This was my first Florida Writers Association Conference as faculty. They put me to work. I led workshops on Crafting Memorable Dialogue for the adult attendees and then for the youth attendees.
The Florida Youth Writers conference ran concurrently with the adult workshops.
Oh, and FWA President Alison Nissen also interviewed me for a podcast. Yep, I was busy. The conference had 600 people.
The powers that be also assigned me to serve on a panel discussion titled “Bring it on Home to Me–Nailing the Ending.” Going into the conference I considered the free room and tuition as the biggest perks. Then I learned the identities of the other authors on the panel. Excuse the fan squeal.
Author Samuel Staley
Sam Staley, our moderator, is an award-winning author of a dozen books and hundreds of articles. At the conference, he also taught workshops on “Show Don’t Tell: Learning to Love and Trust Your Readers” and “Deepening Story and Character with Foreign Language.” Sam kept the panel talking with a series of questions. He also kept order when multiple questions rolled in from the writers in the audience.
Author Linda Fairstein
Linda Fairstein is the 2018 National Guest of Honor. She won the Nero Wolfe Award for Excellence in Crime Writing in 2008, and in 2010 received the Silver Bullet Award of the International Thriller Writers. Her 20th book in the Alexandra Cooper series comes out in 2019. Published in crime fiction and true crime, she writes with knowledge and authority. She served in the office of the New York County District Attorney, where she was chief of the country’s pioneering Sex Crimes Prosecution Unit for twenty-six years. In that position, she supervised the investigation and trial of cases involving sexual assault, domestic violence, child abuse, and homicides arising out of those crimes. Producer Dick Wolf based the long-running TV show Law & Order: SVU on her unit and the character of ADA Alex Cabot.
She also taught a workshop titled “Turning Your Professional Experience into Fiction.” In addition to her crime writing, she launched a children’s series called the Devlin Quick Mysteries.
Author John Capouya
John Capouya was the non-fiction author on the panel. He teaches journalism and nonfiction narrative at The University of Tampa, including their Creative Writing MFA program. Previously, he was an editor at Newsweek and SmartMoney magazines, New York Newsday, and the New York Times. His book Gorgeous George is in film development. His third book, Florida Soul – From Ray Charles to KC and the Sunshine Band, came out in 2017. The day after our panel, he taught an insightful workshop called “The End.” He presented eight ending techniques and how to close the circle of meaning in a story.
Author John Wilkerson
John Wilkerson authors science fiction thrillers with a side order of campiness. At the conference, he taught a workshop titled “Emotional Mechanics of a Fight Scene.” Having thirty plus years of martial arts training pretty much makes him an expert on this topic. He also served as a moderator on the panel discussion of “Who’s Laughing Now? Being Funny is Serious Business.”
Our panel discussion on endings got spirited. The attendees asked questions that sparked polite debate on what makes an ending satisfying. We discussed genre considerations for endings. Romance demands HEA or Happily-ever-after. American readers prefer justice to prevail in crime novels. Literary stories can go either way. We discussed endings of books that disappointed us as readers.
I remember reading Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid. In the original story, mermaids turned into sea foam when they died. One mermaid wanted a soul so she wouldn’t turn into sea foam. This little mermaid earned a soul by saving the life of a human. Then she died. Her soul went to heaven. Her death WAS the happy ending. Well, then Disney came along and changed the story and the ending to fit a romance. Oh, well.
One gentleman asked if the bleak ending of his coming-of-age book about a young man’s search for his father would work. The panel agreed that the ending, even a tragic one, works when it suits the trajectory of the story.
THE AWARDS BANQUET
The awards banquet ran Saturday night. The dessert and the genie in a bottle theme made the event even more festive. The gentleman who asked about a sad ending was Gary Robert Pinnell. He collected 3rd place award for his unpublished historical fiction “A Most Invisible Boy.”
So there. Even the judges agreed.
I also taught a workshop on writing for magazines and paid blogs. The magazine writing workshop was at 8:00 a.m. on Sunday. Surprisingly, it was packed. Working at a writer’s conference has been thrilling and exhausting. I’m off on vacation in the Smokey Mountains with Handsome. And a few great books.
The Florida Writers Association Conference dominated the Altamonte Springs Hilton from October 20 to 23. As a first-timer, new FWA member, I enjoyed the event with equal parts wonder and nervousness. Wonder, because the workshops and panel discussions featured top-notch experts. Nervousness, because one of my books was a finalist in the Royal Palm Literary Awards. The theme of the conference–Carpe Diem, conquer the world one book at a time!
Attorney Anne Dalton tackled the topics of Fair Use and Copyright. Her presentation of these complex issues clarified the perils and pitfalls in terms non-lawyers can understand.
Erik Deckers shared marketing branding secrets that work. How many authors have mastered marketing? Not me. So I greatly appreciated advice from someone who has co-authored four books on social media marketing. Deckers also presented a fabulous workshop on humor writing.
Keith Ogorek of Author Solutions detailed the need for great stories in Hollywood and how to promote a book to producers and directors. He explained how movie deals work.
Keynote Speaker John Gilstrap delivered a funny and encouraging speech on the roller-coaster life of becoming a bestselling author.
A panel of authors, led by Chris Hamilton, conducted two hilarious and helpful Gong Show Pitchfest sessions. Brave writers took turns pitching their story concepts to the panel of experts. After the panel gonged the pitch twice, the writer was supposed to stop. The panel members then took turns to give constructive critiques of the pitch.
The forward-thinking FWA provided a spiral-bound detailed conference schedule, a small spiral-bound notebook, and–best of all–a spiral-bound copy of the workshop handouts. Seriously, I am grateful for the handouts because I don’t take shorthand and having the handouts makes it easier to pay attention to the presentation instead of trying to scribble faster. How many of us have come back from a conference with incomplete or illegible notes? Well, done, FWA. Well done.
ROYAL PALM LITERARY AWARD
On Saturday night, the conference attendees, staff, and families of the finalists gathered in the Crystal ballroom for a steak dinner and for the presentation of awards in twenty-six genre categories. A separate youth awards ceremony with fifteen genre categories had been held at lunch. The young writers ranged from 9 to 17 years old.
My friend Author Carol J. Post won second place in the published novella category. Her work has also finaled in the prestigious Golden Heart and RITAs. (I was especially thrilled that her work was in a different category from mine. She has published soooo many books more than I have…) The very last category winners announced were Women’s Fiction. My book North of the Killing Hand won second place in unpublished Women’s Fiction. It was published in ebook and paperback October 16. For a complete list of winners see the Royal Palm Literary Award Winner List.
During the conference, authors had their works for sale in the Capital ballrooms. Volunteers manned the store and handled sales and bookkeeping. Authors held scheduled book signings in the bookstore. A portion of all proceeds was donated to the nonprofit Florida Writers Foundation which partners with literacy programs for adults and children. In addition, two 50/50 raffles and a silent auction also raised money for the foundation. Last year the raffle and silent auction raised $1,500.
Edible chocolate framed logo and chocolate cake!
The Hilton Orlando/Altamonte Springs hosted and sponsored the conference. They fed us far beyond the expected with buffets and snacks to keep us going through the event-packed days and nights. The service was amazing. On the night of the awards banquet, the chef prepared a special desert. Each luscious piece of chocolate cake came with an edible chocolate frame surrounding the FWA logo crafted onto white chocolate. At first I thought it was too pretty to eat, then I decided to preserve it by taking a photo. Then I ate it.
Other sponsors included: OnLineBinding.com, Black Oyster Publishing, EDIT911, ROY’L GRAFIX, and Author Solutions.
As an incentive to fill out evaluation forms on the workshops, FWA gave out a door prize ticket for each workshop evaluation turned in. They gave out four tickets to those who obtained a signature from the sponsors. The door prizes ranged from an FWA water bottle to paid conference tuition for 2017. Themed baskets of goodies, books, discounts on professional services, and a giant chocolate bar door prize entertained and delighted the attendees.
Donna Kelly, Carol Post, me, and Veronica Berry pose for a photo.
Of course, a great joy of writer’s conferences is meeting old friends and new. Writing tends to be such an isolated task. When we crawl out of our writing caves into daylight, we tend to celebrate life and friendship and encourage one another. We talk and talk, eat, and drink. Swap stories. Stay up too late. Rise early and repeat.
While many writers conferences offer agent pitch sessions, FWA offers one-on-one interviews with experts in marketing, humor, genealogical research, editing, audio books, collaboration, children’s fiction, forensics, and many other topics. I’ve been to other conferences in which agent pitch session last five minutes. Think speed dating with timers and volunteers to herd you in and out. FWA conducts the one-on-one sessions to be useful and less stressful for all.
My FWA conference experience convinced me to participate again in 2017.