Wednesday, August 27, 2014

On the Way to New Caledonia – Teaching Through the Islands

We're delighted to again welcome Karen Albright Lin to Chiseled in Rock!

Karen consults and edits for published and yet-to-be published writers of fiction, nonfiction, and book proposals. She writes in a number of genres and conducts writing workshops in various venues, including on cruise ships.

If you missed her previous blogs regarding Teaching through the Islands, you might enjoy reading them before this installment, as she first shared her preparations in anticipation of teaching classes while on board her latest cruise, discussed some of the downsides to teaching on a cruise, introduced us to new tablemates and the private beach on Moorea, how she was bit in Bora Bora, and then she described her first class while teaching en route to Fiji.  Most recently she shared: Second Lecture en Route to Fiji:A Great Story to Tell, and Fiji but the Wrong Port! (I won’t mention it, but I will.)

-----------------------------------------------


For the fourth lecture, I had the pleasure of teaching my student groupies in the Wheelhouse Bar.  I was getting to know some of them by name.  It was only 1:15 in the afternoon and nobody ordered from the bar.  Maybe they wanted to stay sober enough to handle their pens.  Quite a few attendees took notes.  Still, I suspect most were there out of curiosity this time rather than following up on a personal writing plan.  I was teaching about screenwriting and the business.


 My Power Point for this one is particularly fun since I use dramatic movie posters.




Before I left on the cruise, I got the nod to do this from an attorney.  Always be sure you have the rights to use an image or information taken directly from someone else.  I took my attorney correspondence along with me, just in case.

There wasn’t another lecture in the Wheelhouse after mine so I stayed behind for 20 minutes answering questions, and passing out handouts and my business cards.  After I changed out of my jacket and into shorts, Wen and I enjoyed the most beautiful sushi buffet we’d ever seen. 




Wen tried again to play the Western style mahjong and found it very odd – new tiles and a different way of winning and scoring.  He still managed to win twice.  That night’s comedian was a flop; he specialized in fart jokes and playing the harmonica.  It didn’t strike a chord with the crowd.  The ocean continued to rock and roll until we made our way to Noumea, New Caledonia, which brags the second longest barrier reef in the world.

Captains stay out of all decisions about cruise entertainment.  But Captain Perra, from Italy, must have known I was part of the crew for this leg of the trip; he offered a cordial “hi” and a smile when he poked out of his hidey hole across from our crew cabin or when we bumped into him in the crew hall.

From the port we boarded shuttle busses from the gangway heading away from the dock.  New Caledonia is clean and felt a lot like Nice or Cannes.  French signs on the stores reminded me that my French grows rustier over the years. 






Someone suggested we go to duck island marine reserve for snorkeling.  So we took a $15 round trip glass bottom boat out.  It was cold and windy.  I stayed on the beach only steps from an object lesson—a rag-sculpted man with trash on a leash.  

Wen snorkeled and spotted some large grouper despite the murky water.  My mouth watered.  I love grouper!  Locals fished down the beach a few hundred yards.  We weren’t equipped.  And we doubted we’d be allowed to take fish to shore to eat.

Back on board, dinner was smart casual followed by cruise entertainers bringing the British invasion to life in the big theater. 



The nightly delivery of the Princess Patter suggested cruise guests fill out a survey about their time on the ship.  I’d been told by my cruise broker that I’m not allowed to fill one out.  I suppose they worry I’d stuff the box with votes for the writer as numero uno entertainer!  J    In fact, according to my broker, not hearing anything about my “performance” means all went well.  While on board, I rely on the activities director and attendees to let me know how things have gone.  The AV helper had one piece of advice: when there’s an entertainer following me, give him an extra 10 minutes to set up for the next person.  So my lectures were cut down to 45 minutes.  He was then a happy sailor.

-----------------------------

Thank you again, Karen!

Please join us on September 3rd for the next installment in this series: Don't Judge an Island by its Dogs.




Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Conned at a Conference: The Big Wrap Up


Joe Finder, New York Times bestselling author and keynote speaker for the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Conference a few years ago, stood right on our party stage and best answered what get’s you published with one word: tenacity.

I end this series with that fact because, as much as I’ve warned you to clench your dollars at seminars, there are nuggets to be found in them. I got to hang with Mr. Finder quite a bit that weekend because I set up a signing for him (which didn’t go so well, but that’s another story) and he told me anything I wanted to know. Originally determined to be a CIA agent, Finder changed his mind because when he went to work for them he found it boring—mostly administrative. He decided to become an author. Some novelists write slews of titles and make tons of contacts to bounce around for years in hopes of striking lighting. Not Finder. Tell me this isn’t tenacious. He wrote one book, gave it to one editor, then proceeded to rewrite, rewrite and rewrite it until the editor accepted it. I don’t remember the amount of revisions exactly but it was well over THIRTY.

My favorite observation from Finder also more to the testament of persistence—and this is paraphrasing—was that aspiring authors go into book stores, look at copies and proclaim, “I can write better than that.” He humbly and comically admitted that they probably do it to his books. Manuscripts need to be clear, yes, but as for so many other subjective metrics that can garner rotten tomatoes one day or praise the next, in the end what gets the contract is stick-to-it-iveness.

From my humble experiences so far, the dude is right—not to take anything away from his prose. A couple of his novels have found their way to the silver screen, after all.

There are lots of ways to be tenacious. Send to agents and presses with open submissions. Use this internet thingy to blog, Facebook, and make contacts (I’ve gotten to know nice agents through Cyber City without having to go anywhere), and yes, conferences can open doors too. Key thing is: tenacity doesn’t have to cost lots of money. Optimize every buck and use your time and hard work to usher your story all the way to print. For heaven’s sake, please don’t get it in your head that if you plop down more greenbacks, especially at conferences, that it will necessarily buy you a faster track.

Gusto

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Fiji but the Wrong Port! (I won’t mention it, but I will.)

We're delighted to again welcome Karen Albright Lin to Chiseled in Rock!

Karen consults and edits for published and yet-to-be published writers of fiction, nonfiction, and book proposals. She writes in a number of genres and conducts writing workshops in various venues, including on cruise ships.

If you missed her previous blogs regarding Teaching through the Islands, you might enjoy reading them before this installment, as she first shared her preparations in anticipation of teaching classes while on board her latest cruise, discussed some of the downsides to teaching on a cruise, introduced us to new tablemates and the private beach on Moorea, how she was bit in Bora Bora, and then she described her first class while teaching en route to Fiji. On July 30th she shared: Second Lecture en Route to Fiji: A Great Story to Tell.

-----------------------------------------------


As we headed toward Fiji, I taught Have an Idea for a Nonfiction Book? to a good crowd in a new venue, the Wheelhouse Bar.

I worried, initially, that people would have to wrench their necks to view the PowerPoint, but they were able to settle in and adjust to the nook style room configuration. 


Everyone is an expert at something and the audience agreed.  Participation went up.  People enjoyed sharing their knowledge of history, hands-on expertise, even modern interpretation of Biblical allegory.  I came back to the room satisfied with yet another class that went smoothly in every way.  It was time to strip off my business attire (jacket over laced camisole) and get into my swimsuit to hit the Jacuzzi and have a cocktail with Wen.

I don’t want to seem like a complainer, but damn it, I’m going to bitch and whine about Fiji.  (Like that rhetorical device?  It’s called an APOPHASIS.  See below.)   

We arrived at King’s Wharf, Suva (the capital of Figi), only to discover that we were on the wrong side of the island, super disappointing since it meant we were nowhere near any good snorkeling.  Fiji is supposedly one of the world’s best diving and snorkeling spots.  We’ll never know.  We had to hire a car to go quite a distance from the port just to get to a yucky beach at a resort where we were trapped and had to buy anything we wanted to eat and drink from the overpriced hotel bar.  

We left our backpack near the boardwalk entrance to the beach so we could walk along the shore hand-in-hand in the rain (growl) and make the best of it.  We returned to find our money had been stolen from it!  Not wanting to sound bitter or judgmental or anything, but can’t people be civilized or at least decent?  (APOSHASIS)  Not that we should blame ourselves for someone else’s crime, but we sure needed to take a few smart pills next time we’d hit a beach!  (another APOPHASIS!) 


It was towel-blanket cold.

Luckily we had a little change in another pocket so we were able to drown our sorrows in a shared local beer.   

Heading back, we told our driver/guide what happened, and she said, “Someone will feel bad this afternoon.”  The idea of Karma is alive and well on the islands.

We had agreed to pay for the privately hired car upon arriving back at the ship and … well, we didn’t have the money.  So I stayed on shore as collateral while Wen went on board to fetch more money from our safe.  Meanwhile, I cooled under a canopy, chatting with walnut-dark local women.  One of them, possibly weighing 400 pounds, was oiling down a tourist’s feet.  Warning: here comes another APOPHASIS.   Not trying to be gross or anything, but those feet were the worst kind of athlete’s feet and the recipient was enjoying the rubdown way too much. 

Under the tent we talked about dollars.  American was the best deal for them since the Aussie dollars aren’t quite as strong.  The Fiji dollar is worth even less at .636.  


The vendors and guides were happy to take U.S. dollars from Wen once he returned with the ransom to buy me back.


Our Fiji experience was not what we’d hoped for, but as Wen says, “We can check it off our list.”  


Apophasis - The mention of something you claim you won’t mention--or pretending to deny what it really affirms. (an example from my all-time favorite TV series: "I don't want to say anything bad about another doctor, especially one who's a useless drunk."- Dr. Gregory House in "Acceptance," House, 2005) 

-----------------------------------

Thank you, Karen!

I hope you'll join us on August 20th for the next installment: On the Way to New Caledonia!


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Conned at a Conference: Contests

Isn’t this business a contest enough?

In the last contest I entered, there was a moment where I stood in a flock of writers all chatting loudly at the seminar (it’s paradoxical to see writers bloom boisterously at these get-togethers because they’re otherwise quiet loners) and I tracked down Joanne, one of the coordinators. She handed me my scored entries then said, “Hold on while I find your critique sheets.”
I let her know, “I didn’t sign up for those. Just needed to find out if I won or not.” My first ten pages came back with something like a 92 which ranked pretty well, but didn’t get me finalist.

Jaw nearly unhinging in her surprise, Joanne asked, “You don’t want to see what the evaluators had to say?”
“Do you think if I changed it to whatever they suggested someone will accept my manuscript?”

She gave me a smile mingled with scolding and mischief. “It’s not as simple as that you know it.”
“Plus, why would I pay extra for their feedback when I’ve spent months in critique groups getting critiqued to death for free?”

She didn’t have an answer. And apparently, I’m the only scribe in history who opted out of these hell-of-a-deal critiques, rebel that I am.
If my whimsical logic in the above situation resonates with you, the rest of this posting will be down your alley. Otherwise, you’ll more than likely deem me as a cheapskate and a crabapple. Rest assured, I’m not grumpy, but cheap…you betcha.

So, in said case, my manuscript didn’t even reach the finals which are judged by a panel of editors and agents. I graciously accepted that. By all means, it’s good exposure if you make it to the finals. Now…keep in mind that comprising the team of evaluators in a typical conference contest is a mixed bag, a lot of non-published authors, newbies—some who may not even stick with the pursuit to publication once they find out how hard it is, and usually a few who have gotten some independent deals. Maybe…maybe… a couple of writers who have New York pubs join the cast, but this is rare because they’re taxed enough with trying to stay in that status by marketing and meeting deadlines. In other words, if you’re a member of that organization hosting the cook off, the evaluators are people in your same league. It is ludicrous to pay for feedback from your peers yet again. Everybody’s got an opinion and the most polished pages read by fresh eyes will continue to gather ‘suggestions for change’ if you let it snowball.
As for the contest itself, bang-for-the-buck evaluation, I would suggest that every writer enter at least one or two, then evaluate whether to do them anymore. Contests are a lot of work for those who run them and, provided that the entry fee is around $30, they’re a reasonable service. I don’t recommend entry because it will get you a book deal. Rather, you try it out for education.

An NYT Bestselling author I know confided to me once, “Winning contests will get you good at winning contests.”
Take that as you wish, but I have indeed noticed that a lot of acquaintances who are pretty sharp writers and recent contest winners are doing just that, winning, but not much else. Professional contacts are being made I’m sure, but I’m still crossing my fingers for them that something significant will break through. Maybe it’s because the industry is changing so drastically. 10 years ago, winning competitions appeared to open doors a little better. I have a couple of author pals who scored NY book deals back in the day after claiming a blue ribbon, but again, recently, I haven’t heard any ground-shaking news. Please feel free to share if you know of anyone snagging a contract with the big houses directly from taking first prize.

Of course, to each their own. There are people out there who adore a friendly challenge and just take this sort of thing in stride with the business. However, if you’re fairly new to the mission of publication, and think contests in some way are a fast track, cool your jets. Writing world is plenty competitive in every path. Enter one of these and you’ll experience it up close.
Above all, make sure that you are also sending your work to agents and publishers with open door submission policies. Believe it or not, that’s how most of my entourage with book deals made it.

Next and final installment : The Big Wrap Up - The Best Advice I Ever Got at a Conference

Gusto

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Second Lecture en Route to Fiji: A Great Story to Tell

We're delighted to again welcome Karen Albright Lin to Chiseled in Rock!

Karen consults and edits for published and yet-to-be published writers of fiction, nonfiction, and book proposals. She writes in a number of genres and conducts writing workshops in various venues, including on cruise ships.

If you missed her five previous blogs regarding Teaching through the Islands, you might enjoy reading them before this installment, as she first shared her preparations in anticipation of teaching classes while on board her latest cruise, discussed some of the downsides to teaching on a cruise, introduced us to new tablemates and the private beach on Moorea, how she was bit in Bora Bora, and then she described her first class while teaching en route to Fiji.

-----------------------------------------------


Each time I return from teaching at sea I have new stories to tell.  My cruise through the islands was no exception.  From Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora and on toward Fiji I collected dubious rumors, true tales and character sketches.  These on-board experiences mirrored my second lecture, Have a Great Story to Tell?

In most genres, readers seek, above all, to follow characters.  
        

And we populate our books with complicated people like those we meet in real life.  While waiting for my husband to finish up with the mahjong group, I learned one new friend was painfully OCD.  She admitted her fitted sheets don’t look fitted after folding and that her morning ritual takes hours--most of it unpacking and packing her makeup bag just so.  To further complicate her world, she had to cope with the aftermath of being a jury member in a case that included over one hundred counts of child molestation.  She held back the tears at our lunch as she felt driven to wash her hands.

She would make a great protagonist.  I empathized with her.  She was noble, flawed, and had goals.  It would be painful yet enlightening to be in her skin for the length of a book.   


There were many faceless antagonists on board.  A cough was going around.  We met several people battling the pain of cancer and the burden of pulling along oxygen tanks.  The weather wasn’t cooperating.  Yet it was the human antagonists who made stories relatable: the woman who stole and wore another woman’s dress, the DJ who refused to play anything newer than 1970s because he wanted to clear the place of people who might stay past 11:00 pm so he could call it a night, and the man who made fun of an entertainer who wore an outfit that was super-snug over her large body rather than commenting about her lovely voice. 


Great storytelling creates danger, tension, reversals, and key plot points.   


Because the ship was rockin’and rollin’ in a big way, nauseating some, entertaining others, a rumor went around that one of the stabilizers had gone out.  One of our entertainers fell off her acrobatic prop and onto the hard stage, ending the show early.  Another entertainer’s jokes flopped.  All of it short story material, right?


The wide variety of characters on the ship broke most stereotypes about Aussies.  They weren’t all alligator wrestlers or Nicole Kidman beautiful.  Nor did they survive on Fosters Beer or live on vegemite and barbeque.  They didn’t have to dodge kangaroos in the cities.  They each had a unique voice that made me care about his or her adventures.  Singers sold their CDs outside the big theater.  One performer was a shrinking type, seemed pitiful, embarrassed about his career coming down to this, calling himself “washed up.”  Another, head-held-high, promoted himself as a singer, horse whisperer, and ukulele expert.  Hey, why not?

We writers, even as late as AFTER we’ve written our entire stories, discover our theme.  


My theme for this trip could well have been that travel is a nuisance: showering in a cubby hole, frowning over stormy weather, scrambling to find restrooms when ashore, driving on a different side of the street, and learning how many ways people try to part me from my money. 

But I prefer my theme be: travel brings out my passionate side, the part of me that loves to dance in a Jacuzzi, eat blood sausage, schmooze with cruise staff, and meet writers who are in the midst of living and writing stories I’m eager to read or see on the big screen.  


-----------------------------------------------

Thank you, Karen, for sharing your travels and for teaching us what it's really like to teach on-board a cruise ship!  Join us on August 13th for the next in the series: Fiji but the Wrong Port! (I won’t mention it, but I will.)

  

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Teaching En Route to Fiji – Sea Princess

We're delighted to again welcome Karen Albright Lin to Chiseled in Rock!

Karen consults and edits for published and yet-to-be published writers of fiction, nonfiction, and book proposals. She writes in a number of genres and conducts writing workshops in various venues, including on cruise ships.

If you missed her four previous blogs regarding Teaching through the Islands, you might enjoy reading them before this installment, as she first shared her preparations in anticipation of teaching classes while on board her latest cruise, discussed some of the downsides to teaching on a cruise, introduced us to new tablemates and the private beach on Moorea, and then explained how she was bit in Bora Bora!

-----------------------------------------------

Karen Albright Lin:

With Tahiti, Moorea and Bora Bora in our wake, we sailed toward Fiji.

The May 4th Daily Patter let passengers know it was a dress-formal evening.  We’d be at sea two days heading west northwesterly through the South Pacific.  I would teach on both days.  The tease for my first class read:

1:30 pm Enrichment Lecture: Writing Your Life – Tricks and Techniques for Writing About Your Life.  With guest speaker and author Karen Lin.  Vista Lounge.  Deck 7 Aft.


I slept in then had a nice brunch before heading to the most comfy venue on the ship, the three hundred plus-seat Vista Lounge.  The first lecture on any trip is always the most nerve wracking, not knowing how the audio visual setup will work or how many people will show up.  It turned out there was an ego-stroking large screen, an efficient AV expert, and an enthusiastic crowd.  I never got an official count, but I’d estimate somewhere around 75-100 attendees, most of them ages 50+. 

I like to start with Writing Your Life because older crowds are motivated to leave a legacy.  The subject draws them in.


Teaching on three cruises in the past year, I've found the first attendees stick around for subsequent lectures.  The goal is to see the crowd grow.  So when I signed on with Princess, my offering 2-6 expanded the appeal to broader topics about writing and publishing. 

The audience was attentive and friendly.  Aussies interacted with me more than Europeans did on the Baltic Cruise.  I was mobbed after the class with questions, requests for my business card, and interest in picking up my handout.  After I got the Reader’s Digest version of a sound-man’s experience with many known musicians and his desire to write about it, I advised him as we left the theater to clear it for the next event—something about treating age spots offered by a spa employee.


Wen and I usually travel with mostly wrinkle-free clothing.  But this night being formal night, we frowned over crumpled items.  No irons were allowed in the state rooms, but use of one in the laundry room was free.  If we’d needed to wash anything, it would have cost two Australian dollars for one load.  


A gut-splitting woman from Melbourne told me there were fights over the laundry room.   One lady’s dress disappeared from the dryer only to show up on another woman later.  The thief said, “Prove it’s yours!”  The victim said, “I made the dress.”  There was no tag; it was hand sewn and one of a kind; it was hard to deny what had happened.  Imagine stealing a dress from a dryer then wearing it when the chances of being seen by the owner had to be pretty high!  It could have been stand-up material for the comedian who would later board. 

Cruises are great places to collect grist for the writing mill.  

The next day, also a sea day, I would teach Have a Great Story to Tell?  The Inside Scoop


My 50 minutes would be up against a poolside singing duo, a champagne art auction, and a bean bag toss.  I hoped to have another good turnout, that many of the same smiles would shine, that there would be even more participation and interaction.  On toward Fiji.


-----------------------------------------------

Thank you, Karen!

I hope you'll join us on July 30th for the next installment in Karen's series on Teaching through the Islands: Have a Great Story to Tell?  The Inside Scoop.


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Conned at a Conference: Banquets


One of the common ways I’d receive punishment as a kid—my fidgeting and curiosity landed me in lots of trouble—was liver for supper and a long lecture. Funny how I volunteered for a similar whipping as an adult and didn’t even realize it until years later.
With every conference comes a dinner of some sort, fitting as lyrics in a song. You’ve been learning and pitching hard. Time to feast. You deserve it. Typically, several meals come with the registration fee and you’re there with like-minded people. Why not usher in the night with a hearty banquet and gaiety?
Before I poke fun, keep in mind that I’m very rambunctious and was cursed with the appetite of a growing boy.
So, you join nice people at the round table with varying degrees of alcohol in their blood streams, all the way from not- a- drop to maybe-you-should-go-take-a-nap, and proceed to literally rub elbows because you have no choice being corralled so close together. Seated next to someone cute, this isn’t so bad. I always felt sorry for who had to reside next to me.
After I’d always mistakenly drink my neighbor’s water, I usually started the conversation. I like being in the white-hot spotlight.
Then the bread arrives. Unfortunately there’s no room for it so you proceed to butter a slice on your lap. This is fun while you try to carry on sophisticated conversation. “Wasn’t that an amazing workshop on characterization? I was positively…oh shoot, I just dropped margarine in my shoe.”
A standard perk with the conference dinner is an agent or editor chaperone. The idea is that maybe you can slip a pitch in for your novel while you pal around with him or her over vittles. Again, with my teenage metabolism, eating is a physical thing and I usually wind up with some scraps in my hair, so this isn’t my best arena for schmoozing.  The saving grace is: the wait staff isn’t going to bring you enough food anyway, so you might as well pick at your plate and concentrate on impressing the publishing contact.
When the salad makes its grand entrance, I always tense up. Leaves and croutons don’t play well with eating utensils. When you try to wrangle a good bite of the garden on your fork, inevitably the lettuce will make a fool of you. “Ha ha. You thought I was going in your mouth, but I like clinging to your chin better! Allow me to smear some dressing all the way down to your neck.” Thus, everyone is painfully conscientious of botanical strays and this puts a damper on your obsessively practiced elevator pitch.
Once, I was seated across from a very respectable editor. We’ll call her Beatrice. The discussion turned to authors and Alan Dean Foster’s name came up. Now, Foster is one of my key influences. If I met him, I’d be so star struck, drooling would ensue and for days thereafter I’d mumble gibberish. To Beatrice, I said, “I just love his work.”
Get this:
She actually asked me if I knew him. As if I were some hot-shot author who got to be in the company of said genius, she posed that question. Maybe I should have said, “Oh yeah, me and Al go way back. In fact he was glancing at my manuscript the other day and told me I should run it by you, but I think he’s just flattering me. Quite the charmer that ol’ Alan Dean!" But of course, I simply retreated back to my modestly. “Gosh, I just read his stuff, ma’am. It’s really… good.”
Incidentally, the next day, I pitched to Beatrice who stopped me in the middle of my vignette to inform me that she wasn’t interested. Whereas I respected her candor and understood the nature of the business, it was nonetheless a tail-between-the-legs moment for me. To this day, I can’t help but wonder if the lettuce stuck to my forehead at dinner prompted her rejection.
Back to the meal.  The waiter delivers small slices of chicken, steak, or vegetable entrees to the table. He knows what you ordered because a tiny card which claims your serving sits in front of you (and eats up all the precious real estate). It’s to your advantage that consuming just the three mouthfuls that comprise your meal passes a mere blink of time. This way, you can get back to romancing the agent or editor. You are, after all, here on business. No time for nutrition.
It’s time to hush once a speaker takes the stage. I’m grown up enough now that I can put a clamp on my cutting up, but my raging hunger will not be quieted. During pauses in the speech, my gut roars, summoning looks of disbelief. On the table next to mine, a barely touched bread basket cruelly wastes away. I consider asking the patrons, “Are you going to eat the rest of that?”
If your attention span is anything like mine, the ceremonies lose you in about five minutes. The keynote speaker graciously breathes into the microphone and everyone in the room prefers that they were up there instead—not that they don’t wish the successful author all the luck in the world. In most cases, there’s a reason why writers stick to the page. They’re not good at entertaining. But I can hear my mother berating me into sitting up straight, folding my hands across my lap, and being a good boy. I usually like the novelist who is speaking, however my low blood sugar is making me loopy and my thoughts drift like those little smudges that get in your eye.
Two hours later, jarred out of my daydreaming, ready for a cheeseburger, I get to the part of the conference I enjoy the most…parties.
I stopped attending banquets about four to five years ago. Instead, usually accompanied by a couple of writer pals, strung out like myself from the hectic day, I’d spend that two hours haunting the real hotel restaurant, indulging in a thick steak, and enjoying some let-your-hair-down repartee. It’s soothing to the soul. To those who actually enjoy the banquets, more power to you. If you find that you’re on edge going into the big hall, though, remember there are plenty of opportunities to mingle—most are better than the dinner—and your sanity takes priority.
Gusto Dave