Clarion Alley Mural Project

About twice a month, I manage to make it to one of my favorite write-ins, the Friday afternoon Shut Up and Write, at one of my favorite places, Borderlands Books/Cafe, in the Mission District of San Francisco. Borderlands is located halfway between the 16th and 24th Street BART stations. I always choose to get off at 16th Street for one particular reason, so I can stroll through Clarion Alley.

Since 1992, the entire stretch of Clarion Alley has been a canvas for over 700 murals. No work of art is permanent, so the murals are in continuous rotation. If like me, you pass through about twice a month, you’ll almost always see something new. Even if the murals haven’t changed, you can linger over the familiar ones and discover something you hadn’t noticed before.

During a recent walk, I was fortunate enough to catch artist Kenshin Tomoshima working on his latest mural.

Clarion_Kenshin

Clarion Alley murals often reflect current events and popular culture, such as this one, Rest in Purple by Mel C. Waters, in memory of Prince.

Clarion_Prince

Today, while on my way to Borderlands, I was particularly struck by two murals showing two sides of San Francisco.

Everything Must Go! By Daniel Doherty shows the tragic face of gentrification. Small businesses are being gauged out of San Francisco by exorbitant increases in rent. It’s a sad fact that the city today is not the city of my misspent youth. Much of what had made San Francisco so unique is being bought and sold by the tech elite.

Clarion_MustGo

We All Deserve a Healthy and Safe Community by the various artists of Hospitality House shows a more hopeful vision of the city. People of the various communities and cultures come together to celebrate diversity and to rally for an inclusive San Francisco for all its residents, regardless of income. This is the city that still exists and gives me hope for the future.

Clarion_Safe

Clarion Alley is always open and is a popular tourist destination on the weekends. You can find out more on the Clarion Alley Mural Project website.

San Francisco Writers Conference 2014

San Francisco Writers Conference

The last couple of years I have gone to the San Francisco Writers Conference as an attendee. This year will be different. I’ll be participating as a volunteer. I’m super excited about this opportunity.

I belonged to several different writers groups in Boulder and I miss being part of that network. Volunteering seems like a great way to meet local writers and find out what groups are looking for new members.

The conference itself is always awesome and I’m happy to be able to give back after all I got from the past couple of years. As always, there are going to be some great keynote speakers and awesome breakout sessions. I am particularly stoked that Barry Eisler will be there. I’m a big John Rain fangirl. There’s something about a gentleman assassin that makes a girl’s heart flutter. 😉

The conference runs from Thursday, February 13 through Sunday, February 16 and, amazingly, it hasn’t sold out yet. If you can’t attend the entire conference, keep in mind that low cost writing classes are open to the public on Thursday and Monday.

There are also several events open to the public for free, including book signings, poetry readings and, for fans of Julie Kagawa’s Iron Fey series, a Faery Market. The Faery Market has room for a limited number of people, so if you’re interested be sure to RSVP here.

Check out the conference website for more information.

Writers’ Conference Resources

I’ve come to the end of my San Francisco working holiday. I stayed an extra week in the city, cat sitting the magnificent Spot.

Sun Spot

Spot has found her sweet spot in the sun.

I spent some time wandering around my favorite neighborhoods, walking through Golden Gate Park, and being inspired by the city of my heart. My Crossroads series is set in San Francisco and I took the opportunity to visit some of the locations I’m writing about. In particular, the Three Gems sculpture, located in the de Young Museum sculpture garden, which appears in both “Fake” and the following novel, “The Wayward Way.”

I also emailed requested materials to the agents I met through the conference. As I got back into the writing groove, both fiction and blogging, I thought about the lessons I learned at the conference. It’s hard to put it all into words, since so much of it was internalized. I went to the San Francisco Writers Conference website and happened to notice that the presenters’ handouts are still available as downloads. You won’t want to miss these valuable resources.

San Francisco Writers Conference Presenters’ Handouts

Of course, the handouts are only a taste of the sessions. If possible, I highly recommend attending this or another writers’ conference. Along with lessons learned at the industry and craft sessions, you’ll also have the opportunity to meet fellow authors and interact with agents and editors. I found a partial list of 2013 conferences and festivals in the U.S.

2013 Writing Conferences and Festivals

Doing a web search using your home state or preferred genre will probably yield more. For example, the Romance Writers of America has a huge annual conference, while its local chapters host smaller events throughout the year.

RWA Annual Conference

RWA Local Chapter Events

Can’t afford to go to a conference? Consider volunteering. Many conference offer discounts or even free admission to volunteers.

Can’t leave town? Too busy to leave the house? Don’t let that stand in your way! There are online conferences and workshops as well. One I can recommend is the San Francisco Writers University, which offers free and paid online courses.

San Francisco Writers University

Writing is an art, a craft and a business. Attending conferences and workshops can help you improve all aspects of your writing life.

San Francisco Writers Conference Days 3 and 4

I’m putting these days together because I attended a number of sessions on blogging and platform building, and I wanted to discuss what I learned.

You may wonder, what is platform building? It is something that has filled many writers, published and unpublished, with frustration and confusion. Basically, your platform is your presence on the web. Ideally, it should brand and market you. A single static webpage, a blog you never update, or a Facebook page you share only with friends and family do not equal a platform. Your platform has to have solid planks: constantly updated websites and blogs, an active presence on Twitter, LinkedIn, Goodreads, etc., and a Facebook page dedicated to you as a writer.

You might be groaning right now. I don’t blame you. I certainly did. We can groan all we want, but resistance is futile. The editors and agents who attended the conference made it very clear they expect writers to have a platform and market their writing even before they are published.

Now, you might be hitting your head against the wall and wondering how you are supposed to write when you’re going to be using all your spare time on blogging and social networking. The good news is you don’t have to do it all at once. Your first step is to pick one and get really good at. For example, go on Goodreads and become active in the forums. Once you get that down, go onto to Twitter and tweet about the books you’ve read. On Twitter, follow the people you’ve met through Goodreads. It’s very likely they’ll follow you back. Follow authors you like. Follow agents and editors. If you have a blog, mention it on Goodreads and Twitter when you get a chance, but don’t be obnoxious about it.  Make it part of the conversation.

I know how difficult this can be. While I love my blog and reading other blogs, I have no real presence on Goodreads or Twitter. This needs to change. I’ll let you know how it goes as I figure it out.

In the meantime, I strongly suggest visiting the websites of Stephanie Chandler and Chuck Sambuchino. You’ll find a wealth of information and resources on these sites.

There was more to the conference on those two days besides platform building. I attended sessions on “Why Fantasy Beats Reality,” “Troubleshooting Your Novel,” and “Sex, Drugs and Violence in YA Fiction.” Since four-to-six sessions ran consecutively, I had to miss out on some good stuff, like “Making Your Work Rejection-Proof.” Luckily, one of the session’s presenters, C.S. Lakin, has helpful handouts posted on her website. You can find them here.

I also heard two great keynote speakers:

Guy Kawasaki is a well-known Silicon Valley entrepreneur, Apple evangelist, and best selling author. He has no trouble securing a book deal with a Big Six publisher. However, after some technical frustrations and control issues, he decided to go the self-publishing route, which he refers to it as “artisanal publishing.” You find out more about it here.

R.L. Stine is the author of “Goosebumps,” a wildly successful series of humorous horror novels for young readers. To date, he has sold over 350 million books worldwide. “Goosebumps” was also adapted into a popular TV series. Stine spoke about his life and career. He was fortunate enough to get a job as Scholastic Books at a fairly young age. However, he didn’t publish the first “Goosebumps” book until he was 49-years-old. So, if you’re thinking it’s too late, too hard, taking too long, remember that success doesn’t have an age attached.

Click here for more information on the San Francisco Writers Conference.

San Francisco Writers Conference Day 2

Another sunny, beautiful day spent inside, but no regrets. I attended four sessions and two keynote speeches. The conference has full attendance, i.e. sold out, so the rooms were packed. All the presenters had great information to share. Here are the highlights.

Publishing in Transition: The View from the Big Apple

This session featured a panel of editors from Big Six publishing houses. Each one stated that they frequently checked the digital bestseller lists, looking for independently published authors who had good number and good reviews. Basically, the stigma of self-publishing is gone. Self-publishing is now considered an alternate track to starting your writing career. But, if you want the Big Six to take notice, you’ve got be really good.

Hot Plots: Persuading Your Readers to Turn the Page

Authors Robert Dugoni and Mandy Hubbard discussed the finer points of page turners. Two important words to remember: So what? So what if my character fails? Why would it be so bad? For example, so what if Dorothy had to stay in Oz and never return to Kansas? Would that be so bad? Yes. Why? Because the Wizard has shown Dorothy a vision of Auntie Em dying. Guilt stricken, Dorothy becomes all the more determined to return home.

Writing Dialogue That Brings Your Characters to Life

A panel on writing convincing dialogue. My favorite moment wasn’t so much about dialogue. One of the panelists was formerly a journalist. Once, she wrote a story about alternative families. She said that at each household she visited, the first thing she asked was to see the fridge. The contents of a refrigerator can tell you a lot about a person or a family. She suggested looking in our characters refrigerators. I think that’s brilliant.

Luncheon Keynote Speaker Anne Perry

Yes, the Anne Perry. She was fascinating. I could have listened to her all afternoon. She told lots of stories about her writing and her life. My favorite moment, though, came earlier, during the Hot Plots session, when she did the equivalent of a literary photo bomb. When Hot Plots opened the floor for Q&A, a woman in the back made a statement, something like, “You only need to know as much about a character as is important to the plot at that moment in the story.” I remember thinking, “Wow. She stated that so perfectly.” That woman was, of course, Anne Perry.

Feeding Your Daily Writing Habit: 4 Steps to Higher Productivity

The presenter, Ellen Sussman, actually had 10 steps. The two most relevant for me were “block the Internet” and “save editing for later.” This is especially true for your first draft. Just write, don’t let anything interrupt you, especially your internal editor.

Afternoon Keynote Speaker Bella Andre

Bella Andre is a contemporary romance writer. Her traditionally published novels were respectably midlist. When she decided to self-publish, her writing career skyrocketed and she has sold 1.5 million ebooks. She told us the story of her success. Main point is that to successfully self-publish, your book has to be awesome. Put out a polished product, not just something you slapped together.

Great first full day. By evening, I was exhausted, but happy and looking forward to Day 3.

Click here for more information on the San Francisco Writers Conference.

San Francisco Writers Conference Day 1

I left Denver in subfreezing temperatures, with falling snow and a delayed flight while the plane was de-iced. I arrived in San Francisco to blue skies and 70-degree weather. Needless to say, I was overdressed, sweltering in my heavy winter coat.

Not that I was surprised. I know that February can bring some truly lovely weather to San Francisco. It can also bring cold and rain, so it’s important to pack for both kinds of weather. It’s all about layers and the first layer I shed was that coat!

There were two class sessions being offered attendees that afternoon. Unfortunately, my plane arrived right before the first session began at 2 p.m. It might be just as well because I would have had a difficult time choosing between Bob Dugoni’s “How to Write Your First Bestseller” and Katharine Sands’ “Convincing Agents and Editors to See Your Work with a Dynamite Pitch.” Still, I would have liked to attend one of them, so phooey.

I arrived at the conference at about 3 p.m. and still had to register. Then I had to choose between “First Page-A-Thon” and “Making Your Work Rejection-Proof: Tips & Techniques from Freelance Editors. “ Dang! They don’t make it easy at this conference with so much good stuff going on.

In the end, I decided to go with the “First Page-A-Thon.” What is that? To quote the conference schedule:

Bring the first page of your novel without identification. A panel of agents and editors will give you feedback on it.

Unfortunately, I arrived too late to have my first page added to the queue. However, it was really interesting hearing the feedback on the pages that were read. The agents and editors focused on what worked and what didn’t, and if they would want to keep reading or not. They gave suggestions on how to fix problems, the most common being needless repetition and starting the story in the wrong place. Overall, it was an entertaining and informative class.

Looking forward to a full day of classes on Friday!

Click here for more information on the San Francisco Writers Conference.