Tag Archives: Writer’s Conference

Writer’s Conference Fever

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Quick blog this morning, as I’m getting ready to head to LA Valley College for the Greater Los Angeles Writers Conference, which begins today and runs through Sunday (and still time to register at the door, starting at Noon today, BTW).

la writers conference

Writers Conference are amazing events – and I’ve told every aspiring and active writer I know to attend at least one, if not one per year. Why? Because after spending so much time writing in the loneliness of your home office, you get to mingle with kindred spirits. Everyone’s in the same boat, and the energy level is through the roof when we get together to compare struggles, triumphs, titles, voices and techniques. Secondly, the variety of helpful workshops, presentations and panels is tremendous. At this particular conference, non-fiction and fiction is fully covered, along with screenwriting and television writing (why not? Hollywood is just down the road).

For instance, I’m sitting on four panels, with plenty of variety. Today, I’ll be in on the Memoir Writing panel. On Saturday, it’s off to the Ghostwriting panel, then a pair of all-important Editing panels – Revising and Editing manuscripts on Saturday, and Rewriting on Sunday. (Revising and Rewriting are two entirely different processes, though all too often, we tend to blend the two). Will post my outlines from the Memoir and Ghostwriting panels on this blog next week.

The other reason writer’s conferences are so important is that we find out the latest happenings in the publishing Low Res Cover Backroadsindustry from the literary agents and editors on hand. Right now, if you’re thinking of publishing – or moving into other genres – it pays major dividends to be current on traditional and digital publishing events. Things continue to change so rapidly. I’m particularly interested in the concept of “hybrid authors”, since I am one, publishing works in both traditional houses and through collaborative partnerships, such as my work with Tuscany Global, which is putting out my poetry/essay book “Backroad Melodies” next week, and Vol. 1 of “Best of the Word Journeys Blogs” next month.

If you’re not coming up to LA, and you’re serious about your writing, please make sure to sign up NOW for the Southern California Writers Conference, which takes place Sept. 20-22 in Newport Beach, Calif. This is one of the hottest conferences in the nation for book contracts.

Losing my religion_cover_low resMeantime, time to hit the road. Oh yeah, before I go: be sure to stop by Amazon.com and pick up the hot new novel that hits the shelves today, “Losing My Religion” by Jide Familoni. This is one of the best novels I’ve ever worked with, a great story of a man trying to live in one lifestyle and culture while retaining the core traditions of another.

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Catching Up … Conferences, Poetry, Kayaking & Kerouac’s Spontaneous Prose

While clearing off a busy desk … Am starting to prepare my presentations for the Southern California Writers scwcConference, which will bring editors, agents, publishers and authors together Feb. 15-18 at the Crowne Plaza Hanalei in San Diego. This is one of my favorite writer’s conferences, full of very current writing, promotion and marketing tips. Not to mention the read & critiques, where peers and faculty members offer up constructive feedback to help work get published.

• • •

Had a moment this week that made me take pause — and remind myself to keep in touch with people I’ve befriended and deeply respect. About 10 years ago, I attended a New Year’s Eve party in Twin Falls, Idaho like no other. The party was hosted by revered Idaho poet Bill Studebaker, whose poems of passion and place are known worldwide. His “On The Bank of Love Creek” is one of the finest love poems I’ve ever read.

Poet, kayaker & lover of life, Bill Studebaker

Poet, kayaker & lover of life, Bill Studebaker

During the festive night, Bill played Gene Autry recordings from 1915, showed us photos of he and his son kayaking in glacial melt in Greenland (imagine if you roll the kayak!) and engaged in a midnight Amazon blow dart fight across a crowded room with his friend, archaeologist Jim Woods. (Fortunately, the blow darts were not tipped with poison!) Finally, he tried to talk me into kayaking with him the next morning, New Year’s Day, on the icy Snake River in Twin Falls — right beneath where Evel Knievel made his failed attempt to soar across the canyon on a motorcycle in 1976. “What will the air temperature be?” I asked.

“It’s supposed to get up to five above.”

“Uhhh … no thanks.”

After that bash, Bill and I stayed in touch, exchanged poetry and shared a lot of laughs. His sense of humor knew no bounds. Nor did his sense of adventure with his kayak, or his 30 years of dedication to his writing students. He was an expert kayaker, sometimes careening down 40- and 50-foot waterfalls. As I got going with Voices, my novel that will be out later this year, I decided to memorialize the New Year’s Eve party, and Bill, by re-enacting it with my main characters. (See Chapter 23 when the novel comes out.)

This week, I decided to get in touch with Bill after some years of being out of touch, to let him know that the infamous party, and his graciousness, were coming back through my novel. Also, I wanted to see what new poems he was writing, and share a few of my own. Sadly, I learned he died a few years ago in a kayaking accident on the Salmon River.

Regrets? Right now, I sure have a few.

• • •

Just finished a very enjoyable project: writing an online companion to the Jack Kerouac novel “The Dharma Bums”

The original Dharma Bums cover, and Gary Snyder, the inspiration of main character Japhy Ryder, circa 1956

The original Dharma Bums cover, and Gary Snyder, the inspiration of main character Japhy Ryder, circa 1956

for Barnes & Noble. Those who have known me for awhile know I am an unabashed Kerouac fan. I’m also a huge proponent of the spontaneous prose technique he mastered – right down to effusive 1,200-word sentences in novels like “The Subterraneans.” While I was teaching at Ananda College last year, I even designed a course on Beat writing, starring Kerouac, for my senior creative writing class. With “On The Road” just released as a movie co-starring Kristen Stewart, Kerouac books are once again flying off bookshelves. It’s quite impressive: he wrote these books 55 to 60 years ago.

The Companion piece took on many shapes and forms. It’s far more interesting than the Cliff Notes we used as crutches for countless novels in our school days. The point was to show the contributing factors to “The Dharma Bums”, how it was put together, its philosophy and narrative style, and discuss the central characters.  For me, this last part was particularly enjoyable — and personal. Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gary Snyder, the last surviving person Kerouac used to build his characters in the autobiographical novel, gave me some invaluable assistance. Snyder was the model for Japhy Ryder, the hero of the book. Over the years, as we’ve talked to each other, Gary has shared fond memories of Kerouac, with whom he hung out extensively in 1955-56 – and which is chronicled, though fictionalized in many places, in “The Dharma Bums.”

Jack Kerouac

Jack Kerouac

So,  for everyone who wants to know Kerouac’s secrets, here are the 30 essentials of spontaneous prose — as presented by Kerouac himself, in a 1953 article entitled “Belief and Technique for Modern Prose”. If you want to write with abandon, or need to break yourself out from writing too conservatively, cut loose with a few of these:

  1. Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy
  2. Submissive to everything, open, listening
  3. Try never to get drunk outside yr own house
  4. Be in love with yr life
  5. Something that you feel will find its own form
  6. Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind
  7. Blow as deep as you want to blow
  8. Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind
  9. The unspeakable visions of the individual
  10.  No time for poetry but exactly what is
  11.  Visionary ties shivering in the chest
  12.  In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you
  13.  Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition
  14.  Like Proust be an old teahead of time
  15.  Telling the true story of the world in interior monologue
  16.  The jewel center of interest is the eye within the eye
  17.  Write in recollection and amazement for yourself
  18.  Work from pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea
  19.  Accept loss forever
  20.  Believe in the holy contour of life
  21.  Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind
  22.  Don’t think of words when you stop but to see picture better
  23.  Keep track of every day the date emblazoned in yr morning
  24.  No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge
  25.  Write for the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it
  26.  Bookmovie is the movie in words, the visual American form
  27.  In praise of Character in the Bleak inhuman Loneliness
  28.  Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better
  29.  You’re a Genius all the time
  30.  Writer-Director of Earthly movies Sponsored & Angeled in Heaven






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Magic Still Counts – In Writing, In Life

A few days ago, I tried on something new (for me) — 3-D movie glasses. We decided to catch the latest adventures and antics of Jack Sparrow, Barbosa and the other roustabouts in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. For a little over two hours, we were propelled through the streets of London and untamed shores of the Atlantic as decadent royal food spreads, mermaids, ships, explosions and stupendous waterfalls filled our world, suspending anything that might be happening outside those 3-D glasses. I walked out saying, “That’s the best experience I’ve had in a theater in years.” I also wondered, how did I wait 52 years to see a movie in 3-D?

Two nights later, we sat in a moonlit outdoor amphitheater backed into the brown hills of the eastern San Luis Rey River valley, our hearts and fancies traveling far and wide on the remarkable flute playing, one-legged crane dancing and singing of Jethro Tull mastermind Ian Anderson. I felt like I was in a time warp, the hills coming alive as they had centuries before, when the native Luiseno Indians played in sunrise, sacred ceremony and initiation with their flutes. The interplay of moonlight and spotlights on the hills added to a feeling that the spirits of the land and sky were with us, enjoying this rare performance of acoustic and electric music with ancient English, Irish, Renaissance and Medieval undertones … and, without a doubt, some genetic tonal carryover from Celtic and Druidic times.

I was gone, transported, riding the music wherever it led, a little kid on a magic carpet watching the fair-skinned kokopelli – Anderson, the flute-playing shaman – whisk away the worries of the world for a few precious minutes. I felt the same space formed by a good meditation or an all-consuming writing session (especially fiction and poetry writing), the place where everything is possible, serenity reigns and goodness is omnipresent: the magical intersection of heaven and earth, known to writers and artists as the creative dream.

As I assimilated both of these experiences, which happened a little more than 48 hours apart, I recalled a keynote speech that Richard Paul Evans, author of The Christmas Box, Timepiece, The Walk and four other bestsellers, gave at the Wrangling With Writing conference in Tucson about five years ago. The theme of the speech was Magic—Innocence—Wonder. His perspective: all stories must have one of these three qualities to succeed with their audience. If you can get two or all three in there, you’ve hit a home run as a writer.

Magic appears before us and visits us every second of every day — through a flower, another’s voice, shapes of clouds, dancing alone in a room, hiking to a mountain summit, listening to Spirit as it utters through our souls, watching new shoots spring from a rain-filled creek, putting on 3-D glasses or catching an old favorite rock band. Some of us think we left it behind as childhood folly; others (me included, sometimes) get so caught up in daily life that we deny it entrance. There’s a little word play – en-trance. In trance. Let magic in, and things happen.

Magic is very real and very present. Writers, musicians, artists, filmmakers and other creatives rely on it to transport and transform their audiences. Those audiences seek it out to suspend the world, to recall a more innocent, wonder-filled time, to become lost in a journey, adventure, chase or dance of a modern-day minstrel’s flute. Why else do you stare at a painting for hours in a museum, listen to a catchy tune over and over again, or pop open a book at the beach or pool, hoping it sweeps you away into its world? All we have to do is open our eyes, minds and hearts, and be willing to see the world as our ancestors did. Then, we can open up every day to receiving magic, in whatever shape and form she takes. That’s the greatest beauty of it all: we never really know how she’ll arrive, but that she will touch us in a way that makes the day happier, richer, more purposeful. We’ll feel more connected to ourselves, our childlike inner selves, each other, the Divine.

Yes, magic counts. It’s the elixir of life. A little more attention paid to its expressions would change the world. Even if it means slapping on 3-D glasses or heading to the hills to get there.

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‘Meet Me In The Bar’: Working A Writer’s Conference (III)

(Blogger’s note: Summer is on its way — which means, for many, the season of writer’s conferences and retreats. In this three-part series, I share the many things I’ve learned during 20 years of attending writer’s conferences and 10 years of teaching and presenting at them.)

For information on the Society of Southwestern Authors’ Wrangling With Writing Conference, which takes place Sept. 27-28 in Tucson, Ariz.

Part Three: Back to the Bar

I met with the agent in the bar. After a relaxed two-hour conversation that bore no resemblance to the 15 minutes of speed-talking in the pit, she invited me to send sample chapters and a proposal. Three months later, I received a contract.

From this, I learned two vital unwritten rules about writer’s conferences:

1)   Make your interview count. You’ve got one minute to seize the agent or editor’s initial interest, and five to seven minutes to develop your initial pitch and describe your project while the agent/editor sprints through your material. This is marketing, not creative brainstorming. You’re in the meeting to sell. The remaining half of the interview works best if you answer questions, produce additional material requested, and absorb the input you’re given; and

2)   Much conference dealing takes place away from the interview area, in the bar, hallways, hotel rooms, Jacuzzi, or across the dinner table.

In my years of presenting, I’ve seen countless arrangements develop after conference hours end, when agents and editors can relax and think through a promising prospect while getting to know the potential author. It is a good conference indeed when you’re “invited to the bar.” As a magazine editor who has purchased pieces or assigned articles to authors in that literal and metaphorical bar, and as a proposal consultant and freelance book editor who has connected authors and agents in the bar, I can assure you that the side meetings produce new author-agent or author-editor relationships.

Which leads to the next unwritten rule about writer’s conferences:

3)   Do not leave the building the second your appointment or workshop is finished.  Stick around. Rub elbows.

Chat with fellow authors, agents, publishers, editors and consultants on the premises. You never know who will like your idea or see the marketing potential of your hard work—or your potential in the writing business. You might have a book idea you didn’t originally pitch that they like. Or, they might have a lucrative ghostwriting project involving a well-known client who doesn’t write. You don’t know—nor will you, if you don’t ask and remain open to new possibility.

Let me give you two examples. An editor from a major publishing house saw the sample chapter for a book I was pitching years ago. “Who book doctored this for you?” he asked.

“I did.”

“This is clean. You should think about becoming a book editor when you’re between books.”

Ten years and more than 80 edited books later, I thank him for opening an avenue of vast enjoyment and revenue I never saw myself traveling.

Let’s revisit the agent in the bar. She asked for a book proposal.  I’d never written a full book proposal, but I’d read a few articles, including the invaluable front end of Writer’s Market (these 60 to 80 pages are required reading for all working writers, in my opinion.) As a former public relations executive with marketing experience, I already knew how to write sponsorship proposals. I also asked a couple of agents at the conference what they liked to see in proposals.

Within three days of receiving my proposal, the agent called. “Where did you learn to write this? This is excellent!”

Another light bulb flashed in my head. Out of nowhere came another service that keeps me out of the 9-to-5 punch-the-clock work cycle (every writer’s dream): consulting with authors on their book proposals, or completely writing them to be pitch- and sales-ready. Agents love it, because they’re getting market-ready proposals. Authors love it, because who really wants to write a book proposal, which is a business plan for the book, after months writing a whole or partial book? 

It all started at a writer’s conference, which brings me to the next unwritten (until now) rule:

 4)   Be sociable, conversational, and mindful of why you’re here—to learn, to network, and/or to sell your work. Use the salesman’s credo: If someone is within three feet of you, introduce yourself and shake his/her hand. Your future might be shaking back.

Sometimes, we feel intimidated or insecure around attending agents, authors, editors, keynote speakers and publishers—the faculty. That’s natural: They are living the dream we’ve carried for years or decades. They’ve made it, or so we think. We tend to be sheepish around the conference faculty, withholding questions “because they’re stupid,” refraining from sharing our wildest book ideas “because they’re too ‘out there’ for the mainstream” (as if we really know), pulling back sample pages we prepared for the editor interviews “because they’re not polished enough.”

For this, I offer two tips:

a)    Conference faculty has been urged by event organizers to be available. The faculty is there to impart knowledge and wisdom, engage in conversation, and expend energy for your benefit. They are at your service—not the other way around. Take advantage of this opportunity to visit with 35 or 40 knowledgeable professionals whose answers to your questions might ignite or even define your future; and

b)   Ask the “stupid” question. Show the sample pages. Share other book ideas if asked. Case in point: An agent told me about an author whose prepared material was well written, but the potential audience was too narrow. However, when the agent asked about the author’s other ideas, a dialogue began that, six months later, resulted in the author selling a trilogy.

Finally, think about this: You’re investing several hundred dollars to be at the conference. You’ve spent months, or even years, developing the material you plan to present. This could be your first best chance—or your last. No one knows. For a weekend, you will occupy the same space as several dozen respected book publishing professionals. To equal that experience, you’d have to fly to New York and stay for two weeks—if they took meetings with you. Not likely.

Work the conference and absorb the presentations as though your future and career are the prizes for your efforts. They often are.

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