Writer’s Conference Memories

Melissa mentioned a writer’s conference where a panelist said that beta men have no balls (I would love to know the name of that writer) and it made me remember a conference I was at a LONG time ago, almost thirty years, where one the writers said that her husband used to make fun of her writing, telling her that he was the one bringing home the bacon and she was just a wife. Then she started earning a lot more than he did, and she said, right there in front of god and everybody, “Guess who’s sucking hind tit now!” Makes me laugh to this day.

I know that many of you have gone to writers conferences (or other conferences, we’re not picky). What are some of your best memories?

63 thoughts on “Writer’s Conference Memories

  1. Not a conference I have been to but Lois Mcmaster Bujold mentioned on her blog recently going to a conference on Georgette Heyer. I had a look at the programme and one of the paper titles made me laugh:
    The not so silly ass: Freddy Standen, his fictional contemporaries and alternative masculinity.

      1. LN — Thanks for posting the program. I like the chapter titles from the book they’re publishing. I would love to meet up with a bunch of Heyer fans and share thoughts on those topics.

  2. Ahh, psychology conference over three days at one of the multi-hotel complexes in Gauteng.

    Best conference bits were connecting with a Lady prof who wrote the text book that got me through a tough course!

    Best non-conference bits were the evenings where I’d have a massage, or facial and walk to the room. A massage back home means I have to drive home after. That’s why I love hotels with spas.

  3. One year at an RWA national conference, I attended the Nora Roberts “white hat party”. This was the year of the Janet Daily case. Everyone was supposed to wear some kind of white hat and I wore my bridal veil. It was the only one I had and I’d been divorced for some years. It was a fun party.

    1. RWA! I went when I was 22 weeks pregnant with my daughter. I curled up in my hotel bed with Margaret Rowe’s novel, eating cheese and crackers. Deeply satisfying.

      Toward the end of that pregnancy, I went to the SCBWI Rutgers One-on-One conference. We took the train from Montreal to NYC, which ran hours late, so we had to hop on one of the last trains to NJ. Couldn’t find the ticket dispenser in time, so I hopped on the train anyway, fully prepared to tell the inspector why we had no ticket. My new friend said afterward, “I could tell you were used to getting what you wanted. I just followed you and figured I’d do whatever the pregnant lady did.”

      One of my most meaningful conference moments was attending Bloody Words, my first mystery conference. Steve Steinbock, the writer and reviewer at Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, asked me to come, partly because he had just read and reviewed my novel, Terminally Ill.

      When we met at the bar, he told me that my greatest strengths were my characters, the fascinating setting, and the plot. When I said, “Okay, so what are my weaknesses,” he looked at me and said, “No weaknesses. Just keep working on your strengths.” That kept me going.

      I wrote about it thoroughly on my blog, including this line from my friend Vince: “OH, MY GOD. You’re going to a con? GO AND PROSTITUTE YOURSELF, LIKE ANY AUTHOR.”

  4. At my first RWA Conference I met with an editor from Harlequin and pitched an Aussie story. She told me Aussie heroes did not sell. I was shocked. Needless to say this was prior to Hugh Hackman and Chris Hemsworth fame, so there, Harlequin. Aussie guys are hot!

    1. The stories about HQ editors are legend. Older heroine, younger hero stories don’t sell. Black characters don’t sell. Asian characters don’t sell. Artists don’t sell. Athletes don’t sell. HQ was a soup factory, but a lot of us got our starts there, and my editors were always great to me (bar one). And they did accept Anyone But You, so there’s that.

      1. I do remember the “athletes don’t sell” and then SEP went on to write a gazillion successful athlete heroes. And many more authors followed in her footsteps.

  5. The first RWA I ever attended in NYC where I wore a white dress with cherries to attend a cherry meetup — I met Pat, Robin, Heidi, Cory, Kim, Katy, Chris, Brooke, Molly, Gin, oh and the list goes on. These women were generous, funny, kind and intelligent. Of course, meeting Jenny was a highlight too.

    Many of us went to the Met, then out for a bit and that was great fun too.

    What do I remember about any workshops – nada. But I remember being snubbed when I asked to sit at one table. Victoria Dahl kindly let me sit with her at another table and we both professed our love of books with sex on the page.

    It’s been ages since I’ve gone to a conference. There have been some excellent ones with Toronto Romance Writer’s too. Damn you Covid.

  6. I was a at a tourism conference, on a talk about hosting Chinese visitors.
    The speaker said “you’re walking down the road, and you see a man kick a dog that runs on to the path, how do you feel?”
    And people answered: sad – yes, she said. Shocked someone else said – yep, sure. Angry, someone else said – yes! You’re angry at the dog.

    It was a lesson on cultural difference, context and setting aside expectations. I’ve never forgotten (but it’s still not OK to kick the dog).

  7. I’m not a writer.

    I’ve never forgotten an interview I watched back in the early 200s on Sky Books. An author of literature was asked what the difference was between what he was writing and mainstream fiction. He replied: It takes me five years to write a book, whilst mainstream writers release a novel every year. He has to think carefully about each sentence he writes (yes he really said that) and his stories are more complex. He said mainstream books were all about action, whilst his books were driven by characters. I knew at that point he’d not read many mainstream novels. I can’t tell you the author’s name because this interview didn’t make me want to buy his books.

    The sun is shinning in Galway again, which is making the lockdown a bit more bearable.

  8. First writing conference, Sarah Lawrence, 1999. I was trying to be a writer, and astonished that my 20-page submission snared me a spot in a workshop with Patricia Hampl, whose gorgeous prose I adore. I was terrified–all those MFA, East Coast, already-published people. We met seminar-style in a classroom with lovely windows. Hampl began, “We are 13 souls here…” and I knew I’d be okay in the company of another Midwesterner. I re-read the notes I have. Eventually, that much-revised 20-page piece was published and then anthologized. I made a friend I kept for several years, but it was a hard week. The MFA women were merciless (in the best way), telling me things like “You should be writing four hours a day,” and “You have to write about X,” the very thing I didn’t want to write about. Hampl told me, when I asked how to keep this writing thing going, to take a class, and so I did, which began a long mentoring relationship with the prof after her class ended. We’ve not seen one another since covid, and I miss her.

  9. I’ve never forgotten this moment: not a writer’s conference at all, an American Society for Information Science conference in 1988. At the beginning session one morning the moderator said “Before we begin, I must tell you that Robert Heinlein has died.” That’s all he said. He assumed, correctly I think, that we would all know who he was and we would all care.

  10. Disclaimer: I don’t write. But I went to a SciFi/fantasy writers convention to meet Katherine Kurtz and Roger Zelazny. Zelazny did a reading from something he was working on at the time. I looked for years for the finished book and I could never find it, so I guess he didn’t finish it. This was not long before he passed away.

  11. Ah, conferences. I’ve been to a number of RWA cons, but my best memories may come from the first time I met you, Jenny. I believe I followed you from signing to workshop to panel, each time bringing you chocolate. I called myself your chocolate stalker. At the last panel, I brought you another little box of Godiva and you said, “I’d love them, but only if you have enough for my friends on the panel.” I did, of course. (A chocolate stalker is always prepared, and I had brought enough for multiple favorite authors.) And when I told you that Bob had instructed me (via Twitter) to stalk you, you wrote in my book, “Never believe anything Bob says.” LOL. I still have that book.

    More than that though, as fun as it was, was the workshop I took from you on “Beats.” I don’t remember exactly what you called it. But it was a huge breakthrough in how I wrote, and the next book after that was the one that got me my agent. So thank you. You literally changed my life. My career is all your fault.

    Also, meeting up with Betties and Cherries, and all sorts of authors and soon-to-be-authors who ended up becoming lifelong friends.

    The first RWA conference when I got to sit and sign books with the published authors. Mind you, I was seated next to an author of the same last name with a huge following, and barely sold any, but it was still a thrill.

    I’ve also been to a number of Pagan conferences, which were wonderful in their own way, and where I was always stunned to have people come up and say, “Oh my gods, you’re Deborah Blake!” Someday that will get old, but it hasn’t happened yet. My favorite was the last PantheaCon I went to in San Jose, where I did a workshop on Cat Magic (based on my book of the same name) and one woman actually brought a cat! In a cool enclosed stroller. Yes, the high point of my con was getting to see a cat.

    I will never be cool.

    Sigh. I miss conventions. Even thought I don’t much like people. Just the folks who are “my” people.

    1. I vividly remember all that chocolate. “That Deb Blake,” I thought. “What a great person.”

  12. My FAVORITE (note sarcasm) conference moment was when I lined up in the bookseller hall to get a book autographed by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. I’m waiting in line, really nervous, book titles zooming through my head (because I’m never good at remembering who wrote what). I get to the front of the line, stand in front of SEP, gush a bit, then tell her how much I loved her book “Lord of Scoundrels.”

    She smiles–laughs, really–and says that she loves that book too, and the next time she sees Loretta Chase, she’ll be sure to tell her. *smack my big, fat forehead*

    Yeah, that was a great conference moment for me. I don’t talk about people’s books like that anymore, unless I’m holding the copy right in front of me.

    1. Oh, Justine, you are my people. I am renowned for standing in front of someone really famous and completely blanking on what they write / who they are. I never recognize faces, either, so that makes it a fun challenge.

      Standing at my first St. Martin’s Press cocktail party, I think I insulted at least three famous writers there. (Who were all very gracious, honestly.) Ended up standing in the back of the room trying to hide, see Bob, who was easily recognizable. Joked with him about looking for snipers because as I looked up, there were big transom windows above the doors and a tall building across the street where snipers could set up. I think Bob moved away from me pretty quickly at that point.

      Even the writers who were so famous as to be giving the keynote speech were not safe from me. (Eloisa James, who was sitting at a table I joined, and everyone seemed to know everyone, so I tried to ask everyone their name and what they wrote, and get to Eloisa James, and you could practically see the wheels turning in everyone’s head… :::she’s not really about to ask… holy shit she is::: record screech… and Ms. James smiled really sweetly, introduced herself and was nothing but kind.

      I have found most of the time, most writers have been really gracious, especially to a new writer with hardly a clue. (I came over from screenwriting and had never been to a conference until after I sold a book. I didn’t even realize I could sell a book until someone read a screenplay of mine and told me I should pursue that as a book.)

      I think my favorite memory was at Thriller Fest in Phoenix—first Thriller Fest, first year the organization existed. All these Big Names attending. A bunch of us first-time-published clueless to the point where we just ganged up together ahead of time, formed a group, called ourselves “Killer Year” and made t-shirts. We thought it would be fun to get the famous people to at least hold the t-shirt and take photos with us. (We also had caps and pins.) And everyone was very kind and laughed and held our shirts and took photos and were so uplifting and encouraging… and before the conference ended, the People In Charge approached us and asked if they could adopt our group. They gave each one of us mentors, and they helped all along the way, and in exchange, we gave them the group name to create a “freshman class” for every year afterward. I was really thrilled with that. Mostly, with the tremendously supportive attitude of people who were super famous and honestly, could have just ignored us and wouldn’t have suffered a whit for it. They gave a lot of time and effort.

      Mostly, though, I miss hanging out at the bar, telling funny stories and seeing people unwind and become more real, more themselves instead of the “conference Writer Person” they thought they had to be.

    2. We all do that. I remember arguing with a writer once that she really had written the book. I must have been insane.

    3. A couple of years ago Cary Elwes (Westley from Princess Bride) was at the Edmonton Comic Expo. It was a really small room because, apparently, he’s not big on crowds. In his discussion with the host they made a joke about Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (aka the Alan Rickman “call off Christmas” one) and Robin Hood: Men in Tights (his comedy version) and people getting the subtitles mixed up.

      Of course, the first person (a young-ish woman) to ask a question about RH:MIT said the wrong name. The crowd laughed, she was embarrassed, and Cary was very gracious about it. By the end of the panel, even he was getting the name wrong.

    4. I did something like that, but in writing! It was a billion years ago, and I had an assignment to write about something for RWA, I think it was about trilogies, and I got it into my head that Author A had said something somewhere about her trilogy, so I wrote to Author A, asking if she’d be willing to answer a few questions for an RWA article, and she wrote back that she had never written a trilogy and knew nothing about them. She was nice about it, just confused. And then I looked up the quote I’d been thinking of and realized I’d confused Author A with Author B, even though there really wasn’t anything similar between them, from names to genres to personality, etc.

    5. My worst moment like that was when I was holding a book for Isaac Asimov to autograph, and he asked me what I liked. What I really liked were his monthly columns in F&SF magazine, but did that come to my tongue? No. Could I remember any other title of his? v No. So I told him what my mother — no science fiction fan, she swore she was saving SF for her terminal illness — liked of his, a tongue-in-cheek work called THE SENSUOUS DIRTY OLD MAN.

      A better moment was at Malice Domestic when I produced a paperback of CROCODILE ON THE SANDBANK and asked Barbara Mertz if she could autograph it for my Egyptology instructor, preferably in Middle Egyptian. I felt so smug when she did, and I could read it! I got to say, “Ooh, LPH! Thank you!”

  13. My roomie and I participated in the Hat Contest at Malice Domestic some years back. We were really there for Elizabeth Peters, so Jane had purchased a couple of straw hats from the local garden center and we went as CROCODILE ON THE SANDBANK (Jane) and THE SNAKE, THE CROCODILE, AND THE DOG (me). We were rather overwhelming. The winner in the ladylike hat category is the one I remember; she had a modest twenties cloche hat in light green trimmed with flora . . . when you looked at it closely, all poisonous.

  14. I once attended a business historians conference that was held at a hotel which was connected to a convention center that was hosting a cheerleader competition. Most of the cheerleader families were staying at the hotel as well. Four days of serious academics and sparkly cheerleaders and their moms (and some sparkly dads for that matter) intermingling in the lobby and food areas. It made for some very entertaining people watching!

    1. That’s like the year RWA held its conference the same time/place as … I think it was Mary Kay convention. Definitely one of the MLM make-up companies.

        1. I once worked a trade show with my Mother that had a Mary Kay convention in the same hotel. The parking lot was a sea of pink Cadillacs and Buick Regals and it was impossible to ride in an elevator without having someone ask if you wanted a facial. Since I was trying to convince the owners of yarn shops to buy and I don’t even knit, I suppose I should have welcomed the comic relief, but some of those women were really scary.

      1. Oh, g-d, the Mary Kay conference. My favorite moment of that one was when one of the MK ladies mistook (I believe it was) Roxanne St. Claire for one of theirs, and chided her for not wearing panty hose. Rocki turned around and said, “that’s okay, I’m not wearing underwear either,” and sailed off. Legend.

        I was on the national board at that time, and heard a *lot* of stories from the hotel staff. They had to ration towels because of the MK ladies, who were going through tons of them, and staining them all with make up, of course.

        Good times.

    2. One of my engineers returned from an engineering conference and described it as Very Memorable, because they were sharing the space with a revival meeting, separated by accordion-pleated room dividers. So, he said, their moderator would introduce a speaker who was discussing the finer points of the newest technology for corrosion protection, or compressor improvements, or metering refinements, or whatever, and it would be punctuated from the other side of the divider with, “Glory!” “Hallelujah!”

      Uniquely uplifting, he said.

    3. One year the HUGE Pagan convention I went to in San Jose (PantheaCon), which usually bought out about 80% of the hotel rooms at the Doubletree, was held at the same time as a very ritzy wedding. You should have seen the shell-shocked looks on the faces of the bridal party as they watched witches in pointy hats and folks with Pan horns and furry leggings and every other shape and color of Pagan strolling through the halls. It was hysterically funny, although I did feel a little bad for them.

      1. BayCon did the same, and my cousin’s husband sat near an older couple in the restaurant — he told us that they’d had their wedding reception there so they returned every year for their anniversary, and were really taken aback at the Very Odd people they were now seeing there. BayCon was normally scheduled around Memorial Day weekend, so they were seeing the same group every year.

  15. I’ve never been to a convention. Some conventions have been prominently featured in books, though.

    In Fallen Angels, Niven/Pournelle/Barnes, members of an SF/F convention come to the rescue of spacemen who have landed on the glacier north of Minneapolis. in Princess of Wands, John Ringo, the powerful Christian witch and her pagan companions fight a demon harvesting souls at another SF/F convention. Heck, Isaac Asimov wrote a mystery (or maybe a detective story?) about a Murder at a Convention. That might have been the title – I can no longer recall.

    I must say that for me, a non-con goer, Argh Ink is a virtual Convention. It has everything everyone has described that cons have. I’m quite happy to attend. And grateful.

    Thank you, Jenny!

    1. Years ago (before I stopped reading romance, with a few exceptions, and that was probably ten years ago!), there was a romance set at a fictionalized RWA (or perhaps RT or a cross between the two) conference. Don’t remember the author though.

      1. One of my favorite Diana Wynne Jones books, Deep Secret, has a pretty crazy sci fi con.

        I go to policy conferences. They are not nearly as interesting.

      1. So if I claim to be digitally sipping my virtual Crusie Crush orange daiquiri between the occasional diet rum and Diet Coke…

    2. Asimov: Murder at the ABA. Haven’t read it in decades. I do remember it was funny, though.

    3. Never forget Sharyn McCrumb’s Bimbos of the Death Sun, set at a fantasy convention. And Diana Wynne Jones set her book Deep Secret at a science fiction convention and there are more that just don’t come to mind right now

    4. The first (I think) Meg Langslow book by Donna Andrews was set at a fantasy tv show con.

  16. At the Surrey Intl Writers Conference, one of the lunches has a presenter/writer/agent sit at tables with attendees. Hailey Ephron sat at our table. I called her Nora. I was horrified, then apologised profusely. She was so gracious.

    At a RWA New York conference, your workshop on collages was a highlight and having you sign a couple of books including Agnes & the Hitman.

    Robyn Carr had published Virgin River by then. My friend and I met her and several other writers at Jack’s Bar. That was fun too.

  17. Went to a library conference several years ago, and as an ad hoc social event, joined in with some children’s librarians (which I’ve never been) to do Drunk Storytime at a bar. We drank and took turns reading picture books aloud to the group (and assorted passersby) while drinking. I came home with some great new storytime suggestions for MY children’s librarian.

  18. Never been to a writer’s conference, but I did staff a booth for a client at a sports conference (long story). The fun part was that it was in New Orleans. It was my first time in the city, and I enjoyed myself immensely. I went on a ghost tour, shopped and ate in the French Quarter, got my fortune told at midnight, and found my favorite perfume. Happy memories.

  19. I remember the first time I saw a powerpoint presentation at an academic conference: London, 1997. It was an American academic. He made things appear and disappear on screen. It was so polished and entertaining when everybody else would simply talk with a piece of paper in front of them… We were mesmerized.
    Little did I know this was the start of many a mind numbing moments of sitting through fifty slides presentations where presenters would read to you the content of their slides verbatim…

  20. This is about you, so pay attention. Because you changed my life. Look at you sitting there, without clue one. Well, brace yourself, Effie…

    The only writer’s conference I’ve been to was in Columbia, SC. Bob Mayer was there, sitting in the back working on his laptop while you were at the head table, dazzling us with your brilliance.

    Can’t remember anything you said, I was probably too dazzled.

    What I DO remember is talking with you after. I told you I’m a writer, and from Columbus, OH. You took the book out of my hand and — instead of autographing it — you gave me your email address.

    That’s it. Life-changing moment. Looks small, I know. But oh, Jenny. You, offering to give me support, was the kind of empowerment I needed to have faith in my own talent. (For context, my then-husband never read a single word I’ve written… although I write rom-coms, two things he’s not familiar with) (please note the delicate foreshadowing in the phrase ‘then-husband’)

    I never got up the nerve to email you, which in hindsight must look rude; it was mostly because I was afraid I’d blurt out how much I wanted you to read my first chapter.

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