Columns

Sunrise and the San Francisco Writers Conference

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The rooster’s hoarse crows were sounding desperate and none of us knew what to do.

There are a lot of things you expect to hear when packed into an airplane, but a rooster crowing isn’t one of them.

On Valentine’s Day I boarded a flight to San Francisco to attend the San Francisco Writer’s Conference, a three-day event filled with classes, workshops, literary agents, publishers and hundreds of authors.

I was seated next to a young mother and her adorable 2 1/2-year-old son.

“Did you hear that?” she asked, as we settled in, awaiting takeoff. “It’s a rooster!”

Barely awake, I put down my book and listened. Sure enough a faint cock-a-doodle-do echoed throughout the cabin.

“It must be someone’s phone,” I replied.

But the crowing continued and grew more frantic as the minutes passed.

“I hope they’re not serving chicken sandwiches,” said a lady across the aisle. “That’s taking farm-to-table a little too far!”

We tittered but the crowing continued as the engines revved.

“It’s probably someone’s emotional support rooster,” announced the gentleman behind me.

Alas, we’ll never know, because once we fastened our seat belts and were airborne, the crowing ceased.

“If he’s in the cargo hold, his nuggets are frozen solid,” I said.

“Nuggets? Want nuggets!” the toddler next to me demanded.

Thankfully, he was satisfied with the Goldfish crackers his mother gave him.

It was my first visit to the Bay area, and I was delighted to leave Spokane’s frigid February and arrive in a city with temperatures in the balmy 50s.

Due to flight delays, I had to hit the ground running to make it to my first workshop. I checked into my hotel in the Embarcadero, directly across from the iconic Ferry building, and gathered my credentials.

“Hi Cindy, Happy Valentine’s Day,” said a stranger in the lobby.

“Er. Thank you,” I replied.

“Hey, Cindy! How are you today?” another gentleman asked, moments later.

These people are so friendly, I thought, but how do they know me?

Then I looked down at the credentials hanging from a lanyard around my neck, my first name written in super-sized font. Apparently, my fame had not preceded me.

I wasn’t the only one. I’d noticed the attendees had white nametags, and the volunteers had orange ones. In the elevator I asked a fellow sporting an orange nametag if he was helping at the conference.

“I’m presenting,” he said.

Turns out it was Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, the leading distributor of indie ebooks.

Moving on.

After several classes, I had just enough time to dash across the street to pick up a sandwich for dinner.

“Ma’am where’s your jacket? It’s freezing!” the concerned doorman asked, as I scouted nearby restaurants.

“It’s 53 degrees!” I replied. “When I left Spokane it was 17! This is tropical!”

He shook his head, huddled in his heavy overcoat.

“At least take an umbrella,” he said, offering one from the hotel’s stash.

The umbrella was necessary that night, but I never used one again – not even during a sunrise photography walk, sponsored by the Writer’s Workshop.

That’s right. I may be notoriously anti-morning, but I saw the sun rise from a pier near the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. I wasn’t about to pass up a chance to explore the area with a professional photographer as a guide.

51920729_2191659600872655_2118461617678057472_n[1]However, the morning got off to a rocky start when I discovered my hotel room had only decaf coffee. Thankfully, by the time I’d returned the front desk had sent up a stash of the real thing.

But the coffee didn’t prevent my next elevator faux pas.

“Are you here for the writer’s conference?” I asked a fellow, as we descended to the meeting rooms.

“No, I’m here for a conference on thinking,” he replied.

“Writers think, too,” I said. And then I silently vowed to stop speaking to strangers on elevators.

Speaking of mornings, I took comfort in the words of keynote speaker Jane Friedman. “With a little self-awareness you can compete with morning people,” she said.

I knew she was one of my tribe even before that because she shared a photo of a kitty she frequently cat-sits. I quickly got out my phone and shared a photo of Thor with my tablemate, which prompted the other writers at the table to share pictures of their own cats.

It must be hard to be taken seriously as an author if you don’t have a cat.

Sunday morning I watched the sun rise over the bay and listened to the clang of the cable car as it rounded the corner in front of the hotel. I drank in the view of palm trees and the waterfront. It was time to fly home to the land of snow and ice.

I was tired and I missed my family, but Tony Bennett and I now have something in common. I. too, left my heart in San Francisco.

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War Bonds

Slinging Books and Shopping Small

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Take a group of authors. Give them name badges. Turn them loose in a bookstore. That’s the recipe for Indies First held each year on Small Business Saturday.

The event brings together authors, readers, and publishers in support of independent bookstores. Authors and local celebrities volunteer at events across the country, and publishers offer special terms on books and exclusives.

I had a blast as usual at Auntie’s Bookstore. Chatting with readers, helping them find great gift ideas and catching up with these great authors is always fun.

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Sam Ligon, Kate Lebo, Cindy Hval, Jack Nisbet

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Stephanie Oakes, Cindy Hval, Sharma Shields

One Spokesman Review reader said she came in just to see Jack Nisbet and me, but she walked out with Shop Small shopping bag filled with books. That’s the danger and delight of hanging out in a bookstore!
Another reader stopped by to make sure I was alright. My Thanksgiving column about sometimes finding it hard to be grateful, prompted her concern.

At the end of my shift I rewarded myself with a copy of the delightful anthology Pie & Whiskey: Writers under the Influence of Butter & Booze. My husband and I are reading it aloud every night before bed. It’s a hoot. Honestly, Sam Ligon’s whiskey cocktail recipes are my favorite part. Some drink recipes call for things like a soul, a pistol, a Bible and a sword, but you can still make the drinks without them.

Indies First offers a great way to get customers into independent bookstores, but it’s even more important to support local businesses and Shop Small all year long.

After all, Santa does!

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War Bonds

What it’s really like to be an author

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My cousin, author Julie Christine Johnson, posted this graphic on her Facebook page awhile ago.

Boy, does it ever resonate with me. I’m inching my way to the finish line of my second book and have actually completed my first children’s book.

You know what that means?

Yeah. It’s time to pitch and query agents and publishers. Every writers FAVORITE thing to do. Not!

I sold War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation directly to the publisher after my  literary agent was fired from her agency. It took me a couple months to sell a manuscript she’d had a of couple years. Not exactly “spontaneous success.”

But these new books represent new opportunities to wade out into the deep water and sink or swim, instead of treading water and hoping for rescue.

Those moments of “seemingly spontaneous success” don’t happen without a lot of work and not a little bit of angst. But I truly love both of my new projects and am hopeful that they will find a home and an audience.

Wish me luck friends, I’m jumping in without my water wings 😉

War Bonds

Indies First a boon to authors and booksellers

 

This weekend during Small Business Saturday, I got to spend a few hours as an honorary bookseller at Auntie’s Bookstore in Spokane. Saturday was a designated Indies First event.

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Indies First is a collaboration between authors, publishers, retailers, and readers, and it celebrates independent bookstores and local communities. Speaking of local, this national movement was launched by author Sherman Alexie, who was born and raised on the Spokane Indian Reservation.

Authors/honorary booksellers signed copies of their books, visited with shoppers and offered book recommendations. I was thrilled to see scores of shoppers buying stacks of books!

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Plus I got to hang out with brilliant authors like Jess Walter.

My shift also overlapped with Bruce Holbert and Shawn Vestal.

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Bottom line? When you support your local bookstores, everyone wins.

War Bonds

Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Fall Trade Show

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I had a wonderful time at the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Fall Trade Show in Portland, Oregon this weekend. My publisher invited me to join their Northwest sales rep and sign copies of War Bonds.

I met many wonderful booksellers from across the area and got to see my friends from Auntie’s Bookstore in Spokane and from The Well Read Moose in Coeur d’ Alene.

The show was packed with vendors, representatives from all sizes of publishing houses, authors and most importantly– independent booksellers.

These are the folks that get our books into the readers’ hands, so it was a wonderful opportunity to be able to personally introduce them to War Bonds.

Seeing booksellers’ eyes light up when I explain the premise of the book and show them the fabulous photos within it was great fun, and Portland is a fabulous city to visit.

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