Tuesday, May 21, 2013

10 Years and a Great Conference

Every spring for ten years now, I've been at the LDStorymakers Writers Conference, which began as a tiny event (47 attendees) in a tiny venue (a small rented theater) and which has turned into a powerhouse conference that has to be capped. This year we had 450 attendees and a waiting list. I served on the committee for something like seven years, and one year I even co-chaired it with Heather Moore. It grows and improves each year, and it's a huge undertaking. (Next year, the conference is moving to a larger venue to accommodate up to 600, I believe.)

To catch up, I've blogged about the conference several times: HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.

For five of those ten years, I've attended the Whitney Awards gala, two as a committee member and three times as a finalist (one of those years, I won—still one of the highlights of my career).

I look forward to the conference for many reasons. I enjoy teaching about something I'm passionate about. I love listening to other writers and learning at their feet. I love rubbing shoulders with both aspiring and highly successful writers. It's exciting to see writers grow and progress in their careers.

But as I said on Facebook the other day, it's also where, in some ways, I find my people. Because face it: writers are a weird bunch, and only fellow writers really get it.

Even when the conference is close to home, I make a point of staying at the hotel, because putting the Mom hat on and taking it off several times a day is not only exhausting for me, but difficult on the kids. They have a much easier time when they know that Mom's leaving on Thursday and coming home Saturday night (or whatever the situation is).

This year I shared a room with Heather B. Moore and Sarah M. Eden. As fun as the conference is, it's also exhausting. One night we all lay in bed in the dark, staring at the ceiling in silence. We were all wiped. That's when Sarah said, "This is the lamest slumber party ever." And it was, but we were happy about it!

This year was particularly awesome for several reasons.

One fun part was our critique group going out to dinner together (minus two members). (I'll do a post soon to explain the butter churns on our matching shirts.)

Left to right: J. Scott Savage, Michele Paige Holmes, Annette Lyon, Sarah M. .Eden, Heather B. Moore.
(Not pictured: Robison Wells and Lu Ann Staheli)
Another was hanging out with my dear friend and accountability partner, Luisa. (How did we not get a picture together?) She lives far away, so although we keep in almost daily contact, we don't see each other very often. Even at conferences, it's often waves in the hall with promises to find a time to connect. And then we never do. This year we found time in advance and penciled it in, and it happened!

The Whitney gala was a delight. Having an excuse to dress up is always fun.

With Romance Finalist Krista Jensen
Seeing friends and colleagues is great too. And even though I didn't win (and was quite sure I wouldn't; Paige was up against some awesome books), I had a great time. This year I was part of the losers cheesecake pictures, which Janette Rallison invented.

A bunch of us finalists who didn't win, acting all upset. (Janette's face cracks me up!)

I even got to meet Ka Hancock, whose book I fell in love with. Can't wait to read what she publishes next!

With Ka Hancock, author of the finalist Dancing on Broken Glass. (READ IT.)
But the highest point of the whole weekend was our keynote speaker, Anne Perry. Friday evening she gave her keynote address, and Saturday morning she taught a 2-hour master class (which I luckily signed up for before it filled up).

Her keynote address was nothing short of inspired. I could have listened to her all night (and not just because of her lyrical voice and British accent). Her words touched my heart in a sacred place, in a way no one else has ever done. Anne Perry is  a fellow Latter-day Saint and a master writer, and she drew on both of those things in her address. I was near tears the entire time. It's an experience I'll never forget. She changed me.

Saturday's class was a pure delight; she was not only witty and entertaining but deeply wise. She taught a lot of things that I knew already on some level, but that she reiterated in a way that had me nodding, reminded on a higher level about why certain things are important in writing and how crucial it is to keep working. (Truth be told, it was also nice to hear that even Anne Perry must revise and revise and revise.)

At one point on Friday, I saw her eating a meal alone at a table. I knew her seatmates would arrive shortly; she was at a table reserved for them. I wanted to go up and say hello, to tell her how I admired her as a person, how I love her work and her voice, and how reading her books has inspired me to raise the bar on my own work.

On one hand, I told myself that she's human, and that she would welcome a friendly hello. On the other, a voice screamed in my head that She's Anne Perry! You can't do that! So I chickened out. I regret that now and probably always will.

I doubt she'll ever read this, and I may never have another opportunity to tell her what her work and her words this year mean to me, but I'll never forget this conference or the influence she had on me and hundreds of others.


Luisa Perkins said...

It was a great conference! Spending tons of time with you was one of the very high points.

Heather Moore said...

Great summation. I went all fan crazy on Ka Hancock and Anne Perry :-)

Susan Anderson said...

Sounds like a neat experience!


Pat W Coffey said...

Thanks for sharing your feelings and your enthusiasm for this conference. It is so wonderful to be involved in something from the beginning and see it grow.


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