North Coast Redwoods Writers Conference: Part III

Click on these links to read part one and part two of this blog series.

img_0307My name is fourth on the open mic list. At the podium, my voice shudders as I read. “What I’m Thinking About When You Describe How A Beehive Works.”

An open mic reading is an apropos end. I see many hand scribbled notes, poems and excerpts make it to the microphone. Shedding the polish from art feels good.

Ken Lethko announces the conference’s end. His voice is riddled with melancholy. This too feels refreshing. This was a labor of love for those who put the event on. Leaving for the weekend is difficult, which feels corny. I keep walking back in, looking for things I may have left behind.

img_0319I see the part of Crescent City that graces travel books. Down on Pebble Beach Drive at five on a September afternoon, the tattered coast begs for a confession. It wants me to mark the moment, so I take a selfie facing left. Then I take another facing right.

The bartender at Seaquake Brewing says I look like a writer to her. I search frantically for a wrinkle or stain on my shirt. All of her dinner recommendations are out of town, twenty or thirty minutes. One is an hour. More interesting than my dinner of Pad Thai and fishcakes is the ad hoc therapy session taking place in the booth next to me. I write a few choice moments in my notebook.

By 9AM I’m an hour down the road at the bartender’s favorite spot in Cave Junction. Already back in Oregon. Taylor’s a butcher shop/restaurant and for $5 my scrambled eggs, fresh sausage and toast are immaculate. I buy peach jam to bring home. I save raspberry for my next trip through. I need to figure out a way to thank that bartender for her recommendation.

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North Coast Redwoods Writers Conference: Part II

To read the first of this three part blog series, click here.

img_0307Out of town conferences are to the writer what a local tour is for musicians. Time for strange beds. An occasion to sample of foreign delights.

My old man preached local. Ignore homogenized experience. I learned many of my travel habits from a few summer business trips with him as a twelve and thirteen year old.

My Air B&B room is in a house recently been ravaged by a fire. Mary is trying to put everything back together again. The only coffee in Crescent City at 6:00AM is a Starbucks. I look for singularity and settle on a man pacing back and forth in the half-empty strip mall parking lot wearing sweats while smoking a cigar.

The Writer’s Path is the theme for the 16th Annual North Coast Redwoods Writers Conference. As I glance around the library to the satellite campus of The College of the Redwoods, I count sixty other intrepid scribes who chose to blaze a path to this lazy intersection of lost coast and civilization.

img_0312I chose this conference because it seemed different. I don’t mind cattle calls and pitch events but it is nice to schedule time to explore the craft. None of the participants are here to sell a manuscript. This is about voice. Rather than how to, this conference is oriented toward why.

My first two courses are with Marsha de la O. Poetics of journey. The influence of landscape. Between classes is breezy. We tell bear stories. California black bear. I try to crack the code on Gary Snyder’s “Riprap” with a girl whose life travels are limited to a woman’s camp an hour east of Reno. We debate a sense of place. We scribble the definition of palimpsest.

Our lunch table discusses ghostwriting and poetry and the politics of craft beer. After our meal, I sit down to talk travel writing with Dahlynn McKowen. She’s been everywhere. She’s resourceful. My imagination drifts. Conferences are about sorting writing out. Subjects are cast out while others brought closer. You see how your writing path lays out. You follow it.

“Every day is a Wednesday,” McKowen says. “Get used to it.”

I love and hate this characterization. Then I write a few ideas, things I can see myself writing about on a bleary eyed Wednesday ten, twenty and thirty years from now.

The list is long. It winds down the page, crooked and navigable. Where I’m going is no straighter line than where I’ve been.

 

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North Coast Redwoods Writers Conference: Part I

The Sandy Creek Bridge off Highway 42This was supposed to be the year I would branch out. So was last year.

No wonder September arrives before I eventually strike out for the North Coast Redwood Writer’s Conference.

The succession of rivers I cross runs from familiar banks where I was born, to more obscure names. Some sound made up. The Willamette. The Umpqua. The McKenzie. The Mighty Pudding River.

South of Eugene, Oregon, I break with I-5 out toward the coast on Highway 42. It is the Coquille River now, the many forks of which I cross on a sawtooth course southwest.

The same pale blue and gold lettered Jesus sign appears roadside every couple of miles. It feels as though a single, proselytizing soul was responsible for each one. My attention diverts. I look for one high enough on a hill to represent the original.

After thirty miles, the road branches onto Highway 42S and they’re gone.

Three classical music stations come in crystal clear in Bandon. I know I’m far from home when the Classical and Christian talk outlets are in a one-to-one ratio. Combined, they outnumber every other option.

Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, “I Hate Myself For Loving You” comes on as I pull into Tony’s Crab Shack along the half mile stretch of bayside, downtown parking. The line is long. The wait is longer. When my crab and shrimp melt on Texas toast arrives, I cannot complain.

A fog rolls off the coast as I approach Brookings. This is the last Oregon town before the border. Road construction forces traffic to stop over Taylor Creek. Suddenly, the DJ breaks in over Edgar Winter to talk about the local police blotter. He reads a list of petty crimes, so many more than when he started on-air eighteen years ago.

I wonder why. I turn the radio up. I am hopeful he’ll come to a conclusion, which turns out to be his idea that we all just need to say “yes ma’am” and “no sir” when we’re pulled over. As I pull away and change the station, I think, “This is the first fog I’ve seen since spring.”

Past the border, California 101 amounts to a casino followed by Pelican Bay State Penitentiary. A sign reads Crescent City 8 miles as the electrified fence angles back from the road, vanishing into the scrub pine.

On a map, an unvisited city is full of opportunity. As I pull into Crescent City though, a town I have not visited since a midnight romp through years ago, it feels odd. It’s a tired place that yearned to be more than a prison town. Yet, decades later, the deluge of tourists never arrived. All the coast art shacks faded and dusty. Fifty percent off.

Crescent City California is easy to navigate. After a couple of turns from the highway to the main road, I’m standing at a hair salon. It’s Lady Gaga at 4:14 PM.

“Who are you looking for?”

The hairdresser waits as I read the address and tell her a name.

“Oh, Mary?”

The woman in the stylist’s chair knowingly smiles.

“Yeah,” I reply. “She’s my Air B&B host for the night.”

“She don’t live here,” the hairdresser says, returning to work. “She’s next door.”

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Tips For Writing Conference Networking

No Matter Your Writer Goals, Behavior Dictates Success

Willamette Writer's ConferenceLast weekend was the 50th Willamette Writer’s Conference in Portland, Oregon. I have attended this particular conference for going on eight years and I am consistently shocked by the way writers behave when they find themselves in confined spaces.

Some people get it. A majority do, actually. Others clearly don’t though. Four days in a hotel with your colleagues can be stressful even terror inducing. Don’t let it get to you.

Here are five tips to keep in mind before you attend your next conference.

Be Friendly

I’m always shocked at how the tried and true axiom “treat others the way you want to be treated” flies out the door in professional scenarios. It absolutely should not. These should be the moments this trait needs to come out to shine.

Talent is great. It’s enviable. People you meet have to want to work with you though. Are you acting like the kind of person who they’re going to want to call?

That impression begins the moment you walk into the conference room.

Don’t Be Over Polite

The flip side? Try and remain genuine. No one likes someone going over the top into phony. Holding doors and other obsequious behavior may get you into trouble.

Brand Yourself as Friendly & Helpful

While attending the Willamette Writer’s Conference I volunteer. Consequently, people associate me with some inner knowledge about the conference’s inner workings.

Even when my shifts are complete and I’m attending classes, people seek me out to ask questions. I don’t have to help but I do. Once again, it goes back to that age old axiom.

Don’t Get Star Struck

My father once said something very important to me when I was young and I keep it close to me now. Everyone you meet is just another person doing their job.

How I translate that in the conference scenario is, treat those agents and producers (and hotel staff pouring your drinks) like you would anyone else you encounter during your day.

That guy might be the perfect agent for your book but you know something? He’s probably thinking about the wife and dog he left at home. Or he’s just struggling to reach five o’clock.

Keep Your Mind Open

Remember your goal is connection. You may have your sights focused on signed with an agent or manager but you never know how that connection will happen.

It may not be during your assigned pitch session. Your long worked for break may come via someone you shared small talk with in a classroom.

Keep yourself open minded.

Subscribe to my blog today for more tips and pointers on the writer’s life.

Get in touch with me today for 20% off of your manuscript consultation. Just let me know how you found me in your first email!

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