I’m home from a trip to Denver, where I was invited to be one of the guest speakers at this year’s Colorado Gold Writers Conference, courtesy of the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. I hadn’t heard of either the organization or its conference prior to the invitation — an admission that seemed to offend some of those who heard it. But the important thing was, I was impressed by what ended up being one of the most well-put-together conferences I’ve attended. To any aspiring writers out there, I highly recommend it.
I was greeted at the airport by Betsy Dornbusch, who, while standing there with her sign, couldn’t help but wonder where all my “groupie fans” were. She confessed to further wondering what would happen had her sign read “Neil Gaiman” instead of “Eldon Thompson.” She apologized for this, as if the thought might have wounded my pride or something. I hardly noticed, as I was too busy glancing around in eager anticipation: “Neil Gaiman? Where? Where?”
Betsy proceeded to escort me through the airport. Only when we reached the luggage carousel did I realize that she was taking me first to pick up my bags. She seemed surprised when I told her that the duffel bag slung over my shoulder was the only thing I’d brought. After all, the conference was only for three days, and I’m a guy. As it turns out, I over-packed as is.
On to the hotel, The Renaissance, which turned out to be a beautiful facility. Huge inner atrium, with encircling balconies ascending to the pointed ceiling — sort of like being in a giant, hollow pyramid. The front desk attendant asked me how many keys I would need. I told her just one, that I had no friends, and thank you for reminding me of it. She laughed (I guess she thought I was joking) and found a card that had been left for me… an invitation to a “cupcake dinner” following the presenters’ dinner that evening. Okay, so maybe I do have a friend or two lurking somewhere out there. I mention the card because, later that evening, when I was asking some of the organizers about this so-called cupcake dinner, they told me that they had nothing to do with it, that it was a private group that had invited me and one of the other authors. At this point, I almost felt special. No, I didn’t attend, because I didn’t know where the “barn” was (the location listed on the card), and because I was still exhausted from my drive (Oregon to L.A.) the day before. So I still don’t know if the invite was for real, or if I was just being punk’d.
My second day in Denver (the first day of the conference) saw me deliver a workshop presentation on fantasy world-building. People like to ask me after these things, “How did it go?” To which I always reply, “I don’t know. You’d have to ask the folks who suffered through it.” But the feedback always seems to be pretty good, and I keep getting invited back, so evidently someone is getting something out of it. Same goes for the kickoff address (on the opening weekend of the NFL season, no less) I gave that evening. I went on after an entertaining message from Writer of the Year Mario Acevedo. Mario’s talk was quite funny, complete with props. When I got to the podium, I checked to see if he’d left me any, but he hadn’t. Instead, I had to make up some story about… well, whatever it was I talked about. I remember saying “uh” a lot, because I was trying to rush through it so people could get on with more important tasks. That evening and the next few days, however, people kept telling me how much they enjoyed and appreciated my speech. Perhaps they were just being polite… although one woman mentioned that several other instructors had referenced parts of my speech in their own presentations. So, I guess that means it went over well with at least some listeners. I find that gratifying… for their sakes. Because we all know what it’s like to be stuck listening to some useless, boring lecture, and I never want to be that guy.
For me, the real highlights were the talks from fellow authors Mario, Joseph Finder, and James O. Born (who, as a Florida State alum, gave me a hard time about being a Florida Gators fan). I also enjoyed catching up with a few friends from past conferences and meeting a slew of new ones. I’m one of those people who likes to feel useful every now and then, and with no clear, functional skill set, I usually have to resort to helping people move or driving them to the airport (although I did help a friend sweep rat droppings out of her garage once). At conferences such as this, however, folks seem to appreciate hearing about some of the writing lessons I’ve learned. I can only hope my advice helps at least a few of them on their way.