Attending a Writer’s Conference Can Be Awkward

Last Year's East Texas Christian Writer's Conference
Last Year’s East Texas Christian Writer’s Conference

I have attended various writersconferences for over thirty years. Today and tomorrow I am attending the East Texas Christian Writer’s Conference. It is the fourth time I’ve attended this conference.

Awkward describes attending a conference for the first time. This is especially true if you have never been to that particular conference or any writer‘s conference for that matter.

You need to accept that the conference is work and sacrifice. The sacrifice comes from the time and money you invest in the conference.

You made the choice using vacation time on yourself instead of spending it with a spouse and loved ones. Money is spent on the conference registration fees, travel, meals, lodging, and supplies like a new pen and notebook.

You learn that selecting the right conference for you and running the gauntlet of getting your partner to agree to your attendance, getting the time off work, registering for the meeting, obtaining lodging, and selecting the conferences to attend is work. It is work packing for the trip and then more work unpacking when it is over.

When you go to a new location and know no one it can be stressful and lonely. It can be scary as you meet new people including writers you are a fan of.

It involves choices. Which sessions do I attend? Should I skip a session I paid for to meet and mingle? The sessions are fun.

You look at not only what sessions and panels are there, but you look at the guest list. You focus on who is coming. Make a list of authors, publishers, and editors attending the conference. Ask which of these do I admire? Are there attendees that you would like to meet and make an impression upon?

Then you look at what agents you are interested in as well as what publishers you are interested in. Once you know the publisher you‘re interested in find out which editors work for them and who is going to be at the conference. This takes a little bit of research.

Look at the acknowledgements of your favorite book and usually you‘ll find out who edited the book. You then look at the guest list for the convention and find out who is present. You might have an editor or agent present you want to meet.

You need to find out what the agents, publishers, and editors are doing. Do not talk to them in the escalator, in the bathroom or when they are meeting with their top author for a meal. A good time to meet them is after a panel or after a session they taught. You need to have some follow-up questions for them. Tell them which of their works or authors you enjoy. Ask them what is coming up next. DO NOT mention your own work at this point. You can do that in other settings. For example, in some cases you can make appointments through the convention to pitch a completed manuscript to them.

I know a lot of writers are shy or introverted. That will rarely sell your book or manuscript. I am an outgoing introvert. I am not shy, but have a strong tendency toward being wholly or predominantly concerned with and interested in my own mental life instead of focusing on obtaining gratification from what is outside the self. You have to get over the shy. Writing isn’t a loner craft. It takes the community of the editor, publisher, and even publicists as well as the writer.

The most important part of the conference involves meeting new people and make a good impression. You are there to learn and to network. The networking is critical. You can encourage one another. You need to focus on always being nice, always being friendly, and always being courteous.

Attending a conference is a wonderful experience. I am doing it today and tomorrow.

Poem: By White Rock Creek

By White Rock Creek

I was hiking
by White Rock Creek
on a summer day
in the bright sun.
It was so hot
and I was all alone.

Lost in my thoughts
my foot struck the pathway
to the cadence
of the music
I was listening to
on my iPod.

By White Rock Creek
there were people
reading signs saying keep right
and a concrete path
with city dwellers walking
to and fro.

Lovers hand in hand
and it all made sense
except for the litter
on White Rock Creek’s banks
while across the way
was a broken down barbed-wired fence.

In the bright sun
not a cloud in the sky
there was sweat on my brow
running down my temples
as an old woman walked by
and she smiled at me showing her dimples.

It was so hot
I drank some water
lots of cool water
and the temperature
was 110 degrees
and that was in the shade.

Lost in my thoughts
my foot struck the pathway
to the cadence
of the music
I was listening to
on my iPod.

While I was hiking
by White Rock Creek
on a summer day
in the bright sun
it was so hot
and I was all alone.

Jimmie A. Kepler
© August 2011

Poem: Coffee

By Jimmie Kepler

The timer starts the morning pot
brewing where it greets me
at the same time my alarm rings.

The first cup hides my morning breath
as it energizes the blood flowing through my veins
enabling me to stumble to my car
and drive to Starbucks for more.

A sunrise latte gives me the pick-me-up required
to face the tollway and morning rush hour.

A generic cup of Joe at work
gives me something to hold on to
as I begin the first
in a string of meetings.

A mid-morning cup of coffee
provides the jolt to make it to noon
where a fresh cup at my favorite café awaits.

Then a mid-afternoon cup
helps me survive the challenges
before the clock announces it is 5:00
and I can leave.

A drive-by Starbucks
provides the lift
before I sit in traffic
during evening drive time.

A fresh pot greets me
along with my
after-dinner pie and ice cream.

I fill the pot with water,
add fresh grounds
and set the controls before retiring for the evening.

And the timer starts the morning pot
brewing where it greets me
at the same time my alarm wakes me.

“Coffee” by Jimmie A. Kepler originally appeared in the September 23, 2013 issue of vox poetica Magazine.

Comments about Coffee and Jimmie’s poetry:

  • Jean – “Jimmie! Beautifully written and all too true. I like the way you ended as you began. Thank you so much for this engaging poem.”
  • Annmarie – “Jimmie Kepler writes a love poem to a rock star.”
  • Marissa – “I heard Jimmie do a reading of ‘Forever Still’ in Plano, Texas about a year ago. His poetry has the passion of the Beat Poets, the tenderness of the hippie poets, and the intellect of the renaissance man. His southern gentleman manners and charm as well as his soothing, Bill Clinton like voice and pacing makes a girl dream of being in his arms, curled up by the fireplace as he holds and reads his magical words to her. I love his poems “Forever Still” and “While You Were Sleeping”.

My First Trip To The University of Texas McDonald Observatory

McDonald Observatory
McDonald Observatory

In October 1974, I made my first trip to the University of Texas McDonald Observatory. It was 500 miles one-way from the campus of the University of Texas at Arlington to Fort Davis, Texas. The purpose of the trip was to do the required astronomical labs for my physics class in astronomy.

The trip was a caravan from the UT Arlington campus to far west Texas. We departed about 2 PM on Friday, October 4, 1974. We headed from Arlington west on Interstate 20 (yes it was built way back then). We drove to Lake Colorado City State Park about 3 miles south of Interstate 20 just southwest of Colorado City, Texas. I pitched my tent. I shared the tent with 4 young women and one young man that were fellow cadets in the UT Arlington ROTC program. Three of them were prior service (US military veterans).

The next morning we got up early and headed west. We stopped at a Stuckey’s (remember them?) getting two scrambled eggs with toast and bacon or sausage plus coffee for under a dollar. The journey continued to Pecos, Texas. There we left Interstate 20 and headed south on Texas Highway 17. We crossed Interstate 10 at Balmorhea, Texas and head south to Fort Davis. We camped at the Davis Mountains State Park.

That weekend the park also hosted a retreat for the Odessa, Texas Jaycees. Some of them were concerned that we had males and females cohabitating the same tent. I go a strong morals lecture from a Baptist deacon. It mattered not we were all of legal age.

That Saturday, October 5, 1974 a very good top five ranked Texas A & M football team was upset by Kansas University loosing 28 to 10. We listened to the game on the radio as we explored the city of Alpine, Texas and toured the Fort Davis National Historic site. I’ve actually been there more times than any national park or historic site with the exception of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Why? My brother-in-law is a retired Great Smoky Mountain Park Ranger.

We drove to the McDonald’s Observatory in the early afternoon to check-in and get ready for the night’s observations. Returned that night for one of the most memorable evenings of my life.

I’ll use my narrator voice and tell you about the observatory. An astronomical observatory located just northwest of Fort Davis, Texas, on Mount Locke in the Davis Mountains of West Texas is the McDonald Observatory. It has additional facilities on the adjacent Mount Fowlkes. It is the property of the University of Texas at Austin.

The philanthropy of Texas banker William Johnson McDonald (1844–1926) created it. He left his fortune to the University of Texas to endow an astronomical observatory.

It began operation in 1939. At that time,it was the second largest telescope in the world. The University of Chicago operated the observatory until 1960s, when control was transferred to the University of Texas at Austin.

The McDonald Observatory was the first location on earth to bounce a laser off a reflector left on the moon by Apollo astronauts. I learned this as an astronomy student on my 1974 road trip.

The McDonald Observatory is equipped with a wide range of instrumentation for imaging and spectroscopy in the optical and infrared spectra and operates the first lunar laser ranging station. It works closely with the astronomy department of the University of Texas at Austin while maintaining administrative autonomy.

The high and dry peaks of the Davis Mountains make for some of the darkest and clearest night skies in the region and provide excellent conditions for astronomical research. It is one of the darkest places on earth at night.

UT McDonald Observatory

The Otto Struve Telescope, dedicated in 1939, was the first large telescope built at the observatory. It is located on Mt. Locke at an altitude of 6,790 feet. The summit of Mt. Locke, accessed by Spur 78, is the highest point on Texas highways. The Harlan J. Smith Telescope, also on Mt. Locke, was completed in 1968.

The Hobby-Eberly Telescope (HET), dedicated in late 1997, is located on the summit of Mt. Fowlkes at 6,660 ft above sea level. It is operated jointly by the University of Texas at Austin, Pennsylvania State University, Stanford University, the Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich, and the Georg-August University of Göttingen.

As of 2012, the HET is tied with the similar Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) as the fifth largest telescope in the world. However, its cost was about 20% that of other similarly-sized telescopes in use today due to its optimization for spectrography.

Currently, the observatory operates four research telescopes at its West Texas site:

  • 9.2 m (360 in) Hobby-Eberly Telescope on Mt. Fowlkes
  • 2.7 m (110 in) Harlan J. Smith Telescope on Mt. Locke
  • 2.1 m (83 in) Otto Struve Telescope on Mt. Locke
  • 0.8 m (31 in) large format imaging telescope on Mt. Locke

The two peaks also host a number of other instruments:

  • The 1.2 m (47 in) Monitoring Network of Telescopes (MONET) North Telescope on Mt. Locke is a companion to one at the South African Astronomical Observatory in Sutherland, and was built by Halfmann Teleskoptechnik.
  • The McDonald Laser Ranging System (MLRS) operates a 0.76 m (30 in) telescope on Mt. Fowlkes to perform satellite laser ranging and lunar laser ranging.
  • A 0.5 m (20 in) Ritchey-Chretien reflector owned by Boston University on Mt. Locke is used for optical aeronomy.
  • The 0.4 m (16 in) Robotic Optical Transient Search Experiment (ROTSE) reflector on Mt. Fowlkes is used to search for the optical signature of gamma-ray bursts.

McDonald ObservatoryI have been back many times since that first trip in 1974. I took my two sons there on dad-son vacation when they were 13 and 10 years old. Since then they have built an excellent visitor center. The Frank N. Bash Visitors Center, located between Mt. Locke and Mt. Fowlkes, includes a café, gift shop, and interactive exhibit hall. The Visitors Center conducts daily live solar viewings in a large theater and tours of the observatory’s largest telescopes. It also hosts evening star parties, every Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday night which allow visitors to look through numerous telescopes of various sizes in the Telescope Park, and enjoy an indoor program.

Special viewing nights, during which visitors can stay on-site (not required for the programs) and view directly through eyepieces on the 0.9 m, Struve (2.1m), or Smith (2.7m) telescopes, are held on a reservation-only basis. Although not available for many years, as of June 2013, the 2.1m has returned to occasional public access.

The trip back to the University of Texas at Arlington was a long one. We drove back on US 67. It was 500 miles on a two lane highway. On the return trip I stopped and visited my parents at their ranch northwest of Brownwood, Texas.

It was on the 1974 trip I decided to ask Benita Breeding to marry me. I proposed the next week and we married on December 28, 1974.

Photo Credits: Jimmie A. Kepler took the photographs in May 2007. The photographs are available for use under the Creative Commons License listed below.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Pioneer Plaza & Texas Longhorns

Texas Longhorns in downtown Dallas, Texas
Texas Longhorns in downtown Dallas, Texas

Pioneer Plaza:

Located just north of the Dallas Convention Center is Pioneer Plaza. It is a large public park in the Convention Center District of downtown Dallas, Texas. The centerpiece of the Pioneer Plaza is large sculptures. It is a heavily visited tourist site. Located next to Pioneer Park Cemetery which features the Confederate War Memorial, the two offer the largest public open space in Dallas’ central business district.

Background of Pioneer Plaza:

The land was once railroad and warehouse property. Built on land cleared as part of the failed Griffin Square development, developer Trammel Crow gets credit for the idea behind the sculptures and plaza. He wanted an iconic “Western” sculpture in the City of Dallas. He assembled a group to give the sculptures. Begun in 1992, the $9 million project started on 4.2 acres of land donated by the City of Dallas. $4.8 million of the cost came from private funds raised from individuals and local businesses.


The large sculpture celebrates the nineteenth-century cattle drives that took place along the Shawnee Trail. It was the earliest and easternmost route by which Texas longhorn cattle moved to northern railheads. The trail passed through Austin, Waco, and Dallas until the Chisolm Trail siphoned off most of the traffic in 1867.

Artist Robert Summers of Glen Rose, Texas created 70 bronze steers and 3 trail riders sculptures. Each steer is larger-than-life at six feet high. All together the sculpture is the largest bronze monument of its kind in the world. Set along an artificial ridge, man-made limestone cliff the native landscaping with a flowing stream and waterfall creates a dramatic effect.

Maintained by the adjacent Dallas Convention Center, Pioneer Plaza is the second most visited tourist attraction in downtown Dallas.


Creative Commons License

Pioneer Plaza by Wikipedia and Jimmie A. Kepler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at

The photograph was taken in Dallas, Texas USA by Jimmie A. Kepler in December 2008.

Creative Commons License

Texas Longhorns in downtown Dallas, Texas by Jimmie A. Kepler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at

Spies In The Garden: A Novel of War and Espionage by Bob Bergin

“Spies In The Garden: A Novel of War and Espionage” by Bob Bergin takes place during the Japanese invasion of Burma and China. The book centers on the actions of the Flying Tigers (the American Volunteer Group). The book provides a good history of the Flying Tigers wrapped around the story.

The author knows the history of the Flying Tigers. I enjoyed his description of the pilots and their actions. The story begins in November 1941. The fictional hero, Harry Ross, is an American spy working undercover as a writer. He witnesses their early training. The training has with disaster after disaster. The Flying Tigers improve as the story advances into a force feared by the Japanese. Bob Bergin leaves no doubt that he views their performance as far better to the British Royal Air Force.

The narrative commences in Rangoon. Here Ross makes contact with the Flying Tigers. Ross also meets father and daughter Louie and Lucy. Louie is a trader. He supplied lavishness goods to the Chinese Nationalist leaders. Daughter Lucy is stylish and classy as well as beautiful. She and Harry become platonic friends.

Bergin tells a good story. Harry always seems to get out of the jams he encounters. His relationships with Sue and then Tai Li provide information for his work. He receives a Shanghai girl as a reward from Tai LI. She is in bed with the enemy and provides her pillow talk with the Japanese officers to Harry. This endures Harry with his superiors.

By July 1942, the Flying Tigers are winding down. Chennault becomes a Brigadier General. He finds himself working under General Joe Stilwell. We experience the differences between them. We also encounter the differences between the different arms of the Intelligence Services.

Harry does not seem to comprehend all that is happening and its consequences. Ross’ controller Doyle steers him and cautions him about getting caught up with politics.

We are left to contemplate what happens next as the book concludes with the end of the Flying Tigers in July 1942.

There is a final two-page wrap up at the end of the book – “What Became of Them?” It gives a brief winding up of the unanswered questions.

Bob Bergin knows the Flying Tigers. He tells a good story from an American point of view. If you like war, espionage, seduction, and intrigue this book is for you. Moreover, do not be surprised if you learn about the Flying Tigers along the way. I recommend buying the book. Mr. Bergin gives a good story and history of the Flying Tigers for your financial investment.

Reviewed by Jimmie A. Kepler, August 23, 2010.

The American Aircraft Factory in World War II by Bill Yenne

The American Aircraft Factory in World War II by Bill Yenne is truly magnificent. When I first had the book in my hand I thought “coffee table book”. After reading the book and looking at the pictures it is so much more. It is a wonderful tribute to the men and women who built the airplanes. It is an excellent history of the aircraft industry in the Unites States. The author gives a great background and understanding of the founders and companies like Boeing, North American, Curtiss, Consolidated, Douglas, Grumman, and Lockheed.

I learned of the Air Mail Act of 1934. The act required the separation of the airlines from manufactures. It caused some like William Edward Boeing to leave the industry. He gives great tribute to the gender shift in the work place and the ramping up of the industry for the war. He takes us through the construction of the facilities as well as the transition back to a peace time production.

The photographs in the book are amazing. I have never seen so many high quality photographs of this era in one collection. Without the pictures the book is a wonderful history of the aircraft industry. With the pictures it is transformed into a work of art.

I highly recommend the book for all aviation and World War II buffs. It would be an excellent addition to community and public school libraries as well. This is a masterpiece that will stand the test of time.