Before I relay to you the tidbits of wisdom I gleaned at Killer Nashville, I’d like to discuss conferences in general. Choosing the right location, type of conference, and style can make your experience more rewarding.
Confession time. I chose to attend Killer Nashville primarily because I had never been to Tennessee. I’m not the only author to select conferences based on location. A writers’ conference is a large expense once you figure in travel, hotel, food, and the conference registration fee. Getting in a little vacation sightseeing can help justify the trip. If money is super tight, find one close to home to avoid a plane ticket and hotel expense, or try sharing a room with friends.
An aspiring writer might not get as much out of a huge conference as he or she would from a small local affair. Killer Nashville is a mid-sized conference, as compared to behemoths like Bouchercon for mystery writers, or the RWA conference for romance writers, which draw thousands of attendees. Some conferences are geared toward fans, others appeal to fiction writers in general, while many are genre specific. Killer Nashville is specifically for mystery and thriller fiction writers.
Conferences may offer a mix of workshops and panels. Killer Nashville had primarily panel discussions, with a crime scene workshop and guest interviews. Hands-on writing workshops were add-on expenses. This is the norm, as you typically pay extra for the banquet (if there is one), or special workshops with big name presenters. Before you hit the confirm button, be sure you understand what you’re getting for what you pay. A big draw at conferences is the opportunity for an appointment with an agent or editor. This was true for Killer Nashville, and was included in the registration fee.
Whether big or small, fan-oriented or geared toward writers, your goal in attending is to gain some knowledge and inspiration, and to network. Killer Nashville did all this wonderfully. Breakfast buffet style in the hotel encouraged writers to mingle and chat. Lunch at large tables likewise led to many conversations and exchanges of business cards.
Here are a few gold nuggets of wisdom I gained at this friendly conference:
Opening keynote speaker Steven James – Be satisfied with quiet accomplishments.
Time Management for Authors panel – Panelists suggested setting habits and routines for writing. For those with day jobs, there are moments of “found time” in a day. Writing over the lunch break, or editing when there is downtime, can squeeze a few extra minutes of creative time into a day.
Interview with Chris Grabenstein – “We all start out imitating people we like,” Grabenstein said. He advised we “find a voice.” A first person narrator demands a strong voice, so writing in first person is a good way to discover your writing voice. Strong voice is key to succeeding in fiction writing.
How to Write Short Stories panel – Kathryn Lane believes creativity is important, but writers need discipline to write the story.
Interview with General A. J. Tata – Writing is butt in seat time.
Keeping Perspective panel – Sheila Sobel: Understand the difference between critique and criticism. Sit down and write what you love, and you’re in for the ride of your life. Bob Mangeot gained perspective when a friend told him, “you’re doing something a lot of us would love to do.” Bryan Robinson shared that the key is, “How am I treating my writing life, not how is my writing life treating me.”
On the Character Arc panel, J. A. Jance said she maintains a file for characters with details including physical descriptions and weapons they use. Even then, details can slip over the course of a series. This is where Jance told the audience GYAB: Give Yourself A Break.
Everyone on the Social Media for Writers panel agreed that pushing a buy-my-book message is guaranteed to fail. Creating an on-line persona consistent with your fiction is a better approach.
Killer Nashville had a fantastic mock crime scene set up in a hotel room. Former Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) Assistant Director Dan Royse did a great job of explaining how law enforcement would put together the clues to solve an actual crime. Much time, creativity, and labor went into setting up the scene, the suspect interviews, and the scenario. This was one of the highlights of the conference.
The closing speaker Pamela Fagan Hutchins said she has observed that after a conference, people typically do one of three things: they go catatonic, their heads explode from an overload of stimulation and information, or they experience 13 weeks of mouse-on-a-treadmill meteor-to-ashes writing before collapsing. She suggested giving yourself permission to write at your own pace. Her key line was “You only have to do this today – tomorrow you can quit.” She closed with a line that mirrored the opening speaker’s message, telling the audience to find joy in the milestones.
I enjoyed this friendly conference, met several new writing friends and reconnected with others. I left with my basket full of gold nuggets of wisdom and inspiration to keep me going until my next conference.
Catherine Dilts is the author of the Rock Shop Mystery series, while her short stories appear regularly in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. With a day job as an environmental regulatory technician, Catherine’s stories often have environmental or factory-based themes. Others reflect her love of the Colorado mountains, fishing, and running. Her story The Chemistry of Heroes was a 2017 Derringer finalist. This fall, she takes a turn in the cozy mystery series Secrets of the Castleton Manor Library. You can learn more about Catherine’s fiction at http://www.catherinedilts.com/
Goodreads: Catherine Dilts – author page
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