledge, the raffle gifts and goody bag items were plentiful, and the food tasty. Also, the table decorations rocked. I had a wonderful time meeting new people and spending two days with writer friends in a writerly environment. Creative people meeting together like this always juices me up for more writing. Eating out in St. Augustine Beach added to my adventure. We stumbled upon Saltwater Cowboys, a rustic restaurant by the expansive, lush green salt marsh along the Intracoastal Waterway, makes seafood, etc. that floats into your mouth. 

Speaking of food, much goes into making fine chocolate. (Very fine, indeed). Being tour guests of the Whetstone Chocolate Factory, we each donned a little white "hairnet" cap and observed the process up close and personal...with yummy samples. The conference was small, but mighty and powered by attendees who came from afar and close and with shared goals like better writing and learning more about the industry. Am already looking forward to next year for another chance to: Dare and share. Dare--to push myself again to new writing levels. Share--to give and receive ideas, techniques, and industry tips for keeping a writer's journey alive and fresh. Thanks for reading, and now back to my pages....

This was my third ACRA Bootcamp. As the rookie in the group, I can honestly say they just get bigger and better. It was much more relaxing for me this year because my pitch was early on Friday morning and well received. I floated through the rest of the day but did come down long enough to enjoy Elizabeth Sinclair’s workshop on Character. I will never look at cardboard people again without trying to flesh out their story.

The theme this year was Mardi Gras which should have been festive and full of Yuks. Instead, I believe our hearts collectively were so full of love and empathy for our Skye that we may have missed the mark on raucous merriment, the underlying theme turned into one of encouragement and hugs. Skye was the second ACRA member to befriend me. She has a special place in my heart for sharing lunch at the 2011 Bootcamp with the rookie. So while we may have missed the mark on merriment we scored big on warmth and encouraging.

The very best part of Bootcamp is getting to know each other, I missed out on some quality bonding time by missing the chocolate factory outing. (My bad)

It was very cool having a male author in our ranks and hearing his story at lunch. Maybe we can schedule in some intro time? (Or did I miss that giving the early pitch?)

The "Debs" from BelleBooks were the best. Class wrapped in humor and topped with professionalism. I loved it all!

All of Saturday and the KEYNOTE were super! The only thing I would like to see changed and again maybe I missed it (early pitch remember) is that we should announce and explain that the bags hold chances for author critiques and publisher reviews for newbies like me. Had no clue the first year until someone told me and didn’t even notice them this year until the end but . . . spoken in Uncle Si’s voice. . . HEY! I had the early pitch ya know!

When I first reached out to a writing group, I emailed three different groups. EMCBREEM (Ellen) at ACRA was the only one that responded. She took me under her wing at the Wilson’s that first year. Dolores and Marge had me join their table at the first boot camp I attended seems like someone in the ACRA group always looks out for the newbies to encourage them. Kellie has taken pity on me and explained her “e” speak more than once. Kathy, Sharon, Karen, Vickie, Kat, and so many others have reached out to make me feel welcome. They will welcome YOU as well. If you are new to this profession and plan to attend in 2013 look for me I will be there to welcome and encourage you, and I’ll bring all these wonderful ladies along beside me. 

2012 Fiction Writers' Bootcamp on the Beach - Part 1

Photo by ACRA member Karen Hudgins.

Autumn brings the promise of a magical season of harvest, thankfulness, and giving, showcased in colors so brilliant they sometimes don't even look real. Well, unless you live in Florida, in which case you get the harvest, thankfulness, and giving, but you have to settle for white beaches, blue ocean, and green palm trees. Yeah, it's rough, but someone has to do it.

If you are a member of Ancient City Romance Authors, autumn also brings our annual Fiction Writers' Bootcamp on the Beach. ACRA plans for this event at least a year in advance of the actual year it is to be held, wisely choosing one member to turn possibilities into unforgettable reality.

Qualifications for this position are simple. Our Bootcamp Chair must have:

- extraordinary enthusiasm for the craft of writing,
- nerves of steel,
- a willingness to give up those hours she wastes sleeping every night.
- (A lifetime Prozac prescription is not a necessity, but it helps.)

The ACRA member who possessed all the necessary qualifications for 2012 was bestselling author Elizabeth Sinclair. Having written and published over twenty books in her career (one of which was released about five minutes before the conference started), Elizabeth is accustomed to mapping out a project, organizing everything she needs to pull it off, and making it happen.

Elizabeth chose Mardi Gras as the 2012 theme and decorated the conference room accordingly, in green, purple, and gold. Spirits were high, and writers from near and far arrived in St Augustine on October 5 for a weekend of education, preparation, and excitement. Attendees were totally absorbed in every workshop, the only sound other than the speaker's voice being the scratching of notes from pen to paper.

Deborah Smith, from Belle and Bell Bridge Books in Memphis, TN, brought our keynote address. Thirty seconds into her presentation, attendees were howling with laughter. If you've ever passed up a chance to hear this woman speak, you have done yourself a great disservice. Debra Dixon, also from Belle and Bell Bridge Books, offered workshops that many agreed changed the way they approached their work. Elizabeth Sinclair offered workshops as well, with a workshop on Characterization that made everyone see their characters in a whole new way.

Deb Smith also met with authors to hear all about what they were working on, and to see if it might be a fit for Belle and Bell Bridge. Having never pitched a manuscript before, some of our writers were uneasy and fearful of suddenly forgetting important details like their own names and addresses. Deb made everyone feel as though they were simply sitting down for a chat with a good friend who shared their love of writing.

ACRA's hero, Cheryl Brooks, made the trip from Edgewater, FL, to handle our conference bookstore again. Her bookstore, The Book Rack, is ACRA's "home" bookstore, and we are so grateful to her for her support and her willingness to help us out like she does. We love her attitude, her sense of humor, and her attachment to books.

ACRA is more than a chapter of Romance Writers of America. ACRA is a family, and when one of us hurts, we all hurt. Our conference this year was not only a source of creative renewal and fellowship, it was also a gathering in which we held one of our own in our arms and shared her sorrow. Our Treasurer (and former Conference Chair) Skye Taylor, lost her young grandson in late September in an unfortunate accident that took his life. Skye's conference experience was, of course, somewhat different from those in the past, but the timing was helpful. It was good for us to all be together for her at a time when she needed us most.

Our raffle baskets, Kindle Fire giveaway, Kindle Touch giveaway, food, and special Mardi Gras cake made for us by Carrie's Cake Delights of Statesboro, GA, added to the excitement of the weekend, as did the tour of St Augustine's Whetstone Chocolate Factory. Yes, we did tour a real chocolate factory, and yes, there were samples, and yes, there was a factory shop, and yes, we did spend a collective fortune on chocolate. Wish you'd been there now, don't you?

Our deepest appreciation goes to Elizabeth Sinclair on her excellent organization and management of the 2012 ACRA Fiction Writers' Bootcamp on the Beach, to those who assisted her, and to each member of ACRA who contributed a basket, a critique, or a gift of their time to help make this event happen.

So what does Elizabeth have up her sleeve for next year? Oh, trust us . . . it's going to be the best ever. Seriously, you do not want to miss this. Elizabeth and her staff are already deep into preparations for it. Plans are still in the "secret" stage, so we can't reveal it yet. But if you plan to attend, a parrot on your shoulder would be a nice touch . . . .

RELATED POST: 2012 ACRA Fiction Writers' Bootcamp on the Beach - Part 2