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Tidbits from a Conference

September 28, 2011

If you’re a writer and are wondering if you should go to a conference – do it. You’ll be glad you did. About a month ago, I attended Killer Nashville and am so glad I did. I spent three days rubbing shoulders and exchanging ideas with people who love books almost to the point obsession. As you can expect, there were writers eager to share their idea on how to commit the perfect crime (on paper of course). I learned something from almost every one of them. You might be surprised, though, at the number of non-writers who attend and at how much you can learn from them. It’s easy to get caught up reading books on the craft of writing and to forget who we’re writing for. Readers are the final authority on what makes a story work – or not – and most are not shy about sharing their opinions. Writers just have to listen.

In addition to the fellowship and networking, there were workshops and panels on every aspect of writing, both as an art and a business. I was proud to be part of two panels:  “The Plot’s the Thing: How to Plot Your Mystery or Thriller” and “A Light in the Darkness: Why Crime Literature is a Force for Good“. I don’t know if anyone learned anything from me, but I can tell you for sure I learned from my fellow panelists and from questions asked by the audience; some of them caused me to think about my stories in new ways.   

There were classes taught by experts too. Forensic Pathologist Dr. Bill Blass is a master of entertaining while instructing. He brought along some “friends”, such as the gentleman (I guess it was a gentleman) with him in the photograph on the left, because, as he put it, “When you go to Nashville, you take your friends. Right?” He’s a funny, down-to-earth man with a formidable knowledge of human anatomy. He used humorous stories about some of his real-life experiences to illustrate how scientists reconstruct a crime by examining the bones. I doubt that any of this information will find its way into my books (I’m too much of a wimp), but I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Dr. Blass and, perhaps even more, the brief chat I had with him while waiting for his presentation to begin.

Robert Dugoni talked about his route to the bestseller list, sharing both the frustration of pursing a dream and not knowing if it will come true and the sense of accomplishment when it does. He won my heart (and I think the heart of everyone in the room) when someone asked how it felt when he made the bestseller list for the first time. He thought a few seconds and then told about one night when his teenaged son came into his room and said, “It’s a good book, Dad.” Moments like that, he said, are the highlights of his life.

Donald Bain has written or ghostwritten more than 80 books, including the bestselling “Murder, She Wrote” series of original mystery novels based on the TV show and books in every genre from romance to Mafia novels. I came away from the conference inspired, filled with new ideas and fresh goals for my writing, but the one thing I hope I never forget is the very serious statement by this very funny man that he approaches his writing every day by telling himself two things: “This is the most important thing I’ve ever written” and “This may be the last thing I’ll ever write.” I can’t think of a better way to approach writing – or anything in life.

I’ll say it again; if you’re thinking about going to a writers’ conference – do it.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. September 29, 2011 11:38 AM

    Sandy–a very informative article. Conferences are a wonderful way of supercharging our fading writing batteries. I really enjoyed Donald Bain’s quote.

  2. September 29, 2011 12:21 PM

    Thanks, Loretta. His words really home with me too.

  3. Marielena permalink
    September 29, 2011 5:40 PM

    This was the first writers’ conference I’ve attended and I would agree with Sandy — do it. I learned so much, met so many wonderful writers and was energized with a new enthusiasm to go forward with writing and pitching my books. Thanks for the “tidbits,” Sandy — well done!

  4. September 29, 2011 6:34 PM

    Good review of the conference. It was my first KN and I loved it! I wrote down Donald Bain’s quote too — something we should all remember. 🙂

  5. September 29, 2011 7:15 PM

    Marielena, it was great having you there to compare notes with. Jess, I think that quote resonated with a lot of people. Thanks, both of you, for sharing your thoughts.

  6. September 30, 2011 7:36 AM

    Great post! And I’m on the “conference” bandwagon! I’ve never been to Killer Nashville but it’s on my list of things to do one day. Maybe next year! Hope to see you there!

  7. September 30, 2011 7:46 AM

    Jayne, I recommend Killer Nashville. It’s just the right size and organized so that writers of all levels can enjoy and feel comfortable. Maybe I’ll see you there next year. Who knows?

  8. October 1, 2011 5:34 AM

    Sandy, nice report. I wish I’d been there. Maybe next year. You have great quotes from your fellow authors. I should tape that last one from Donal Bain above my computer–words to live by!

  9. October 1, 2011 7:43 AM

    I hear you, Ellis. I feel the same way.

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