Showing posts with label writers' conferences. Show all posts
Showing posts with label writers' conferences. Show all posts

16 June 2018

Conference Memories

by John M. Floyd

I haven't been to a writers' conference in a while, although I'm scheduled for at least three in the coming months. But I've been reading a lot of blogs and other posts by writer friends who have been attending conferences regularly. Besides making me want to go also, it's reminded me of things, good and bad and ugly, that have happened to me at conferences in the past.

Here are some that stand out in my memory:

- Ten or twelve years ago, at "Murder in the Magic City" in Birmingham, I wound up sitting beside author Harley Jane Kozak during a presentation. We chatted awhile, and even though I didn't recognize her name I said, "Don't I know you? You sure look familiar." Neither of us could figure out where our paths might've crossed before, and I couldn't help noticing--and being puzzled by--the amusement on her face. Only later did I realize why she had looked so familiar: she was an actress as well as a writer, and I'd watched her on TV the night before, in Arachnophobia.

- Highs and lows: At Bouchercon in Baltimore several years ago, two different ladies approached me after seeing my name tag and said they loved Angela Potts (one of my series characters). Music to my ears. Later at that same conference, a guy asked me if I was famous. I said, "No, sadly, I'm not." He said, "Can you point me to somebody who is?"

- Before my first and only trip to the Edgar ceremony in New York, the publisher of my books told me to try to get a photo of me with Stephen King, who was up for Best Novel that year. At the reception, I reminded my wife Carolyn of this, and she pointed to King and said, "Well, there he is--go talk to him." I gave her my cell phone to take the picture with, walked over to SK, and he was kind enough to chat with me for a minute or two. When I got back to our table I saw Carolyn looking at my phone and said, "Did you get it?" She looked up at me and said, "Get what? I was texting with Karen [our daughter]."

- When I spotted Otto Penzler in the midst of a huge crowd in the lobby of the conference hotel at the Raleigh Bouchercon I asked him, "Do you know everyone here?" He smiled and said, "No. But everyone here knows me." I loved that. And I bet he was right.

- I was once invited by author Steve Hamilton, who was a fellow IBM employee at the time, to a private screening of a short film adapted from one of his stories. The story was "A Shovel With My Name on It," and the resulting movie was retitled "The Shovel," and starred David Strathairn. That gathering remains one of my most enjoyable experiences at a writers' conference. This was at another "Murder in the Magic City"--Jan Burke and Steve were the guests of honor that year, and two of the kindest writers I've ever met.

- I think I mentioned this in a SleuthSayers post awhile back, but I happened to meet Lee Child at a Bouchercon in Cleveland not long after he had served as guest editor for Otto Penzler's annual Best American Mystery Stories anthology. That was one of the years when one of my stories' titles was mentioned in the appendix of the book, a story that made the top 50 but not the top 20. I remember babbling my thanks to Child for that mention of my story, even though the story itself didn't get included in the book. Only later did I learn that those top 50 are chosen by Otto, and then the guest editor picks the top 20 . . . so what I had done was thank Mr. Child for NOT choosing my story. (Sigh.)

- At a Bouchercon several years ago I was crossing a hotel lobby when I was hailed by unnamed Editor #1, who informed me that they'd decided to publish one of my submitted stories. While I was thrilled to hear that news, I was a little worried too, because Editor #1 had held onto that story for a long time and hadn't responded to my inquiries about its status--so I had since given up and submitted it elsewhere, to unnamed Editor #2. After leaving Editor #1 (on one side of the lobby), I quickly searched out and reported to Editor #2 (on the other side of the lobby) that the story I'd submitted to their publication was now no longer available. Editor #2 accepted my apology and graciously agreed to withdraw that story from consideration, and all was well, but I went to bed that night resolving to never again send a story someplace before being absolutely certain that it was no longer being considered elsewhere. (Have I mentioned that this is a crazy business?)

- I attended a writers' conference four or five years ago that was held at one of he big casinos on the Gulf Coast. I had a good time and attended some educational and informative panels, but I must tell you, attendance at some of those sessions was sparse. That happens, when gambling and/or sun-and-sand are close by. I was reminded of the IBM banking conferences I attended in south Florida in the Good Old Days. I specialized in finance at IBM, so I went to a lot of those conventions, and anytime questions arose about a particular banker's absence from a particular session, the answer was always "He couldn't be here--he had to go study float management." In other words, he was outside at the pool. Another memory of conferences and conventions held in casino locations: my clothes always smelled like tobacco-smoke afterward.

- At one conference reception, I took what I thought was a sausage ball from a tray of hors d'oeuvres (in Mississippi we call them horse divers) and it turned out to be a piece of liver. I chomped down on it just as someone behind me, with a lady's voice, said, "Excuse me, aren't you John Floyd?" I am usually unknown to anyone outside the walls of our home, so I turned to say hello--at the very same moment that my taste buds sent a red-alert message to my brain that this was liver and not sausage. I remember gagging violently and squeezing my eyes shut, and when I finally opened them again whoever was behind me had disappeared/fled. To this day I hope she just chose to wander off before she saw my look of agony, but I doubt it. (Another sigh.)

- One of the sessions I attended at a writers conference in Mobile a few years ago featured a young woman teaching writers how to set up their own websites. I wasn't really interested, but I sat down and started listening to her anyway. The following weekend, after getting back home, I used what I had learned to create my own site, from scratch, and it went live that Sunday night. I can't remember the name of the presenter, but I owe her a great debt. Sometimes those panel sessions and presentations pay off!

- At the top of my "bad" list is an experience my wife and I once had at a conference hotel: the alarm clock was set wrong and couldn't be changed, the closet-rods were mounted too low to allow normal clothes to hang properly (much less those as long as mine), the shower head couldn't be adjusted, the bedside radio turned itself on in the middle of the night and couldn't be reset (or unplugged), a shelf immediately above the sink was too large to allow us to bend over and spit after brushing our teeth, our view from the window was a brick wall ten feet away, every single light in the room was too dim, the peephole in the door was set at waist-height, etc., etc.--we counted almost two dozen aggravations and inconveniences. And most of these weren't things that were malfunctioning--they were just designed that way. A week earlier we'd been to one of my class reunions, where we had to stay at a Super 8 Motel (the only lodging in that town); its nightly rate was several hundred dollars less than this conference hotel, and it was ten times more guest-friendly. Just saying.

- At the top of my "good" list for conferences are meetings at the bar (or dinner or elsewhere) with some of my heroes, heroines, and online acquaintances. I won't list names here for fear of leaving someone out, but you know who you are. Seeing and talking with and getting to know other writers is, to me, by far the best reason to attend any of these conferences. Great memories!

And that's my pitch, for today. What are some of your highlights and horror-stories about conferences you've been to?

Inquiring attendees want to know . . .

26 April 2014

Daddy's Girl Weekend

by John M. Floyd

Sounds like the name of a drive-in movie from the 1960s, right? Not this time. The Daddy's Girl Weekend I'm referring to is an annual writers' conference hosted by my friend and prolific mystery novelist Carolyn Haines. Carolyn was kind enough to invite me to be on the "faculty" for this year's DGW, which was held several weeks ago in Mobile, Alabama. Here's a link to the conference info.

Since the Gulf Coast isn't far from our home, my wife joined me for the trip--we drove down on the afternoon of Thursday, April 3, and spent three nights and three days at the Riverview Plaza Hotel in downtown Mobile. It rained most of the time we were there, but at least it wasn't cold: I've had quite enough of the Winter of 2013/2014. Until recently, I suspected that the weather gods had confused Mississippi with Minnesota.

As for the conference itself, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and--as I do at all events like this--met some truly interesting folks. One attendee was a former writer for Saturday Night Live and the screenwriter for many of the Eddie Murphy movies; one was a New York Times bestselling author of "cat mystery" novels; one was a cardiac surgeon who'd just sold his second medical thriller; another was an author, agent, and ordained priest; several were former bookstore owners; and so on and so on. I've often heard that writers might be weird but they're always fascinating. And one of the best things about DGW is that it's a readers' as well as a writers' conference. As any Bouchercon attendee will tell you, having fans there makes a big difference.

The time passed quickly. Each night after the final session my wife and I went out for some great meals (usually seafood), and during the daytime hours at the conference I was a member of four different panels, I was moderator of another, I was interviewed by a lady from Suspense Magazine, and I signed and sold a lot of my books, all of which was fun. I also learned some useful things about writing and marketing. Actually, I don't think it's possible to spend several days in the company of dozens of other writers and NOT learn something useful about either writing or marketing or both.

In my case, and on the off-chance that this might be helpful to others as well, here is some of the information I came away with:


One of the panels I attended included the founder of a publishing company that deals in both printed novels and e-books. He mentioned to the group that although all of us realize that electronic publishing is here to stay, it is not necessarily "the way of the future." In fact he said sales and e-sales have recently begun to level out, and that it appears that e-books will not completely take over the publishing world as was once predicted. Disagree if you like--this was one man's opinion--but he insisted that the traditional novel will remain with us, side-by-side with its e-counterpart, for the foreseeable future.

To most of us who were present, this view was not only interesting but encouraging. I love my iPad and I enjoy e-books--especially when traveling--but it pleased me to hear an expert in the field say that the old-fashioned printed novel will still be around for a while.

Untangling the Web

In another session, a lady who spoke about blogging and social media happened to mention a place called, which provides a free, easy, and effective way to build a personal or business web site. This captured my attention, since for twenty years now both writers and readers have been telling me I need my own site. Deep down, I knew they were right, but I just never got a round tuit. I had several reasons not to take the plunge: on the one hand I didn't want to find and hire a webmaster and I didn't want to then have to sit around and wait for him or her every time I decided changes needed to be made to the site; on the other hand, I damn sure didn't want to take the time to learn how to design the whole thing myself. Besides, slacker that I am, I've always just pointed folks to my page at my publisher's site.

But I had to agree that this sounded good. Bottom line is, when we returned from the conference I Googled the Weebly program and decided to give it a try. As a result, I put together my own web site in a matter of hours, and at no cost. It's nothing flashy and is still a work in progress, but it's functional and I'm satisfied. If you have time, visit and take a look.

Curses--foiled again!

The third piece of information that stuck with me wasn't something I didn't already know, but it's something that all of us occasionally need to be reminded of. A person who worked for a publishing company told the group that writers shouldn't be overly discouraged when their novels or short story manuscripts get rejected. She pointed out that publishing is a business. We writers tend to forget that. Publishers have employees just like other companies, and have payrolls to meet. When they decide to pay a writer an advance and produce a novel, they have to be reasonably certain that enough of his or her books will sell to exceed the amount they spend. Similarly, when a major magazine buys a story, the editors need to be confident that that story will help them sell copies, not only of that issue but of other issues in the future. If these things don't happen, that publisher or editor or product won't be around very long. The decision-makers are right when they say it's nothing personal.

Does it hurt when we're rejected? Sure it does. But rejections should prod all of us to persist and work harder. If this whole writing gig was easy, anyone could do it.


On the Sunday that ended the DGW conference my wife and I drove back home (it was still raining, all the way), and when we got here I couldn't help feeling a bit like the traditional story character, returning to his routine after his mythical adventures, a little older and wiser than he'd been beforehand.

I just hope they invite me back next year.

21 July 2012

On the Road Again

by John M. Floyd

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.