This past weekend was the culmination of six months of dreaming, planning, researching, and accomplishing a huge project for Dallas/Fort Worth writers. I have slept and thought for the last three days, and I think I can now summarize what I’ve learned…
It all starts with an initial contact. I knew the writers in my community were hoping to learn from a big name, best-selling author. I had happened upon one that met every requirement we had in Australian novelist, Kate Forsyth. I had tweeted about finishing another of her novels, and she responded. How cool was that? A few weeks later, Kate posted about coming to the US for a Historical Fiction Society conference in Portland, OR this summer. I jokingly replied, asking what would be involved in detouring her trip through Dallas, TX. She quickly responded that she would love to visit Dallas, as she’d never been to Texas. I thought for a day, then asked if she was serious because I know people. She was, and so was I. It was officially dubbed the “Cactus and Kangaroos Readerathon and Writers Intensive Workshops.”
The next step was communicating with local writing groups. I was just rolling off the board of the Writers Guild of Texas after serving four years, and knew what was in their budget. We could make it happen, but did we have the connections? Another writer friend, Tex Thompson, had just instigated a new group christened WORD—Writers Organizations ‘Round Dallas. WORD is basically a cadre of representatives from over twenty-five of the more than forty writing groups around the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. WORD had the necessary connections, but is this something the group would commit to? I spent January and February making contacts with various writing groups, bookstores, venues, and reporting back to WORD and WGT’s board of directors. By late March we were committed. And miraculously, so was Kate. Another month in, and we created the hashtag #KateForsythMagic which was immediately adopted by Kate’s fans and events globally.
Since this had been my brainchild, I was authorized to coordinate the events. I agreed with the understanding that I must have a strong team of volunteers to help me, because the point of this was creating an event too big for any one organization, and one that would pull people from various groups. Additionally, due to my health history, I wanted to make sure someone was ready at all times to step into my place if I had to step back. I asked in general for happy helpers, and also requested specifically that Tex Thompson as head of WORD and Julie Mendel as president of WGT would be on “Team KF” (we originally dubbed ourselves the KF Committee, but once that got shortened to KFC, all I could think of was Kentucky Fried Chicken, and that was just not an option). Tex and Julie agreed. Then came Sarah Hamilton of Greater Fort Worth Writers (who handled much of the social media and promotions), Daniel Wells of Dallas Film Crew (who was responsible for everything visual), and Marsha Hubbell of Writers Guild of Texas (the ace up my sleeve, who made sure all the missing parts and loose ends were present and tied together). Additional members of the WGT Board and WORD stepped up to help as needed with budget, graphic design, introductions/net-working, and web-design/data analysis. I may have been the one out front, but this was a huge team effort, and I am honored to work among so many talented and gifted people.
As with any large project, there were high points and low points. The highest had to be Kate Forsyth herself. She understood that this was a first attempt at such a venture for us. Kate was gracious, encouraging, professional, fun, and willing to jump in and help with all our crazy ideas. For raffle items at the events she sent ARC’s of her next book, offered up naming of a character in her current work-in-progress, and a one hour Skype interview for an individual, class, or book club. She did a pre-Dallas Skype chat with all the early-bird ticket purchasers. She made herself available for interviews with our local media. She even worked with our photographer Friday morning to help create a media/press kit for us to use in the future to lure additional authors to partner with us. She customized a workshop based on feedback from local writers. She treated everyone she met as though they were her new best friend. She is a rock star, and I will be forever an indebted fan.
The low point had to be the frustration of trying to sell tickets early enough to offset our costs as they came up. We were prepared to host double the number of participants, and most sign-ups occurred during the last two weeks prior to the event. This is something we are still scratching our heads over. Not sure if it’s due to our being a relatively new group putting on events with no track record, or that writers are notorious procrastinators, or the fact that June is prime time for weddings, vacations, and it was Father’s Day weekend, or if we just missed the bus on promoting the events. I have vowed to NEVER wait until the last moment again to register or buy tickets for anything. Those who have coordinated such things before said it’s a common problem. It caused our team a lot of stress. Promoting the three events—a Thursday evening Literary Happy Hour, the Friday Readerathon, the Saturday workshops—and anticipating ticket sales and budget needs were the hardest parts for me, and jobs I will happily delegate to anyone else. I am so grateful for Tex and Julie who repeatedly talked me down off the ledge, and for all who jumped in and helped get the word out through their circles and social media connections.
I must give special recognition to my husband. Steve is the non-literary guy who loved, listened, encouraged, and supported me through this six-month project while dealing with his own job change and helping move his parents out of his childhood home and into an assisted living situation. Additionally, he was Kate’s primary chauffeur three of the five days she was in Dallas, and he even took her out for a very Texas dinner at the YO Steakhouse in Dallas’ West End for Father’s Day and a tour of the little Dragon Park in Oak Lawn before she departed for Portland and her next conference. He made sure Kate and I had time to visit, and ran to take care of little details as they came up (how did we forget to make sure the speaker had water, and pens to autograph books?).
In addition to all I learned about coordinating and hosting an event like this, I also learned much about writing and being an author. I was able to ask Kate lots of questions as we visited one-on-one about all aspects of the writing life, and I listened as she interacted with other fans and writers during each of the events. My biggest writerly take-away from the weekend, which Kate said repeatedly and in a variety of ways, is to trust the story, and to allow yourself to go to the vulnerable and scary places the story takes you. If we, as writers, can’t be true to the story and our own emotions, we’ll never connect with our readers at that emotional level that brings them into the fictional world we are creating. The one Kate quote that really jumped out at me was from Saturday morning:
“You don’t need to find your voice. You already have a voice. Learn to trust and control it.” ~~Kate Forsyth
What will I do differently as a writer after this experience? I immediately started journaling in bed as I first wake in an attempt to capture my dreams. Three days in a row now. I really believed I didn’t dream, but by leaving my journal next to my bed, open and pen ready, I’ve started recording images and phrases with only one eye open before they drift away. Reading back over my notes later in the day, I don’t remember having the dream, or recording it. So very cool! Not sure how I’ll use the information, but I will keep recording these snatches of subconscious and see if a pattern emerges. Additionally, committing more time to reading and writing is my new standard. When I heard how much time Kate dedicates to her craft, I realized that is the key difference between a professional writing career and a hobby. I want a career. I’ve already said no to another opportunity because moving forward, being a writer is my job.
I think Tex Thompson summed it up well in our initial debriefing when she wrote to me:
“Way to lead the charge. Way to dream greatness into being. I am starting to notice a pattern to our projects – namely, if you want to do something that hasn’t been done before, you have to become someone you haven’t been before. It is amazing and so cool to me to look at the parallels between our big tent-pole events (of the kind that nobody else around here is doing, you know – a college fair expo for writers groups, an imported A-list author, a field trip for writers, etc.) and the personal metamorphosis that they trigger in us.”
Here’s to becoming someone I haven’t been before!