Monday, September 30, 2013

Making the Most of A Writer’s Conference

I was asked by one of my favorite writers for some advice recently. This writer (we’ll call him “Chris” because that’s his name) is gearing up for his first professional conference (which we’ll call “Crossroads” because . . . you know) and he wanted some tips on how to make the most of it. 

I’m a good person to ask. I’ve been attending writer’s conference for twenty years now, and I’ve made every mistake there is. Plus, I am proud to say, I invented a few. So here you go, Chris — enjoy my various missteps, oopsies, and oh-no-I-didn’t moments. Learn from them, grasshopper.

1. Don’t hit the guests of honor. 

I must confess — I have deep fangirl tendencies. When I meet someone whose work I admire, I tend to stammer, bumble, and knock plants over. Recently, I found myself sharing a bus stop with Margaret Maron (who was inducted this year as a Mystery Writers of America grandmaster). When she introduced herself, I actually smacked her on the bicep and said, “Oh no, you’re not! Get out of here!”

Lesson— you’ll meet enormously talented people, some of them your idols and inspirations. They’re writers just like you. People just like you. Don’t worry about making an impression — enjoy the interaction. And keep the right hook to yourself.

2. Don’t hide. 

Writing is a career for introverts. As I tell people, I got into this gig because I like to kill imaginary people while still wearing my pajamas. But when I go out into the world — as all writers must — I muster up whatever measure of extrovertism I can and make the best of it.

Lesson — the literary action is not in your hotel room. If it is, you’re not at the right kind of conference. Or either you have become the conference. Be able to tell the difference. 

3. But don’t wear yourself out either. 

Conferences are often back-to-back panels, receptions, interviews, dinners, and other meet-and-greets. If you’re exhausted, you’ll be overwhelmed with the information/names/choices coming your way, and you won’t be make those crucial unplanned connections that are the sweetmeat of conferences.

Lesson — pace and plan. Get the schedule. Map out your choices. Leave yourself room for some downtime. And eat as healthfully as you can. Get some fiber in you.

4. Don’t chase unicorns.

I don’t mean real unicorns (because if you see a real unicorn, OF COURSE YOU CHASE IT). I’m talking about the one person/one encounter/one class that you’re willing to sacrifice everything else for and that you’ll beat yourself up about for months if you miss. Unicorn chases are a waste of time, energy and — most importantly — they are the opposite of magic.

Lesson — Catch the flow of a conference. Be open to the surprises that come your way. There will always be nuggets of serendipitous goodness around every corner. 

5. Don’t drink every drink that some famous person wants to buy you. But DO say yes to one or two.

Apparently I have this knack for being at the bar when the ultra-titanium cards come out. And while the drinks have been excellent — especially the chocolate martini from C.J. Lyons — the most valuable part of the experience was the chance to sit at someone’s elbow and soak up the publishing and writing talk.

Lesson — some of the best conference moments happen during the downtimes. And whether you like bourbon on the rocks or club soda with a twist of lime, if one of your idols offers to set you up, resist the impulse to stammer and feel all indebted. It will be your turn one day.

And here’s the etcetera. Take business cards to share. Collect cards too. Follow-up with e-mails to say “it was great to meet you!” Talk to the people sitting to your right and left and in the elevator and at the buffet line. Watch. Listen. Ask “So what do you write?” Have a succinct practiced answer to that question when other people ask it of you. Published or pre-published or anywhere in between, you’re a writer —own it.

You’ll be great, Chris. Or whatever your name is.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Car Theft and Other Dangerous Research — a Guest Post by J. H. Bográn

Did I really steal a car?

Partly because I write about thieves—or because I can be a frustrated locksmith—I know how door locks operate. The knowledge came in handy for my boss one time he was locked out of his office.

The main antagonist of my new novel Firefall runs a small car theft operation. The M.O. is quite simple; they target, acquire, and then deliver the cars to yet another link in the chain.

However, I drew the line at stealing cars. Going to jail in the name of veracity for a story is not my idea of fun. Driving a fast car is, though, but that’s another blog entry.

While doing the research, I did approach the local law enforcement agencies and reviewed the statistics: how many cars stolen per year, how many found, etc. Also an ad in the newspaper offered to install a GPS tracking device, as incentive, they guaranteed that in case of loss, the insurance would cover 99% of the car’s value as opposed to the industry standard 80%. That bit piqued my curiosity.

I called the place, made an appointment, visited and asked questions but stopped short of signing a contract—hey, I drive such an old model that the robbers would be doing me a favor by stealing it.

Anyway, all this new knowledge sparked a daring car chase midway through the novel. You see, the character didn’t really care for the car, but he had sensitive documents in the backseat that he simply could not afford to lose, so he brought out the big guns and tracked the robbers with the GPS.

Other source of information came from interviews with people who had gone through the misfortune of witnessing the robbery. Their experiences added depth to the reactions of my characters when faced with similar circumstances.

Now, before you go away with the notion that my book is a rehash of Nicholas Cage’s action flick Gone in Sixty Seconds, let me tell you that the robberies, while exciting, are playing second fiddle to the main purpose of finding a missing person.
*     *     *     *     *
J. H. Bográn, born and raised in Honduras, is the son of a journalist. He ironically prefers to write fiction rather than fact. José’s genre of choice is thrillers, but he likes to throw in a twist of romance into the mix. His works include novels and short stories in both English and Spanish. He’s a member of the Short Fiction Writers Guild and the International Thriller Writers where he also serves as the Thriller Roundtable Coordinator and contributor editor their official e-zine The Big Thrill.

Twitter: @JHBogran

After losing his wife and son in an air crash, former NYC firefighter Sebastian Martin is spiraling downward into alcoholic oblivion. Then his brother sets him up with a last-chance job investigating insurance fraud, but his first case takes a deadly turn as he crosses path with an international ring of car thieves. Sebastian ends up strapped to a chair facing torture at the hands of a former KGB trainee who enjoys playing with fire on his victims to get answers.

You can find FIREFALL at the following:

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Booze and Broads II at Bouchercon 2013

Best Book Signing Ever!

Many thanks to Monette Michaels (that's her on the left) for inviting me to the signing with her and (L-R) Heather Graham and Melinda Leigh. All of them awesome writers and spectacular women.

And yes, that's real bourbon in those tiny cups. Cheers!