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Utopia Ever After or There I Was, in Six Lanes of Traffic…

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This is my post reviewing my experience attending UtopiaCon2016, and not really a review at all of the actual writing conference. I approached my trip by planning to attend as many panels and events as I could to make it worth the trip. But I also squeezed in as much sightseeing as I could.

I was scared to leave on Wednesday. I had to tell myself I wasn’t some college student taking a trip to visit a friend a state away. I was a forty-year-old woman who could go or do anything.

Everything went as planned, which was a relief, but I was also a little sad that I didn’t get any extra out of it. I mean, I’m glad I didn’t get a flat tire. I am thankful I never got truly lost. And I am beyond amazed that I only got one mosquito bite the whole time. They must spray the fuck outta that campground.

NASHVILLE-Campsite

The Seven Points Campground sits on beautiful J. Percy Priest Lake. I was worried because the website instructed campers to store their food properly because “skunks frequent the campground.” I am very glad to say I never saw a skunk. I did see a deer on two occasions. And one 3-hour torrential thunderstorm  :-/

The campsite I wish I had, right on the lake. An hour after I took this picture, a deer walked right through there.

The campsite I wish I had, right on the lake. An hour after I took this picture, a deer walked right through there.

I had a mantra as I looked out the 10th floor windows of the hotel: I can’t believe I’m in Nashville.

It then evolved into: I can’t believe I am in fuckin’ Nashville.

A curse only meant as a compliment, I assure you.

I left the conference on Thursday feeling like a failure, for reasons I won’t expound on here.

By Friday at noon, it left me confused.

I did learn that husbands will get used to you being a writer, just give them time. And if that doesn’t work, give them bribes.

Everyone else seemed to go to Utopia to create friendships. (Maybe I was too distracted by the musical history of Nashville.) I desired this too. The result was I strengthened a few existing friendships, and made a handful more acquaintances.

A performance at the Bluebird Cafe

A performance at the Bluebird Cafe

But maybe that isn’t what the universe had in store for me. I have been with my husband for nineteen years. In that time I have rarely traveled long distance without him. I left this experience feeling strong and confident. Several people called me brave for attempting to travel and camp all by myself. I replied, “Brave or stupid.” But I did feel brave afterwards. I am the chick who has to have her husband show her how the unfamiliar shower works when I stay in a hotel. And I figured out the showers at the campground all by myself. And I even coped when the lights went out on me, mid-shower. Thankfully, it was not yet after sunset. I figured it was a result of a motion-detecting light (I’ve had that happen before), only to discover that the whole campground was blacked out. (I’ve also experienced that before—the result of too many RVs running their AC at the same time. I don’t want to listen to them run all night anyway. But I did, because most had generators they then ran. Oy vey.)

The gorgeous Opryland Hotel. It was unbelievable.

The gorgeous Opryland Hotel. It was unbelievable.

And I was scared to drive in big cities—big surprise, I still am. But for a few days I made Nashville freeways my bitch. I could merge in on the left side on a three-lane road only to merge over in ¾ of a mile to exit on the right. I regularly drove on a six lane highway—anything over five lanes gives me the heebie-jeebies, although my focus was so much on the road that my hands, wrists, and shoulder ached, and there was a giant dam next to me that I only managed to see one out of eight passes.

Maybe I have to improve myself before I can improve my writing and be a contributing member of a tribe. Or maybe I am just a giant dork. There is always that possibility. Or would that be a certainty?

Side view of the Opry stage.

Side view of the Opry stage.

While others were fangirling over authors, I was fangirling over the Grand Ole Opry. I got so excited that I couldn’t find it. Then I got hot weather, jerky & lemon cake, sick stomach. Then I spent all my time backstage taking pictures and not actually enjoying the experience. I stood on and touched “the circle” at the center of the stage. I did sit in the seats long enough to sort of feel as though I had really spent some time there and not just rushed through. The Ryman was known as “the mother church of country music.” The latest Opry still has pews rather than individual seats. It really felt like a religious experience being there. Last time I had that same feeling was at a Kid Rock concert (Early Mornin’ Stoned Pimp, anyone?). Why do I only experience that with music? Not when writing, not ever in an actual church.

ME ON THE STAGE AT THE GRAND OLE OPRY!!!

ME ON THE STAGE AT THE GRAND OLE OPRY!!!

Saturday I spent the most time interacting with actual other people and having conversations. By Sunday morning, every time I would talk to myself (perfectly normal when you travel alone), I didn’t recognize my own voice. I had developed a southern accent. My mother had tried to call me the night before. Knowing I sounded “altered”, there was no way I could call her back until this passed.

It turned out to be only a 24 hour thing, like the flu, which made me a little sad. In a way, I liked my free souvenir.

My proof that I have been to Alabama, the setting of The Riley Sisters series.

My proof that I have been to Alabama, the setting of The Riley Sisters series.

The panels and talks I enjoyed the most were ones that were more emotional than informative. Heather Hildenbrand’s “The Audacity of Self-Love” had to be my favorite.

I’m not sure yet if I will return next year. If I do, maybe I should exhibit rather than attend panels. It is so confusing to figure out what the universe wants from you…

By coincidence, I stopped at the gas station across from this store coming and going. It amuses me.

By coincidence, I stopped at the gas station across from this store coming and going. It amuses me.

Follow the romantic entanglements of The Riley Sisters in my books:
Be Careful What You Wish ForAVAILABLE NOW!
When You Least Expect It THE CONTINUING ROMANCE!
The Wind Could Blow a BugWHERE IT ALL BEGAN!

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Utopia Anxiety

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How can Utopia (noun: any visionary system of political or social perfection. -Dictionary.com) ever be a cause of anxiety, you ask?

Well, I’m talking about Utopia Con, a writers conference happening THIS WEEK in Nashville, Tennessee.

Last year at this time, I was sitting at home, trying to figure out what this event was that every single author I had met in my short six months as a published author was attending. Everyone said it was life-changing.

UTOPia art 2016

So, in October of last year, when I started to see tickets selling out for this event, I purchased my ticket. Even though neither my husband nor I had a job and things looked super-bleak, I bought one because my inner voice told me to. And I am glad it did. My husband and I are both employed at the moment, things are slightly better, and my publishing is in a little bit of a funk.

I am going to Utopia, first, in search of new friendships. I need someone to message me occasionally and say “keep it up.” I could do the same for them. Fellow authors E.A. Comiskey & Patti Keno are great for that, but I am kinda high maintenance.

Second, I need to be re-inspired. I went from knowing nothing about independent publishing to educating myself on writing, editing, formatting, proofreading, swag, even the climate and crops of Alabama! But I have new books brewing, and they scream to have improved marketing and better sales. How can I do that? I hope I will find the answers.

So, I am worried, because I am taking this big huge trip by myself– From Michigan to Nashville. And I am poor, so I am camping, in a tent. But I love the tent. I don’t really love bugs or hot weather or rain, but hopefully they will not spoil the trip too much for me. Part of me is SO looking forward to having some alone time. My son is 5 1/2. I haven’t been alone, except to go to work, in 5 1/2 years it seems. But also, I will be ALONE. No one to lean on and help me.

WARNING: This may only be interesting to others attending the same conference.

So, I present to you, a list of my worries:

– The campground will lose my reservation
– Rain
– Heat
– Cold
– Skunks (the website warned that they frequent the campground!)
– Not having anyone to talk to
– Having too many people to talk to
– No one will give me a hug
– Strangers will hug me and it will feel awkward
– Not learning anything helpful
– Learning that I am not worthy to be publishing books
– My worn tire will blow out, causing me to careen into a semi trailer on the expressway and die
– There is so much road construction that I won’t arrive until I’m due to return home
– I will miss my family
– My family will miss me too much
– My family won’t miss me at all
-I will starve
– I won’t get to see any of the Nashville sights
– My front driver wheel will fall off because it has a lose control arm and needs the ball joint replaced
– My front passenger wheel will fall off because it also needs a new ball joint.
– There won’t be any Mobil gas stations down south (I want to use my Mobil credit card as much as possible on the trip. My first job was at a Mobile gas station. For a pretty thorough description of it, read Books 1 and 2 of the Riley Sisters series ;-D )

There are many more, but I have to go look at maps and try and figure out where to park to go to the Bluebird Cafe!!!

I will give you an update on my adventure in my blog and newsletter when I return. (IF I return…)

Haven’t signed up for my newsletter yet? Get to it:  http://eepurl.com/7YhHr

Follow the romantic entanglements of The Riley Sisters in my books:
Be Careful What You Wish ForAVAILABLE NOW!
When You Least Expect It THE CONTINUING ROMANCE!
The Wind Could Blow a BugWHERE IT ALL BEGAN!

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What I Learned This Week – 10/19/14

Yesterday I attended ConTroll YA Under the Bridge, a Young Adult Literacy Conference.  The best thing about it?

It was held in ADRIAN!  Where I live!  Nothing cool ever comes to Adrian.

I was sooo happy that I didn’t have to drive to Ann Arbor or Toledo, or even Detroit to attend such an event.

Some sweet stuff I picked up at ConTroll YA

Some sweet stuff I picked up at ConTroll YA

The worst thing about it?

THE NAME.

“Con” apparently stands for conference.  The “Troll” and “Under The Bridge” parts apparently just have to do with that we are in the Lower Peninsula of Michigan, hence, UNDER the Mackinac Bridge.  But, that is like 300 miles away.

Still confused?  It was a conference that brought eight Young Adult authors, both contemporary and fantasy, to the Adrian Public Library for panel discussions, a workshop, and a book signing.

This was the first year for this event.  It was evident, but everything seemed to run smoothly and I learned a lot.

I was kind of bummed that what was touted as a “Writing Workshop” turned out to be more of a workshop on traditional publishing.  This would have been very informative for my asbestos friend, who wishes to take that route.  Unfortunately, she did not attend.  I would have preferred a workshop on the actual writing process, or self publishing.  I learned about traditional publishing from the Ann Arbor District Library Emerging Writers Workshops that I attended, and from the 12 years I worked at the Borders corporate office.  Granted, Borders mostly taught me about the end of the writing process, where your book is published, reviewed by buyers, ordered, allocated, replenished, marked Out of Print, and returned.  That past knowledge was enough to convince me that traditional publishing is not for me.  And the information I received yesterday strengthened that fact.

There was one self published author there yesterday, Eric Priuska author of “The Fireball Rebellion”.  He offered up that he loved all the control he had with self publishing, but that the downfalls are that you have to do absolutely EVERYTHING yourself.  Ya, I kinda figured that.

Great tips from ConTroll YA:

– An outline should act as your story’s GPS, and that it is more important to know what your plot points will FEEL like, more so than what actually might happen.

– All writers are narcissistic to believe other people will want to read what you created, and also an insecure mess.

– To market your book, you must be PRESENT, as in you can’t be obnoxious, but you also cannot be a wallflower.

– You have to keep real yourself, and your author self separate.

– An agent only gets paid when they get you a publishing deal.  Don’t pay one out of your pocket.

– Don’t let in people who are not going to be supportive of your writing.  (Guess who?)

– Every scene should have conflict & every scene should be moving the story forward.

– For every character, you should build a history, then know what they want and what they are willing to do to get it.

Every change I thought up to make to my novel while I was at the conference, I had talked myself out of again by the time I got home.

For the first year, I think it went great.  I would definitely go back again next year.  The room wasn’t full, but there were enough people that with two entries, I couldn’t win a door prize.  And, as I sat in the seats listening to the authors in their panel discussions, I dreamed that maybe I would be up there next year discussing my YA book I am working on, The Wind Could Blow a Bug.

Books of the Authors who participated.  Thanks!

Books of the Authors who participated. Thanks!

Below are the authors who participated.  I have added the links to their home pages as well.  Please support them.  I did.

K.A. Barson – 45 Pounds (More or Less)

Eric Priuska – The Fireball Rebellion

Kate Bassett – Words & Their Meanings

Bethany Neal – My Last Kiss

Aimee Carter – The Goddess Test

Courtney Allison Moulton – Angelfire

Leah Cliffored – A Touch Mortal

Scott Tracey – Witch Eyes

I also learned this week that Jack Link’s Sweet & Hot Jerky and Planters Limited Edition Pumpkin Spice Almonds are a great compliment to one another.

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