Museums. Concert halls. Theatres. Offering opportunities for attendees to immerse themselves in art, music, dance, acting, and more, these are settings within which people have experiences independently and as part of a group or community. The craft being presented, whether painting or song, solo or soliloquy, surrounds the participants.
As a writer, I see story ideas (also known as inspiration!) everywhere. But sometimes, I need a different kind of inspiration. I crave a reminder that every writer started at the same point–staring at a blank page–and that while there are many versions of the journey, writers are mostly headed for the same destination: to tell a fantastic story that people want to read. Writing is a fairly independent venture, and writers spend a lot of time by ourselves. It is all too easy to forget that we’re not really alone.
When I need those reminders, to recharge my creative batteries, I like to immerse myself in inspiration: I attend a writers’ conference.
I’ve only attended a few conferences, but there’s one I attend every year because it’s just that good. Sponsored by the New England Chapters of Sisters in Crime (SinC) and Mystery Writers of America (MWA), the New England Crime Bake (Annual Mystery Conference for Writers & Readers) is a regional conference with a stellar history of notable guests of honor; for example, Sue Grafton, Barry Eisler, Meg Gardiner, Robert Parker, Tess Gerritson, and this year, Craig Johnson. Crime Bake offers opportunities to meet and chat with masters of the craft, agents, and oodles of fellow writers. The conference is kept deliberately small, allowing fewer than 250 attendees, which provides an intimacy that attendees appreciate. The schedule, however, is jam-packed with master classes, panels, interviews, book signings, and more. This is also when Level Best Books formally releases their annual anthology of crime fiction. The anthology is full of stories by New England writers or set within the New England states. Hundreds of writers submit their work for consideration, and some 25 are fortunate enough to be chosen. On the Saturday of the conference, those writers in attendance do a mass signing, lining up in a long row to sign books for attendees.
I love this conference. I love the chance to meet other people who are in the early stages of being published. I love meeting people who have sold millions of copies of their books, won awards, or had their written work turned into television shows or movies. I love being immersed in the humble, warm, kind, enthusiastic community of readers and writers that New England offers. I’ve made friends, connected with other writers, met agents, practiced pitching my story, learned a ridiculous amount about forensics and investigation (helpful when writing mysteries!), gotten books signed by favorite authors, and enjoyed the heck out myself.
I come home inspired. The energy of the conference, the magic that seems to surround the exchange of ideas, the advice shared, and the general camaraderie, fills my personal batteries and gives me a creative boost that I can’t quite describe completely.
It’s wonderful. The conference falls very close to my birthday every year, so attending is my gift to myself (husband is very supportive, too). This year, I got to meet one of my favorite authors, Craig Johnson. He took the time to have a unique conversation with each person who approached him, and is truly a kind, warm, funny man. (His wife is adorable, too.) I got to sign my story in Rogue Wave for Hallie Ephron (!), another of my favorite writers. And Lucy Burdette/Roberta Isleib gave me a copy of Death with All the Trimmings: A Key West Food Critic Mystery, the fifth entry in that series (release: December 2, 2014). What a privilege to have an early copy to read and discuss! I happen to love that series, too.
Now I’m home, overwhelmed with gratitude that I was able to attend the conference again this year, that my story was chosen for the anthology and I got to meet or catch up with my favorite writers, and that I was able to spend two-and-a-half days immersed in inspiration.
If you’ve never attended a conference, as writer or reader, I recommend doing so. Choose carefully! This smaller conference works for me, but there are some fantastic large ones, too. Events vary by genre, location, and purpose, so spend some time researching before you sign up. If you have attended a conference, I’d love to hear about it in the comments section!