It isn't easy to travel to Australia just for the weekend - unless you make it a virtual journey. And what better excuse for a quick trip than attending a virtual conference for romance writers?
The Claytons conference is staged by the Romance Writers of Australia, to run alongside their regular conference - the one that takes place in the material world. The name Claytons comes, I gather, from an alcohol look-alike beverage for those who are not drinking alcohol. When I read about it, I was curious. Only one way to satisfy curiosity - have a go. I signed on, looked up the time difference between GMT and EST and set my alarm clock.
How do you operate a virtual conference? Forums and chat rooms.
Is it easy? No.
Is it fun? YES.
We had plenty of preparation. There was homework. Rehearsals took place the weekend before. Having led a sheltered life, it was the first time I'd ventured into a chat room. Once I'd cottoned on to the need to press return to get my contribution to show, things got considerably less one-sided and the insults hurled at the computer went back to normal levels. It was disconcerting that I was finishing my breakfast while the delegates down under were looking forward to dinner. They were thinking about a Friday night glass of wine, I was drinking green tea. That got even more interesting in the conference proper. When everyone else had attended the social event on Friday evening, gone to bed and woken up to begun the serous stuff on Saturday morning, I was still finishing Friday, without having been to bed at all. I did have a snooze, during the evening. That's why I needed the alarm clock.
Jenny Schwartz, author of the Bustlepunk Chronicles for Carina, was the principal organiser, helped by a team of volunteers and guest speakers who generously gave their time and risked their sanity by attempting to make presentations where there could be multiple conversations going on simultaneously, a time lapse of minutes between questions and answers and a sudden disappearance of part of the audience. It was hectic, occasionally chaotic, informative and very enjoyable. Many thanks to all those involved and to those who generously donated prizes for contests and give-aways. The scavenger hunt during the Friday social hour generated serial website crashes as everyone went looking for clues. I hope they are all recovered now. :)
I listened to editors and booksellers. Paranormal and fairy tales seem to be popular in Australia at the moment. Of course we talked about those books - you know, the mega selling ones with the monochrome covers. I chatted to lots of people. I hope I made a few new friends. I won a prize or two. One for a self portrait dressed in pink. Those of a nervous disposition, shut your eyes here!
Jenny conducted an intensive session on High Concept - getting your book into that all-important single sentence. I was too zonked to take part in the attempts to distil a book to one line, or the fast fiction challenge that Jenny issued, but the results others produced were amazing. I called it a night at 3.30 am Saturday, but was up again by 9 am and at breakfast for the Saturday evening Social. I said it was confusing!!!
Would I do it again - yes - I hope so. It's fun and it's free, even if you do lose a little sleep.