Last weekend was a little unusual. I didn't mow the lawn, I didn't doze off in the backyard swing, I didn't attend a sporting event that included our four-year-old grandson, and I didn't watch a single Netflix movie. What did I do? Well, I think you'll be proud of me: I went to a writers' conference.
The truth is, I've never been particularly fond of conferences. There are exceptions--I've thoroughly enjoyed the Bouchercons I've attended, and I'm planning to go to this year's event also, in Cleveland--but in general I've viewed most writers' conferences in the same way that I viewed sales meetings in my business days: they were a nice way to get together and have refreshments and see everybody, but they didn't often accomplish a whole lot. All in all, I'd rather be working than talking about working, and I'd rather be writing than talking about writing. Besides, literary conferences are usually far-flung, and I'm no longer enthused about the idea of traveling. The half-zillion miles I logged with the Air Force and IBM have made me perfectly content to stay within my own zip code.
But I've decided I might've been a little too hasty. The conference I attended on July 13th, 14th, and 15th has made me rethink my position on the matter.
Hop along to Cassity
About six months ago I was fortunate enough to be invited to be one of five "featured authors" at the second annual Turner Cassity Literary Festival this past weekend. Sponsored by the local Cultural Arts Center, the three-day festival is a gathering of writers and readers from all over the southeast and beyond, held in a rambling century-old home on tree-lined Campbellton Street in Douglasville, Georgia.
My wife Carolyn and I left home early last Friday (the 13th!?) to drive the four hundred miles to Douglasville, a small town about twenty miles west of Atlanta. The weather wasn't the best--we were greeted with the same kind of afternoon/evening thunderstorms we had left behind in Mississippi, and even when it wasn't raining the humidity made us feel right at home--but it was a great weekend anyway. The food was good (and plentiful), the accommodations comfortable (and conveniently located), the conference site beautiful (and appropriately "literary"), the people friendly (and smart), and the subject matter . . . well, the subject matter involved what you might expect: an appreciation of the writing of others and the improvement of your own.
The unusual suspects
The guest lineup of authors consisted of three poets (Dan Veach, Annmarie Lockhart, and Alice Lovelace), one novelist (Patricia Sprinkle), and one short-story writer (guess who). Each of us taught two ninety-minute workshops and held individual critique sessions on Saturday, and then participated in readings and signings and Q&A's on Sunday.
I knew I would have a good time with Patti Sprinkle because we think the same way, she and I. Not only do we both write fiction, we both write mystery fiction, and we had already swapped a number of e-mails over the years. I wasn't so sure about the poets. (As I think I've mentioned before, both here and at Criminal Brief, I'm not a poet and I noet.) But I was pleased to find that I liked the poets and their work. Dan Veach, I discovered, is not only a talented writer and illustrator, he's the editor of Atlanta Review--and the two ladies are gifted poets as well as outstanding speakers; Annmarie delivered the kickoff speech and Alice the closing address. Both presentations gave me goosebumps . . . and remember, I'm too uncouth even to understand most contemporary poetry, much less enjoy it.
Friends and countrymen
On the first of our three rainy nights in Georgia, I found out that one of the attendees--actually, the wife of the head fred--had graduated a year behind me in high school, back in Kosciusko, Mississippi. (Tell me it's not a small world, after all.) I hadn't seen her in more than forty years, and after we caught up on which of our classmates were still alive or in rehab or out on parole, she and my wife hit it off and spent much of the conference talking about everything from grandchildren to politics to quilting projects. I also met some delightful and interesting "aspiring" writers, and began what I hope will be longtime friendships.
When Carolyn and I finally arrived back home Monday afternoon, I told her the same thing I mentioned to you at the beginning of this column: I now have a different view of that weird phenomenon we call writers' conferences. I still think it's more fun to just sit down and write--no question about that--but now and then, if the time's right and the stars are aligned correctly . . . it's also fun just to talk about writing.
I'm hoping they'll invite me again.
A word to the wordsmiths…
What are some of your favorite writers' conferences? Which, if any, do you attend regularly? Do you choose conferences based mostly on genre? Location? Cost? Featured speakers?
Also, who's planning to go to this year's Bouchercon?
Save a seat for me.