Where to start? Where to start?
Last fall, when I first heard about When Words Collide (Calgary) from my friend Mark Leslie Lefebvre, it sounded like an interesting little writers’ conference. I travel to Calgary every year to visit my aunt, who is now 87. Plus, Calgary has a vibrant, diverse, well-funded food/arts/culture community (and a fantastic transportation system) that makes me envious. These people know how to party, and not just for Stampede.
I visited the WWC website and liked the lineup of speakers, so I signed up for what I thought was a membership in WWC – $30 senior rate early bird. I also offered to volunteer, because I wanted to see how the event worked from up close (more on that later).
First pleasant surprise – the ‘membership’ was actually registration for the event. Thing is, I began to have doubts about how an organization charging that low a price could mount a credible event. I’ve done event planning for national conferences and events booked into commercial venues like hotels can be hideously expensive , because they’ll quote you one price – say, for the meeting room and then the add-ons start – you want risers and draping, tables, audio-visual hookups, projector screen, flip chart, white board? And on top of all that are the taxes and service charges. Pre-planning meals involves the same layered cost structure.
Second pleasant surprise – WWC was PHENOMENAL. OUTSTANDING by virtue of the sheer mind-boggling volume of offerings and the professional organization.
Understandably, the program kept changing over time as presenters signed on or had to cancel, but there were no empty spots on the agenda. I know from experience what a nightmare that must have been to coordinate and I give kudos to the hardy folks who coordinated everything in such a way that as an attendee, I felt well taken care of.
Thursday and Friday morning were workshop days. I signed up for an all-day session with Faith Hunter, who has a delightful southern drawl but an eagle eye for sharpening your First Five Pages to Bait & Hook your readers. The workshop cost only $40 but delivered 100 times that much value. I’ll post about that on my updated author website – hyacinthemillerbooks.com under Advice for Writers.
Up to NINE 50 minute sessions ran concurrently in different rooms in the Delta Calgary. That alone was mind-boggling. One good thing is, the rooms were spread out over two buildings, so instead of the boring standard conference format, we got to sprint across the street or up the elevator, down a corridor to the walkway-overpass, down another elevator to the rooms in the next building.
The program guide is novella-sized – 75 pages crammed with information about the sessions and locations. In addition, there was a foolscap-sized table giving an overview with the name and location of each workshop, along with a map of each hotel building. Genius.
There was a Marketplace where indie bookstores and authors could sell books and related items. Another brilliant idea was to have a small lunch bar at the back corner of the rooms for folks to grab a quick snack and chat. For $4, I was able to have some of the best hot soups ever – split pea with ham, Thai coconut chicken noodle and roasted tomato with Parmesan. Much better than forking out $18 for a lunch in the restaurant.
The hotel was a constant hive of activity – the regular guests seemed bewildered at the energy and chatter going on, but boy, was it wonderful to be in the company of so many like-minded people. The atmosphere was incredibly friendly and the event well-organized. It was a joy to be a volunteer – instructions were clear and the support was always there when I needed it. I met some terrific folks – a group of seven writers drove from Regina, Saskatchewan, some drove from British Columbia, Winnipeg, Edmonton and parts north.
Six hundred and fifty writers and readers signed up and there was a waiting list. Next year, the organizers figure they have room to accommodate 700 attendees. Yowza.
I’m signing up for 2016 as soon as the link is posted.