Bay to Ocean Registration Officially Open

Registration for the 20th annual Bay to Ocean Writers Conference officially opened today. At 6 a.m. I sent out a MailChimp email to our list of over 1000 who may be interested.

Here’s the link for the BTO sessions. I spent months pulling faculty together with the help of my committee, Ann Wilson and Loriann Oberlin. Then I began asking, nudging, bullying presenters for the information we needed and put it on the website.It had to be ready to go by today.

This year a new speaker on the topic of memoir is Glen Finland.

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Her book, Next Stop: An Autistic Son Grows Up, about helping her young adult autistic son cope with being out in the world has won multiple awards. Memoir is just one of the craft topics available at the conference. If you are a writer or have been thinking about writing, this conference has something for writers of every level. There’s always something new to learn.

Registration is through EventBrite (handled by ESWA Treasurer Charlene Marcum) and yesterday I registered my husband just to make sure that worked. It did! Phew! That’s always a relief.

This conference wouldn’t happen without the hard work of people who’ve done specific jobs for a number of years. At this point it’s a pretty well oiled machine, but it’s very exciting to be involved in the 20th year of this conference.

 

A Busy Week

It was a busy week. Cleaning out garden sheds, a Green Thumb Garden meeting, a writing conference,  a new project, and some gardening.

The family of my friend who died a week ago called to ask if I could use any of the items in her garden shed. They suggested I take anything that women in the Green Thumb Garden Club could use, so last last Wednesday and Thursday another friend and I sorted and hauled things to the Woman’s Club. They were at the club house  for the Friday meeting where people took things they could use and made a donation to the St. Michaels Woman’s Club Scholarship Fund (we give a 6K scholarship to a St. Michaels High School graduate every year).

In the afternoon I attended a meeting for something we are calling Growing Bay Hundred. It will be a collaboration of the Farmer’s Market, the Community Garden and the Stm Michaels Community Center. Lots of good ideas about how to get people to come out. For those of you who don’t know, the Bay Hundred historically refers to the area from where Harris Creek almost intersects with The Eastern Bay (in the area of Claiborn), all the way down to the tip of Tilghman Island. By the mid 1670’s Talbot County was divided into “hundreds” for administrative purposes. The term “hundred” survived from medieval England when shires were divided into segments that could each produce 100 fighting men. The Bay Hundred area is now one of the few Hundreds left in Maryland as a description of a voting district. Now you know.

Saturday was the Bay to Ocean Writers Conference, sponsored by Eastern Shore Writers Association. This was the 19th annual conference! Thirty hour-long sessions on a variety of writing and publishing topics were offered. It’s a lot of work throughout the year, and Laura and I have been involved for ten years. This year Laura wasn’t on the committee because of her work load. Most of the rest of us soldier on but it’s time to bring in some new (younger) people with fresh ideas.

This is Anny Williams who greets attendees each year. They start the day spying Anny’s yellow sweater from the parking lot and know where to go. Her big smile sets the tone for the day.

BTO 2016 Anny Williams

Below is one of the two students I sponsor each year. A budding writer, I’ve been sponsoring her since she was fourteen. This year she’s a high school senior. She’ll be attending college in the area next fall so I can continue to sponsor her. I’ve got a young man who will be a sophomore in high school next year who I’m hoping to also sponsor. It’s a little young for the conference whose attendees tend to skew middle aged, but mature, interested students can really grow from this experience.

BTO 2016 Birdie

BTO also sponsored three Chesapeake College students in conjunction with a grant from the Talbot Arts Council. They are required to write a short essay about their experience at the conference so the organizers will be interested to see what they thought.

This year we backed the conference date into March gambling that the weather would be less of an issue. When you have 18 years of missing weather bullets that would cancel the conference, you begin to get a little paranoid. The weather was great, everything went smoothly and the comments we heard were wonderful. The evaluation sheets are being tabulated and we’ll know more in a few days about which sessions and faculty had the most value to attendees.

This year I actually attended two inspiring sessions on social media with Eastern Shore Writers Association President, Mindie Burgoyne. Usually, after getting to Chesapeake College at six in the morning, I don’t have the energy. This year we started a little later, had three morning sessions, two afternoon and the conference ended at four instead of five. It made a big difference for me and I don’t think we had as many people who left before the last session of the afternoon.

On Sunday I tried to sleep in but it was the move to Daylight Savings Time which always throws me for a loop. It was supposed to rain all day, but the weather was good for working outside and I spent most of the day clipping and cleaning garden beds. This time of year is always a race to get beds cleaned up before perennials start to pop. I let fallen leaves remain in the beds as plant insulation for the winter, but it makes more work in the spring. The rain didn’t come until Sunday night so I got a lot done. Of course I was very grateful for Monday morning yoga class so I could get the body moving again.

I have lots on my desk and some conference boxes in the garage to be sorted, but I’m back to working on the next thing. That just seems to be the way I roll.

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Visioning a Writers Group

Mindie Burgoyne is the new President of the Eastern Shore Writers Association. Both Laura and I are very involved and we are thrilled to have Mindie at the helm. This writers’ group is thirty years old this year and in the past year, under the stewardship of Jerry Sweeney, has grown. However, it is time to take stock and make sure the association’s projects reflect the member’s wishes. Most writers are introverts who work alone. I’m lucky that most of my writing is done with Laura, but people who write with a partner are few and far between. They need the community of a writers organization to keep them informed and motivated.

wind turbineOn Saturday, at Chesapeake College in a new building by the wind turbine, Mindie held a Visioning meeting which was open to the membership. About twenty-five people attended. That’s not bad for a group that is geographically spread throughout Maryland, Virginia and Delaware. In fact, that was one of the things we discussed. How can we serve members who are far away from where most events are held? We came up with some ideas to explore.

Mindie had created a survey on Survey Monkey to ask questions of the membership. Eighty people responded out of about 250 members. That’s a decent sample which gave us an idea of what’s important to members.

Clearly the new ESWA board will need to focus and some projects may be eliminated. That ongoing evaluation is an important part of growth and change in any organization. Both Laura and I are on the new board and we were excited and energized by the visioning process. Our first board meeting is tomorrow night. I’m looking forward to it.

When the Ordinary Becomes Mythic

Poet Barrett Warner spoke to a meeting of the Eastern Shore Writers Association last week. He talked about the ordinary events in our lives that resonate with our readers, sometimes becoming mythic in the process.

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It made me think about the themes in the screenplays and the stage play Laura and I have written over the last five years.We have a body of work of six screen plays and one stage play.

I’ve been formatting them so they can be put on Kindle, and in the process reading them one after another. It’s been instructional to see the the recurring themes in our work: the importance of “family” (whoever who choose that to be), reconnecting with family and friends, acceptance, listening to others, being nice, and doing the right thing. I like to think these themes grow from our own moral underpinnings.

Nice people in stories can be boring, so we give our characters flaws. It’s overcoming the flaws that creates the conflict that carries our stories forward. And by overcoming flaws, or trying to, our characters become real.

So thanks, Barrett Warner, for reminding me that our best stories come out of ordinary events. And that mythological elements are embedded in there somewhere.

A Writer’s Conference to Remember

The weather goddesses smiled on the Bay to Ocean Writers Conference once again on February 28th. It was cold but clear, and the snow held off until the next day. We had one minor hiccup when a speaker called me at 7:30 a.m. to say she had woken up with conjunctivitis and needed to go the the doctor. She had a 10:30 presentation slot, and was an hour away. But she kept in touch by phone and managed to get to the conference with time to spare.

That speaker had  also signed up for a head shot session with Jennifer Madino of Jennifer Dawn Photography. Laura took advantage of this opportunity as did I. I’ll publish our photos when we get them. I did put mascara on, but as I had to be at the conference site at 6 a.m. the photos will show if it ended up where I intended.

Jenny taking Laura's photo

The speaker with conjunctivitis was concerned about her red eye, but Jenny said she could fix it with PhotoShop. Need whiter teeth, under eye bags, crows feet, or wattle removed? Jenny’s healing brush is at the ready.

BTO is organized by an all volunteer committee and we work all year for this one day. Our time and energy is our gift to writers and their enthusiasm and appreciation as they leave the conference is our pay.

We’ll take a short break and begin planning Bay to Ocean 2016 on April 4th.

 

 

My Critique Group

Last night was the monthly meeting of my critique group, the Working Writer’s Forum, that both Laura and I belong to. It’s where we met and started working together. For the last five years almost all of my writing has been done with Laura and most of it has been screenplays.

script notations

Since Laura has been very busy with her day job, I recently pulled out the first chapters of the third novel in my Caribbean series. I last worked on it almost seven years ago, but like to think I am a better writer now, so I submitted the first 25 pages to the group.

One of our rules is that you have to say some nice things before you make helpful suggestions. So my writing friends said some nice things, and then pointed out that I had forgotten some fundamental rules and made some beginner mistakes.

“I don’t know what these characters look like,” one of my critique group said. Of course I knew what they all looked like. They’d already been in two books. How could I have forgotten to describe Lissa and Yvie except to say they had green eyes?

Another reminded me that “she said” suffices most of the time. Descriptions of how someone says something is not usually needed.

“How about something more exciting in the first couple of pages, a hook for the reader,” a third person suggested. I thought I had a hook, but obviously it was too many pages into the first chapter.

As we went around the able, a number of the group noted some problems with dialogue so I went searching for help. The Writer’s Digest had some suggestions on their website.

“If you want to learn how to write effective dialogue, study the best plays and films. If possible, study dialogue both in performance (live or video) and in print. Read plays and screenplays to get the feel of writing on the page.

And, in the best scripts, what writing it is—pure dialogue unadulterated by music, actor expression, pictures, or narrative transition supplied by an author. Read it aloud to get a flavor of the emotion contained within the word choice made by the writer of the screenplay. Playwrights and screenwriters who succeed at their craft are probably the best writers of dialogue you can study. By looking at such refined gold, you can learn more than from any ten books that tell you how to write dialogue.”

Well, duh, Laura and I have been writing dialogue for several years now. I should be able to do this better. I am grateful to my critique group for letting me know there are things I need to attend to. The pages I sent for last night’s meeting were a reworking of what I had written all those years ago. I need to scrap that version and start from scratch.

When our moderator called for submissions for our next meeting, I said I’d like to submit a reworked draft of my novel’s opening pages. That gives me a goal with a deadline…thanks to my critique group the Working Writer’s Forum.

 

 

Final Draft Big Break Contest

Laura got an email yesterday that we are among the quarter-finalists for the 2014 Final Draft, Inc. Big Break Contest. We are among the top 10% of almost 7,000 entries. Final Draft said, “There were many excellent scripts entered this year but these scripts rose to the top. We congratulate these writers on their accomplishment.”

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Our entry, Proto, is a high concept, one hour procedural drama, which centers on an ensemble team of engineers who create nature inspired robotic prototypes and provide outside forensics for public and private bots gone wrong.

We were inspired to write the script after reading about the exploding world of biomimetic robots – hummingbird surveillance bots, eco fish-bots that analyze water, snake-bots that locate earthquake victims and a large dog-like robot that can be used in combat to carry heavy loads.

You can watch Big Dog in action on YouTube. It’s terrifying. While I was watching that video again, another creation by Boston Dynamics showed up and I had to watch it too. Check out this creature galloping at high speed. Now they just need to figure out how to make it quiet. Can you imagine an army of these coming at you on a battlefield?

The semifinalists of Final Draft’s Big Break Contest will be announced in late October, the top 10 finalists in features and television in early November, the top 5 in mid-November, and the winners in both feature and TV in December. The Grand Prize winners in features and TV will be revealed at the 10th Annual Final Draft Awards in February.

Eleven winners will share cash, prizes, and the New York Film Academy Writing Fellowship with a total value over $80,000. Past winners who scored representation with A-list executives have seen their scripts optioned, sold, and produced.

We’ve been quarter-finalists in contests before so we aren’t breaking out the champagne yet, but to get this far, in the Final Draft contest, is amazing.