Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Live! from the Pennwriters Conference - Day 2

Note: Blogger Ate My Homework.  I wrote the below during the conference and scheduled it to post, but for some reason it never did. So I'm manually posting it today. Yes, it's not actually 'Live' but it felt live at the time, does that count? 

Tomorrow I start my Conference Secrets posts with Revising from Critique. Conference Secrets will post every Thursdays for the next four weeks. My fellow BCWG writer, Laura Campbell will also be posting about the workshops she's attended on her blog, Writing Unleashed. Check her out, check me out. It will (almost) be like you were there.

I've left the Build Your Brand workshop because despite the copious amounts of coffee I've had, I'm nodding off. It's absolutely not the fault of the workshop or the leader, it's that I'm exhausted. I've got fifteen minutes before my next workshop entitled Welcome to the Jungle! I can almost hear Axl Rose screeching, "You're gonna diiiiiie!"

That's something I didn't think about before, the sheer weight of the information I'd want to absorb, the names of people I've met, the books, blogs and resources I've been told I have to read. I'm worn out but I'm looooving it. Everyone here is a writer, everyone understands how hard that is to say sometimes. I'm sorry for the corniness, but it's like coming home.

And something good has happened. Two somethings.

Because I'm a chicken I chose not to do face to face agent pitching. Barbara Poelle at the Irene Goodman Agency was offering to review and comment on query letter, synopsis and first ten pages in lieu of an agent pitch. That seemed like a pretty amazing deal, to have that much focused feedback from such a high caliber agent. Plus, I thought if I had to talk to someone about my book face to face, I might pass out.

After my first workshop, Perfect Pitch with Rachel Coyne of FinePrint Literary, I found my courage and signed up to pitch to her after lunch. Then I went to registration to pick up my feedback from Barbara Poelle.

I swear I'm not exaggerating, I actually started trembling. Across the bottom of the page she'd written "Alexandra, I'm interested in seeing a full ms."

The nice volunteer at the registration table asked me if I was okay. I think I answered 'oh shit'. She said, "Is that a good thing or a bad thing?" I told her it was good and then went away to hyperventilate. It's so much more than I expected.

The pitch didn't go so well. I was nervous, job interview nervous, and I didn't do a great job of presenting either myself or my story. Rachel was very nice, gave me some insightful feedback and told me to query her when I was ready.

It was a rollercoaster all day long, ups and downs. As soon as the day ended I got into PJs and tried to relax. I seriously considered not going to that evenings Read & Critique, I just felt a bit pummeled. But I've got immigrant-grade work ethic so I scraped myself together and put on my glossy red lipstick.

In room 306 were: A moderator, an editor (Becky Levine) and an agent (Kathleen Ortiz from Nancy Coffey) plus eight nervous people. This was an anonymous read and critique with the moderator reading the two-page submissions and then comments from the editor and agent.

Both Becky and Kathleen were wonderful. Whip smart, insightful, kind and respectful. How they can read just two pages and be so spot on with their advice is a mystery to me. I truly have a lot of respect for agents now, seeing how deftly (and, I say again, respectfully) they handle submissions. I learned as much from hearing their crits on other submissions as I did when they got to mine.

Okay, I feel weird writing this. It goes against my Catholic self abnegation upbringing. But they freaking loved my submission. I was shocked. Becky said she loved it, just loved it. She mentioned a line that she thought was especially beautiful and said she just loved the story, the evocation of an 'other' world. She had some suggested edits, but generally she said it was a home run.

Kathleen said she loved the male protagonist, loved the world building and some other nice things that I don't remember. I don't remember because what she said next was, "Whoever you are, see me after we're done. I want to read more."

There was one more submission after mine. Then Kathleen said "Okay, who wrote BookEnd? You can't leave until I give you my information." I raised my hand like I was back in high school and everyone started to clap. Can you believe that they'd clap and congratulate me? They don't know me from Adam. My face was red and I was all trembly again. People were talking to me, smiling. I felt like I'd won some incredible jackpot. I spoke to Kathleen, who is lovely, and she asked me for 100 pages.

I floated down to the bar in the lobby and drank a pint with my friend Laura. I hardly slept at all last night.

This morning at breakfast I find Laura sitting next to Barbara Poelle. Barbara recognized my name from the submission I sent her and we started talking about my book. She is so smart and funny, so insightful. What is it with the bad rap that agents get? Everyone I met at the conference, even if they weren't interested in my book, were kind and respectful and completely generous with their time. The whole day feels surreal. I can't believe all these good things are happening to me. I expect the sky to fall at any moment (see previous comment about Catholic upbringing).

As soon as I get home from the conference I'm going to throw the kids in front of Spongebob and start polishing my manuscript. Okay, first I'm going to kiss and tickle them until they're gasping, but right after that, it's WORK TIME.


  1. Thanks for the follow. I wish you a well in your project. Congrats.

  2. OMG. I can't believe you almost didn't come to the read-and-critique! Thank goodness for that work ethic. And we all clapped not just because your work was good, but because it is just so fantastic to see "it" happen! It reminds all of us that the possibility is always there.

  3. I cannot believe that! Those are the things that dreams are made of. Good for you, polish up, and bring on the rock star!
    I am so excited for you I can't stand it!

  4. @Lyra, thanks for your kind words. I'm just starting the revising process and it's easier because of the Becky Levine workshop I took (see 5/19 post) not to mention having people who are interested in seeing it. Man, nothing motivates like that!

  5. I sat next to you in the hall before your pitch session - you didn't seem that nervous to me. :) CONGRATS on all the positive buzz!!! Your story sounded so inventive and fresh that I'm not surprised. Best of luck!!

  6. @inky - I remember you well, you're story was a take on a fairy tale that took place in a victorian garden, if I remember correctly. It sounded so wonderful, I'd love to hear more.
    Send me your info/blog whatever, I'd love to keep in touch.


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