In the post below, I let loose a bit about New Orleans. I’d like to talk about the food, and some other things, but I want to mention the Pen to Press Writer’s Retreat first. I’ve been to a few writers’ conferences, and I will say that I’m about sixty-forty on whether I thought I got my money’s worth, or whether I was glad I attended—with sixty being not so glad and not so much thinking I got my money’s worth, and forty with I suppose I did. Put it this way: I’d said I would from now on be very choosy about what writer’s conferences I attended by researching them and thinking of costs, authors, instructors, my goals, etc., before I went to another one.
However, Pen to Press surprised me. I signed up, wincing at the fee. It’s not cheap. And, New Orleans is not cheap. Neither is either air fare or driving, if you do not live in the city, or near enough to drive, which I do not. I bit the clichéd bullet and signed up, made the hotel and travel arrangements (it helps to have roommates to share the hotel costs), and forgot about it until time for the conference. I had one thing in my favor as a sign this conference would be done “Right” and that one thing is author and friend Deborah Leblanc. I knew if she had her hand on it, it would be top rate. And it was.
Pen to Press will be held every other year, so the opportunity will not come again until 2010. If you are interested in being an author, and you are serious about your work, then start saving and preparing for Pen to Press in 2010. This is a conference you will walk away from knowing you were heard. Knowing you were worked. Knowing the instructors and Deborah really care about you and your writing career. My instructors were authors Alex Sokoloff and Scott Nicholson. I will admit something here: I thoroughly thought it would be a little waste of my time to have two authors yammervate to me about how they were published…big whoop! I’ve heard that how many times now? Only at most of the conferences I’ve attended, where the authors look out at us writers from a panel and tell us never to give up. Okay, I know that. I know never to give up—I say that, and I mean it, they mean it, but I don’t want to pay money to hear it! I was pleasantly surprised to see the level of INSTRUCTION we received in our class (classes were broken down into three, with each class separated by something I’m not aware of, but the conference and instructors did to make the classes work best for the writers).
For me, learning something, anything, new was worth the costs. But, not only did I learn new ways of looking at my work—and this will help my editing work as well—but, the instructors helped me write a kick-arse synopsis. And if it isn’t kick-arse, it surely is 90% better than the laughable swill I had before Pen to Press. They talked to us about pitching to the agents, who came on the last two days of this five-day “retreat.” I will say here that even though we talked about our pitches, and practiced our synopsis, once I was face to face with the four agents (in individual sessions), I winged it. I didn’t want to take in notes, and I didn’t want to try to script it out; I knew that wouldn’t work for me. As a result, I received some kind of interest from all four I pitched to. Will it mean a contract? Who knows? Those things are never a sure thing. But, at the very least, it got me back into the query process, and this time with a new sparkly shiny synopsis that I can send off to other agents. Once I hear back from these four agents, and if the answer is No (and it could very well be) then I am off to the races—never give up, right?
Alex Sokoloff wrote up this “thing” this wonderful “thing” on a board in the class—this Thing that I looked at and suddenly the clouds cleared (or mostly anyway *laugh*) and I saw my manuscript in a different way. I always said it was “character-driven” and “didn’t have a plot” – she said, “every novel has a plot!” and after she showed us her diagram, I sat back and said, “YES!” (Alex is multi-talented, and by gawd knows her stuff). The way she explained it, well, it finally made sense to me. And, uncannily, she knew our work well-enough to ask us pointed questions to RIP out of us what we needed to see not only a way to a good synopsis, but, a way to see our work in units that make up the whole. Cool Stuff.
Scott was quieter, but his advice and lecture was no less pertinent. In fact, from the five-page sample of my novel he read, he saw something that I knew had been bugging me deep inside in this place that says, “hmmmmmm….” But I kept ignoring it since no one else said anything (and I should always trust my instincts)…well, when he asked me about it, a bell rang, a light flashed, and I knew immediately what I needed to do. Out that section came. It solved my dilemma.
All in all, I was very much impressed with Pen to Press. Keep your eyes on this one, folks. I have a feeling it will get bigger and bigger – and since they are choosey about picking writers to attend (you must send in a sample writing, and they must approve you before you can sign up), you are among only the “serious” – and I mean “serious” as in, you are a writer with a mission, with a plan, with a want and a need and a desire.
Now, I still want to talk about the food in New Orleans. But, I wanted to let you all know how impressed I am with Deb Leblanc’s Pen to Press. Everything she touches is a success! I’m telling you – watch out for Deborah Leblanc. I am proud of her, so dang proud to be her friend. One of a kind, nope, you’ll not find another like her anywhere.