Top 10 Things to Do at a Writers’ Conference

Within a couple of hours of this post going up, I’ll be driving up to Dallas to attend the DFW Writers’ Conference. Talk about a Deep-Fried Friday for me. I expect this weekend to be better than a plate of beer-battered shrimp!

I attended last year and got my feet nice and wet at that conference. However, being the introvert I am, I approached the event as an information-gatherer and only talked to a few people. When I returned, I sent in my synopsis and chapters to the agent who requested them and received a lovely rejection letter.

But then I started this blog, began reading craft books, and connected with some fabulous writers. So this go-around, I am approaching the conference a little differently. Here are my Top 10 Things to Do at a Writers’ Conference (in no particular order):

1. Turn cyberfriends into real-life friends. You know that person you’ve traded tweets and blog comments and even emails with — dishing about the writer’s life and life in general? You might actually get to meet them! Thus far, you’ve imagined your friend as the 1×2-inch profile photo on their Twitter account. But your friend is not Flat Stanley: She is three-dimensional with a real-live voice! I for one am eager to finally meet in person great writer friends like Jenny Hansen, Tiffany A. White, Roni Loren, and many, many more.

2. Hang out with agents. Note that I didn’t say, “Convince an agent to rep my book.” Since my rookie experience, I have discovered that agents are real people. Of course I knew that before, but I care less this year whether they want my book. I simply want to get to know them. They are an interesting bunch of people who get to read for living, have their fingers on the pulse of book sales, and come to conferences to hang out with us writers. Why not make a few friends of agents? If we get along great and they like my book idea, oh yeah, I’ll send them a manuscript, pronto. But if they don’t, we can still have a drink and chat.

3. Hand out business cards. You’ve got 250 cards in that box, and there are only so many restaurants with that fish bowl where you leave your business card and they draw for a free lunch. You have to hand them out somewhere! What better place than a writers’ conference, where people might look at your card later and connect with you?

4. Be an author groupie. Last year, Sandra Brown was the keynote speaker at the DFW Writers’ Conference. This year, it’s James Rollins. Um, hello! These authors have a string of bestsellers and a truckload of wisdom about writing. Instead of spending their Saturday working on their next brilliant novel, bestselling authors often come to conferences to tell us what they’ve learned, sign books, pose for pictures, and converse with us future bestsellers. While we must remember not to stalk them, it’s okay to be a groupie of a great author. Squeee a bit when you see them, get your book autographed, and have your friend snap a picture of you leaning in close like you and James are best friends.

5. Trade pitches. Of course, you may be pitching your book to agents, and that’s wonderful. However, this is also an opportunity to bounce story ideas off people who love to hear them — other writers. Ask “What’s your book about?” and then listen. You’ll hear some amazing tales and get excited about what’s being written out there. You can also gauge interest in your own novel or in the way you’re pitching it based on others’ reactions, which can help you hone your story or presentation of it.

6. Get book recommendations. What to know what to read next? Ask writers what they loved. Peruse the book tables. Check out the titles from the authors who teach a class. After last year’s conference, I concluded that the much-touted Save the Cat by Blake Snyder had to be on my reading list, began reading Rosemary Clement-Moore’s Maggie Quinn, Girl vs. Evil series, and downloaded Kristen Lamb’s We Are Not Alone: The Writer’s Guide to Social Media.

7. Show off your fashion sense. One of the most-often asked questions of conference planners is “What do I wear?” The answer is essentially “Whatever you want.” From my limited experience, it seems that writers run the gamut regarding personal presentation. You’ll find the business man in a suit; the pierced, tattooed biker girl with blue hair; and everything in between. Whatever brand is you, comb your closet and put together something that shows off your fashion sense. Then again, you might simply grab whatever’s comfortable and go with that.

8. Shop the tables. There will likely be product booths at the conference. See what goodies you can find. It might be a book, a t-shirt, a writing resource, or a trinket, but you might discover a treasure. Last year, I entered a contest to get a slogan put on a t-shirt. I was one of three winners, and my t-shirt idea was sold at the Penguin Promo table. That was kind of cool.

9. Make new friends. I started to write “make new connections,” but if you approach the conference as an opportunity to make friends, you will have more fun and be more fun. Of course, your friends are connections, so if you focus on engaging with people personally, they are likely to want to help you professionally. That said, even if they never recommend you to their publisher or agent, this is a chance to make friends. Much of our writing lives are spent alone with our notebooks or laptops, and conference time is an opportunity to hob-nob with people who “get” us.

10. Fill in your knowledge gaps. Wherever you are in your writing career, there is more to know. Last year, I focused on querying and synopsis writing, since I knew how to write and just wanted some help landing my book deal. (Stop giggling.) This year, I have a broader focus because I know where my knowledge gaps truly are and plan to fill them by taking workshops that address those areas. You are at this conference to learn something! Go forth and learn it.

So are you planning to attend any writing conferences this year? What are your reasons for going? What goals do you have in mind as you attend?

And will you be at DFW Con? Be sure to look for me there! I look exactly like my 1×2-inch profile photo. 😉

An Easter Treat: Top 10 Bunnies

Easter bunnies from Hop movie

It’s been much too long since I posted a Top 10 List! Since Easter is coming up on Sunday, this seems like a good time to think about bunnies. Now the Easter Bunny has the focus in this season — and rightfully so — but there are plenty of other bunnies we can focus on for this post.

So for Deep-Fried Friday, let’s skin that rabbit and heat up the oil in the Fry Daddy talk about some of my other favorite bunnies.

10. Thumper. Thumper is the young fictional rabbit from the Disney movie Bambi. He is known for his habit of thumping his foot repeatedly. A sweet rabbit by all accounts, he also shared with us “Thumper’s law” taught to him by his father: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.”

9. Bunny. I grew up watching Bewitched and have probably seen all of its episodes twice. So I recall vividly the character named Bunny. Samantha’s Uncle Arthur turned a bunny into a person for Tabitha’s birthday in the aptly-named episode “A Bunny for Tabitha.” Bunny promptly falls in love with a visitor to Samantha’s house and their relationship is only broken when Bunny reveals how many children she wants to have. After all, she is a bunny. Somehow, I think that outfit was a bit much for a children’s birthday party, though.

8. Bunnicula. James Howe and his late wife Deborah wrote the first book together, Bunnicula: A Rabbit-Tale of Mystery. The main character and narrator, a dog named Harold, suspects the family’s new pet of being a vampire rabbit. After all, it has fangs and sucks the juice from vegetables. You can follow the adventures of Harold, the cat Chester, and Bunnicula in the series of seven books. Howe also launched two spin-off series called Tales from the House of Bunnicula and Bunnicula and Friends.

7. Roger Rabbit. Roger Rabbit pairs up with a detective played by Bob Hoskins to try to find out who framed him for murder. Along the way, Roger reveals his crazy antics and the love of a woman whose name “Jessica Rabbit” conjures happy cartoon images for many men across America. Who Framed Roger Rabbit? isn’t an incredible movie, but it is fun. And Roger’s a hoot.

6. The White Rabbit. Though not the most lovable character himself, we would have no Alice in Wonderland if she had not followed the White Rabbit down the hole. As he runs off muttering that he is late for a very important date, Alice begins her adventures which involve encountering him a few more times, with a particularly memorable scene of Alice growing and getting stuck inside the White Rabbit’s House.

5. Trix Rabbit. The Trix Rabbit has been around since 1959 — first as a puppet, then an animation. The ongoing plot is that the Trix Rabbit will do anything to get his hands on a bowl of Trix, but children remind him, “Silly rabbit, Trix are for kids!” The Trix Rabbit has twice been allowed to eat cereal after a campaign that had kids vote YES or NO to his request; the kids were nice and shared their Trix. What do I like about the Trix Rabbit? Long before the stupid Energizer Bunny entered the scene, the Trix Rabbit had mastered persistence. You gotta admire that a little.

4. Were-Rabbit. Wallace & Gromit are an inventor and his dog. There were on British TV for years and then had a feature film called The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. If you didn’t see it, why not? It’s fabulous. There is a gigantic rabbit destroying the vegetable gardens in town, and Wallace and Gromit work together to discover who the Were-Rabbit could be. Here’s the trailer:

3. Harvey. In the play by Mary Chase and the 1950 movie of the same name, Elwood P. Dowd is a nice, mild-mannered guy who happens to have an imaginary friend. Said friend’s name is Harvey, and he is a six-foot rabbit. Why do I love Harvey? Because hey, if you’re going to have an imaginary friend, why not make him a 6-foot rabbit?! That’s commitment! This story also makes me wonder why we let our imaginary friends from childhood go. (Well, not us writers; we keep our imaginary friends and then turn them into something respectable called fiction.)

2. The Velveteen Rabbit. Author Margery Williams introduced us to the Velveteen Rabbit. In the tale, a young boy is given a stuffed rabbit for Christmas. The rabbit wants so very much to be real. The Skin Horse informs the rabbit that he will become real by being loved by the boy. Indeed, the Velveteen Rabbit is so loved that he appears ragged to all others. When the boy becomes ill with scarlet fever, and all of the toys are slated to be burned, the Velveteen Rabbit is made real because of the boy’s love and released into the forest. Every time I read this book or hear the story, my heart gets mushy. Didn’t we all have one special stuffed animal or blanket or toy growing up?

1. Bugs Bunny. When I first started making the list, I thought I would put the Velveteen Rabbit in the #1 spot. But my humorous (or sarcastic) side won out! I LOVE BUGS BUNNY. A witty bunny with a Brooklyn accent who outsmarts all around him? He is the definition of cool.

Here’s one of my favorite bits from him:

Rabbits are featured in quite a few books, films, and TV shows. Who are your favorite fictional bunnies? Happy Easter!

Top 10 Dance Crazes

Please join me for a little Deep-Fried Friday Dance Craze! After my How Well Do You Know the 90’s post, in which I mentioned the Macarena, I started thinking about some of the most fun dance crazes I’ve come across. I put together another Top 10 List with fun dance crazes and songs that inspired them.

10. Hand Jive by Johnny Otis. It was so much fun, it was resurrected in Grease. After all, whether or not you can dance, we are all born to hand jive.

9. Chicken Dance – So easy a caveman chicken could do it. And not to be confused with the Bluth family chicken dance from Arrested Development.

8. Macarena by Los Del Rio – When translated, this Spanish song is about a loose-morals gal named Macarena. But let’s face it: Most of us don’t know what it means; we merely enjoy the rhythm and the moves.

7. The Twist by Chubby Checker. It didn’t stop with this song in 1960. Chubby Checker recorded “Let’s Twist Again” in 1961, and the Beatles recorded “Twist and Shout” in 1963.

6. The Bird by The Time – This one didn’t catch on much, but it was a fun few minutes of dancing that interrupted the otherwise too-serious Purple Rain movie. (We get it, Prince: You’re a tortured soul.) Get your bok-bok and your hands goin’!

5. Interlude Dance by Attack! Attack! There is a strange history to this dance craze. Two University of Northern Iowa students came up with the six-step dance and taught it to fellow students. It became all the rage at sporting events. Even the most rhythm-challenged can manage this one, and it’s has a party feel.

4. Cotton-Eyed Joe – This post was also motivated by my appalled realization that my Texas-born and bred children did not know what the Cotton-Eyed Joe was. What are they teaching in P.E.? When I was growing up, it was a rite of passage to learn the Cotton-Eyed Joe and do it at every school dance.

As I started looking for a video for this dance, I passed appalled and ended up at horrified as I learned that the cotton-eyed joe I remember has been largely replaced by a version sung by some band named Reddix and new dance moves. This is the original song I recall, performed here by Asleep at the Wheel in Austin, Texas.

3. Vogue by Madonna – Voguing was popular in clubs before Madonna’s song, but her tune made this a craze across the nation. The official video is good, but her MTV performance of this song (wearing Michelle Pfeiffer’s dress from Dangerous Liaisons by the way) was a classic.

2. Electric Slide. The original dance came with the song Electric Boogie by Marcia Griffiths. However, it works with just about any song, so I’ve seen the electric slide done at school dances, night clubs, and country dance halls to all kinds of music. Here’s a quick sample from Six Flags.

1. Time Warp by Rocky Horror Picture Show Original Cast. I have a confession to make: I have NEVER seen The Rocky Horror Picture Show (Gasp! A virgin.) But I have done the Time Warp many a time. It’s so easy, you see: It’s just a jump to the left . . .

I’m sure I missed a LOT of dances. I’ve recently been in a Twitter conversation about line dancing (don’t ask). I’m not as “up” on dance crazes as I thought, since Gloria Richard pointed out something called “The Freeze.” Anyone know this dance? I don’t.

What are your favorites? Do you know of any other up-and-coming crazes that we should all learn? What dances did you grow up doing?

Top 10 Silly But We-Love-Em Songs

For today’s Deep-Fried Friday, the topic is not so much deep as just juicy. Paul McCartney declared, “You’d think that people would have had enough of silly love songs,” but we haven’t. Indeed, we can’t get enough of silly songs, period.

Since I love making lists, today I’m giving you my list of incredibly silly songs that we listen to anyway. To make my Top 10 (or so – I’m not a mathematician, I’m a writer), the song had to meet my criteria.

1. It made it to Billboard‘s Top 5 in its day – meaning that quite a few people liked it. While I personally adore “I Eat Cannibals” by Total Coelo and “Werewolves of London” by Warren Zevon, they didn’t have enough fans like me to make it onto the list.

2. I could find a video of it on YouTube – So sorry, but Rose Royce’s #1 hit “Car Wash” did not make the list; no quality video. I want to take the readers back down Memory Lane and share the song, in case our recall fails us or we simply want to hear it again.

3. At least one stanza or chorus of lyrics is completely silly, even if the rhyming is clever. I wavered on whether “Walk Like an Egyptian” by Bangles was silly enough, so it didn’t make my list.

4. It isn’t by the Beatles. Yes, I know that you can find “Yellow Submarine” on others’ lists, but I refuse to group the Fab Four with some of the following artists. In fact, I loved their movie by the same name!

So here is my list of music at its silliest and best.

10. Muskrat Love by Captain & Tennille (Billboard #4, September 25, 1976). A song about muskrats falling in love. It was cute. It was stupid. It was a hit.

Silly Lyrics: “Now, he’s ticklin’ her fancy; Rubbin’ her toes
Muzzle to muzzle; Now anything goes as they wriggle
Sue starts to giggle.”

9. Pop Muzik by M (#1, August 11, 1979). Shooby-dooby-doo-wop, this was a pointless song which was fun nonetheless. I remember seeing the music video of this song, but I don’t know where because MTV premiered in 1981. I can’t explain the misspelling of music, though I suppose it does make the title memorable.

Silly Lyrics: “Let’s do the milkshake; You’re selling like a hot cake
Try some, buy some; Fee fi fo fum.”

8. Ballroom Blitz by Sweet (#5, June 14,1975). This song is so fun that it was covered by Krokus in the 1980’s, and that’s the version I had on my Sony Walkman cassette player in college. It’s a song about a bar fight, more beautifully called a “ballroom blitz.”

Silly Lyrics: “Oh yeah, it was electric, so frightfully hectic
And the band started leaving, ’cause they all stopped breathing.”

7. The Streak by Ray Stevens (#1, April 13, 1974). Ray Stevens was a musician and comedian whose recording of “The Streak” made us all say, “Don’t look, Ethel!” This was also the same year that actor David Niven’s presentation of an Oscar award was interrupted by a streaker on stage, to which Niven brilliantly quipped, “Isn’t it fascinating to think that probably the only laugh that man will ever get in his life is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings?”

Updated Video Version from Ray Stevens

Silly Lyrics: “Oh, yes, they call him the Streak
He likes to show off his physique
If there’s an audience to be found, He’ll be streakin’ around
Invitin’ public critique.”

6. The Purple People Eater by Sheb Wooley (#1, June 1958 -pre-Billboard’s Hot 100). One-horned, one-eyed, and flying, that purple people eater was Wooley’s way of parodying the science fiction flicks of the day. Oddly enough, my son went to a camp last year in which his team was named the Flying Purple People Eaters. Now that’s a silly song that has lasted.

Silly Lyrics: “Well I saw the thing comin’ out of the sky
It had the one long horn and one big eye
I commenced to shakin’ and I said ooh-eee
It looks like a purple eater to me”

5. Kung Fu Fighting by Carl Douglas (#1, October 12, 1974). My husband might not think this is silly (he’s a David Carradine/Kung Fu series fan). But a song about kung fu? Remember that this was released long before there was a martial arts studio on every corner or any Karate Kid movies.

Silly Lyrics: “They were funky China men from funky Chinatown
They were chopping them up and they were chopping them down.”

4. Safety Dance by Men Without Hats (#3, June 25, 1983). What the heck is a safety dance? I still don’t know. But Dr. Turk from “Scrubs” did; he sang the song on the show.

Silly Lyrics: “And we can dress real neat from our hats to our feet
And surprise ’em with the victory cry.”

3. Mickey by Toni Basil (#1, September 4, 1982). The song is definitely shallow, but it’s the video with Toni and her cheerleader squad that takes the cake on this one.

Silly Lyrics: “Oh Mickey, you’re so fine
You’re so fine, you blow my mind
Hey, Mickey! Hey, Mickey!”

2. I’m Too Sexy by Right Said Fred (#1, February 8, 1992). Wow, we actually catapulted this lame song to Numero Uno! Does that mean we’re all egotistic enough that we loved singing along with “I’m too sexy for my shirt”? We are a sexy bunch, aren’t we? Not so much this guy, though.

Silly Lyrics: “I’m too sexy for my shirt
Too sexy for my shirts
So sexy it hurts.”

1a. Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka-Dot Bikini by Brian Hyland (#1, July 4, 1960). The best part of this song is the background singers. I swear to you that I have never owned an itsy bitsy bikini of any pattern, and if I did, the people around would sing “Get Back” by the Beatles instead.

Silly Lyrics: “Two three four
Tell the people what she wore
It was an Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.”

1b. YMCA by The Village People (#2, October 21, 1978). If I had predicted that a song by men dressed as workers, a cowboy, and a Native American (what was that about?) would record a song about your local community center and it would become a number two hit, you would have called me loony at the least. But here you go! And there are arm movements to the song, which we all know and do whenever the song comes on.

Silly Lyrics: “It’s fun to stay at the Y-M-C-A.
It’s fun to stay at the Y-M-C-A.”

If you paid attention to dates, you’ll see that eight of my songs range from the ten-year period of 1974-1983. Either those songs struck a chord with me because that decade was during my growing-up years or we were especially silly at that time. Who knows!

What other silly songs about stupid things were fun and popular? What are your favorites?

Friday Fiction: My Best Movies of All Time

I grew up in a movie-going family. We drove 30 minutes to the nearest theater to see the latest movies, watched films at home whenever they came on TV, and rented videotapes for viewing as soon as that technology became available.

The Paramount, Abilene, Texas

In college, one of the very best things about going to school in Abilene, Texas was the Paramount Theatre, built in 1930, renovated, and showing a classic film almost every weekend. It was there that I saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest and Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face.

Seeing that my family is full of list-makers, from time to time we would ask one another: “What are your 10 Best Movies of All Time?” I’ve probably given more thought to this complex and challenging question than figuring out who gets my stuff when I die someday. You can dispute the reasonableness of my priorities, but it’s an interesting line of inquiry nonetheless.

As usual, I can’t settle on a Top 10, but I have 12 movies that would make the list. My standard is that they are perfect films; I can’t think of anything to change to make them better. Here they are (in no particular order and with descriptions provided by the Internet Movie Database).

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). Archeologist and adventurer Indiana Jones is hired by the US government to find the Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis. Starring Harrison Ford, Karen Black. Directed by Steven Spielberg.

When Harry Met Sally (1989). Harry and Sally have known each other for years, and are very good friends, but they fear sex would ruin the friendship. Starring Billy Crystal, Meg Ryan, Carrie Fisher, Bruno Kirby. Directed by Rob Reiner.

Ordinary People (1980). The accidental death of the older son of an affluent family deeply strains the relationships among the bitter mother, the good-natured father, and the guilt-ridden younger son. Starring Timothy Hutton, Mary Tyler Moore, Donald Sutherland. Directed by Robert Redford.

Singin’ in the Rain (1952). A silent film production company and cast make a difficult transition to sound. Starring Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds, Jean Hagen. Directed by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly.

Sunset Boulevard (1950). Gloria Swanson, William Holden. A hack screenwriter writes a screenplay for a former silent-film star who has faded into Hollywood obscurity. Directed by Billy Wilder.

Rear Window (1954). A wheelchair bound photographer spies on his neighbors from his apartment window and becomes convinced one of them has committed murder. Starring Jimmy Stewart, Grace Kelly, Thelma Ritter. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

All About Eve (1950). An ingenue insinuates herself in to the company of an established but aging stage actress and her circle of theater friends. Starring Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, George Sanders, Celeste Holm. Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz.

Roman Holiday (1953). A bored and sheltered princess escapes her guardians and falls in love with an American newsman in Rome. Starring Gregory Peck, Audrey Hepburn, Eddie Albert. Directed by William Wilder.

Schlinder’s List (1993). In Poland during World War II, Oskar Schindler gradually becomes concerned for his Jewish workforce after witnessing their persecution by the Nazis. Starring Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Kingsley. Directed by Steven Spielberg.

A Room with a View (1986). When Lucy Honeychurch and chaperone Charlotte Bartlett find themselves in Florence with rooms without views, fellow guests Mr Emerson and son George step in to remedy the situation. Meeting the Emersons could change Lucy’s life forever but, once back in England, how will her experiences in Tuscany affect her marriage plans? Starring Maggie Smith, Helena Bonham Carter, Julian Sands, Simon Callow.

Dancer, Texas Pop. 81 (1998). Four guys, best friends, have grown up together in Dancer, Texas Pop. 81, a tiny town in West Texas. Years ago, they made a solemn vow to leave town together as soon as they graduate. Now, it’s that weekend and the time has come to “put up or shut up.” The clock is ticking and as all 81 people in the town watch, comment, offer advice and place bets, these four very different boys with unique backgrounds struggle with the biggest decision of their lives . . . whether to stay or leave home. Starring Breckin Meyer, Peter Facinelli, Eddie Mills, Ethan Embry. Directed by Tim McCanlies.

The Empire Strikes Back (1980). While Luke (Skywalker) takes advanced Jedi training from Yoda, his friends are relentlessly pursued by Darth Vader as part of his plan to capture Luke. Starring Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford. Directed by Irvin Kershner.

I wavered on whether to include a Star Wars flick, but I truly believe that episode was the best and could not have been improved in any way. As for the other selections, my taste runs from drama to suspense to humor.

So what movies would you deem to be the “Best of All Time”? Could you get your list down to a Top 10? Which of my movies do you agree with? Which ones do you disagree with? Are there movies on my list you haven’t seen? Doyou enjoy making Top 10 lists?