Poconos Writers’ Conference 2017

I had the pleasure of attending the 4th Annual Poconos Writers Conference over the weekend. I love conferences because no matter what your level of writing, you can never (and should never) stop learning. Sponsored by writer and attorney Michael Ventrella and the Poconos Liars Club, this one-day writing event featured three writers and one agent who gave excellent talks on craft and publication.

Michael Ventrella kicked off the conference with his talk “The Biggest Mistakes Made by New Authors.” Some great advice included treating your writing like a job in terms of dedicating your time and learning the business, finishing your work, and his secret to success (exclusive to attendees only, I’m afraid). I jest, but he did emphasize the importance of talent, hard work, and networking.

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Michael Ventrella

Next up was agent Alia Hanna Habib from McCormick Literary who presented on query letters and knowing your genre (with examples of what works and what doesn’t). Every time I go to a talk on query letters I learn something new and this was no exception. Alia’s experience was invaluable (and funny). Highlights included ensuring your query reads something like jacket copy, know to whom you are submitting and, of course, read the submissions guidelines.

After lunch, romance writer Megan Hart spoke on Point of View. She provided clear instruction on each type of point of view. I think my greatest takeaway here was the emphasis on how point of view not only controls what we the readers know, it gives the reader information as the character sees it. Each character is the hero of her or his own story, which affects how they tell the story.

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Romance Author Megan Hart

Dark fantasy author Rob E. Boley wrapped up the speaker line up with his presentation on Worldbuilding, which, as he points out, is integral for all genres, not just speculative fiction. Rob asked members of the audience what they thought worldbuilding included and the responses were phenomenal. Many volunteered answers but then made connections with how that aspect (say, currency) would affect the world and the way characters interact. Rob emphasized that your world must serve the story. Coincidences that screw the characters are acceptable. Those that help are not. There are no silos – different aspects of the world affect other aspects (just like the real world!). Do not cast brushstrokes and don’t see everything in black and white.

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Dark Fantasy Author Rob E. Boley

The audience participation really energized the crowd for the final session – a Q&A panel with the authors where we discussed marketing, networking, and being yourself on social media (please, no non-stop promo tweets!) and at writing events. In the end, sell yourself as much as your work, but be real.

Highly recommended conference, especially if you’ve never attended one and might be feeling overwhelmed at the thought of a large, multi-day event.

PS Huge shout out to the Eastern Monroe Public Library for hosting the event. Support your local library!

PPS I might have bought some books…

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Small and Shiny Things – Magpie Tales by Neil Murton

Sometimes you come across something so perfect, so absolutely stunning you want to shout to the world what you’ve found. That’s the way I feel about British writer Neil Murton’s 100 word stories.  I’ve been following him on Facebook for a while, enjoying his postings of 100 words of absolute perfection. Sometimes they are random topics, sometimes they are inspired by prompts from friends and readers, sometimes heart-wrenching, sometimes amusing but always enjoyable and thought provoking.

I tried to write a 100 word story once (actually twice) with varying results. I will say one thing – it’s hard. I have nothing but admiration for Mr. Murton in that he is able to tell whole evocative stories in such a short space, stories which stay with the reader.

Lucky for me and for you, Mr. Murton has collected 175 pieces of flash fiction into a book, called Magpie Tales available here if you are in the United States and basically from most of your local Amazon sites if you are outside the US. What a wonderful book to have which you can savor in small nibbles maybe as you wait in line somewhere, or sneak a few stories in during your lunch break.  Something to read to your significant other, your child, your best friend in little bite-sized pieces.

Here is the description:

Some people say you can’t get much story into 100 words. This book’s here to prove them wrong. In these 175 stories, you’ll hear about the girl whose mother is the moon, you’ll meet the cuddly penguin with a protective streak, and you’ll understand why the Duelling Master of Zurich hates kitchenware. You’ll find unicorns and gods, love and monsters, sadness, circuses, romance and ambition. They’re Magpie Tales because this isn’t a collection with a theme. It’s a collection of shiny things. Some might make you cry. Some might make you laugh. But they’ll all try to make you think, and see how much you can really pack in to just 100 words.

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Magpie Tales

Love this cover and can’t wait to add it to my book collection. If you’d like to connect with Mr. Murton, please visit his website. And I recommend that you do.

As an added bonus. Mr. Murton has given me permission to reproduce one of his stories here. To be honest, I had trouble picking just one but I liked the whimsy of this one (plus Benedict Cumberbatch is mentioned).

Perspective

Our couples’ therapist told us we should try to see things through each other’s eyes.

So we swapped.

I’m already noticing differences. The dark alley just before you reach our front door looks more unnerving. The crisps I eat at lunch taste of guilt. Benedict Cumberbatch seems… more.

I mean, damn.

But the biggest change is my own reflection. I look beautiful.

And it’s not just me. The first time she saw herself with my eyes, she blushed.

We swapped back, and we’re better. Turned out it didn’t matter how we saw everything else. Only how we saw each other.