Thursday, September 04, 2014

When Words Collide 2014

I first went to When Words Collide in 2011, which was its first year, and I've gone every year since then. In 2012 I was inspired enough to blog each day: Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Last year I covered the whole weekend in just one post, and I think that's what I'll do again this year. Every year I come home with notes and handouts and a dog-eared program, and add a whole bunch of books to my to-read list. It's so much fun! If you're an editor or writer in Alberta, I definitely recommend checking it out in 2015.

Unfortunately this year I had a cold. The event's official photographer got this shot of me late on Friday night, and yes, I am as tired as I look, although I wasn't actually asleep...

Friday, 1 pm: Early Bird Live Action Slush
Live Action Slushes are usually my favourite panels of the weekend. It's a chance to hear from publishers/editors about what they're looking for (or NOT looking for...) in a manuscript, which helps me when I'm editing for clients who are going to be submitting their manuscript to publishers. "Watch for wandering body parts" was a great piece of advice from this panel, in reference to a character's "eyes roaming over the deserted city", or something to that effect. The quality of manuscripts submitted seems to get better every year, and I think this year had a new record for number of submissions that were read to the end.
I think it would be useful if the organizers posted the rules on the website and on the door of the room so that first-timers would know important things like, only submit one page. Someone submitted two pages, but they weren't stapled together, so the second page ended up being read rather than the first, and everyone was very confused. Also, a manuscript that was criticized in one slush session was re-submitted, un-changed, to another session which had one of the same judges on the panel, and he was not amused (neither was I - at least make the suggested changes first!). Posting some FAQs about slush etiquette would help eliminate that kind of situation in the future.
Friday, 2 pm: Writing a Good Pitch/Query Letter
I doubt I'll need to write a pitch or query myself, but I might be retained to edit one, and this was a solid panel with lots of good discussion. It wasn't long enough for all the questions people had though, so this would be a good panel to offer again next year. It would have been really helpful to have a handout for this one, or a list of online resources for good templates and that sort of thing.
Friday, 3 pm: Social Dimension of Reading
I actually can't recall this one at all. I saw several of the people on this panel on other ones during the weekend, and they're all blurring together a bit...ooops!
Friday, 4 pm: I had a change of plans
I started out in one session that just was not doing it for me, so I moved to Shawn Bird's session on plot models, which was a good choice. It was a really interesting look at the structure of story, and gave me some ideas of things to watch for in my clients' writing. She had handouts and slides on the screen, which was really great.
Friday, 5 pm: Short Stories
Lots of interesting tidbits of information from this session about characteristics of a short story as opposed to a novel.
Friday, 6 pm: Criminal Heroes
In hindsight I probably should have gone to 'Ask an Editor', because while the panel had a good mix of panellists and discussions, it was very similar to a panel from last year and I didn't really pick up anything new.
Friday, 7 pm: Kill the Parents
This was a panel about parents in YA fiction, and it was totally slanted toward those who thought that parents need to be removed from the equation, either by death or other absence, in order to allow the teen to overcome obstacles on his or her own. None of them thought that parents could be anything other than an hindrance to personal development, and when I suggested otherwise, it was suggested that if that's what I wanted to read, that's what I should write. Sigh. There have got to be good, supportive, understanding parents out there, both in real life and fiction, right?!
Friday, 8 pm: Keynote Speakers
The keynotes actually started at 7, so I came in late, which is one of the reasons I ended up sitting on the floor. I didn't see any empty end chairs, and I didn't want to disturb people to get into a middle seat. Plus, being hemmed in by people makes me feel claustrophobic.
ANYway, I got there in time to hear Brandon Sanderson, who I didn't know at all except in an abstract way as one of those writers of epic fantasy that I don't really enjoy. I quite liked his style, so I am going to give his writing a chance, if I can find something that's not too epic. :)
But my highlight was Jack Whyte, as it usually is. I'd seriously listen to him talk about anything. What a voice!
Friday, 9 pm: Laughing at Love
This was about using humour in storytelling, and they started it off by playing my favourite Moxy Früvous song:

I did take a few good notes at the panel, which still make sense even almost a month later, so it was definitely worthwhile staying for, but by that point I was so tired I was getting worried about driving home, so I snuck out early and didn't even bother with the parties, which was unfortunate, because they're the best chance for networking.  

Sorry RJS, I'll try not to be sick next year! :( I found out later the steampunk social had a solve-the-murder-mystery theme going on, so I was really sorry to miss that. Hopefully they do it again! I heard that there were also problems on both nights with hotel security expecting the late night parties to be over by 11 pm, which is silly. Next year we're going to be a different, bigger hotel, and I have high hopes for the parties there!
Saturday, 10 am:  Blending SF and Fantasy
I only made one note from this panel: "When blending genres always be consistent with the rules of the universe." :)
Saturday, 11 am: Editing Explained
This panel featured editors from the Calgary Association of Freelance Editors (CAFE), which I'm a member of, so I went along both to be supportive and to hear what kinds of questions the audience had about editing. People had lots of questions about the editing process and various editing roles. One person was confused about editors who edit versus acquisitions editors who work for publishing houses and decide what manuscripts to acquire for publishing, so it's a good thing they did the panel. Hopefully they'll do something similar again next year.
Saturday, noon: Live Action Slush: Science Fiction Edition
I think this was the one where the one that had been criticized on Friday turned up again. Also, I think this was the panel where one of the editors was talking about the difficulty in writing believable dialogue, and for an example he used Star Wars Episode One, and I quote loosely; "That dialogue was so wooden I think I got splinters", which really spoke to me.
Not only that, at I think two of the slush sessions I went to - scifi and historical, and maybe a third one, but I can't remember for sure - a manuscript riffing off the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air introduction showed up. In the scifi version, there were robots, and in the historical version it was all old-fashioned language. It was highly amusing, and probably only someone who went to as many slushes as I did would have noticed. Although there was one panel, maybe the scifi one, where the reader was reading it out loud, and as soon as people realized it was Fresh Prince, they were laughing so hard the reader just stopped and went on with the next one. Kudos to whoever went to all that trouble for what I presume was meant to be a very amusing prank.
Saturday, 1 pm: Teaching Canadian Fiction
This was an interesting panel composed of education professionals who are also writers and editors. It didn't end up being anything particularly applicable to me, but it was interesting nonetheless.
Saturday, 2 pm: New in YA Fiction
This session was put on by a lady who's a manager at a Chapters, and she did a great job of drawing out a list of solid, current YA fiction that goes beyond vampires. I added a lot of books to my to read list! It would have been helpful to have a handout though, because I was trying to type everything into my iPod, and when I'm getting audio input only it's hard to tell the difference between 'night' and 'knight', for instance. It took most of Monday to translate the list into something that Goodreads would recognize. :)
Saturday, 3 pm: Live Action Slush, Historical Edition
This one was my favourite, because Jack Whyte was the reader. 'Nuff said.
Saturday, 4 pm: Plotting Your Novel
I had a hard time with this one. It just wasn't doing anything for me, and I was SO TIRED. I ended up sneaking out early and waiting in the lobby for my husband to come have dinner with me. In hindsight, I should have gone to Jack Whyte's session on writing action scenes - I don't know what I was thinking. I suppose my thought process was dulled by the cold medication...
Saturday evening:
The Saturday evening schedule was weird. Sessions all ended at 5, and then at 5:30 there was a banquet for those who wanted to pay for the expensive tickets for it. At 6:30 there was a variety show that went till 7:30, but there were more regular sessions starting at 7. So basically I kicked my heels around the hotel from 4:30 to 7. Then there was an autograph session from 8-9, and then the parties didn't start till 9. So if I had wanted to stay for the parties, I would have had to kick my heels some more from 8 till 9. It was very strange - I'm not sure why they laid it out like that - it would seem to make more sense to just not have panels that evening at all. I guess if Diana Gabaldon had actually come and not cancelled because of the tv show, I would have been hunting her autograph and filled in that hour, but as it was, I went home to bed after the 7:00 panel finished...
Saturday, 7 pm: Gripping [sic] About Grammar
This was a really fun panel. The room was way too crowded - they should have gotten a bigger one, and it was no where near long enough for all of the questions. I think next year they should have a few sessions dedicated to different grammar issues.  The highlight of the panel was a panelist and an audience member getting into a (mostly friendly) shouting match over whether or not the Oxford comma is necessary or not. I think it is, by the way. I'm not sure if it was worth waiting two and a half hours for though, since I didn't learn anything. But I did laugh an awful lot though, so that's something!
Sunday morning:
I skipped the first two sessions - I would have gone to the publishers' panel on novels at 10, and the one about the use of poisons in mysteries at 11 - but I wanted to go to church. Pastor preached a great sermon about faith and fantasy, which, other than the Bible, featured a lot of Doctor Who references. If you've got 20 minutes, it's definitely worth watching.  
Sunday, noon: Murder Most Fair
This panel was ok - there were definitely too many people on it for everyone to get a good chance to talk. But I did discover a great series of cozy mysteries set in Nova Scotia, so it was totally worth going to the panel just for that.
Sunday, 1 pm: Publishers' Panel on Short Fiction
Again, should have gone with the historical fiction one that Jack Whyte was on... The publishers' one was fine, but there were a lot of people on it, and it was kind of all over the place topic-wise, so I didn't really get a ton out of it, although I did take a few notes. I even tried asking a question to get it back on topic, and that totally didn't work. Although by that point in the weekend, everyone is so tired that maybe expecting everything and everyone to be totally sensible is honestly an unreasonable expectation. :)
Sunday, 2 pm:
There wasn't really anything during this time slot that caught my attention, and I was pretty tired. I popped into one about gender perspectives in mystery novels, but...meh. I ended up buying a couple of books in the vendors' room and then just hanging out till 3. It was the only slot where I couldn't find anything I wanted to go to, and ironically, in the next slot at 3 there were THREE things I wanted to go to!
Sunday, 3 pm: Live Action Slush, Mystery Edition
I don't remember anything particular about this one, although I feel like there weren't many submissions for it. Hopefully with WWC's increasing content for mysteries and mystery writers, more people will submit next year.
Sunday, 4 pm: How to Build a Consistent and Original Magic System
I was even more impressed by Brandon Sanderson after this. He's only five years older than me, and he's got massive writing credits as well as a large family, and he's a great speaker. I took a pile of notes at this one, and kind of wished I'd done one of the pre-weekend classes with him. It was a good session to end the weekend with.
General comments about panels:
Six people on a panel is WAY too many. Five people is a lot, but manageable with a good moderator. Four seems to be about the right number. Also, it's obvious when a moderator/panel guest has come prepared...or not. I know they're all volunteers, but audience members can tell when you're there because you care about the topic and have things to share that go beyond just the scope of your own books. Like the general social media rule, no more than 10% of your content should be flogging your own product.
When you have a panel of 4 or 5 well-prepared guests/moderator, it's a wonderful thing.  
Speaking of volunteers, everyone, except for two or three keynote author guests, is a volunteer, which is why the conference is so affordable. As I do a lot of conference planning, I thoroughly appreciate the smoothness with which WWC runs. I'm sure there are snags in the background that most of the attendees never notice, and there are always things that could be done differently, but all-in-all the volunteers who put this on do an amazing, amazing job of it.
Something interesting and unexpected that came out of the weekend is that I'm now the Social Media Project Leader for CAFE. I spent some time visiting with the president of CAFE, and after hearing of my love for Twitter, she asked if I would take that on. I've started out by taking an online course in social media through the library, and I'm developing a social media strategy and thinking of interesting things to do. I can always use more volunteer positions on my CV, right? :) You can find us on Twitter - we're @CalgaryEditors.
I'm looking forward to next year! Registration is already 5% full, which is a good sign... Check out the guest list, and if you're going to attend, register before the rates go up on April 1. It'll be the last year I'm eligible for the student rate, which is bittersweet. I'll be graduating in June, which means I'll be looking for more editing work in the spring, if you know of anyone looking for a nit-picky copyeditor...

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