"Wherever men have lived there is a story to be told." Henry David Thoreau

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Never Waste a Vacation

I'm often asked how I get ideas for stories. One way I come up with ideas is while traveling. Most people going on their summer vacations will think of nothing but how much fun and sun they can pack into a week or two before they have to return to life's daily grind. As a writer, every place I go tends to spark story ideas along with fictional characters. Some ideas have enough substance to develop into something strong enough for an entire book.

Every place becomes a potential book setting. Sometimes I go to a place with specific research for a specific book as my top priority. But regular vacations are never wasted either. Even if I don't have a book setting in mind for a particular vacation spot, I still seek out museums, bookstores, and tourist information centers where I can collect local history and tidbits that I might be able to use in some capacity in the future. And, if I never use it, the extra knowledge certainly won't do any harm.

Road trips are especially conducive to research. I like to travel across the states and see how the terrain changes as well as the people. I like to feel firsthand the heat, cold, the smells and sounds, the traffic or the emptiness, the gentleness or ferocity of the wind–or the total lack of a breeze in a stifling, muggy place. I enjoy taking pictures, sampling the local fare, observing the people and their customs and culture, listening to the way they talk, their accents, their unique way of interacting.

Writers have a natural curiosity about people and the human condition in general. If we didn't have this curiosity, I daresay we wouldn't be writers. I'm lucky to have a spouse whose degree is in history, so he fully enjoys searching out the history spots with me and going to museums where I can rummage through the remnants of lives long past and the stories they left behind just waiting to be told.

So don't waste a perfectly good opportunity. If you don't have a story or a setting before you set off on vacation this summer, keep your eyes and ears open and you might just conjure something fantastic by the time you get home.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Writers Conferences

Tis the season for writer's conferences. I think one of the best things any writer can do for their career, and especially beginning writers, is to attend a conference (or two or three). The information gleaned from the workshops can be invaluable, not just on the how-to of writing and submitting your work, but on the industry itself and the protocol for contacting agents and editors. You will most certainly walk away from a good conference feeling enthusiastic and inspired. I would also recommend you get another writer to go with you. It's always much more enjoyable to have a buddy.

A good site to find a conference in your area, and to target one specifically for your type of writing, is Shaw Guides. http://writing.shawguides.com/

The following are conferences I have either attended or can recommend from friends who have attended.

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers
Pikes Peak Writers Conference
Romance Writers of America (also offers numerous chapter conferences nationwide)
Western Writers of America
Pacific Northwest Writers Conference
Willamette Writers Conference
Heart of the West Writers Conference
Jackson Hole Writers Conference
Women Writing the West