Hawaii Writer’s Conference

The Hawaii Writer’s Conference was this past weekend. One thousand writers and a handful of editors and agents and writers, giving talks and workshops and consultation sessions. Hawaii has to be the worst place for a writing conference ever. You look outside and all you want to do is go sit under an umbrella or get in the calm waters and swim. They should have the conference in Alaska. At night.

If you live here, though, you get used to the constant sun. In fact, you perhaps want to stay out of the sun because you’re hot and don’t want skin cancer. So it feels okay to sit inside and write. Most of the time.

The conference was at the Royal Hawaiian and the Sheraton, which are right next to each other. Let me just say I had my doubts about the Royal Hawaiian and its pinkness. Yes. The hotel is pink! Pink pink pink. Like Hello Kitty pink. But I really like pink buildings. There was a house in San Diego that my husband and I call “Pink House.” If either of us says “Pink House” we know what we’re talking about. We like Pink House. Even my husband.

But that Pink House was small and Craftsman, with a white picket fence. This is a huge HOTEL, towering into the sky with its pinkiness. While I wandered around, I noticed that their colors are pink, bright green, and blue. One wall of the lobby is painted bright green, to contrast with the walls. The plants they chose are bright pink and bright green. The pots for some plants are blue, and they reflect the sky and the ocean. Each window has a green awning, which looked (from the ground) like verdigris. So I decided I quite like the Royal Hawaiian. Except that you look out when you walk by to the beach and its pink umbrellas and expanse of green lawn and blue sea, and you feel hot, and you really want to ditch and just go swimming.

Royal Hawaiian
Royal Hawaiian

Inside the hotel, there’s a hallway of shops, which reminded me of Las Vegas, not least because one shop was jewelry and one shop was all crystal things, like teddy bear purses encrusted with crystals. There are grand arches and Ionic columns on a colonnade. But, there is only one set of bathrooms on the first floor. When the keynote speakers got out every morning, all the women would race to the one bathroom. I found the other one, in which you have to walk to the other side of the building, then go downstairs and down a hallway. There is also a sad dearth of coffee there. I wished for a convenient coffee/snack stand, but you have to go to the beach restaurant or venture out into the Sheraton shops for coffee. Coffee is served until 9 in the lobby, but I never got there in time to do more than go directly into the venue.

Because I live about 20 minutes away, I drove in every day. This seems logical, but it didn’t work out too well. I still worried about things like what we were going to eat for dinner (my husband bought take out every night) and whether the kids had clean underwear. It was too much “TWO WORLDS COLLIDING!” There were also evening programs that I missed because I got so tired at the end and needed to lie down for a little while. This may be because my brain got filled up over and over, or because I’m a semi-hermit who rarely has to talk to other adult homo sapien sapiens. I saw people walking around with nametags that said “FLORIDA” and “NEW JERSEY” looking all bright eyed and bushy tailed, and I could not fathom how they were still standing.

Anyway, during the conference I got to meet some of my favorite authors, hear them talk, and give workshops. Actually, the term “meet” is pretty loose. I went up to them and babbled and said Hello. Did you know you are AWESOME? or something like that, only much longer, and then trailed off into speechlessness. I met Jackie Mitchard, who gave an inspiring keynote the second day at her book signing. I had just read her newest book, NO TIME TO WAVE GOODBYE, which they were preselling at the conference, and thoroughly enjoyed it. In fact, I’m still thinking about it, the hallmark of a good book. It works on several different levels. It’s the sequel to THE DEEP END OF THE OCEAN, which was Oprah’s first book club pick. This novel tells us what happens to the family years later. I love sequels, I love reading about characters that I already know. This is a suspense story (heck, I don’t know all the genre definitions, but I think that is what it is) and there’s some brain work for the reader, but the core of the story is about the relationship about two brothers, Vincent and Ben (or Sam); and about redemption and revenge. It’s fast-paced and entertaining and also has the deeper core themes. I love that.

I then went to hear seminars given by Ann Hood and Kristin Hannah. The second author I met was Ann, and I managed to babble a bit less. Ann Hood wrote the wonderful THE KNITTING CIRCLE, among many others. By the time I met Kristin (who has FIREFLY LANE and who’s been writing for 20 years), I had gained control of my babbling, and met her like I was a regular human. And in fact I saw Kristin before another speech and she seemed to recognize me, so I talked to her again. Okay, so maybe she didn’t recognize me, maybe she was merely being polite, but I shall pretend like she did.

I also got introduced me to Neil Nyren, who is one of the head guys at Putnam. I hoped that he would remember my novel, among all the other things he had to remember. He did.

Throughout the weekend, I learned about outlining, point of view, dialogue, and more. The general way it goes: This is how you should do it. But not everyone does it this way.

You would think that I would know these things already, but I still don’t. This is how I write: I write and it’s as long as a freaking Dickens novel. The woman takes five pages to cross a room. You know how much dust she has on her picture frames and what’s in all her dresser drawers. And then there are three themes going on at once, and there’s so much I WANT TO SAY about EVERYTHING that has EVER bothered me. Ever. In one book. One book for all the world’s dilemmas.

So yeah, I’m going to try the outlining.

I also met many writers, though not as many as I would have liked since I didn’t get to the social-time evening events. If you write, and you spend most of your waking hours alone, then meeting other writers becomes a huge event. Because, let’s face it. Writers are odd, for the most part. I have other friends who aren’t writers. Most don’t understand that when you are daydreaming out the window, you’re actually working on a difficult plot point. They think you seriously need meds when you say the character was talking to you. And don’t get me started on strangers who don’t write. This guy I met the other day told me he was a writer, too, but he hadn’t written anything yet. How fabulous for him.

On Saturday, Cadillac took the kids to the lagoon to meet another family. When I was done at the conference, I called him and he said the kids weren’t done yet, so I decided to walk down there. The lagoon is manmade, with an island shooting out fresh water, and is surrounded by nicely raked white sand. The water is colder than the ocean and there are minnows swimming around. I’m pretty sure they ate the dead skin off my feet.

Anyway, I decided to get there via the beach. Bad idea. First of all, it’s about a half mile. I had to walk through actual water to get there, then across sand, then asphalt necessitating me putting my sandals back on. By the time I reached the Outrigger Reef, I had bleeding blisters on my heels. My face was hot and sweaty and I’m sure, beet red. My was Bride of Frankenstein-ed. So who did I see but Pat Wood waving me over from under an umbrella? Music swelled. The aloha spirit was reborn.

She was there with Holly Kennedy, another fabulous writer, who was all the way from Canada. Both Pat and Holly attended the week-long retreat, taught by folks like Jackie Mitchard, Ann Hood, Karin Slaughter, William Bernhardt, and more. It sounded like a great time, but having just spent every last penny on moving here plus more, I could not afford such delightful shenanigans this year.

As I sat down, my phone buzzed. It was Cadillac.

“I’M COMING TO MEET YOU,” he shouted. I heard wind blowing into his phone. “I WILL MEET YOU ON THE CONCRETE PATH.”

“It’s okay. I’m at the Outrigger and I’m going to stay here for a bit.”


Come get me? Was he planning on throwing me over his shoulder? I began shouting, too. “It’s okay. Let the kids play. I’ll be there LATER.”



Turns out he couldn’t hear a word I said, except “later.” And here I thought he was just being oddly stubborn, or didn’t want me to sit under the umbrella. I double-swore to stay at a hotel next year.

Something bad happened to my blistered heel. The lagoon water, while supposedly filtered, may not have been so clean. Yesterday it hurt like hell and was red and icky and I was limping around and feared I’d have to go get antibiotics, but it felt better. Today it still hurts. It’s a little red and puffy but better. I think as long as it is getting better, I will be all right.

Published by Margaret Dilloway

Middle grade and women's fiction novelist. FIVE THINGS ABOUT AVA ANDREWS, (Balzer + Bray 2020); SUMMER OF A THOUSAND PIES. MOMOTARO: Xander and the Lost Island of Monsters (Disney Hyperion); TALE OF THE WARRIOR GEISHA and SISTERS OF HEART AND SNOW, out now from Putnam Books. HOW TO BE AN AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE was a finalist for the John Gardner fiction award. THE CARE AND HANDLING OF ROSES WITH THORNS is the 2013 Literary Tastes Best Women's Fiction Pick for the American Library Association. Mother of three children, wife to one, slave to a cat, and caretaker of the best overgrown teddy bear on Earth, Gatsby the Goldendoodle.

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