festival

New Directions in Old Places – LTUE

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Life the Universe and EverythingLife, the Universe and Everything is a Science Fiction and Fantasy conference that takes place in Utah every year.  My good friend Heather Muir, a former guest-poster of this blog, was able to attend again this year.  I asked her to share her experiences with us as an aspiring writer and how attending the conference has helped her achieve those goals.

I’ve been going to LTUE (Life, the Universe and Everything) forever and this year I was not excited. Last year I vowed I would not attend again. I was critical and annoyed at the panels, many of which are repeated every year. I had heard it all before. Don’t write a love triangle. Write what you love, not what’s popular. Don’t stalk editors in the bathroom. What not to put in your query letter. Wait thirty days, ninety days, a year before you revise anything. Never give up.

I had heard it all three times over. I constantly read all the writer, agent and editor blogs I can keep up with. I attend every conference I can afford, local and worldwide. I’m in a writing group, online and off. And I felt like this conference was for the total newbie.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that whining drowns out sense. As soon as I stopped whining, I had an epiphany. I was miserable because I acting like a newbie. I’d heard all of this advice ten times over but I was not following it. I had written three first drafts of three different novels and was working on a fourth. But I had yet to take the next step to revise. Or the many steps after that towards publication. I was not approaching authors because who was I to talk to such amazing, talented people? I was feeling like a newbie because I was acting like a newbie.

So this year, I decided not to be the newbie. I still attended a few panels but I spent more of my time talking to authors at their table in the dealers room, in between panels and in small groups in the hallway when I was lucky enough to squeeze in. I talked for hours with an old friend, catching up, recommending books and sharing what we were working on, which recharged my batteries more than anything. I spoke with random people I had never met before, practicing my pitch for the novel I had just finished. I asked every author I could for advice about revision (gulp!). My knees shook every time I approached someone.

By the end of the conference, I had a new friend from the front row of a folklore panel. She gave me her email and invited me to join a writing group.Two of the biggest names there remembered me from previous workshops, one of them remembered my story “fondly.” I almost squealed! I talked about gardening with another author. I sent an email to another writer, a follow up to our conversation, and got an email back! I shook the hand of a favorite local artist and made him smile.

Will all of these people remember me next year? Not without prompting for sure. Not without me gathering my courage and walking up to them with a smile. Did I learn anything new? Yes and no. But I changed my expectations. I was here to network and recharge my passion for writing. I succeeded in both ventures and am happy to say I will be going back every year. Hopefully with a novel to truly pitch. Besides, how can you pass up a three day conference that has a crazy amount of talent and community for only $30?!

Bloody Scotland, Day 1

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I had the most awesome opportunity this weekend to attend Bloody Scotland, the first crime writing festival in Scotland.  Not only did we get to kick off the festival with a hilarious recreation of authors Alex Gray and Lin Anderson dreaming up the festival, but Ian Rankin gave the keynote address and the three took questions from the audience.  Plus, I got to meet and get all three of their autographs after the night.  It was surreal.

Ian Rankin, Alex Gray, and Lin Anderson opening the fun-filled weekend.

Instead of standing and giving some sort of address, Gray and Anderson put together a little skit, meant to be a recreation of when they decided to start Bloody Scotland.  Part way through Ian Rankin and Craig Robertson came on stage, standing at a little pub table pretending to be in their own conversation.  Rankin was later invited to join Gray and Anderson, and from there gave his keynote address.  Though it sounds a bit silly to describe, having the three very influential crime authors sitting in chairs just having a nice chat gave the evening, and the beginning of the weekend, a relaxed, comfortable feel.  Which is helpful when you open the panel up for questions from the audience.

Rankin made a few great observations about Scottish crime fiction, one of which is that there was no real history of it.  Sure, the quintessential detective Sherlock Holmes was written by a Scot based on a Scot, but he was English and lived in London.  After Conan Doyle, there were no other writers who stepped forward and took over the mystery game.  Not really until literary writer William McIlvanney published Laidlaw in 1977, that is.  Rankin noted that without a long-standing tradition, Scottish crime writers are not constrained by outside expectations, and that freedom has allowed perhaps the most creative, diverse set of crime writers from any country.

In addition to his personal views on the history of crime fiction, Rankin shared a bit of his own past with the genre.  As many of his fans know, Rankin was a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh when he wrote the first Rebus novel, Knots and Crosses.  To hear Ian Rankin tell it, it was really McIlvanney who inspired him to go for the crime genre.  When Rankin met McIlvanney at a signing, he mentioned that he was working on his own detective, but that he’d be from Edinburgh instead.  McIlvanney apparently replied with signing Rankin’s book with the inscription, “Good luck on the Edinburgh Laidlaw.”  Not surprisingly, Rankin stated that he still has that book (why would he ever part with it, though?).  But one of Rankin’s points that surprised me was he mentioned he wanted to write books that his dad would pick up.  He wanted to write something that was accessible, enjoyable to read.  Considering he was in the middle of a grueling academic degree, spending his time delving deep into sometimes impenetrable literature, I don’t blame Rankin for not wanting to follow that same path.

Other tidbits:

  • Ian Rankin suggests that before you travel anywhere, read the crime fiction set there.  It’ll show you the places to go (and avoid), and it gives you the most accurate depiction of a city.
  • Rankin also broke all wannabe writers’ hearts by saying that writing never gets any easier.  Because you will always want to improve and top the last thing you did, and you can’t stay stagnant, you’ll agonize over each book.  Thanks Ian.
  • When offered water after his glass of presumably beer was empty, Rankin just waved his hand and laughed.
  • Alex Gray and Lin Anderson have obviously had way too much fun putting Bloody Scotland together.
  • Mentions of the Scottish Crime writers as a sort of gang of friends was nice, minus the sad news of fake Amazon reviews by one of their own (to be discussed in another post).