The Saturday Chathouse Conference

Well folks, it’s come and gone. The Saturday Chathouse Conference was today, and boy did it go fast! I woke up at 6:15 to get down to the venue by 8:00 to help with registration. My main job was to accept payments from anyone who wanted to register for any event late. However, I was also good for odd jobs like setting up signs, moving around tables, and, with another intern, delivering snacks to houses and heating up hors d’oeuvres. All in all, I got to see just how much work a conference takes. So the next time you’re at one, stop and think about just how much time it took simply to get all the nametags ready!

During the lunch break, participants could pay to have five minute pitches with agents. My job was to sell these pitches, so while I didn’t get to observe them, I did get to see people coming in and out of them. The whole time I just kept thinking how nervous I would be if I were doing a pitch; I just know I would end up stuttering and stammering and messing it all up. But the interesting thing was most people came out of the session and immediately wanted to buy another one. I don’t know if it was because the pitches went well or poorly, but the trend was that one or two pitches just wasn’t enough.

Although unfortunately I did not make it to any of the chathouses themselves (in which the authors and agents were giving presentations), I did get to attend the dinner at the end of the day. Because WIWA was trying to make money from the event, the organizer of the conference (the wonderfully kind and gracious Dorothy Read) combined forces with the philanthropic PEO to hold the dinner in the community center. The PEO women made and served dinner; each table was set with a different woman’s fine china and napkins. The dinner was great and the mismatch of dishes had a wonderful charm. So keep that in mind the next time you’re planning a gala dinner on a low budget!

The keynote speakers were Elizabeth George and Jamie Ford. Elizabeth is the author of many, many mystery novels. I am in the middle of one and I am really enjoying it! Her graceful prose is a nice break from the punctuated fast paces of many detective novels, and she has great insights into the relationships of characters. I highly recommend it. Most of her novels are set in England, and she writes so convincingly in British inflections and vocabulary that I was astonished to learn she’s an American born and bred now living on Whidbey Island!

Jamie Ford is the author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet which is a love story imbued with a historical lesson on Japanese American internment during WWII. It is a wonderful novel. I had the pleasure of sitting next to Jamie at dinner and discovered that he is a very personable, funny guy! If none of that has sold you on him, maybe this will: he met his wife in a public library and proposed to her in a bookstore. When he told us that anecdote, the room was filled with a collective “awww.”

The takeaway point from both Jamie and Elizabeth is that writing is about the passion and that you shouldn’t get lost in the journey of getting published. Elizabeth pointed out that her “first published novel” was actually her sixth novel. She kept writing because she loves writing; that love of writing bred hard work, and her final words of wisdom were that it is those who work hard that get published. Jamie similarly encouraged us to write what we love and what we want to write, not just what we think we should be writing. Passion is the key, and everything else will fall in place if you work hard enough.

Another thing I learned about conferences is that when people find out you’re a writer, they’ll ask you what kind of things you write. This took me off guard because I’ve never thought about classifying my work; that was always something I was going to do when I actually tried to get published. I just write what I want to write. So I¬†vacillated¬†between labeling myself as a writer of women’s fiction (which only worked until they asked me, well what do you mean by that? at which point I had to quickly remind myself of every plot I’ve written and figure out what it is that links them together) and talking about how I like to write novels but I just discovered the short story format. Next time, I’ll come prepared with better answers.

The conference was a great experience and I am so glad I got to take part in it!

Last thing I read: Chapter 17 of Careless in Red by Elizabeth George.