Desert Nights, Rising Stars Writers Conference and How I almost Killed my Friend

I heard that part of being a writer means you have to go to writers conferences and retreats. But is it worth it? Is that really true?

My first retreat I never would have gone to if it wasn’t for my wonderful mother who saw it advertised and said, “Jennifer, if you want to go, I’ll pay for it.” I know, right! It was awesome. I met so many wonderful women there, fellow writers to talk to. One of them became one of my closest friends. We’ve already co-authored a book together! She’s not the only one whom I still keep in contact with either. And really, that is the key to workshops, retreats and conferences. Friendships.

A few years passed in which I had time to grow as a writer and finish a few projects. I went to another retreat and took classes. Each time, I made more connections with other writers. One thing I love about writers is that they generally want to be your friend. It doesn’t matter how much time passes between seeing each other, once you’ve met, the journey begins. As I began to wonder how to start the querying process, I knew that I needed to start checking out conferences and meet more people.


That brings us to Desert Nights, Rising Stars Writers Conference. Why did I pick this one? Because it was the closest conference to me and worked well with my other life responsibilities. Also, I’d heard from a fellow writing friend that it was a good one. I did everything I could to prepare for the conference. I scoured their website to see who was speaking and what they were interested in. I picked out the sessions I wanted to go to. I wrote out the whole schedule. I even found a friend to go with me!

Thursday morning, I woke up and went through my checklist of what I needed to do before I left. I did laundry, washed the car, filled it up with gas, put the lasagna in the crock-pot and packed. When I picked the kids up from school we worked hard on their homework before I left at 6 o’clock.

I drove over to Lisa’s with some lasagna to share and we drove down to our hotel in Tempe. So far, the trip was turning out just like I pictured it would: wonderful conversations with a friend and clear traffic all the way. The hotel itself did not impress upon our arrival but the room was nice enough.

We did not sleep well . . . paper-thin walls . . . Needless to say, the noise stopped by the time we gave up sleeping at 5:30 am. We made our way to the conference check in, stopping for bagels and coffee on our way (I didn’t drink coffee because, if you know me by now, I can’t stand the smell or taste). Once we were refueled we checked in and decided we could have skipped the opening ceremony. Then we went to check out the first session: The Sensory as Inspiration for Story. We learned a lot from that session. While it was a good topic and we took away some helpful things, it wasn’t quite what we were expecting. It was time to revisit that schedule I’d made to make sure I knew exactly how they were going to be run and what I wanted to get out of them.

The next session, we split up. I went to the Ripple Effect which was taught by the teacher of my query letter class that I took the spring before. YiShun Lai is awesome! I loved her for the query class and I loved her session at the conference, one of the best. She talked about how to take One Idea and make it into Many Iterations. There are three ways to look at your ideas, she said:

  1. Meta View or bird’s eye view–looking at the big picture
  2. Micro View–looking at the details
  3. Whole-cloth Perspective–How many ways can you use the cloth/idea?

Needless to say, I went away with lots of ideas floating around in my head and I got to reconnect with not only my previous teacher but fellow students who also took her class. I won’t bore you with every session I attended. Some of them I snuck out of because I realized they weren’t for me, but I was able to sneak into the ones I really wanted to be in. By the end of the first day, I had a horrible headache and we were both very tired, so we skipped the evening Keynote speaker and walked back to the hotel, stopping for delicious Thai food on the way.

We had a much more restful night (the previous neighbors having checked out of the hotel) and were refreshed and ready for the second day of the conference when morning came. The first session of the day was probably my highlight of the conference, Landing an Agent with Kirby Kim. Not only was he super informative and helpful but I signed up for this conference because I’m starting to think about getting an agent of my own. So, I took five pages of notes. Some of it I already knew but I think Mr. Kim was the first agent I’ve met in person. I was hoping I would meet more agents at this conference but the literary fair was canceled due to the rain. That just meant I had more time to focus on getting to know the fellow conference attendees. Also, after Kim’s talk, I knew I wasn’t ready to pitch my book yet.

You’re probably wondering how I almost killed my friend, you would have to know that when it rains in Tempe, it’s usually raining or snowing in Flagstaff. This time the forecast said it was going to start snowing around 6 pm. Lisa and I decided not to stay for the closing ceremony to try to make it back to Flagstaff before the temps dropped below freezing.

The rain turned to snow around Stoneman’s Lake exit. We started driving slower 30-40 mph. The snow didn’t stick to the road for a long time. In fact, there was no snow on the road, though it was coming down hard and fast and then all of a sudden white powder covered the entire road! We were sliding before I knew it. I tried to direct the car off the road out of the way from other traffic and we spun. I don’t know how many times we spun but thankfully we came to a stop facing the freeway and we didn’t even flip! I made sure Lisa was okay, put the hazard lights on and crept back onto the freeway. At this point I just wanted to be done driving and at home with my family. Thankfully, all the cars were driving slowly and responsibly, letting us back onto the freeway with ease. We almost made it back to Lisa’s house when I heard her scream, “Deer!” My heart raced again as the deer leaped in front of the car. Praise the Lord, my brakes still worked and the deer realized its mistake and altered its path off the road.

You’d be happy to know that Lisa still wants to be my friend, though I’m not sure how she feels about me driving to the next conference we go to together. Was the conference worth it? Yes. It was the next step in my writing career and now I know what to expect at my next conference. Have you been to a conference? How’d it go? Tell me all about it below!


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