Saturday, November 1, 2014

Surrey Writer's Conference ~ 2014

It probably won’t surprise you that it took me several days to wind down from this year’s Surrey International Writers Conference (#siwc2014), so caught up in the whirlwind of insights, inspirations, personal revelations, and general awesomeness of it all, that I had to take a few deep breaths and let the mother lode of information settle. Now that the wisdom of so many presenters has been absorbed and mostly processed, I will share a few highlights. This year (as in years past) SIWC offered a delectable smorgasbord of topics to be explored and savored by all attendees, unless that is, you know everything there is to know about writing, publishing, promoting, and pitching to an agent or publisher, in which case you wouldn’t be here reading my blog, but instead might be in some European paradise basking in your New York Times Bestselling status! 

The Master Classes: 

Eileen Cook - The Final Push: Mastering Editing 

Funny funny girl, she makes you laugh out loud while sharing a comprehensive revision checklist that is bound to tighten up the most unwieldy of stories. Did I say she was funny? The hilarious anecdotes she slips in along the way make a somewhat painful topic well worth the three hours in the chair. Absolutely a delightful woman, and maybe was a comedian in another life?  

Susanna Kearsley - Depth of Character

Well being one of my favorite authors aside, Ms. Kearsley is a master at researching her novels (having been a museum curator at one time). She is meticulous in her details regarding everything from her character’s occupation, to their achilles’ heel, and everything in between. It was a joy listening to her process and how she goes about building a character from the outside in. 

Sean Cranbury - Owning Your own Online Space

A dynamic speaker who makes it clear that social media should be used primarily for just that, socializing, engaging readers and other writers, and generally building an audience (rather than just using it as a marketing vehicle). The take away is that the world of social media has only been around since 2004, and because of the way it has evolved over the last ten years, the question is: how different will it look in the years to come? Mr. Cranbury is definitely a blogger to watch and follow. He has some surprising opinions on digital piracy as well! 

The Workshops:

Building a Romance Novel - Elizabeth Boyle

Thoroughly enjoyed this workshop and learned a few tips in the process. Ms. Boyle even shared with us the humorous plight that opened the door to her romance writing career. Can’t wait to dive into one of her books and see how she translates her plots to the page!

A Dozen Stories: Writer and an Agent Discuss What Works - Peter Rubie

Ahh so remember when I mentioned personal revelations above? Well here’s where I tell you that I sat in the front row and raised my hand to go first. I know, I know, some burst of misplaced bravado must have come over me, only to flee the moment I stood up. But I soldiered on because darn it I wanted to know what a big New York agent would think about my story. So after a few stuttering moments I managed to get the gist of my story out to Mr. Rubie, and the twenty or so people in the room. To add to my discomfort he instructed me to stand at the microphone because my voice was too soft! To my credit I stood tall and did not let my knees give out, even though they felt a little rubbery:)  I finished the pitch, and hoped nobody detected the quaver in my voice. Umm not. Then Mr. Rubie proceeded to explain (very nicely) that my problem wasn’t necessarily that I didn’t have a viable story, but that there was a structure problem, and that I needed to decide where to start the story, (as written, it probably needed to start at about a third of the way in). So even though the process felt like daggers to the heart (okay it wasn’t quite that bad) I came away with a genuine aha moment and felt Mr. Rubie’s assessment had been extremely helpful and spot on! So thank you Mr. Rubie! Now the work begins.

Could Self-Publishing Be the Perfect Solution for You? - Laura Bradbury

Again I just want to cheer for how much awesomeness there is to be had at SIWC! Ms. Bradbury shared her story and her navigational foray into the self publishing world, where she has successfully published her two travel memoirs: My Grape Escape and My Grape Village, both of which have hit the bestselling lists here and internationally. Her story is an inspiration, and her generosity in answering all of our questions was amazing. Praying great things come this lady’s way! 

The Way through the Woods: Restoring Lost Settings, Imagining New Ones - Susanna Kearsley

Okay, what can I say, I could listen to Ms. Kearsley all day long. Fascinating! And her best piece of advice. “Just ask.” Meaning don’t be afraid to ask someone who works in a particular field that you might be researching or to ask someone what it’s like to be in their chosen occupation, etc. See...more awesomeness!

Diversity in Historical Fiction - Mary Robinette Kowal

A passionate author and speaker, Ms Kowal’s presentation evoked further revelation regarding the ‘white washing of history’ that is so prevalent in today’s fiction as well as the pitfalls of incorporating racism and sexism into your stories. She made me think about things I’d never thought of before, and increased my personal awareness of these ideas in my own writing. And now of course I need to go buy one of her books...

Research to Reality - Andrea MacPherson

I really enjoyed Ms. MacPherson’s workshop, and who knew you could derive so much from studying old photographs. A wonderful tool for the historical writer! I had to leave this one early but I still garnered some valuable tips!

Tension: More Than the Edge of Your Seat - Panel: Moderated by Susanna Kearsley, with authors: Hallie Ephron, Chevy Stevens, and Robert Wiersema

A well balanced and highly effective conversation between authors discussing tricks of the trade for keeping tension throughout their stories, developing a rhythm in narrative and dialogue that propels the story forward, and the use of point of view to make the story structure stronger. Every one of these authors offered valuable insights and shared their different techniques when writing a compelling story. More awesomeness!

And last but certainly not least... How to Read Like a Writer - Diana Gabaldon

Well this was the whip cream on top of a hot fudge brownie sundae! And she read excerpts (some very steamy ones) from Written in My Own Heart’s Blood. Can you say huzzah!

The Fun ~

For seven years running Michael Slade has written and narrated Shock Theater, a Friday night delight. And this years installment: A Most Dangerous Game starred the usual suspects, K.C. Dyer, Diana Gabaldon, Anne Perry and Jack Whyte. In addition, snicker worthy sound effects were provided by Donald Maass, Susanna Kearsley, Hallie Ephron, and for the climatic scene...Mary Robinette Kowal dropped a scream to rival Janet Leigh in Psycho! 

Making new friends and connecting with old ones is also highlight of the conference. Who doesn’t want to spend time with people who “get you”. Oooh and here is Nancy Bell in her Mata Hari costume with that memorable Red Hat!

Oh and the book signing Saturday evening hummed with energy, and what a hoot to be a part of it this year! 

The Silent Auction Basket

From the energizing keynote speakers to the beloved emcee (Carol), and the fabulous staff and volunteers, the Surrey Writer’s Conference is an event to be savored and then digested slowly, because you never know when one or several nuggets of all this collective wisdom will blossom and unfold within your own story. 

For more information on SIWC ~


Valerie Fletcher Adolph said...

Interesting! I also attended SIWC - I've attended now for a number of years and came away totally energized and I've been writing like crazy ever since. Long may it last.
I attended different sessions, so it was great to hear about some I missed from you. My favourite was Hallie Ephron, with Donald Maass a close second. Such great value for money.
Next year maybe Muse authors can get together for SIWC

S. Durham Writer ~ Author said...

Hi Valerie,

So true, there are so many different workshops to choose from that you have to hit what calls to you for that year. Yes I hope to go to the 2015 conference and there are a couple of us from Muse, so I'll keep posted through the authors group, FB etc. Thanks for stopping by!


Melissa Keir said...

Sounds like a wonderful conference. I'll put it on my radar for the future!

S. Durham Writer ~ Author said...

Hi Melissa,

It really is one of the best:)

Cheers, Sara