wow. Wow. Wow.
Man, am I surrounded by some terrific writers. And some writers, quite frankly, who are so far and beyond out of my league by way of intellect and pontification that to say I am humbled would be a miserable understatement.
I started off the day listening to literary agent Michael Bourret of Dystel, Goderich Literary Management agency discuss the various pearls of how to land an agent. Michael is funny, charming, and honest. (Plus, he wears quite fashionable jeans and shoes that, I’m sure, cost more than the twelve pairs in my closet all put together.)
Some of my favorite snippets of advice offered by Mr. Bourret included:
– when writing query letters, be bold but professional
– Do NOT include the word count of your manuscript (especially if it’s, like, 100,000+ words long!)
– a writer needs to view their work as both a craft and a business to be successful
– at least for this particular agent and agency, honesty, professionalism, and mutual respect are HUGE and, most certainly, ought to be reciprocal.
(in Michael’s words: “Life’s too short to work for assholes.”)
As the morning went along, I also participated in an incredible workshop with author, actress, playwright Tania Katan who is a fantastic teacher and has enough energy to light an opera house. We specifically worked on honing the art of dialog and, as luck would have it, I was able to offer up two of the characters from my (hopefully) forthcoming book for an exercise the entire class participated in: Character Sketching. (Think of a brief FBI interrogation that nit picks the nuts & bolts of your characters’… characteristics.)
Next up for me was a workshop by Percival Everett from which I took several key points:
– whether or not an element in your fictional piece happened in real life does not truly matter. What matters is whether or not it seems true on the page.
– Our job, as fiction writers, is to make art.
– “You find truth when you come to realize what art can give you…which is everything.” – P. Everett
– “Novels…literary fiction…doesn’t have any rules.” – P. Everett
– As writers, we cannot hide from ourselves. It is impossible, in one way or another, to leave ourselves out of the story.
Over lunch time, my small group critique workshop got underway, led by Erin McGraw (whom I also heard read from her new novel The Seamstress of Hollywood Boulevard) I had the lovely opportunity to hear five other writers discuss the fifteen pages of my new manuscript I’d submitted for their reading, and benefit from some lovely suggestions.
Lastly, and before more readings, a Mexican restaurant dinner with several fellow conference goers (at which point I drank exactly one third of a margarita and felt like I’d drunk three) and post conference social time, I attended a Writing for Social Change workshop in which five poets/essayists (Kazim Ali, Martha Collins, A. Van Jordan, Mary Sojourner and Nancy Mairs) spoke of their experiences with social activism and writing…and how those two endeavors need not be mutually exclusive or inclusive.
And now, off to do some more work on my own manuscript before the muse, the inspiration, or the coffee burns out for the night.