10 Reasons to Attend the Idaho Writers Rendezvous

If you attend one writers conference this year, 
make it the Idaho Writers Rendezvous
Here are 10 reasons to do so:

10. Size Matters 
And bigger is not better when it comes to this sort of thing. I've attended large conferences before and it's not much fun drowning in a sea of a thousand writers all desperate for a moment to speak with a presenter, who runs from the masses as if the zombie apocalypse is upon us. Presenters at the Rendezvous are accessible, approachable, and encouraging.

9. Rediscovered Reception
One of the first opportunities for networking is at the Thursday night reception at Rediscovered Books, the coolest, downtown boutique bookstore there is.

8. Life Sucks, Laugh Hard
Registration for the conference includes a ticket to Life Sucks, Laugh Hard, a live comedy event at Beside Bardenay featuring Jen Mann, Robin O'Bryant, Elaine Ambrose, and yours truly. It's a kick ass show in a kick ass venue.

7. Lunch
Remember how I said the presenters were accessible? Have lunch with an agent, editor, or author. We limit the number of attendees joining a presenter to four people, so you're not lost in the crowd. And who doesn't like lunch? Check out our presenters HERE.

6. Basque Banquet
This is not your grandmother's banquet. Basque food, basque dancers. Because a little bit of culture makes a boring banquet better. And that's just how we roll.

5. Manuscript Evaluations 
Submit 10 pages of your work ahead of time. Sit down one-on-one with an editor for twenty minutes to discuss. This is one of those you-don't-know-until-you-try-it events for an aspiring writer. Once you get feedback from a professional editor, you'll wonder why it took you so long.

4. Pitch Sessions
You could spend another five years sending out query letters. Or you can sit down with an agent for ten minutes. One is much more effective than the other.

3. Content
We've got you covered. Everything from Star Trek to Poetry. I'm not making this up. Query letter class, pitch class, agent panel, scripts, blogging, plot, humor, fantasy, publishing. See the full schedule HERE.

2. Open Mic
You want to be heard? Here's your chance. Take the mic, read your work. The cream of the crop win prizes. And prizes rock.

1. Boise
If you haven't been here, you're missing out. Mid-May is the perfect time to check out why Boiseans are so ridiculously proud of this place we call home. If you're flying in from out of town, you can skip renting a car. Downtown is highly walkable and there's plenty to do if you're bringing along a spouse who won't attend the conference - Saturday farmers market, fantastic restaurants, shopping, galleries, museums, parks, you name it.

Questions? Email me at amanda@akturner.com. 
Ready to register? Click HERE. You'll be glad you did.

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The One Thing I "Force" on My Kids

This piece first appeared on The Huffington Post

When I was pregnant, I had a very clear picture of who my daughters would be. Tomboys, soccer players, into books, and a bit nerdy. Basically, they would be me. Looking back, this naiveté and narcissism is laughable. We don't create replicas of ourselves (and thank goodness for that). 

Fast forward eight years and our house contains an unnatural amount of pink. My girls won't wear jeans, only leggings. There isn't a soccer ball in sight, nor any desire to pursue team sports or even a basic understanding of the game. ("It's not nice, Mom. The other team wouldn't pass the ball to my team.") Our home is chock full of books, which I'm counting as a win, even if our library includes a startling number of princesses as protagonists. 

I've long since let go of the idea that I can or should shape who my children are. If they want to wear stripes, plaid, and leopard print together, so be it. If they never play a team sport or an instrument or participate in the school play, that's okay. They don't have to be Girl Scouts or join the debate team. If they want to do any of these things, then I'll support them, but they don't have to. I'm going to focus on keeping them happy, healthy, and safe. Beyond that, I'll let them decide. 

But there is one thing I force my kids to do. A daily ritual on which I will not compromise. A foundation that will make any of their other interests possible, probable, and positive. I call it our Family Creed.

My oldest, pictured above in stripes, plaid, and leopard print, wants to be an ornithologist. My youngest wants me to wash her Frozen dress and paint her fingernails. We all have different priorities. As long as they both know that they are strong, brave, smart, funny, kind, beautiful, and important, then the rest is fine with me.

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Confessions of a Part-Time Party Pooper

Before you put down your fondant to let me know that I'm an asshole parent, hear me out. I like parties, I really do. I enjoy celebrating my daughters' birthdays with them and we've had themed parties in the past. I've hung Little Mermaid streamers and Diego piñatas, which seemed like a great idea until I watched a horde of three-year-olds beating a replica of a child with a stick until they split him in two.

But I've never made individual Minion cupcakes or a cake that looks like Barbie's castle. (For the record, let me just say that I will never make a cake that looks like Barbie's castle.) One year we had kids make their own sundaes, which was great until a 4-year-old puked with startling force and suddenly no one was hungry anymore. Well, at least not the adults. I don't do over-the-top birthday desserts. Not that I don't want to or don't appreciate the 9 million fantastic Pinterest ideas of which I am incapable, but if I was going to make an intricate dessert, my kids would want to be part of the process. We do many projects and crafts together, but not an excessive amount in the kitchen, because I'm a control freak and a clean freak and children produce high volumes of snot. I'd end up being an asshole and my kids would be in tears. Happy fucking birthday.  

So I'll leave the dragon cakes and cake pops and cupcakes that look like little hamburgers to others. My soon-to-be eight-year-old is really into birds right now. And I'm not talking Angry Birds, I'm talking American Kestrals. She wants to be an ornithologist. I'm not sure if that will last or if she just enjoys the impressed look of surprise from adults when she tells them she's going to be an ornithologist. We've purchased bird feeders, bird houses, bird books, and she gave her princess room decor to her sister and replaced it with drawings of a loon, a goldfinch, and a tree swallow. I've learned more about John James Audubon than I care to admit. The bird fascination will likely tie into her birthday and influence many of her gifts. 

Beginning of the bird fascination. 

Australian Rainbow Lorikeet, Emilia, age 7

For her younger sister, I predict (and will relent to) a Frozen party. And I'm perfectly capable of buying a cake with Elsa smushed on the top of it. One of her gifts will be another Frozen dress, because I'm growing tired of her asking me to do laundry so that she can wear the existing one, now near tatters, every day.

So if I'm not against having a themed birthday party why the meme? Why am I such a curmudgeon? Because the meme is not about the party. It's about remembering to have balance and not go to extremes just because we can. It's about stopping for a moment to realize how lucky we are. We have children to love, they have parents who love them, and apparently a lot of us have the time and means for extravagant birthday celebrations. Should we celebrate? Abso-frickin-lutely. But we'd also do well to remember how terribly lucky we are to be able to do so. Sure, I want my kids to feel joy, but I also want them to have the gratitude to understand that it's just as important to spread that joy. 

One of the worst motives for the themed birthday party is to give your child the party you never had. Because if you're carrying around decades-old resentment about a lack of theme and fanfare, go read the meme again. That was your theme. If you had a parent or parents that recognized your birthday, even in the smallest of ways, then you hit the jackpot. 

Behind all of my f-bombs, I'm a proponent for peace, love, kindness, and gratitude. But I'm incapable of expressing this without a heavy dose of sarcasm, bitchiness, and profanity. 

I'm off to retrieve my kids from school. It's that best part of the day that trumps even the evening's first glass of wine. (Let's be honest, if there's a first, there'll be a second). My daughters will frustrate me and make me laugh, and I'm sure I'll do the same to them. We'll do homework, eat dinner, fold laundry, and I'll feel grateful that we can do all of these things in relative safety and comfort. And who knows? If time permits, maybe we'll even brainstorm ideas for an ornithological birthday party.

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Backyard Compassion

It's easy to read the news and feel appalled at atrocities happening on the other side of the world. From the comfort of our couches in air-conditioned homes, where our fridges are stocked with food and we have no fear of militants or plague knocking on our doors, we read at leisure on our laptops and feel genuine concern for the residents of war-torn and blighted regions of our planet. If we're feeling especially generous, maybe we even retrieve our credit cards and donate twenty dollars. But then we close our laptops and get in our cars and drive to the grocery store, because despite the fact that our fridges are stocked, we've run out of shallots or heavy cream or something else we simply must have for that dish we saw on Pinterest and have been dying to make.

In my neighborhood, a trip to the grocery store includes a dozen encounters with refugees. For the most part, these are innocuous, the crossing of paths and continuing of separate lives. Occasionally, I see hostility. Someone honks at the family crossing the road, walking too slow for the driver's liking. A veiled woman receives sidelong glances which may or may not carry judgement with them. In the store, shoppers steer clear of the couple speaking loudly in a language that sounds harsh, simply because it includes sounds we cannot replicate. I dread the bearded bigot whose home splits the distance between my house and the store, as he's likely to confront an immigrant and rant about social security and borders and "real" Americans.

Families come from all over the world to begin new lives in what is, hopefully, a safe environment. In the past decade, refugees have come to Boise from over 30 countries. We will never know what they have endured. No human can understand the full complexities of another's past, but we can, at least for a moment, stop to consider what it must be like to transplant your life. Foreign soil. Everything different and shocking and difficult to comprehend, from language to clothing to food and rules and transportation and social etiquette.

The experience often seems harder on the adults. A seven-year-old refugee will likely receive kindness and friendship from his new classmates here, while the boy's parents will feel disdain from their new neighbors. Maybe we need to take a cue from our 2nd graders.

Today is the day for 1000 Voices for Compassion. Instead of gawking at tragedy around the world, I'm paying tribute to those survivors who have made it here, to our own backyard, and who deserve not just our patience, but also our respect.

A woman selling coal in her shack after the earthquake destroyed her house in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti on August 25, 2010. arindambanerjee / Shutterstock.com

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Swear Thee Well

If language offends you, shut this motherfucker down! This post is not for you. That’s fair warning. You’re not allowed to keep reading and then get pissed off about inappropriate language. That’s what this post is about. Because...

Splitting Hairs Is Tedious
Don’t search for deeper meaning and get your g-string in a tangle. Cursing is about emphasis and punch and flow. Not every word about female anatomy is a slight to women, just as the word dick is not an attack on men. And why does so much swearing involve mothers? Motherfucker. Son of a bitch. Son of a whore. I mean, let's be honest, it's the mom taking the heat, not the son. So why dump it all on the moms? 

Because mothers are fucking tough and we can take it!

It's Not About Religion
I don’t often use God when I curse, but occasionally god. And I’m not refraining from capitalization to offend your God, I’m refraining because I’m not referring to your God. Language morphs and changes. If you think that every utterance of Oh god refers to your God, well, that’s just not the case. Someone blurting Oh god due to a sudden shock, or murmuring Oh god on the verge of orgasm is not really praying, I promise.

More offensive to religion are people who behave atrociously in the name of religion, like ISIS or the Only God Can Fudge Me lady. Damn is good, too. I’m not really damning anything or anyone to hell. (I don’t believe in hell, and if I did, I certainly wouldn’t believe that I had the power to send anyone there). Again, we're not talking religious studies, it’s emphasis and punch and flow, damn it!

The Classics

Fuck. It’s a noun! It’s a verb! Make it a modifier, if you like! Use it to highlight the positive or emphasize the negative. The f-word is so loved because of this versatility, as well as the satisfaction of the word itself. You can begin saying it while biting your lower lip and end with the delightful crack of the k. It never gets old. Does it lessen the beauty of lovemaking? Fuck, no! It’s just a great fucking word.

Bitch. My favorite use of the b-word is the verb form, as a substitution for complain. I rarely call anyone else a bitch, because as much of a potty mouth as I am, I’m not really a name caller. I have called myself names, though. As in, “Oh god, I’m such a fucking bitch.”

Cunt. People using the c-word usually think they’re really bringing out the big guns. But personally, I don’t see it that way. Cunt is fairly meh, as far as I’m concerned. The c is the dynamic sound in the word, but wasted at the very beginning. By the time you get to the t, the punch is gone. It feels deflated, flaccid, limp (and therefore also ironic). Female humorists get lots of hate mail, and cunt is a favorite insult of bitter and frustrated internet trolls. I hate to break it to you guys, but we’re not that bothered.

Dick. Just like fuck, dick ends with that satisfying k. One of my favorite uses of dick is combining it with move. As in, Hey Kanye, that was another dick move. 

Check out Bad Sandy's Why So Sullen, Kanye?


Asshat. I’m old fashioned (can’t you tell?), so it takes me a bit to warm up to new variations. I was resistant at first to asshat, and have yet to use it myself, but it’s growing on me. The combination of words is unique and the cadence pleasing. It's almost like an updated version of butthead. 

WTF? I’m not a WTF? person. I’m a What the Fuck? person. I’m also not a LOL, TTYL, or ROTFL person. I love words too much. And if something is truly worthy of a What the Fuck?, then I'm happy to take the time to honor the full phrase. 

Douche. This one fell out of fashion for a time, but I’m so glad it’s back. It is undeniably linguistically satisfying. Say it with me: douche. I love that that you can spread this word over the course of a few seconds, if you choose. I prefer to keep it as is, without the addition of bag, but that's just personal preference. And I adore Bitch Magazine’s defense of the word and explanation of how it aligns with feminism:

The products involved in douching have historically functioned to scare women into believing that their all-natural ladyparts are dirty, smelly, unpleasant, and unfresh. These same products have actually rendered many a woman's perfectly wonderful ladyparts unhealthy, painful, and infected by their very use. (Check out some vintage ads that touted Lysol as the cure for lonely, dateless, stanky ladies if you'd like some visual proof of the ways women have been shamed into using these unnecessary products.) 
Douches and douchebags are a pointless, irritating, unfortunate, and generally toxic enemy of women throughout history. A Tool of the Patriarchy. A menace to women's autonomy and well-being. Something that should not come into contact with a smart, self-respecting woman's body. Tell us again why we shouldn't use the term to refer to people who share those same characteristics?
Read the full article here: Bitch Magazine Douchebag Decree

If you've read this far and immediately want to type a response letting me know that swearing is unimaginative, insulting, and unnecessary, or that swearing makes me stupid and unrefined, please don't waste your time. And why the fuck didn't you stop reading after the disclaimer? I warned you.

If you're a lonely, bitter, sexually frustrated internet troll who just can't wait to let me know I'm a cunt, save your energy. I’ve been called worse.

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3 Reasons to Take Your Kids to Happy Hour

This article first appeared on The Huffington Post.

If going out to dinner as a family means fast food, Chuck E. Cheese or any establishment with the word "Hut," "Buffet" or "Corral" in the name, it's time you find a good happy hour. By the age of 5, your kid might be ready. Ask yourself the following:
  • Could your child's behavior ever be described as a tantrum?
  • Does your offspring communicate by screaming, hitting or throwing food?
If the answer to either of these is yes, then I'm sorry, but you need to stick with Chuck E. Cheese or hire a babysitter.

On the other hand:
  • If your child understands the concept of behaving appropriately in the adult world... 
  • If they can survive an hour without an electronic device in hand... 
  • If they are capable of maintaining eye contact and conversation... 
... then they're ready for happy hour. Of course, I'm not talking about bellying up to a bar with a kid on your hip. Find a restaurant with separate bar and dining areas and a menu that includes discounted food as well as drinks.

Here's why happy hour and children, contrary to what you might think, are actually a perfect fit.

1. Kids Eat Early, Anyway
Happy hour is designed to bring customers in before the evening rush. And it may work in the bar area of a restaurant, but the dining room is likely still empty at 5:30 p.m.. You get to eat in a nice restaurant and have the place to yourself, but still be home in plenty of time for homework, bath and whatever else your evening ritual entails.

2. Cheap Eats
Find a restaurant with a happy hour menu that includes plates from $3 to $7. Getting a few small plates allows your kids to try new foods without breaking the bank. A family of four can dine well and in style for under 50 bucks, and your child can cultivate an appreciation for fare that doesn't include processed meat formed into nuggets, and atmosphere without an indoor playground.

3. At Least One Parent Gets to Drink
If you're driving, limit yourself to one or, even better, none. If you're not driving, take advantage of half price drinks. Happy hour isn't about you making everyone else happy, so enjoy yourself.

Making the transition from happy meals to happy hour is delicious in so many ways. Enjoy the fact that you've moved beyond strollers and diaper bags and introduce your children to the salad fork. You might find that your family makes a fabulous dinner companion.

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