Desert Dreams 2012

Beth Cato and I stealthily blend into the landscaping.

So for those of you following along at home, Desert Dreams 2012 was a writers’ conference in Arizona, hosted by the excellent ladies of the Desert Rose chapter of the RWA. They did a fantastic job.

This was my first writing conference, and a chance to go somewhere sans children, so I was very excited. I planned to pitch my novel to an agent for the first time. I got the news late in the week that I’d be pitching to my friend Beth Cato’s agent, Rebecca Strauss. So yeah, I was a nervous wreck.

Complicating my plans was the fact that my older son came home sick during the week before the conference, severely cutting into my preparation time. Okay, I also discovered a tendency to panic and find a dozen last minute chores to take care of every time I sat down to work on my pitch, so that may have impacted my productivity as well. But hey, my cats are nicely waxed, so at least I have that going for me. Thankfully my travel plans went smoothly, kicking off with two of the women working the security checkpoint complimenting my hair. It was a weirdly auspicious start for the weekend. Anyway, here are a few notable moments from my trip to Desert  Dreams.

Always Drink The Wine

I arrived and met up with Beth, at which point she firmly steered me to the “Practice What You Pitch” panel. It was her opinion that I needed all the help I could get, and I really couldn’t argue. Everyone sort of laughed politely as author Erin Quinn regaled us with the tale of schlepping three bottles of wine on foot from the nearest store that actually sells the stuff (apparently it’s hard to find alcohol in Arizona). She invited everyone up to the front to get a glass. Only a few people took her up on the offer, not including  yours truly, who has been successfully dieting and didn’t want to screw it up. Meanwhile, an assistant was handing out tickets, like the type you’d see at a raffle.

After a brief speech on what goes into a strong pitch and several reassurances that literary agents do not in fact eat aspiring authors for lunch, suddenly they’re drawing tickets to call people up in front of the panel to get a critique on their pitches. I commenced sinking into my seat and tried hard to lose my ticket, all while eying the bottles of wine sitting not three feet to my left. Did I mention we were in the front row? Beth is one of those crazy A+ students who always has to be front and center. I’m more of a middle-row slacker by nature.

I relaxed and started to enjoy it by about the third pitch, and even started contributing comments here and there. Then Beth was offered the envelope full of tickets to draw the next number. I don’t know how she managed it, but of course she drew mine.

So I took what I’d managed to glean from the short description of a good pitch and the “elevator pitch” that Beth and I had worked up a week before, and did my best to get all of it out in under a second without breathing. That went about as well as you’d expect. After a member of the audience asked me to slow down and stop turning purple, I was able to deliver my pitch without falling on my face. I still wish I’d stopped and grabbed a glass of wine first. I think they would have understood the delay.

Beware the Cheese Ninja

That night, after several panels, a lovely time chatting with new friends at dinner, and three more comments on my hair, Beth and I retired to the hospitality suite to see what we might snag for breakfast in the morning. You know how it is. Two women, one bathroom, and a need to look professional all add up to getting up at stupid o’clock in the morning to get ready for the day, and we knew we were going to need a snack. So while we were picking up some fruit and such while trying to ignore the incredible spread of chocolate, another conference-goer came in and announced that there was a group down the hall having a party with champagne and “fancy French cheeses.”

Armed with paper plates and plastic cutlery, Beth and I–along with our new found friend Rose–stealthily absconded with about one-third of a wheel of Brie and assorted other cheesy delights without being pinned down for the earnest discussion about independent versus traditional publishing we heard going on all around us. Score one for the Cheese Ninja!

Self-Sacrifice

Beth Cato, Rebecca Strauss, Rachel Thompson

Beth Cato, Rebecca Strauss, and me

Saturday morning passed in a blur. I had one of the earliest pitch appointments, so we rushed through getting ready and eating breakfast. Even though I’d met Rebecca Strauss the night before and felt comfortable talking to her, I was vibrating with nervous energy. Which may explain why, as we were leaving the room, I somehow managed to get my hand caught in the latch. Those doors are heavy. It ripped a chunk out of my left thumb that immediately started dropping fat beads of blood on the floor. Fantastic! Just what I needed to complete my morning. Beth, ever prepared, bandaged me up and we went on our way.

I happened to run into Rebecca in the bathroom between the morning “Editors and Agents” panel and my actual pitch appointment. She tapped me on the back to say hello as I was washing my hands, so of course I turned and put my injured thumb directly into the scalding water. I think I may have alarmed her with the wild-eyed, pursed-mouth attempt at not swearing, because she asked what was wrong. I showed her my bandaged thumb.

“I gave a little blood sacrifice this morning to make sure my appointment goes well.”

For a split second I think she was afraid I was serious, which sheds light into a very scary corner of the publishing industry if she’s met authors who actually make sacrifices before pitching and then tell the agent about it. She recovered quickly. “This is a ritual which shall not be adopted.”

I laughed and explained what had actually happened, accepted several comments of sympathy and two more compliments on my hair, and booked it out of the bathroom. Mental note: Do not joke about blood sacrifice with publishing professionals. Apparently we authors may be nuttier than I originally thought.

Vomiting Lizard Fountains and Other Amusements

There were some other amusing moments, like chatting with Rolynn Anderson (she complimented my hair) and discovering that she was a principal in the district where I went to high school. I had a great conversation during the book signing with Tom Leveen about the early 90s music scene, which resulted in an awesome inscription in my copy of ZERO about how much flannel rocks.

Last but not least, we can’t forget the Famous Vomiting Lizards of Scottsdale, viewable over on Twitter:

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On Writing…
The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you're allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it's definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it ­honestly, and tell it as best you can. I'm not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.~Neil Gaiman
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