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Saturday, October 19, 2013

KC's Giant Books and Lawrence of Arabia

Embassy Suites
Public Library
    In a city paying architectural homage to literary giants, it was quite fitting that Women Writing the West gather on Oct. 11-13 for their annual Conference. Kansas City, Missouri is known for its fountains, steaks and buried treasure, but one wall of their Public Library commands attention, even if you aren't a book lover or a Conference Junkie.
     Accomodations at the Embassy Suites hotel featured 11 floors of 2-room suites, breakfast comps, and evening "Manager  Receptions" with snacks...and drinks for thirsty writers.
"Lawrence" of Arabia
     A Friday morning tour of the Steamboat Arabia Museum was also an unexpected bonus, viewing a warehouse of objects sunk in the Missouri River 157 years ago and raised in 1988, in nearly pristine condition.  The boat's only casualty was a mule still tethered to a rail when the boat sunk after hitting a snag in the river.  Cleverly dubbed "Lawrence of Arabia," his skull, still in bridle and bit, was one of the more quirky artifacts recovered, along with champagne that still fizzed, scented perfume, edible pickles, castor oil, and enough cookware, china, footwear, tools and hardware to set up General Stores all over the western frontier of 1856.
    Amazing how much of the salvage could pass for contemporary goods, especially buttons, china, tools and rubber shoes!  I also loved the museum guide's story about the little "Frozen Charlotte" doll that was recovered, and how the Charlotte doll craze originated. Apparently, they were the "Barbies" of the 19th century.

     "Pick Me, Pick Me" was one of the more popular conference sessions offered, with editors judging manuscript "first pages" by holding up red paddles when they would have stopped reading the anonymous submission. "Lose the adverbs, more dialog, less description and always show, don't tell" soared as advice, even as it may have trampled a few egos.
Catherine Browder

Laura Finalists with Cynthia B.
     Catherine Browder's description of the short story hit home: "About little people; "bourgeois art forms."  She suggested Alice Monroe as a modern day short story mentor--"our Chekhov," then took us through an interactive exercise in controlling scenes in the short short story.
Pam T.(left front) and Willa Finalists
   Three of the Laura Short Story Finalists were on hand for the Friday night reception chaired by the 2014 WWW President, Cynthia Becker.  Most of the Willa Finalists were present at the Sat. luncheon and readings for this year's novel competition, awarded by Chairman Pam Tartaglio.  Check the Women Writing the West site for winner names, titles, and this year's Laura stories.
Susan Salzer

Saturday Book Signing
    The Saturday evening dinner was a gourmet treat with 3 creme puffs and a bonus "dessert" from Keynote speaker Susan Salzer, who won the WWA Spur Award for short fiction in 2009.  Her best advice was to add dimension, and create publishing success by fearlessly combining genres in Western writing.

Madame Morton
Kudos to LaDene Morton, our fearless Conference Chair, for a memorable weekend. Next year, WWW plans a return to their first Writer's Conference held 20 years ago in Denver. "Coming Home" is the 2014 theme at the historic Brown Palace Hotel Oct. 17-19.

     This Minnesota writer finds a fountain of inspiration WEST of the Mississippi. It was a long trip by car on great highways. Imagine Missouri's legendary outlaw, Jesse James, riding on horseback from Missouri to Northfield, MN. to rob a bank?  As long as we were in Missouri territory, hubby and I made a side trip to the outlaw's birthplace and museum.
      Also, across the river on the Kansas U. campus in Lawrence, the famous "survivor" of the 1876 battle at the Little Big Horn is on display. "Comanche," was luckier than "Lawrence of Arabia," living to a ripe old 29 years as the mascot of the 7th Cavalry. I learned he roamed the Post, enjoying his celebrity and loving the buckets of beer the soldiers offered him.  Is he still SMILING?


Monday, July 1, 2013

Diana Gabaldon, Steve Berry and two Vestal Virgins at the HFS Conference

   The 5th annual Historical Novel Conference in St. Petersburg last month had it all!   Foremost proof that the genre' is vibrantly alive and kicking. Held in the Vinoy Hotel on the edge of Tampa Bay, over 300 attendees mingled with agents, editors, and authors with small, medium and some very large credentials.
   Besides offering two Friday workshops, there were 31 sessions scheduled Saturday through Sunday morning.  Among others, sessions titled "Is Genre' a Dirty Word, The History of Weaponry, Sex in HF, Building a Platform, Indie Presses, Slang & Dialect, Poisoners & Poisons, and The Witchcraft Window" were interspersed with Cold Reads and Agent/Author panels. Too many choices, but a great solution on hand!
Diana & her biggest MN fan
   Reps from VW were busy taping all sessions and guest speakers to CD's and DVD's that could be purchased before--and after--the Conference ended. They are still available online.
   Offering books written by attendees, there were also too many great choices in the bookstore and at the book signing reception. Though I've read all her lengthy Jamie/Claire books, I was thrilled to have my favorite author, Diana Gabaldon, sign a copy of her 20th Anniversary hardcover edition of "Outlander," her first novel. A definite bonus for her biggest fan in Minnesota was the preview booklet she gave me, with the first seven chapters of her 8th book in the Outlander series, due to be published in early 2014. Already an international best selling author, I'm sure DG's fame will skyrocket once the Outlander movie is completed. I felt like a groupie, angling to sit at the table next to hers at mealtimes, and sneaking ipod photos of her.

   Other best selling authors--Anne Perry, C.W. Gortner, and Steve Berry were guest speakers at sumptuous meals in the hotel's grand ballroom, serving up personal stories and inspiration for dessert.
Lady Rivers
   Berry's books are often compared to Dan Brown's, and his newest book raises some intriguing questions about the first Queen Elizabeth. "The King's Deception" is sure to drive up his royalties.
    Joan, Lady Rivers--aka author Gillian Bagwell--emceed a hilarious Costume Pageant interviewing women in history, followed by Late Night Sex Scene Readings Saturday night. Both events were repeated by popular demand.  A very PG "budding" author, Teralyn Pilgrim, won the costume contest depicting a Vestal Virgin with biting wit.

Vestal Virgins?
   The readings were emceed by Diana Gabaldon, who always
sets the bar high-in my mind-for inventive and romantic fictional trysts; always classy, sassy, but never crassy.
    Does my 3rd Conference in 8 months make me a Conference Junkie? I could get addicted to networking with success, inhaling the creative mists, posing with celebrity and tasting the local fares. Every Minnesota writer needs a change of weather and a working vacation, away from laptops and too many emails. There are distractions...and attractions in every writer's life. Conferences are always pure inspiration. I'm looking forward to this Conference next September in London!  But first...Kansas City, here I come!     (Women Writing the West Conference in October.)                                           

Want to see more pictures?... Click here.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

ME...and oh, "MY" at the Las Vegas Writers Conference


ME and "MY"!  What a treat to meet My Haley at the Las Vegas Writers Conference April 18-20. She has a wonderful new historical novel out "The Treason of Mary Louvestre" about a black seamstress who ultimately stole the plans for the South's only armored ship in the Civil War.  It may have helped the North win the Monitor vs. Merrimac battle!

 Myra was married to Alex Haley, the famous author of ROOTS, until his death in 1992. She has her own eloquent "voice" and lots of ancestral stories of her own to share. 

'The Convention's fantastic keynote speaker was probably the impetus that "organized" her famous husband to get his act together when publishers, editors, and 2 ex-wives were after him to finish the book!   (Roots went on to be a TV series that I think is still unrivaled in ratings.)

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Feeding Deer is Not for the Birds!

    What an awesome sight in our 
backyard, just 20 feet from our window.  These wild "gourmets" will eat the birdseed that falls, and they do appreciate stale bread and even a bale of hay from the horsebarn now and then.
    We can wave to them from the window, even go out on the deck, and they don't startle too easily.(Think they have us well-trained?)   

    Yes, Minnesota still has some snow in April!  No way to hide Easter eggs out there this year.  Bah, humbug!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A Blueprint for Writing Success!

 Read the BEST in your genre and work toward IMITATING, EMULATING,  EQUALING, and finally, SURPASSING the heroic author who inspires you!

My genre is Historical Fiction, my current heroine, Diana Gabaldon, who wrote her lst novel just for fun.  Twenty-some years later, with a dozen more books, the saga of "Outlander" continues and will soon be filmed.
Gabaldon's genre is mixed with time travel, adventure and a steamy, enduring romance, but her success has catapulted her into the mainstream as a best selling author.  She is certain to gain more fans once the movie is out!

While revising and editing my own book for several hours a day, I always managed to spend some "time travel" with her lovable characters, drawing inspiration from her sensory explorations and extraordinary research of the 18th century in the U.S. and abroad. Memorable characters who evolve are also a criteria for every successful book!  The bonus is the history in all great historicals. 

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The one-legged turkey

     Our bird feeder, just 25 ft. from our kitchen bay window, has become a feeding station for squirrels, rabbits, stray cats and deer, besides the regular crew of cardinals, bluebirds, crows, and  less colorful songbirds. Though I've never seen one at the feeders, I know our acreage plays host to a visiting fox, night owls and maybe even a coyote, judging by the night sounds. To keep the deer from munching on the evergreens, we sometimes scatter a bale of horse hay in the glade. 
     Today we saw a huge (50 lb.?) turkey hopping around the base of the feeder, pecking at the seed that had fallen. It wasn't our first turkey, but most of them come in groups. This big guy was alone.  His right leg was tucked up, tapping the ground gingerly only when he needed balance. We could tell it must have been painful.
     On some snarky level, I identified with the poor guy--not because I have an injured leg, but because I knew his need to survive was greater than any discomfort he must feel.  He wasn't starving, that was certain. Turkeys DO fly, but with his size, getting airborne was probably impossible. It was hard to watch, until hubby joked we could take him to a vet and get him fixed for probably $800!
     The process of editing a huge novel is equally painful. Killing scenes that elucidate history, worse yet, eliminating characters makes me feel like a hit man, er...woman, painful to the appendage that hits the delete key. I don't need a vet, just a compassionate publisher who gobbles up long historicals!  Any turkey lovers out there?

Thursday, January 3, 2013


           Copyright free from 
 The Spirit of Manifest Destiny at a glance!! 

John Gast painted this picture in 1872 for a series of western travel guides.  The scope and detail suggest it may be a large painting, but the original -now in the Library of Congress- is actually less than 13 x 17 inches.
     I fell in LOVE with this painting, a visual encyclopedia of historical transportation technologies surging west during the 19th century. (Note the simple Indian travois and buffalo being shuffled ahead of the covered wagon, pony express, stagecoach and trains!) The beautiful woman in the diaphanous gown represents the "Star of the Empire," carrying a book to signify national enlightenment, while her other hand stretches telegraph wires. The spirit of manifest destiny- with all its bittersweet side-effects- pervades some of the time period in my historical romance waiting to be discovered--THE CALLING STONE.  For excerpts, go to