Monday, November 17, 2008

Florida Writers Association Conference

FWA Conference Badge

I got home yesterday afternoon from the Florida Writers Association's "Chart Your Course" conference, my ninth and final travel convention of 2008. Add in book-signings, media interviews, and one-day festivals, and that brings this year's event tally up to 19, with two more scheduled before the end of the year. That includes tomorrow's "Write-In" at the Homosassa Public Library and a December 13 book-signing at Poe House Books in Crystal River. Those final two events are within my home county.

Room 608, Lake Mary Marriott
Room 608, Lake Mary Marriott, outside of Orlando

Honestly, I don't know how the heck I'm still standing. But there is much to be said for how a convention can energize a person, and the FWA conference was a prime example of that. What set this event apart from the others for me was its focus on craft, combined with aggressive efforts (in the best possible sense) in networking and promotion. It also had fabulous keynote speakers, including St. Petersburg Times reporter Jeff Klinkenberg during the banquet, whose "Weird Florida" talk almost had me snorting coffee out my nose. His delivery prompted someone at my table to say he'd buy the speech as a comedy album if it were put on a CD. The conference-end keynote from C. Hope Clark (editor at inspired all of us to not only write and submit, but to sell -- and to savor the pride and passion of what it means to be a writer.... (continued)

FWA Conference Registration
Conference registration

As my friend Emily Antonen put it, this conference was "sacred space."

FWA Conference Hallway

The hallway display to the left shows items in the silent auction to benefit the Florida Writers Foundation. While the Florida Writers Association works to advance the craft and career of writers, the Foundation works to promote literacy. I bid on and won a coffee-table-size collection of the photographs of Alfred Stieglitz, donated by Kodak. (The book peeks out from behind the statue.)

FWA Conference Bookstore
FWA Conference Bookstore

The bookstore carried Covenant and the anthology Riffing on Strings: Creative Writing Inspired by String Theory (which includes my story "Arachne"). Also on display were postcards for Electric Velocipede (which includes my story "Hermit Crabs") and flyers for both Riffing on Strings and the forthcoming anthology Unspeakable Horror: From the Shadows of the Closet (available for pre-order here, with contributor interviews here. Unspeakable Horror will include my story "Memento Mori").

FWA Conference Bookstore, Covenant Close-up
Covenant display

FWA Conference Bookstore, Riffing on Strings Close-up
Riffing on Strings display

FWA Conference Interviews

Shown here is the venue where writers participated in reserved, paid-for interviews with agents and publishers, for the purpose of delivering pitches for their work.

FWA Conference Networking Reception
Networking reception for volunteers and faculty

In addition to a reading and bookstore sales, I gave two workshops at this event, one on metaphor and one on character and plot development. Feedback was very positive -- attendees told me that I had given them actual, practical tools that they could immediately apply, rather than just theory.

FWA Conference Workshop Schedule Board
Schedule board with the sign for my metaphor workshop

At 9 on Saturday morning the audience for my second workshop came ... and came ... and came ... to the point where we had standing room only and we had to commandeer chairs from the adjoining room so we could sardine everyone in.

Persona Workshop Schedule Board
Photo credit: Karen Lieb

Persona Workshop with Elissa Malcohn
Photo credit: Karen Lieb

An hour or so later, those sheets on the wall behind me were completely filled.

Before the conference, I'd been most nervous about giving this particular workshop because it marked the first time in 16 years that I conducted it as I'd originally designed it. The format requires enough wall space to accommodate 11 and possibly more large sheets of paper. Coordinator Chrissy Jackson pointed me to self-stick Post-It wall easel pads:

I love this product. Individual sheets can attach to walls, including walls covered in ribbed fabric, and I used large crayons for scribbling. No tape marks, no bleed-through. My Persona Workshop is a collective brainstorming session, very high-energy, and no two sessions are alike. I had to be quick on my feet, both in running up and down the front of the room and in responding to call-outs/making connections across what amounted to a gigantic storyboard. The "playshop," as I call it, is almost 100% spontaneous.

As if all that weren't enough, the conference location outside Orlando gave us a thrilling view of Friday night's launch of the shuttle Endeavour. I couldn't help comparing it to the only other time I've watched a shuttle launch, that of STS-1 -- the very first, back in April 1981. As a volunteer at a small publication I had come as a member of the press, which placed me three miles away from the launch pad. That maiden voyage of now-gone Columbia carrying astronauts John Young and Robert Crippen had driven some press members to tears. The force of the rockets had sent our pants legs flapping behind us even from three miles away.

I was dozens of miles away from Endeavour's launch on Friday night, close to the end of the shuttle program and halfway between the conference's banquet/networking reception and open mic.

FWA Conference Extra - Shuttle Launch

I stood with dozens of other writers in the balmy outdoors, instructed by the hotel staff to look between the parking lot's sodium lamp and the palm tree. Twenty-seven years after that momentous first-ever shuttle launch, we cheered Endeavour on like fans at a football game.

FWA Conference - After Launch
A section of the outdoor crowd, a few minutes after the launch

FWA Conference, Royal Palm Literary Award Winners

The FWA's Royal Palm Literary Award ceremonies took us almost to midnight. Winners include Joyce Elson Moore (the white-haired woman standing beside the flag), one of the founding members of my local critique group.

FWA Chapter Map

The FWA's chapter map. There are as yet no chapters in my county. The closest one is about 30 miles away.

On the drive home I almost photographed a large, lighted sign advertising gas at $1.99/gal. at the intersection of SR-44 and I-75, but the traffic light changed before I could squeeze off a shot.

NaNoWriMo Authors Write-In Flyer

Flyer for tomorrow's "Write-In" event at the library, the second of three events for the November Novelists group of people participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

Book Display at NaNoWriMo Kickoff

My display for the NaNoWriMo Kickoff on October 29

Covenant, the first volume in the Deviations Series, is available from Aisling Press, and from AbeBooks, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Book Territory, Borders,,,, DEAstore,,,,, Powell's Books, and Target. The Deviations page has additional details.


Blogger Joyce Moore said...

Elissa: I really enjoyed reading your blog about the FWA conference. It exceeded all my expectations and then some! I hated missing your workshops but as you know I had 'registration duty' which didn't end until Sunday morning. I know I missed out on something good because I heard people commenting on your workshops and how energized they were when leaving them, carrying awy practical ideas to improve their craft of writing.

Your pictures are fantastic (you're so talented and creative). And thanks for the link to my site. Did you know, after the Awards ceremony, an agent tapped me on the shoulder and said, "I want you to send me that story." So, it's over until next November and plans are already under way, but I don't think a top-notch conference like this one can be bested!
Joyce Moore

10:17 AM  
Blogger e_journeys said...

Thanks, Joyce -- and congratulations on both the award and the tap! Thanks also for all that work behind the scenes. Happy holidays.

10:39 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home