PNWA Conference, 2019 Edition

Last weekend I was at the Pacific Northwest Writers Association’s annual conference, which is why I didn’t manage a post. It was good—I attended several informative sessions and keynotes. I also pitched some agents and editors and had several requests for Ugly, though one of them asked me a question that had me all flustered. She wanted to know about the plot and I still struggle to talk about that. I know it has one, but explaining it is always so difficult for me—I get stuck in the details and things like theme. And one of them who was really interested in the story asked me if there were light moments, because she said tough stories like that need them. And I realized not really—it’s positive at the end, but it’s fairly depressed (that’s the word one of the judges used in response to my entry in the literary contest, and I think it fits, unfortunately).  So now I think I need to rework it some. Just not sure how much…

This writing thing sure is difficult.

In a possibly bizarre move on my part, I decided to become a sponsor for the PNWA literary contest short story category (YA was taken). This means I cover the prizes in the category and in return get a few perks, including being featured on this page (mine isn’t there yet but should be soon) and getting a free conference admission and the opportunity to mix with the agents and editors in smaller settings at the conference (not sure how much traction I’ll get there with my inferior social skills…).

Also, I have some ideas for improving the contest and based on my experiences as a multi-time entrant AND my new position as a sponsor, I plan to propose them and see what happens.

PNWA Conference

I mentioned in my previous post that I’d be attending the Pacific Northwest Writers Association’s Annual Conference. It’s a regional conference, but it’s also well-organized and respected across the country. Many editors and agents based in New York and other places come out for it. It went really well this year. And it was nice to see all my writing friends, too. 🙂

Writers JourneyOn Thursday I did a master class with Christopher Vogler, who interpreted Joseph Campbell’s anthropological studies of mythology and stories into a pseudo-formula for writers many years ago. It eventually came out as a book called The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, which provides a solid structure framework called the Hero’s Journey, which writers can use to construct a satisfying story. There’s some controversy about the true universality of this story structure (some feminists claim it only applies to men’s stories, for instance). My opinion is that while it is not the only possible good story structure, it can be a useful guide for almost any story. But there are definitely other story structures out there. Regardless, his class was good—Vogler’s a good speaker and he’s very emotionally involved in stories and his work with them, which really draws in the audience.

Queen SugarThursday night, the keynote speaker was Natalie Baszile, author of Queen Sugar. I admit I hadn’t heard of this book, though I’ve bought it and intend to read it because it sounds good. Oprah even picked it up and made a TV show out of it, which is apparently quite good. I know a lot of people snootily look down on Oprah, but I think she generally has good taste in books. Anyway, Natalie’s talk was all about her journey to publication, which was… long. She peppered the speech with family stories, some of which were funny (the box of Louisiana delicacies that were shipped every year, only to arrive as a box of rotting meat) and some of which weren’t (her father growing up in Louisiana and experiencing the small-town embedded racism there).

Friday was all about pitching. I pitched a book I’m writing under a pen name to an editor and four agents and had good results. One of the agents had rejected Finding Frances two years ago so I asked if I could resend it and she said yes. On top of that, I had a request for the first 50 pages of Finding Frances from an editor at a large publisher. I’ll send it to the agent soon, but I’m going to wait until I hear back from the editor who’s already got it before sending it to the new editor.

Fearless WritingOn Saturday, I went to several different sessions, mostly about craft. One was on hooks and how important they are, especially at the end of scenes and chapters. I went to a session about writing nonfiction for kids, something I’ve thought about dipping my toes into. I went to another session on writing diversity, which had a bunch of great tips. Sunday I went to a session called Fearless Marketing, with Bill Kenower,  the guy who wrote the recently-released Fearless Writing. He’s a little intimidating because he’s excessively passionate about everything, but the session was good. One final nice thing about the conference is that most of the sessions are recorded, so I bought fifteen of them on CDs. Gives me something to do on the horrible drive to and from work.

Upcoming Conference

Starting this Thursday, I’m going to be at a writers* conference, run by the Pacific Northwest Writers Association. It’s 3.5 intense days of talking to writers, learning about writing, and learning about the business of writing. I’ve been the last two years, as well, and this time I’m staying at the hotel, which is expensive but saves me the hassle of the hour on the road every day, a drive which is especially frustrating because said day runs early morning to 9:00 or 10:00 at night.

I managed to get two pitch sessions. At PNWA, the sessions are kind of a mad house, quite different from ones I’ve done at other conferences. Here, you are in a room with 150 other people for an hour. Agents and editors sit behind a line of tables at the back of the room. And you line up in front of the one you want to pitch next, get four minutes with them when it’s your turn, and move on to the next line. Depending on the popularity of the people you want to pitch, you usually get two to four pitches done. It all sounds a little intimidating, but I actually have found it’s not. Most of the agents are nice, even if they say no. Still, it’s helpful to have a pitch semi-memorized so you don’t have to read off something. I’m meeting with a friend this evening to practice.

However, I have a dilemma. I can’t decide what to pitch. I feel like I should wait on feedback from the other people on Finding Frances before querying/pitching anyone else. Maybe I’ll get more feedback. I ended up sending the revised manuscript to the agent who said she’d take a second look. (Though the more time passes, the more I’m thinking I should have figured out more things to change…). I was originally planning to pitch Sadie Speaks, however, I just sent that to a freelance developmental editor and she came back with recommendations that I change almost everything. Now, I’m not going to, but many of her points do require some serious reworking. The other option is to pitch a romance I’m writing under my pen name, but I’m only halfway done with the third draft on that one, and that won’t be the final draft, for sure. One thing that is also different about this pitching is that they don’t have a rule that you have to have the manuscript ready to send—you can wait weeks or months to send it. So I could do either.

So, quandary. I guess I’ll prepare two pitches and practice them with my friend tonight and fly by the seat of my pants on Friday, pitch day.

 

* Okay, I admit I never know if that should be “writers’”, “writers”, or even “writer’s.” It drives me crazy, the not knowing.