Episode 129B – Ken Macqueen – Conventions

Overview

Ken recently attended a great convention and we discuss why authors should attend conventions and conferences. There are things that an author should do before going to one and there are things you should be aware of while attending. We discuss all of this and Ken gives us some information about the police writer’s academy.

His Book

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Transcript

Okay, so let’s talk some author stuff and we’re gonna talk about conferences and going to conferences, which you just went to one recently, which. I find interesting because it’s in a different country which I haven’t been to.

I’ve been to Canada, but not a conference up there, is what I mean. All right. But before we do that let me ask you a couple other questions. So you have been writing for a very long time. And you’ve done journalism and now you’re doing fiction. So what are some things that you’ve learned through the years that you’re doing differently now than you would’ve.

Ken: Certainly the technology would be key. When I started, I didn’t even have a cell phone. They weren’t available. I had a pager, which was a bit of a pain in the butt at times. But and then there was a whole business of filing a story. It used to be I remember the first semi computer that I could take on the road was about the size of a big briefcase.

It had a capital gray tube. And you pretty much had to coat it in Vaseline to get it under the seat on an airplane. And it was a very delicate operation. Then you had to use acoustic couplers to stick it on a phone behind

Stephen: modem. Oh my gosh.

Ken: It was a real, it was a real challenge so that the technology became ridiculously easy.

Now, I remember I went to the museum in Washington DC. The news museum there, and they had one of these satellite trucks with the antenna that went out and so forth, and the TV reporters would be reporting from there. And I realize now my little phone has all that technology in this

That satellite truck, I’m sure cost a half a million dollars back in the day. Yeah, that, that part was definitely different. The actual hunting and gathering of quotes and the reporting, of course, it was made much easier with with the cell phones and so forth. But when I look back at some of the things I covered before, before I had that technology, I know earthquake in San Francisco or a murder on the Mexican border or the Exxon Valdese Oil spill.

Those were all things that I covered with pretty primitive technology and no cell

Stephen: phones. Wow. So do you feel if you would’ve done fiction writing back then that you would’ve enjoyed it or been as successful? Or do you feel that now that you’ve gone through your years of journalism, you can relax more with the fiction and it comes across?

Just how do you feel about that

Ken: after? Oh I agree that I think I can relax now, for one thing I’ve this may surprise you that fiction writing doesn’t come with a dental plan or a pension .

Stephen: So yes, if nobody understood that fact, ,

Ken: imagine my surprise. But no, I, so that’s why I wanted to make sure I was financially secure for before I turned to fiction, because as you.

It’s not always the ticket to I, I feel I’ve written an 80,000 word lottery ticket, but who knows what the odds are of ever cashing in on that. But yeah. Anyway I felt that I needed the security of not having to wrestle with, Where the next paycheck would come from. So that until the kids were grown, that my two sons and they left home, and my wife and I retired, then we figured, okay, now we can relax and breathe and use a different part of our brains.

Nice.

Stephen: Okay. And you mentioned the technology has changed. So what software and services are you using now for your fiction writing?

Ken: Actually I just use Microsoft Word. I had I had used Scrivener, which is an excellent program, but I lost patience, figuring out all the bells and whistles, and I realized that I could probably just get by as I did as a reporter, basically with a more basic word processing, Okay.

Software. So that’s just what I use. I I. Occasionally stuck up things on a bulletin board as to my various plot points. But I don’t even do that too much. I just I just push along one scene at a time. I usually write a scene a day and not necessarily a chapter, but a little movie in my head.

And when the movie starts to flicker and fade, I figure it’s time to to stop that one and then we’ll see what happens tomorrow.

Stephen: Yeah I agree. I do that a lot too. Really envision the scene, it helps get the words down easier and they sound better. I know it sounds so clunky that way.

I,

Ken: that was one of the gifts of journalism, I had to say. I spent as I said, a recorded most of my interviews. And then you’d have to transcribe them and go through that. Now, these days, I guess you don’t need to this transcription software, but I never had. But it required me to listen more closely and to pick quotes that are legitimate.

But the quotes that encapsulate the whatever issue I happened to be exploring and that I realized works very well in fiction writing as well, because dialogue is a, an elusive beast. People stumble when they talk, as I am evidence of that right now, but you have to fake realism.

When you do dialogue. You have to make your your people smarter and more concise and still realistic. That’s quite a challenge sometimes.

Stephen: Definitely. Agreed. Your book you just got it out. What are you doing to market it besides podcasts? Are you doing anything else to get the word out?

Ken: Yes. I have a digital. Marketer who Amy who works in from Texas. And so she’s doing a lot of the stuff that I either can’t do or I’ve lost patience trying to do. So my website is ken mcqueen.com and she’s on there updating it from time to time. I’m on Twitter and Facebook and a few things like that.

But I’m, I. Basically not very good at this marketing thing. So I figured I would hire help for things like that. So I’ve been very fortunate in hiring two good people to, to look after it. Mickey Mickelson, as you know and and Amy as well, and in Texas. So between the two of them, they keep me focused more on.

Being a writer as opposed to being a marketer. Not very good at that part

Stephen: of it. So know your strengths. Yeah. Good. All right. So we wanted to talk a little bit about conferences and things like that. You just went to a conference in Toronto, I think you said? No,

Ken: actually this one was your side of the border.

It was in the, it was the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association Conference, and it was in Seattle, or actually this. Just across the way in, in Renton. And it was a wonderful conference. Lots of writers and I went for a couple of reasons. One just to, because they had some great workshops and and agents and editors talking about the craft.

But also I got my publishing contract through them because last fall I entered an un publish. Writer’s competition that they staged. And I was a finalist in the mystery and thriller category there. And I didn’t win, but as a result of that, I did get a publishing contract out of it. So to me, that was a bigger win than a little surprise.

So yeah, so that’s how Wild Rose Press picked me up. I was very grateful for that. And so that was a good conference. I’ve also Been at

Thriller Fast. So there is myself and John Sanford at Nice in New York. I was hanging out with the A-List folk and they that’s a very nice conference. I’m hoping to go to it again this year in New York. It’s been a virtual one for the last couple of years, obviously. That is that has incredible wealth of great authors and it’s very craft oriented.

Stephen: I will say I feel authors, even the big names are much more approachable and down to earth. Then say going to someplace where there’s actors there’s a there’s a lot of actors that are that way too, but. You talked to John Sanford, you got a picture with him, right? Like right there.

Whereas you wouldn’t be able to do that with a lot of big name actors. Oh. Oh. Are you still there? You’re

Ken: you? You’re breaking up there, Stephen. I think we’re reconnected again. Are we?

Hello there. You’re sorry. I didn’t catch all of that. Last one. That.

Stephen: I was saying how you got to go to a conference and talk to and get a picture with John Sanford. big name author. And I feel authors are very much more down to earth and they’re more approachable and they’re willing to talk to they’re not like, Oh, you’re not a best selling author.

I’m not talking to you. I’ve never encountered that with they

Ken: are, I I totally agree. There were any number of Harlan Cobin was there, and Wow. A lot of them and they are very approachable, very helpful. Linwood Barkley was there Rick Fin, who’s a fellow Canadian, another both Linwood Barkley and Rick Fin are former journalists who turned to fiction.

And so I was interested to talk to them about some of their experiences in making that. So I really enjoy those conferences for that reason. The energy that, that they project and the help helpfulness that they they give a newbie like me,

Stephen: yeah. So what was your main motivation for going to the conference

Ken: tho those were in this time it was a bit of a thank you to the conference Pacific Northwest Writers Conference for giving me my start.

And I also ended up as a judge for the unpublished thriller category. This. So I was one of many judges for that. So I wanted to give back a little bit to that and also to see what else is out there, who’s breathing down my neck with the next great book. And there’s some great talent out there, I gotta say.

Stephen: Yeah. And you mentioned workshops. Do you attend many of the workshops that they have at these conferences?

Ken: Yes, absolutely. It’s a continuous learning curve for me. This whole fiction thing. As the publishing environment is so dynamic. You turn your back for a minute and and one of the publishing houses is amalgamated with another publishing house and another publisher’s gone down the drain and you just never know what’s going on.

So it’s good to, it’s good intelligence to keep okra on these things.

Stephen: Nice. Are there any conferences, you don’t have to name names, or any particular workshops or something that you’re like, Wow, that was not as good as I expected. Did you have anything like that happen?

Ken: No, I haven’t really been disappointed with the ones, but I’m very careful where I spend my money

No I’m going to another one in in late in October and it’s in a nearby. Suburban area called Surry, British Columbia, but it’s called the Surrey International Writers Festival. And it brings a lot of top talent from from Canada and the us. So I will go to that one. And there will be a lot of great, helpful writers like Robert Dagone, who’s a brilliant Saskatchewan or Saskatchewan, Washington state.

Author, who’s done very well with his Tracy Cross White series. And is written three great spy novels based in Russia. So he’s he’s another of my heroes. He did a little bit of journalism back in his day as well, but so he’s a great teacher. Hank Phillip Ryan is a wonderful.

Teacher as well. I’ve sat in on some of her her workshops. Hank is a her, but

Stephen: she’s very good. Yeah. I know, I agree with you and understand the, You gotta pick and choose sometimes. There’s just so many popping up out there and a lot of people are getting in on and starting some, but then they’re not always what you would expect.

I know I went to one last. It was a smaller one. A bunch of authors I knew, but it was just so fantastic. Everybody, the energy and everybody got ideas and thoughts and information, and everybody left with some new stuff. They were gonna do another one this year, but there just wasn’t as much interest. I was, I astounded cause everybody was oh, this is the greatest thing ever.

And they were purposefully trying to keep the conference small because they wanted it to be more intimate, which is what made it so wonderful. But then people still weren’t interested. So what would you say to people how to decide and pick and choose whether they want to go to a conference and how to find the ones that are worthwhile and good for.

Gotta I, I think you there are a lot of conferences that specialize, like the one I was just at and the one I’m going to in Surrey. The one in Seattle and the one one in Surrey, bc they’re more general publishing authors, all sorts of genres and also nonfiction. So those are good if you value some of the teachers and some of the workshops, which is why I.

Ken: I went there and the Thriller Fest, which is in New York, is all purely if pure and thriller can be put in the same sentence, purely thriller oriented. So that one is a definite go for thriller writers. It’s an expensive one. But I it’s all part of my training. I also went earlier this year to Wisconsin to something called the.

The police what was it called? Police writer’s academy. And it was amazing. So I got to drive a cop car. I got to shoot virtual guns. I got to learn how you do a traffic stop, all that sort of stuff. And so that was it was a great con course. And it was all writers, all fiction writers in the most part.

And that was a great deal of. , but again, you have to pick your spot. So I call W Wisconsin a deductible USA because I can write some of this stuff off .

Stephen: I like that. I’ve not heard of that one, but I love that idea because a lot of authors, thriller authors do things with the police as far as writing about ’em in the, ’em, in their books and we always try and make it a.

So whoever thought of doing a conference where it was a bunch of police teaching writers what they do and giving ’em that information, that’s brilliant. We need more of those.

Ken: I for anyone who writes a police procedural, I highly recommend taking a look at this. It’s not always held in Wisconsin.

It’s occasionally somewhere else, but the the person in charge of it is Lee Loughlin, l e l o f t l a n d. And. And it will be going on again next year. I, and it’s well worth it if you get the chance and if you like, like me not having to grow. And so you get to drive a police car and do all sorts of cool ,

Stephen: right?

See. Now I’m thinking I wanna start writing about race car drivers. We need to have a conference where we can have race car, and I need to do more science fiction so I can go up in a SpaceX spaceship or something. But if anyone knows how to do a conference on dragon writing, hey I’ll write about writing dragons.

Let’s get this going. .

Ken: Yeah. Good luck on that one. I think it’s a little easier use Procedurals. .

Stephen: But I love that concept because it’s for writers, but it’s different than just hearing some of the same things about publishing or the craft of writing or this, that and the other thing, which there’s nothing wrong with that.

But after you’ve been. Four or five conferences, and it’s a lot of the same type of material. It’s good to know there’s choices out there that are more niche and specialized.

Ken: Absolutely. I’m just trying to find here we go.

Oh, I’m trying to find Lee Laughlin’s. Anyway, his last name, If anyone is interested. It’s Lee, l e, and f l o f l a n d. If you google his name, you’ll find out about this police academy. He’s a former cop himself and he loves writers, and writers love him and all sorts of really a-list authors have been at that conference.

And Nice. And it’s a picnic for

Stephen: people. I I’m think. Joking about the dragons and stuff, but seriously, there’s so many script writing and streaming of abilities now, yo. And people wanna learn more about that cuz there’s choices all over the place. I wonder if someone already does or why someone doesn’t do a movie.

Screenwriting type of writer’s conference focusing. Doing that, how to publish your book and that type of stuff. Someone’s gotta be doing something like that. Cause that one

Ken: I would expect that’s the case there. One, one of my writing books is called Save the Cat. I don’t know whether you’ve heard of that.

Stephen: Who doesn’t? It’s a good one. You don’t Save the cat. Get Save the Cat. There you go. It it’s a great book and it’s, it was aimed at a screenwriter. But it also works for novelists as well. And if you start watching a movie, my wife will nudge me and go save the cat. It may not be literally a cat, but some way to humanize even the worst people.

Ken: Cause they’ll do something a little outta character and kind of nice. And then they may not be the nicest person, but it gives an element of of humanity to anyone that you’re writing. .

Stephen: Yeah. You mentioned Thriller Fest. And one of the authors, I know JD Barker, he’s at Thriller Fest almost all the time.

He’s the one that, at that conference I told you about last year, turned me on to Save the Cat. Okay. And using that and it’s kinda scary. It’s once you have that power, it’s like Spider-Man, you gotta use it responsibly. I’ll watch something and I’m like that sucked. But now I know why it sucked, and now I know what they screwed up on.

Yeah, exactly. So it’s powerful. Save

Ken: the dragon. You gotta work on your .

Stephen: Yes. And then I’ll do my own conference. Who doesn’t wanna come to Lake Erie in the middle of winter and to learn about dragons Yeah. And go ice fishing.

Yeah, we could go ice fish for dragons, yeah.

All right. So again any other thoughts or advice about conferences or, I know you mentioned virtual conferences. I think a lot of ’em are getting back to in person, which I love, but I still like the virtual, because you mentioned the one in Wisconsin. And I’m like it’d be a little harder for me to get to Wisconsin money wise, timewise.

Yeah. But I’d be interested if they did a virtual, whereas the Thriller Fest, which is in New York, that’s closer and I’d like to go to that one personally. So I think a good mix of the virtual and live is a good thing nowadays. What do you think about that? And do you have any other thoughts or advice on.

Ken: Definitely there are virtual ones that I’ve gone to and you can actually do quite a bit with them. Even even Thriller Fest, the Thriller Writers, International Thriller Writers organization, which I’m now a member of a great honor in my view. But they have writing courses online where you can submit and they have about, I dunno, 10 really.

Authors like when I took the course that had me child among them and he was critiquing work and looking at your work online and you can really advance your craft by taking some of these virtual courses and they’re pretty good value for money without having to even travel to New York.

So that’s something I highly recommend.

Stephen: There we’re back. We’re back. Talk about that conference anyway.

Ken: Yeah. So I was saying that international Thriller Writers has this great online training program that they

Stephen: Technical issues, we’ll get this edited as best as possible. So we sound like we’re jumping all over place.

I don’t, You were saying something about conferences and I, Sorry, I don’t remember. It threw me off when we.

Ken: Gosh, it was probably really profound and it’s lost to humanity now

Stephen: all the time. But we all gotta put writing and change our profession. Now, here

Ken: I am, recording from my Canadian igloo and there are probably some technical difficulties.

I’ll put, I’ll put my my Recording on a dog sled and get it to you at some point, but there you go. Yeah. No, I I think probably what I was talking about was we were trying to find value for money in these conferences, and I was saying you, and you were talking about there are some that are virtual and you feel that there’s value in those.

And I have to agree, I’ve been to several of those as well. You can’t beat the in person stuff. I was saying one of my favorite organizations, the International Thriller Writers has put a lot of energy into nurturing newbie writers. And they have a great online writing course where you get top level authors usually about 10 of them.

And the leach explore one aspect of the writing journey, and they’ll write about it. They’ll do. They’ll have a prepared program, but you can you can also ask them questions and they’re very generous with their their insights and costs you a bit of money, but not nearly as much as flying to New York for a conference.

And you have this for all time on your hard drive so you can refer back to it. So I’ve done that and I got a lot of really useful insights.

Stephen: And like you said, you, there’s lots of things different conferences do, and you met your publisher. That’s one thing. The workshops are definitely another, but the in person, just going to the bar and hanging out sometimes gets you insights, gets you knowledge, gets you friendships that can lead places.

It I highly recommend if you’re going to a. Take full advantage of it. Do a pitch war if they offer it. Yeah. Talk to publishers. Check out other authors, sign up for newsletters, attend the workshops, go to the after hours goofy stuff because basically maximize your money in time.

Ken: ab Absolutely. Which can be a stretch for some some writers, and I put myself among them are introverts in the main right. You have to. To do marketing, you have to break out of that and to meet people at a bar and all of that stuff. You find once you do it and once you start talking to people about writing it’s great.

One of the con courses I was at at the Pacific Northwest Writers Association dealt with marketing and it was all about, everyone went into that thing going, Oh geez, I gonna hate this because it’s durable. What the speaker said was, You’re not, You don’t look at marketing that way.

You look at it, what makes you excited about your book, and when you talk about what gets you excited about your book, it’s infectious and people will will respond to that. And you realize at that point you’re not marketing you’re just. Sharing your excitement and it makes a big difference.

And it was, that was kinda like one of those times when the penny dropped and say, Okay, that I can understand.

Stephen: Yeah. I always had the thought if I’m writing a book, it’s because I want other people to read it. I want people to enjoy it. Yes, I will get pleasure out of them enjoying it. And that’s why it’s motivated me to do it.

But if I don’t get people to read it and they don’t hear about. So what’s the point of writing then? It’s like being in a band and making music. You make music cause you want people to listen to it. But you gotta get it out there somehow. So I think marketing just has a bad connotation for us when it doesn’t need to be.

Ken: Yeah. I totally agree. The problem though, is it’s like hurting introverts it’s a very difficult thing to do. . Yes. Once. Once you get over that fact and as you say, the whole purpose of writing is to share it, so you gotta figure out, all right, put your big boy pants on and learn how to share your enthusiasm for your product.

Stephen: Yep. So Ken, we’ve had some difficulties. Sorry, I don’t know what was going on with all that, but before we go and I’ll try and edit this so we sound like we know what we’re talking about, so that’ll be good . But do you have any last minute advice for new authors?

Ken: Seat in pants, stare at screen.

Repeat daily. I’m not one of these writers that says you have to write every day. I’m more of a five day. Because that was my work pattern when I, unless I was covering a big story. But be professional, treat it as a job and really just put your seat in the pants, do your research and and let your imagination run free.

I think it great. It’s the thought I once thought when I was about 15 or no, 15. When I was about 23 or 24 that I should write a novel, I realized I didn’t know enough about life to even attempt such a thing. I think you can start writing at any point in your life. It’s never too late or too early, but you may not have as much success early as you might think you do.

But we all have life experiences and. Color those into creating wonderful characters. So that’s where journalism is a great gift. And, but there are any number of life experiences that would work well in

Stephen: fiction writing. Great. Appreciate that. So Ken, it’s been great talking to you. Good afternoon discussion for writers and about your book, and I wanna wish you luck on that.

I’ll let you know when this goes live and we’ll. Links in the show note to your website and to the book for everybody.

Ken: Yeah. That’s great. Yeah. Ken mcqueen.com. M a c q u E n. That’s someone told me that’s a great writer’s name, Ken McQueen. I said yeah it’s mine. And John D.

McDonald was already taken and Allister McClain was already taken. So I

Stephen: keep. I joke that I should have made my pseudonym Stephen Ace because it’s just one better than Stephen King , but I thought that was a way, little presumptuous. All right. You have a great day, Ken. I’ve

Ken: really enjoyed this.

Steven, you’re a great interviewer and thank you and very relaxing.

Stephen: Great. Had a good time.

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