Thursday, June 2, 2011

Finding Greatness at Pikes Peak by Bree Ervin

(This was originally posted by Bree Ervin on May 6, 2011 at her blog ThinkBannedThoughts).

As some of you know, I just got back from the Pikes Peak Writer's Conference in Colorado Springs, CO.

It was my first time going to this particular conference and I was blown away.

I have to admit, I was a little nervous at first. It didn’t seem well-organized, the information I wanted about the schedule and pitch appointments and all those little extras wasn’t showing up when I wanted it to. And I was in a bind because I didn’t want to bring every possible manuscript for every possible outcome, I just wanted to pack the right stuff for the right workshops.

But, at last everything I needed arrived, I madly printed everything out that needed printing, got in my car and away I drove.

Once I was there, my perception of the conference did a complete 180.

Everyone from staff to faculty to attendees was amazingly friendly and helpful. They really aren’t kidding when they say they are the friendliest conference in the West.  Friends are great, but I really went down there to learn a few things, and learn I did.

I lucked out this year – there was a HUGE focus on writing for children from picture books all the way to YA (Young Adult). This doesn’t always happen at these writing conferences. A lot of times it’s all grown up talk.

A few of the workshops and lectures that I participated in that really stood out –

Thursday morning’s Pitch Perfect session with Bonnie Hagan and Chris Mandeville – I was pretty confident in my log line and pitch, this really cinched it. Plus I got to help an amazing woman out with her log line (think 25 word elevator pitch) and found out later that she used it and got asked to submit to a great agent because of it! (Fingers crossed for her as she tries to make the leap from children’s picture books to adult novels!)

Thursday afternoon I attended The Heroine’s Journey with Barbara Samuel – OH MY GOD!!! The biggest Ah-ha! moment ever as I tried to fit my picture book into the journey and suddenly realized why I kept getting stuck in this one corner. I kept putting my heroine in one place when she clearly needed to be in another.

Friday I jumped into Self Editing with Karen Albright Lin who taught me to start with the high level conceptual editing and work my way down to the nitty-gritty, something I do with clients, but often forget to do when I’m reading my own stuff back. Those damn typos really mess up my mojo.

Conversational Shoplifter with Deb Courtney blew my mind. The workshopping at the end really helped me see how dialogue can work to make your book that much stronger in the show don’t tell arena! It helped that I got to read a passage of dialogue from my YA in progress and get instant feedback from a pro, as well as the other participants. Invaluable.

Elizabeth Hand taught us about the importance of creating unsympathetic characters and I cannot wait to read her books. (We also had dinner together one night. I cannot speak highly enough of this woman.)

I had my critique session Friday afternoon. I learned at least as much listening to the other participants get critiqued as I did from my own. I can’t wait to take their suggestions and put them to work to make that first page really stand out.

Saturday was all about words, and learning how to use them to the greatest effect. I spent the day stalking Carol Berg, an amazing fantasy author (Her book Spirit Lens is due to be reviewed here as soon as I catch my breath.) She taught me about voice and also about words, words, words. (I also had dinner with her one night and we stayed up WAY too late talking about all manner of things. A truly amazing woman!)

Just as helpful was a class on building better beginnings with Chris Mandeville and Todd Fahnestock. Everything they taught me applies to the whole book and the examples they used really helped clarify their point. Use the right words, the precise words, the exact words that really mean what it is you meant to say. “Lead the reader to the assumption you want him/her to make,” i.e., don’t paint the whole picture – let them color it in by guiding them toward the right colors.

Sunday Morgan Leigh blew my mind.  Literally. I had other places to be for the second half of her class, but I was glued to my seat. I can’t remember her exact title and my notes are currently out of reach, but it was something along the lines of a physical sociologist. Basically, she studies how shared gestures and body language are created by and are affected by culture and society. I could have sat there all day. Really.

Finally I wrapped up with the ten rules of middle grade fiction with author Fleur Bradley. I don’t write Middle Grade, yet. But I plan to. In fact I have two MG novels started and was planning on having them finished this year and then this YA came out of no where and took over my brain, my sleep, even my eating patterns. I’m book whipped.

I left the conference too tired to stand. A friend put it nicely when he told me I looked wilted.

Wilted, but inspired. On fire.

I missed out on about 20 sessions that I would have loved to attend. Thankfully I made really good friends who took really good notes for me.

I feel like I just attended a master’s level course in writing and publishing, all in one weekend. On that note, I think I might need to get some more sleep so I can finish processing it all.

Bottom line, if you’re looking for a great, professional, beginner friendly writer’s conference – Pikes Peak is a perfect place to start your journey.
See you there next year for their 20th anniversary gala event!

BIO:  Bree Ervin is a graduate of the Denver Publishing Institute and has worked as a freelance writer and editor for ten years.  Bree has worked in author care serving as a book doctor, manuscript editor, author assistant and media escort. She is now embarking on her own quest to become a published children's book author and is currently shopping her first picture book - Princess Woe Is Me - to agents.