Thursday, January 17, 2013

Sometimes I don't know what I know

"Dino Cubed" was the inspiration for this.
By Gayle Carline
Mystery Author, Humor Columnist

In September 2006, I attended my first Southern California Writer’s Conference, in Palm Springs. I met a lot of people, had a great time, and even won their Topic Contest with my 250-word entry, “Dino Cubed.” I hadn’t written more than magazine articles and newspaper essays at this point, but I felt encouraged to try writing a novel. I decided I would go to their conference again next September.

Me and Gordon.

SCWC holds two conferences a year, one in September, and one in February in San Diego. I thought it would be terribly self-indulgent to go to the February one. Then I saw that Gordon Kirkland was going to be there. He is a humor essayist and I wanted to meet him.

This became my pattern. I’d tell myself I’m only going to one, then I’d read of someone I wanted to meet at the next one, and I’d go to that one, too. By the by, I always did meet the someone, who usually turned into a friend and/or mentor (e.g Michele Scott), plus I came out of the conference fired up about my next project.

Fast forward to the last conference, in Irvine. All weekend, the director, Michael Steven Gregory, kept telling me he wanted to discuss something with me. Then he’d be pulled away to figure out how to fix the air conditioning or find the right cord for the power supply or break up a paperclip fight between an author and their agent, etc. Finally, after the conference, he emailed me.

Would I like to be a workshop leader at the conferences?
I know... um... how to...

My first thought was "YES!" because I have a hard time saying no to anything. My second thought was, what the hell do I know about anything? I’m just a writer. Granted, I’ve been writing all my life, but I didn’t start writing for publication until I was in my 40s. I only have 3 mysteries, 2 humor books, and a short story for sale.

I’m no expert!

Nevertheless, I told Michael I would, and sat down to write out what I could talk about. What do I know about anything? Well...

- I know what’s hard and what’s easy about self-publishing and how to shoot yourself in the foot.
- I know how to tell when your writing is boring and what to do to un-bore it.
- I can read (or listen to) others’ writings and tell them why I’m drawn into their story and when they lose me.
- I can tell you why dying is easy and comedy is hard.

With that, I am teaching two workshops at the February San Diego SCWC. I’ve already put together one 90-minute lesson plan, and will be putting the other together the other one soon. I’ll also be leading a read and critique group at some point, where writers are encouraged to read and receive helpful comments (note: meanness is not allowed).

Do you ever feel like you are so deep in the trenches of what you do that you don’t feel like you know what you do? Or could you teach a class on some aspect of your life?


  1. You're a brave woman! And I admire your willingness to help other writers.

    I wanted to be a part of the Willamette Writers conference scene for years, but they weren't interested. When I was finally accepted to teach a workshop, I spent a lot of time preparing and was nervous for days prior. The workshop went well, and they invited me back the next year, but I had to say no. Overall, it wasn't a good experience for me.

    But I did love the networking aspect. Best wishes with your workshops.

  2. I once told my boss (when I was a software engineer) that my dream job would be to sit in a big comfy chair and give people my opinion all day long. He said, "Apart from the chair, how would that be different from what you do already?" HA HA HA HA. What can I say? I'm a giver.

  3. I'm right with you, Gayle, literally. I was asked to speak at the SCWC conference, too. I'd been attending these for years as a participant, and I remember sitting in the audience and wondering if I'd ever reach a point where I'd be "up there." At first, when they asked I had the same reservations you did. What do I know? Then I realized how easy it is for me to talk about my writing, how much I love it, and suddenly the fear subsided. Still, as writers, we tend to be more introverted (at least I do), and the thought of getting in front of a crowd still sort of terrifies me.

    Can't wait to finally meet you there!

  4. Having been asked to moderate panels at a few cons, I know exactly how you feel, Gayle.

    I feel like I'm flying blind pretty much all of time, so it's always a shock to me when someone tells me I'm really good at something.

  5. Hi Gayle,
    Indeed, comedy is very hard! I know you'll do well with your workshops! You'll be funny and informative and the hit of the conference...just wait and see!

  6. You'll be brilliant, Gayle. You've got lots of funny stories and it comes through in your characters. Wish I could make it to SCWC to attend your workshop

  7. Gayle, I really wish I could be there to take your workshop! It sounds fabulous and I know you'll inspire and help many people.


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