Monday, November 07, 2005

NC Writers' Network Fall Conference

A last minute decision ... and so glad I attended. Always fantastic, the annual event was held this year in the North Carolina Mountains. Asheville exploded with color! The leaves were breathtaking! Michael wandered over footpaths and wound his way through the Blue Ridge Parkway taking pictures of majestic waterfalls and scenery, while I spent the day attending classes.

A quick trip downtown to visit Malaprop's. An independent bookstore in the heart of the city. I introduced myself and left a book cover of SOUTHERN FRIED WOMEN with an employee to give to the store's owner. I'd love to do a reading at Malaprop's every time I publish a book. An established part of the literary community, this bookstore has the heart of its people in mind.

The Crowne Plaza overflowed with writers, editors, agents, and poets! My classes included a class on Screenwriting with Laura McKinny, Reimagining the Real with Joseph Bathanti, Telling the Truth in Fiction with Selah Saterstrom, Publishing with Stephen Kirk, and a Publishing Panel with Tommy Hays and three other published poets and writers. I'm finding even though I enjoy the classes, I didn't get as much from them this year as in years past. The speakers are excellent and knew their stuff ... but ... I've heard it all before.

These classes were great for emerging writers and I encourage participation. And I'm not so seasoned that it won't hurt me to sit through them. But I just found myself, like I said, hearing it all before. Now, don't get me wrong ... I'll be learning something new about writing when I'm in my 90s. One never stops learning ... but I think we get to a point, (or we should) tend to outgrow conference classes. (Unless you take Master Classes, which I was too late to sign up for.) I would suggest if you've been to as many conferences as I have, look for more advanced teaching. However, this conference offers so much more than classes and I plan to return year after year.

The keynote speaker, Susan Orlean was nothing short of spell binding in her delivery. Great orator and author. The lunch on Saturday moved me as Mark Bixler spoke. His book, THE LOST BOYS OF THE SUDAN, brought tears to the writer's eyes at my table. Next, a group of young men, a poetry group, from the Swannonoa Adjudicated Youth Center, delivered soul-moving pieces from their hearts that made us think. A standing ovation brought down the house!

Networking at these conferences is priceless to me. The cost of the entry fee is worth getting to sit by two New York City Literary Agents at dinner and discussing your work for over an hour. Don't you think? My friend, Literary Agent for Nonfiction, Rita Rosenkranz, I've seen at several writing conferences. We cross paths a few times a year. A special and kind woman who clearly loves her work and spending time with writers. I appreciate her ... seeing her face at a conference is comforting, somehow, to me. I've heard some horror stories lately about nasty agents and editors that snub writers at other conferences.

A writer friend told me his personal experience today that happened at a recent Maryland Writer's Conference. It upset the living daylights out of me. I can't imagine an editor being so cruel to a writer who wants only a minute of your time. If you can't handle being bombarded to some degree at a writer's conference, then stay home. Your reputation will eventually follow you, bubba. I don't think these nasty editors come to North Carolina. Not if they know what's good for them. That kind of attitude won't get far in the South ... we don't want you if you're not coming to be helpful to hopeful writers. Listen, I know damn well editors are overworked and often under appreciated. What do you, as an agent or an editor, expect to get at a conference? Why go if you're not expecting to find that diamond in a haystack. We need each other, be professionals ... that's not too much to ask. Aww, enough. Get off this soapbox, Pam. Some folks just enjoy being nasty.

Anyway ... the Literary Agents at the NCWN conferences have always been stellar, to my knowledge. I met Emily Forland, originally from Texas; she now makes her home in New York City. She discovered the manuscript by Melinda Haynes, MOTHER OF PEARL, which became an Oprah pick. An extremely warm and friendly agent. We had a great evening, Rita, Emily, and the rest of our table ... talking, laughing, gossiping, and sharing stories of our writing experiences. Emily invited me to submit my manuscript to her, and of course, I will ... as soon as it's perfect.

I met a very special lady, who I believe is the Director of Religious Studies at Warren Wilson College, Jeanne Sommer. She asked if I would like to speak at the college about my upcoming novel, TELEVENGE. Oh man, you bet ... my standard answer every time someone wants to talk about the book I was destined to write. What other answer could there possibly be. The many old friends you see year after year, the new ones you meet, the networking and exposure is again, priceless.

My article, A WRITER'S VIEW OF THE BURNSIDE SUPPER, appeared on page seven of the November/December newsletter for the NCWN. Several people complimented me on this piece, and I really appreciate that too. It's nice to get ... even a little recognition for what you do.

I met Nicki Leone, the President of the Network, from Wilmington. A tall, beautiful, woman who exuded kindness. Fred Chappell and his wife read poetry at dinner and the hair on my arms stood up. A duet of music not sung but spoken melted my insides. I love this couple ... they just look like a poem to me. If you live in the South, you've read a poem by Fred Chappell. Poet Laureate of North Carolina, Kathryn Stripling Byer presented several of her poems that again, made me shiver. I didn't realize how much I liked poetry until I heard Fred Chappell and Kathryn Stripling Byer read. An amazing after-dinner dessert of poetry pie.

But the Open Mic on Saturday Night ROCKED! A full audience and over 20 writers and poets who had five minutes to deliver their goods. Dan Albergotti, the Randall Jarrell Prize winner went first. Next, Cynthia Barnett, our Executive Director read a short piece by Carole McGrotty, CAHEC second prizewinner.

Then guess who was next on the list? Me. Damn, what fun! I read five minutes of VERNELL PASKINS, MOBILE HOME QUEEN. A short story from my collection that will be published after the first of the year. I have to say, the response was tremendous. Michael said the place was in stitches. Even though this piece is not a comedy, it is funny as hell in places. I mean, good ole' Vernell, she's living in misery and don't mind telling you how bad it is. After you get over the shock of how she talks, you begin to feel sympathy for her and her lot in life. It's a moving and uplifting story and I love it. I can't wait until people are reading it all over the country.

Michael and I stayed until the end. All the writers and poets read their hearts out. I was so proud; I think my maternal instinct kicked in that night. These people had such drive and spirit and wanted to be heard by their peers. I loved every one of them. Some were a bundle of nerves and others were old pros. I recommend attending and participating in Open Mic next year!

The next morning, I told Michael at least six or seven people stopped and said how much they enjoyed my reading. Again, more than worth the cost of the ticket. Exposure, experience, and networking ... can you put a price on it?

The North Carolina Writers' Network has been good to me and I don't think I could ever miss their events. They've so much to offer writers all over the place. From January through December. Their staff is great. If you're looking for a worthwhile conference ... this is certainly one of them. I'm ready for the next one.

Blessings to you and yours.

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