Losing Your Heart (and Your Preconceptions) in San Francisco

You might have seen last week on my Facebook or Twitter stream a series of check-in’s from San Francisco. If it looked like I was having fun, I was. I caught up with my best friend from high school, touched base with a friend from Intersections, and even found a really fun Tiki Bar just across from my hotel! The funny thing was I was working (seriously, I was…), although it was the last thing I expected to do so passionately. I was expecting to be miserable, frustrated, and counting the minutes until it was time to go home.

This was one of those times when I was thrilled to be wrong.

The event was the San Francisco Writers Conference, sponsored by the Larsen-Pomada Agency (the people who represent Pip and myself when it comes to fiction — watch the graphic on their homepage and we pop up!); and while I was a guest of this event and being offered the rock star treatment, my expectation level was low for this event. Low, as in rock bottom. My main beef with events like this is the general attitude towards genre writers. In particular, towards Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror writers. I’ve dealt with this in the past, and you know it’s a special kind of snobbery when self-published poets and “entrepreneurs” brush you aside because you write “that tripe.” This was what I was steeling myself against as I reluctantly packed a bag alongside an under-the-weather-stressed-out kiwi.

Yeah, Pip caught a cold the day before we left, and this wasn’t helping her relax as she was slated to speak alongside editor (and longtime pal) Gabrielle Harbowy and speculative fiction powerhouse Katherine Kerr. Regardless, Thursday afternoon, we dragged ourselves to the airport got on the plane, and touched down in a rainy, dreary San Francisco.

This was going to be a long weekend…or so I thought.

My first talk was on Friday afternoon calling “Finding Your Tweet Spot” covering (yep, you guessed it!) Twitter for writers. The conference paired me up with Rusty Shelton. Wasn’t sure what to expect with this talk until I met Rusty. We instantly hit it off, his background in public relations and marketing for writers and publishers clicking quite well with my own strategies in self-promotion.  The two of us flew through the 45 minutes allotted for our panel, and we admitted that another hour would not have hurt. It was a rapid-fire tag team talk, and nowhere did we step on each other’s toes or contradict approaches. The talk was as if we had given it before. Feedback popped up right away on Twitter, and during the weekend a few people stopped and asked me questions we hadn’t the time to address.

It was this accessibility at SFWC that really impressed me. Unlike a SciFi con where sometimes people are gun-shy in asking a question (lest you face the wrath of one or a number of SMOF’s…a blogpost on them to come…), folks at this writers’ conference — both presenters and attendees — were approachable, welcoming an exchange of ideas, resources, and strategies. Pip (her cold receding just enough that she was feeling better) and I met a variety of people, from people who had just signed with our agent to people in search of an agent to people that were self-published and wanted to know what their next step would be. We even met the Grand Master of Shaolin.

Let me say that again — we met THE Grand Master of Shaolin.

Really nice guy. I’m just saying.

People were there to learn more than just subtle nuances of the writers’ craft but also the in’s and out’s of the business. What promoted this conference’s positive atmosphere was how much the editors, agents, and writers attending wanted to share with the attendees. I was humbled and energized by it all.

Pip also found herself some well-deserved spotlight alongside Gabrielle and Katherine who insisted they call her “Kit.” This was just one of Katherine Kerr’s many endearing qualities. The photo I’ve included with this blogpost is of Pip, Kit, and Gabrielle brainstorming on their workshop, one of those magic moments where writers share their own passions as to why they write. I was working on another blogpost at the time, but sitting in on their “jam session” in the presenter’s breakroom (eighteenth floor penthouse suite) was an education in itself.

It also felt really, really good to present again. Along with my panel on Twitter and on Monday an all-day workshop (with Linda Lee) on Social Media, I was asked by Michael Larsen to talk a bit about apps for writers. It became (unintentionally) the Scrivener talk (maybe for 2012…) but I did get a chance to talk to writers about the modern mobile resources that are out there. This talk, and the event on a whole, reminded me of how much we traveling in the con circles take for granted. To many of us, social networking, WordPress, and iPad are accepted (if not expected) tools of our trade. With the SFWC audience — the majority of it — technology was unexplored (and unrelated) territory. This made for a very different audience from what I am accustomed, and an audience that were hardly shy in asking for more.

The four days by the Bay were over-and-done before I knew it; and with the exception of catching up with Scott Sigler (next time, bro, next time…) Pip and I managed quite a lot of business, networking, and career planning. My dad, on my return, asked me if San Francisco had been a productive trip. Without question I believe presenting and attending the SFWC was one of the smartest things I have done in my time as a professional author. My goal since 2009 has been to get my writing back on track, and this weekend has been another big step in doing so. Perhaps the biggest lesson I took away from the conference: Stepping out of your comfort zone keeps you sharp. As Kit recommended during the “Out of This World” panel, the cons are a real experience for the writer. She didn’t mention that after a few of them under your belt, you can easily find yourself speaking within a bubble, preaching to the converted. With conferences like the SFWC, you find yourself free of those “safe circles” and looking at what you do from different points-of-view. You might also find opportunities in these brave new worlds, as well.

Stepping out of comfort zones can also put a lot of things in perspective. Priorities. Your place among them. Where you are headed in life. All that, along with a reminder that you can have novels, podcasts, and accomplishments under your belt, and yet you discover there is still a lot to learn about your passion.

Boy howdy, was I ever reminded of that in San Francisco.

6 thoughts on “Losing Your Heart (and Your Preconceptions) in San Francisco

  1. This sound like a conference that was just waiting for you and Pip. I’m glad you were both able to attend. I admit to being a bit jealous of meeting “Kit”. Her original trilogy is still one of my favorite pure fantasy series from my youth.

  2. What a wonderful post! The spirit of community you wrote about is an essential part of the conference. Glad you had a great time. I enjoyed our time together and look forward to more of it. Onward!

  3. Great post. Glad to see we shook you out of that preconceived notion on some conferences.
    The SFWC is known for being warm, friendly and a safe place to meet writers/agents/editors/experts and ask tons of questions and not feel like a fool. It was a joy teaching with you on Monday, and meeting Pip. Laurie spoke so highly of you both. I totally trust her judgement.
    Also thanks for kicking my butt into twitter. Good job!

  4. I agree Rusty was fabulous. I heard all good things about the sessions on technology for writers…but I was either running around behind the scenes or giving my own sessions in the next room. Thank god for audio recordings! Can’t wait to hear what you tech gurus were talking about. Thanks for sharing your expertise at the 2011 SFWC.

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