By Gale Albright
It puts you right to sleep, doesn’t it?
Not necessarily. I’m one of those strange people who likes to plan and organize events, mostly involving writers and writing.
As a child I showed signs of being a producer-director. Move over, Orson Welles and David O. Selznick. I’d create my own radio plays, improvise the script, sound effects (old-fashioned wooden couch arms were good for making horse galloping noises), all the acting parts (animal and human), and commercial breaks.
My Uncle Ras brought me a lovely little theater set, complete with cardboard characters, all cunningly controlled with magnets manipulated underneath the stage. I spent many happy, drama-drenched hours producing shows. One of my best toys ever.
Many years ago, when people asked what I would do if money was no object, I said I wanted to own a regional community theater and be producer-director-actor-playwright-ticket seller-publicity person. Usher, not so much. I would delegate that. Who could ask for anything more?
These days I’m indulging my Welles-Selznick mania by planning/organizing conferences and workshops, sometimes alone, mostly with others.
Yes, Dear Reader, I will get to the mystery part soon, don’t worry. You have not opened the wrong blog. I’m setting the scene, so to speak.
For months I’ve been participating in the care and feeding of a rather large regional literary conference.
What’s involved with a big conference featuring out of town guest speakers and lots of attendees at a hotel? Well, there’s getting the right place nailed down for a price one can afford. There are different prices for early-bird registration, Saturday only, Sunday only, or both days. Are you staying at the hotel? If so, king or queen beds? Early-bird rates, how many nights? How many conference rooms do you need? How many speakers need AV equipment?
Are there discounted hotel rooms for participants? Who needs a ride to and from the airport? How can we arrange a visiting editor’s presentation of the hero’s journey in Ballroom X so she has time to dash to Conference Room Y to do manuscript critiques? What about agenda preparation, guaranteed hotel rooms, announcements, awards, contests, prizes, cookie breaks, simultaneous breakout sessions? It’s a balancing act.
How many people will eat the two lunches at the hotel banquet room included in the registration fee? And what—WHAT–do they eat?
Before I retired from the University of Texas, I used to organize student dinner parties for my boss. Not only did I pick the caterer, check the cost, select the menu and decide if we needed disposable everything, I had to make sure all the students who needed halal, kosher, vegetarian, and vegan selections were guaranteed a nice dinner. Plus the people like me who didn’t care what the hell they ate.
So, when organizing menus, make sure there are gluten-free options and plenty of lettuce. That’s my advice. Another piece of advice is once you get a guaranteed physical location and a firm date for an event, the rest can be worked out. First things first.
A big conference is a big deal. It’s too big for a one-woman show. I’m a volunteer and I get my marching orders from the conference coordinator, which is a good thing. I’ve learned a lot. I will put it to good use down the line, I’m sure.
In November of 2013, Austin Mystery Writers (I told you we’d get to the mystery part) put on a one-day free crime fiction workshop with BookPeople. We had three great speakers—Karen MacInerney, Janice Hamrick, and Reavis Wortham. We had a full house. It was exhausting on the front end and lovely after it was over. We did good.
Sisters in Crime: Heart of Texas chapter is going to present a one-day crime fiction workshop on May 23 in partnership with BookPeople. I’m looking forward to it. Now I know what to expect.
One-day local mystery workshops and monthly speaker meetings are the perfect size for my current ambitions. Although I do think Sisters in Crime: Heart of Texas chapter probably could put on a teeny little conference some day. So could Austin Mystery Writers. One airplane round trip and one hotel room for a big shot speaker? Need funds? We could hold a bake sale.
Did Orson Welles or David O. Selznick ever hold bake sales to finance their productions?
I’ll delegate that.