OK, so… I was at Pacific Northwest Writers Summer Conference this past weekend–wow! A few years ago I was very put off by the organization, but under the direction of current President Pam Binder, it’s really turned around for the better. This conference has had some rocky times lately with people feeling overcharged, over regimented, and under rewarded, but–at least from my POV–this year was very good.
The program was varied and interesting and it started early and ran late with plenty of events and surprisingly decent food. The volunteers were charming and helpful. The SeaTac Hilton is not my favorite location, though it’s nicer and more comfortable than the DoubleTree nearby. My biggest complaint was the fact that it was Seatac at all–which is conveniently located only for airplanes, butt-ugly, and tends to roll-up the sidewalks by midnight. But whatcha gonna do? The PNWA has a long term contract. Could be worse: could be the Airway….
A new crop of hungry young agents showed up and did the job! No hiding, no whining, no rolling eyes when buttonholed in hallways–unless it was after conference hours or in the washroom. They were a pretty straight-shooting bunch, too. And hard drinking. But Pro all the way. Ditto for the editors–all very gracious, informative, helpful and accessible (though I suspect my state of exhaustion and 2 drinks may have left a less-than-stellar impression on Liz Scheir, who was too gracious to say so.)
Workshops were better attended than panels–a good sign since that means the writers came prepared to work, not just to schmooze. Alas, my own panel was a bit of a washout since the audience was more interested in picking the brains of the agents at the table than discussion of paranormal elements in Mystery fiction. Oh well, can’t have everything.
But in all, it was a great conference and here’s the reason: it was fun. And that’s the real key to a great conference–have fun. Yeah, it’s about networking and learning, but with the money one is laying out and the time it takes, a conference of this kind really needs to be fun as well as offering professional contact and classes. It’s difficult when you’re new and aspiring to remember that it’s not all work. Actually, you’re probably going to be better off by relaxing, missing a class, and falling into a conversation over coffee or beer with an agent, writer, or editor–or better yet a group of mixed talents. Pick a small number of panels or classes you are really interested in, but be prepared to hang loose and play things as they come. You’d feel kind of silly if you went to a class instead of accepting an invitation to play miniature golf with a group of editors, wouldn’t you?
Me, I spent a ridiculous amount of time explaining what Urban Fantasy was, or what it wasn’t, helping people find the nearest Denny’s, chatting, drinking, and hiding out at the MWA table. Now, it wasn’t a fabulous sales op, nor do I think I was terribly impressive, but it was fun, I met or re-met a lot of cool people and had a lovely time with them. A few might even be useful career contacts, but most were just good fun. Thank the gods.