This weekend I had the pleasure of attending CCWC (the California Crime Writers Conference) for the first time. It was a small, friendly, well-organized conference with interesting presentations, and I’ll surely be back next year. Here are the takeaways:
PEOPLE: The panels were interesting and informative, but the best and most useful result of the conference was meeting people. Writing is isolating, and I tend toward isolation by nature, so this was stretching some unused muscles. In fact, if it were between a Volkswagen full of dinner-plate sized poisonous spiders and introducing myself to someone I don’t know and omg asking them for something, I’d take the spiders.
But alas there were no spiders at CCWC, so I girded my loins and (1) pitched my book idea to three agents (two were very pleasant, one was less pleasant) (2) approached several writers whose work I admire without acting like the gibbering fangirl that I am (3) chatted up someone in the bookstore and inadvertently talked them into buying my book.
I also did some payback and paying forward. There were a few people at the conference whom I had either met years ago, or had only known online, who had been encouraging, kind, and helpful about my writing. I made a point to go up to them, tell them how much their encouragement had meant, and by the way, I sold that book! Take my card! Take it! And when I met writers who were newer on the path, I shared some of my experience (and cautionary tales) that I hope will save them time and trouble.
Keynote speaker Anne Perry (who sat right next to me for half an hour and God help me, even though I’ve read her books I did not recognize her face) reflected on why crime writers are such nice people (because we take out our aggressive impulses on fictional characters), and it’s true. To a person, everyone I met was lovely.
QUOTES & OBSERVATIONS:
“Be professional, be polite, but have a plan to kill everyone in the room if you have to.” – Rich Lopez, L.A. Sheriff’s Department (lecture on Prison Gangs & the Mexican Mafia)
“Show up every day. Finish a book.” –Charlaine Harris
“Because I have the ability to look at this stuff every day and deal with it, I consider it my duty to do so.”
– Professor and criminologist Donald Johnson, during his excellent lecture on forensic investigation. (It was an outstanding lecture, but I don’t think he realized that his audience would be largely women—many with children—when he decided to show horrifically graphic slides of unspeakable things that had been done to a child murder victim. And this is why I write about fictional crimes instead of investigating real ones.)
MY PANEL: I was part of a lively panel on historical fiction. The panel was moderated by the inimitable Rosemary Lord, who did a magnificent job coming up with interesting questions, and keeping everything moving on time. I was also pretty psyched that the room was full, as the last historical panel I was on, there was one less audience member than people on the panel. I did not gibber, ramble, lose my train of thought, cough excessively into the microphone, or otherwise make an ass of myself—or if I did, people were too kind to mention it to my face =)
FINDING MY PLACE AND FOCUS: The conference left me with the overall impression of just how vast the field of writing is. There are unpublished writers, self-published writers with teeny distribution, self-published writers with wild success, traditionally published writers of different standings, agented, non-agented—and all with different experiences and expertise. The different directions in which one can take her career seem endless.
In the end, I managed to answer the one question I’d hoped the conference would help me with—what’s the next step? I formed a vision and a plan. Now to carry through.