I attended the WriteAngles conference last Saturday and, first off, would like to say a big thank you to all the local folks who made the conference possible. WriteAngles is a not-for-profit event put on by writers, and it was refreshing to see the proceeds go to support local arts programs. Makes me extra glad to be a part of it.
I went to this conference in a (relatively) Zen state. It was local and reasonably priced, and I'd lucked upon it just a few weeks ago. I was determined not to get my hopes up. I sent my query in to the waiting list (in case a slot with an agent should open up) and submitted my first page to a public critique panel.
I woke up and went. No fanfare. No fuss. This in itself was something of an improvement. I'd worried myself into a sinus infection several years ago while attending one of those pricey, stress-central pitch conferences in New York (Definitely WON'T do that again!). I managed to maintain my Zen even when I had to backtrack home to drop off a birthday present I'd taken off with (Three kids= at least one kids' birthday party a weekend). Kept my balance even when I got lost in the wilds of Holyoke and arrived with not a minute to spare.
The speakers were fantastic. Magdalena Gomez and Andre Dubus III inspired me with their focus on writing as art and the mystery that is at its core. (I will have to dedicate another post to the content of their keynote addresses.)
I enjoyed the panel on internet publicity, although all this twitter, goodreads, podcast, vlog, content, link, etc world is churning a bit too fast for me. Here I thought I was doing alright maintaining my two blogs, plugging away at the novels, raising a family and working. Evidently, we writers have to do more, a lot more. And if we can't, we maybe should hire someone to get our names out there in the blogosphere, make the rounds of comments and content and..... um. Well, that was the gist of it anyway.
I enjoyed hearing Ellie Meeropol, Elinor Lipman and Richard Michelson talk about their processes and purpose.
And then I had my agent meeting. I was still in my Zen mode, more or less. But I experienced an absurdly irrational brain fart when the wonderful agent I met with asked me to tell him something about myself that wasn't in my query bio. Um.... all I could come up with was "I commute two hours to get to work." (Really! I have a slight blush of PTSD just thinking about it.) This could have been a sort of interesting tidbit, maybe if I described what it's like to be driving down the dark highway at 4 AM, working through plots and characters, scrawling illegible notes on the notebook beside me before heading into the heat and clamor of Seaport Academy. But I didn't I just sort of stared. Blankly. (The Zen had dissipated by then, let me tell you.)
The agent, an incredibly kind man, moved on. "Tell me about the book" he said. And I did. Things went smoothly from there. In fact, we had a great conversation. I could tell he appreciated the quirk factor (big in this book) and he said he liked the details. At the end of the ten minutes, he asked me to send him the full manuscript. Forget Zen, I was giddy with excitement when I walked out of the place. (Whew!)
During lunch, I met some lovely writers all at various stages of the process. Three of the conference's four agents sat at our table, and we got to chat with them (though I could not bear to pitch, it just seemed so crass). Instead we talked about Western Mass and the lovely town of Shelburne Falls. And I got a chance to thank Jenny Bent for her wonderful blog post about pitching.
Things were just so darn perfect!
Then there was the public critique panel. (If this post was a movie, here's where the music from Psycho would start up). In this panel, the agents comment upon first pages of manuscripts submitted by the audience and read aloud. The agents loved the first submission and liked the second and slowly, slowly, they started to look at the pages with a more critical eye. Mine was last. The very last one in the conference.
They said it was overworked. Which it totally was. In my enthusiasm to grab an agent's attention I had gone back and added enough verbal pyrotechnics to choke a horse. I had, like, three metaphors in that thing. And a lot of... well, convolution. Though I was blind to this fact back home, I could hear it immediately. I waited, heart pounding in my ears, for the specifics of my failure. Two agents were totally not into it (These were the two that I figured weren't a good fit anyway) and the other two agreed that it was overworked but liked the tone and the writing (I wish I could say more about this, but the notes I took-- of course!- were all about the bad things).
And that was the end. Whew! I wasn't crushed by the agent panel. Not totally anyway. Instead, I tried to be thankful that I now knew what to fix, that I had a chance to pare down the showboat writing before I sent it out.
On the way back home, I was supposed to pick up a pizza for the houseful of kids and frazzled husband. And so eager was I to fix that durn first page I sat in the pizza place and tore into that thing while the pies cooled on the counter.
I'm better now. Really. (And, yes, I do have the most wonderful, understanding and supportive husband in the world.)
So that was the WriteAngles conference. If you are attending a conference for the first time, my advice would be reign in your expectations, make the most of every panel and discussion, meet some new writing friends and just, basically, be a little Zen.