The Writers Conference Come Down

I recently attended my very first in-person writers conference. You guys I was so excited. I want to say it was worth the money but I just can’t this time. I think the organizers did a great job, and the volunteers were amazing. And, I get it, we’re in a living, breathing economy and people need money to eat.

DUDE: How Much Did You Spend?

I’m glad you asked. I spent about $500 on the conference itself, and about $1,000 in hotel room fees. That doesn’t include the keynote luncheon (another $55) and the $50 I paid for the honor of 10 minutes with a working agent. During the social at night (during dinner hours – 5-7pm in which there were crackers and cheese) there was a $14 glass of wine to keep me company. And I don’t even want to talk about the books I bought and how much that was. (About $74…) Not to mention the gas driving there and back from the Woodlands. (I’m going to conservatively guess about $100).

What Did You Learn?

Don’t get the liquor because it’s $2.00 cheaper than the wine…just sayin’. I did receive some great tips from the agent who was nice even though my pitch was rambly and awkward. My favorite presentation was the Diversity in Kid Lit meeting with Candace Buford. She was honest, funny, engaging, and informative. I did buy her book – ‘Kneel’ and I recommend you do the same. (Y’all know I’m not getting paid for that.)

POC Characters in Fantasy Novels

I had a chance to ask if it was alright that I write a mixed-race character or POC as my main character in the YA Fantasy novel I am writing. The answer was, basically, no. I know there is a lot of controversy around this – and, at least when it comes to Fantasy, I can see both sides. My intention wasn’t to ride the ‘POC’ bandwagon but from a sincere desire to see more representation in fantasy. We’ve all seen enough straight old white men running around the Shire, am I right? I mean, it’s time for some color, literally and figuratively. Having said that – I don’t want to take away the opportunity of a young black or brown writer trying to break into YA Fantasy. I’ve decided to chuck the whole ‘white fragility’ thing and I am changing the color of my main character back to white. I have POC as my secondary characters just like I have same-sex couples in my secondary characters as well. I know not every white person will agree with me. Heck, I know not every person of color will agree with me, but that’s what feels right to me right now. There is a lot I could say about white privilege but looking around the rooms this weekend it was clear it was working well. I saw maybe 5 people of color. That says something about our society as a whole and the literary society specifically. We need to do better. We need to make these types of conferences more accessible and seen by more people of color. We’re trying, I think, but there is so much more work to do.

Saving Money at the Conference

So here are my solid tips for saving money at a writer’s conference.

  1. The Hotel

The hotel is fun if you can afford it (I brought the family and they had a nice pool outside) but it definitely isn’t necessary. I could have saved about $600 if I’d stayed off the main hotel and got an air B&B or a Holiday Inn and just driven in for the day. I will do this next time, assuming I have the money for a next time.

2. The Wine

Don’t buy a $14 glass of wine. That is ridiculous. Ditto the $12 liquor drinks. Bring your own in a mug if you need to or better yet – keep a clear head and drink water or tea instead.

3. The Extras

Skip the luncheon unless it’s an author you would shove your grandmother aside to see and get yourself another agent opportunity.

4. Volunteer

A wonderful way to save money is to work as a volunteer. This wasn’t available to me as I don’t live in Austin but if you’re nearby and your job or family obligations allow it – there is no reason not to take this opportunity.

I met some wonderful writers. Women who were funny and awesome and literary and the conversations you can have with someone who shares your passion for creativity are golden and amazing and worth any price to pay.

Having Said That…

Having said that, and here I am going to be so honest I will probably never be allowed to another writers conference ever again – I have to say I felt the jadedness. I felt the exhaustion and irritation of the agents and the desperation and confusion of people committed to writing who may never see their words in print unless they do it themselves. It kind of broke my heart. I’m not a political animal. I’m not bold or confident or loud. I’m just quietly working away at this word-craft that I love. And everything I heard last weekend told me that was not going to be enough. That I, was not enough.

It doesn’t help I applied to an actual MFA program at Sam Houston University and I found out on the way to the conference I didn’t get in. The reason I was given? It’s competitive. So, I wasn’t good enough. Whew. That’s tough.

And, in a way, that is the most valuable lesson I learned from this conference. Rejection is normal. It’s part of the process. And since no one thinks I am anything to write home about (pun intended) I am free to dance away in my own little corner as freely and creatively and backwardly and awkwardly as I want. I’m over here doing the ‘Seinfeld/Elaine’ of writing and there is no one who gives one shit. And that is amazing and wonderful and freeing in a way I can’t even tell you.

So – just go freaking create. Create whatever is inside you and don’t hold back. You are the author of your own story and you get to write it any damn way you please. Oh, and don’t you dare give up. Writing is MAGIC and you are a freaking WIZARD. OWN IT!!

Staying Awkward, Kind, and Brave

I stood behind my little table rearranging the Phoenix statue, OCD lining up my books, and just in general feeling awkward and out of place. In this post-COVID era, I think I have forgotten how to human. How do I do this interaction thing with people I don’t know, or haven’t seen in years? And for god’s sake why can’t I do this in my comfy clothes? Do we even still dress up anymore? Is that a thing? Why? Just…why?

Me – awkwardly posing for a photo.

Selling Books

There is a reason I have a book to sell. Sitting alone by myself for hours on end seemed like a great idea. A perfect idea. But now I have to human? I have to look people in the eye? And TALK!? Not only do I need to keep eye contact (but not too much!) I need to sell my book. I have to delve deep – way, way past my insecurities and doubts and imposter syndrome that feels like the real me but isn’t, and assure these hard-working people that my work is work the money – their money?

I tell myself there are so many reasons not to do this. The world needs smarter, more hard-working people to solve these serious problems we have. Why am I wasting everyone’s time with a bit of cozy fantasy? Why can’t I be like Rebecca Solnit? She’s doing serious work. Helping women and changing the world in a real way. Or Margaret Atwood? Their work has impact.

Why I write

And then I think of the teenager I was – facing endless hours in a hospital room with nothing to occupy me but a staticky TV (if I was lucky) board games and books. Social issues, feminism, changing the world, all of those things took a back burner to the need I had to turn away from reality. Because there was no joy in reality. There was only pain and fear and, honestly, the unmitigated terror of a future I had no idea if I was going to be a part of. I didn’t expect to live past 18. And when that is your expectation, you turn to fantasy. And in fantasy there is hope. Fragile as it is, hope that miracles happen. That magic is real (or at least imaginable). And for a while, if the story was detailed and vast enough, I could forget who I was. And that is why I write.

I want any person reading my books to feel transported, for a little bit, into a world that is wonderful, fantastical, and cozy. There are real terrors too, but always the hope that our light is brighter than the pain we face. And that’s all I have to say about that.

What is your why? Why do you write? What fuels your world-building?