For Writers of All Stripes (and Spots)

I just spent the most delightful weekend at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference in Colorado Springs. If you’re into writing, and are on the fence about attending a writing conference, scale that puppy and go! I’ve been to several in the past few years, and I always walk away with my spirits bolstered and feeling more equipped to do my thang.

At the PPWC, authors, editors and agents led workshops on a whole slurry of topics ranging from craft to marketing to the business of getting published. There was even a session on 18th century forensics for historical mystery writers. While the sessions were inspiring and left me wishing I had a larger brain to absorb it all, my favorite moments were interacting with other writers.

A writer’s natural habitat often resembles some form of solitary confinement, so when you turn a bunch of them loose, it can get loud. It’s wonderful to be around others who understand how much joy chasing words around can be, and yet, how BLOODY FREAKING HARD it is to get those words published.

Another thing I love about these conferences is the diversity. You meet the most interesting people. At my table one morning was a soldier who wrote a memoir on his experience in Afghanistan. Sitting next to him, a Viking impersonator who writes 6th century Scandinavian high fantasy. Despite thirty or forty years between them and wildly different manuscripts, they were yipping up a storm. Not about writing, surprisingly, but about how the Viking impersonator likes to drink Guinness from the horn on her Viking hat. But that’s another story.

If you’re a writer in the Denver area, there are some great conferences coming up. Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop runs the STELLAR LitFest June 1 – 16. Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer’s Colorado Gold is September 7-9, and the Rocky Mountain chapter of the SCBWI runs their Letters and Lines conference Sept 22-23.

So much I loved about this year’s Pikes Peak conference . . . the workshops, keynote speakers by industry giants such as Donald Maass, and most of all, meeting other writers.

The worst part? Getting fleas. Technically, the fleas didn’t come from the conference. The hotel was very clean and shiny, as were the writers for the most part. The fleas came from the giraffes I fed. And I suppose they weren’t really fleas. But they were crawly little suckers and I’m sure I didn’t have them before the giraffes.

My family trekked to Colorado Springs for the awards banquet, and the next day we visited the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, where you can FEED GIRAFFES! It’s maybe one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. The giraffes are quite tame, and come right up to you with their long black tongues leading the way. With their bizarre combination of elegance, goofiness, and drag queen eyelashes, I’ve decided that along with llamas, I must have giraffes on my Pipe Dream Farm.

I never fathomed I’d go to a writer’s conference and leave with giraffe spit on my hands, but there you have it. That’s why I love writing. You never know what’s going to happen next.

Have you attended a writer’s conference before? What surprised you?


Angry Bird Invasion

This morning, I assumed my usual position on the couch, where I resemble a half woman-half blanket creature with a laptop growing out of her spleen. That’s how I look most mornings as I “work” (Facebook) and drink my coffee whilst trying to psych myself up for a run. I had every intention of running. It was a gorgeous spring morning. The meadowlarks are back, and their show-offy warble is almost a more beautiful sound than coffee brewing.

Anyway, I was typing away on my trusty laptop when I hear the scritchscratchfluttercrash of a bird in our wood stove, a surer sign of spring than tulips or allergy medication. Every spring, lusty starlings get the inexplicable urge to nest in our stove. And every spring we set them free, only to find that ten minutes later, they’re scritchscratchcrashing inside the stove again. This happens several times until they finally wise up, or our neighbor’s cat solves the matter for us.

Because this is an annual occurrence, we have a routine:

  1. Open the patio door — gateway to actual trees, which happen to be much better for nesting.
  2. Close all bedroom doors and blinds in case the bird can’t find the escape hatch. Nothing worse than a frantic starling trying to bash his way out a window.
  3. Lock the dog away. This is the most important step, as in past years we’d assumed our dog couldn’t catch a bird. That was a false assumption.

I opened the door and waited for the starling to fly away.

Nothing happened.

I peeked inside the stove, bracing myself not to scream when a freaked out starling flies into my face.

Empty stove. No bird. I assumed I’d frightened it, and it crawled back up the chimney pipe to hide. I returned to the couch, and more importantly, my coffee. After several minutes, I heard the scritch-scratching again. This time, I tiptoed into the room, and when peeking through the stove glass, I was surprised to see a chickadee there. Chickadees are smarter than starlings. How do I know this? They’ve never flown down our chimney before. And they listen to NPR.

Because I was dealing with a shy chickadee and not a dim-witted starling, I changed my strategy. I followed the three steps listed above, but when as I opened the door to the stove, I snuck back to the other room so as not to intimidate the wee bird with my massive presence.

Pretty soon, my nose hairs began to freeze together because I’d left the patio door open so long and it’s only forty degrees outside. I don’t hear anymore fluttercrash coming from the stove, and hope that the chickadee has flown to freedom. But then a strange noise – sort of a tiny, muffled thumpwhacking came from the kitchen. The kind of noise you might expect to hear if Tinkerbell (or a rogue chickadee) got trapped in the mound of pots and pans piled in the dish rack.

I crept into the kitchen and lifted up the roaster, praying that a pissed off chickadee wouldn’t torpedo out of there and peck out my eye. Again, I was met with nothing but silence.

I go back to the couch. Rinse and repeat. More flappy, weird noises emanate from the kitchen, but when I inspect, there’s no sign of the bird. I still haven’t shut the blasted patio door, and now this tiny creature has not only turned our house into the Yukon, but it has prevented me from working out. Then it occurs to me how beyond pathetic it is to blame a chickadee for not going on my run. I wait ten more minutes, hiding on the couch so the bird can fly away, fly away, fly away home.

When I come back from my run, the house is very quiet, and my eyes dart around for signs of a seriously wigged out bird as I enter each room. It’s a little too Hitchcock for me. With my luck, the kids will come back from school, try to grab a snack from the cupboard and get whapped in the melon by the original cast of Angry Birds. Or we’ll all settle in for a nice relaxing evening, and suddenly there will be carnage! carnage! as our dog makes a disastrous Avian discovery. Yes, I’m being dramatic. The bird probably flew out the open patio door when I wasn’t in the room. But we can’t know for sure.

So Darrick, when you come home, there may or may not be a chickadee in the house. Consider yourself warned.