Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Conferences

The first conference I attended was the Whidbey Island Writers’ Conference. The first year, I didn’t meet with an agent or editor because neither of the works I had in progress felt far enough along for me to discuss with anyone. Also, I was just getting the lay of the land and was learning what these conferences were all about.

My first conference experience was everything I wanted it to be.

First, I got to spend an entire pre-conference day in a memoir writing workshop with Maureen Murdock. I felt so in step with her when I read The Heroine’s Journey because of her friendship with Joseph Campbell. Joseph Campbell turned my life in a new direction when I met him. Maureen proved to be a sensitive and insightful workshop leader, and the eleven other women (only women signed up for this) just added to the overall experience.

The keynote speaker that year was Sara Paretsky. I was so excited at the thought of meeting her. V.I. Warshawski is my all time favorite sassy female dick.

The official conference began on Friday, and that evening, a local pub and bookstore hosted a couple of great ice breaker events. Conference attendees gathered at the pub over pitchers of beer and an open mic where writers could read poetry or flash fiction or selected excerpts. The bookstore set up tables for board games. One of the games was a cross between creating crossword puzzles and scrabble. The game was played in teams, and agents, editors, and writers of all descriptions grouped together to extend their word play agility. I opted for the bookstore games. Between rounds, conversation flowed in a relaxed atmosphere, free of expectation. Acquaintances were formed that lasted through the weekend.

As I attended subsequent conferences, I noted that, for many of the writers in attendance, the expectation was high. They wanted to be discovered or found. However, there was a not-so-invisible line between those in the professional, established positions and the wannabes. Those who had the coveted power to discover and snatch the quivering wannabe from the dregs appeared to have other things on their minds. They tended to group together with other agents or editors, the established writers formed their own huddle, flashing smiles as they autographed books, only to return to eye-rolling amongst the other real writers. Once I sat down at a table where Robert Ferrigno sat alone. I knew that he and I had come from the same town in California and wanted to ask him several things, like how living in Belmont Shore had contributed to the writing of Horse Latitudes or how long he’d lived in Washington and what had brought him up here. He literally rolled his eyes at me, and answered in monosyllables until a romance writer came over and rescued him from me. “You look bored,” she said. He growled and nodded. Okay…time for me to move on back to the corner with the other nobodies. I learned my place right and proper.

That’s not to say they’re all like Ferrigno. That experience stands out in my mind because he was just so openly affronted by my disregard for his position at the conference relative to mine. I’ve had some great conversations with writers as well. Nancy Kress is a wonderful writer to have at any conference. She’s a great teacher and workshop leader, and she likes talking to writers of all descriptions. I felt as though she honestly enjoyed visiting with us. Sara Paretsky, Steve Martini were also a pleasure to spend time with. My all time favorite writer event was with Leslie Marmon Silko at The Room of Her Own writers retreat for women. That week-long retreat stands alone among events for writers as the greatest thing a writer can do for herself.

After I finished my YA novel, I made two appointments at the Whidbey Island Conference. I wanted to meet with an agent of YA material. And I wanted to meet with an editor of a major publishing house to discuss the premise of my memoir. The agent said that the story line of my book sounded intriguing and asked for a partial. She returned it within the same week I sent it with a standard rejection note. The editor sat with her arms folded across her chest, obviously wishing this morning would end. The expression on her face said, “What.” Not a question. Since I knew from the moment I walked in the room that she felt the entire process of meeting with unpublished writers was a waste of her time, I found myself at a loss for words. Without unfolding her arms, she said to me, “Adoption memoirs have been done before and are boring.” I thanked her for her time and waited for her to thank me for my thirty dollars, which she didn’t.

Overall, the game night stands out as the most productive event I’ve encountered at a three-day conference. The biggest obstacle conferences have to overcome is the tension formed by the fledgling writer’s desire for a break, versus the established folks aloof and guarded posturing.

We can all read Miss Snark. I don’t need to have someone stand at a podium and tell us about all the annoying things we do to cross over. I may be alone in saying this, but I am not the kind of person who excels in acting like a simpering puppy in need of a pat on the head. I don’t like to kiss ass. Sure, I want to be published, but I want it to be because my book is something someone wants to represent and not because I pant and shake like a Chihuahua any time someone with New York connections crosses my path. Maybe I’m still extremely na├»ve. I do know that getting published is sort of like getting struck by lightening. As a writer who workshops my work, I’ve read a lot of work by unpublished writers, and there’s just a whole fucking lot of unbelievably good stuff out there. There’s also a lot of drivel. I understand the challenge agents and publishers face in finding the right manuscripts. I know that there is a lot of great work out there that will never see a bookstore shelf. Where conference are concerned, though, ice breakers like the game and pub night and small groups where people sit around a table and talk about some aspect of writing with a single professional are the two most valuable activities a conference can offer.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Smokelong Anniversary

The new issue is out and full of fun, friends and surprises!!


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

E-pubs, OMG

I'm seeing so much buzz and fear about e-publishing, as in the Kindle vs. other devices and how is the publishing industry ever going to keep from dying. I think this all started with the recent BEA. I have a feeling this has happened before...I don't know, maybe when...

Monday, June 09, 2008

Natsuo Kirino

Natsuo Kirino has a new book coming out in July, Real World. I added her to my list after reading Out last fall. I know. The title, Out, sounds like a political thriller about a gay hazing. After reading the book, I never figured out what the title, Out, meant in relation to the book. Must be one of those times when east doesn’t quite translate into west. But the book was fascinating.

I’m struggling to figure out how to describe it. Out is a complex, feminist thriller in the Conradian tradition. How’s that for a description? The book tells the story of four women friends who work the graveyard shift at a box lunch factory. Their personalities are so different I wondered how they ever hooked up, but they work well together. The story takes off when one of them, a sad waif of a woman, steps out of her passivity and accidentally murders her husband during a fight. The women work together under the leadership of Katori to dispose of the body. The narrative is omniscient, giving us a “too much information” view of each character’s thoughts and activities around the events. And Kirino crosses taboos which make us cringe while they compel us to read on.

Even with the omniscient point of view, the story belongs to Katori. She’s the instigator, the one who is both driver of and driven by the events in the story. She has a grim double who haunts her and moves ever closer until they meet at the climactic conclusion.

I see Kirino as a rising star. Her work is deceptively hiding within the current boom of female crime fiction writers in Japan. I predict she’ll trace the same path as Raymond Chandler and remain obscured within this pulp fiction genre until someone discovers her significance. She’s prompted me to do two things. I want to check out other Japanese women crime writers, and I can’t wait to read Real World.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Is E-Publishing an Option?

Today, I did a little research about e-publishing. Specifically, I wanted to find what firms publish YA and whether they looked like stable businesses or shingle on-a-fireplug operations.

After taking Maya Reynolds’ class about the publishing business, I decided that I may have been too hasty about e-publishing. I lumped it in with all the vanity presses and self-publishing scams as a route that would do more harm than good. But Maya explained that, although she had gone the traditional route, with her book being published by an imprint of Penguin, two of her friends started out by having their books e-published. The e-pubbed authors earned a much higher royalty than those who go through the traditional houses. Traditional houses pay a royalty of 12 – 15%, whereas e-pubs pay an average of 45%. Maya said that, while she was toiling in search of an agent and a house to publish her book, her friends were enjoying royalties from their e-published books. In the long run, they were picked up by traditional publishing houses and ended up being published in print copy at about the same time as Maya’s book.

When Googling the search phrase, e-publishing, I came up with a bunch of questionable hits. The top hit, e-publishing.com, is a business selling services to ecommerce businesses. In other words, it sells internet marketing tools. Most of the sites I found focus on Romance novels. Some offered a mixed menu, but all focused on Romance or Erotic Romance, with Sci Fi coming in a distant second. Finally, I modified my search phrase to be “e-publishing YA” Here are some of the ones I found:

  • Samhain, - not accepting ya right now. Mostly romance
  • Ellora's Cave – Erotic Romance
  • Loose Id – Erotic Romance
  • Awe-struck – once did YA but not anymore
  • Wings e-press – Guidelines discourage books with sex (which would rule my YA novel out). I didn’t see anything to indicate that they were a Christian publisher. They may have been just trying to discourage erotica. They also have a problem with anything to do with alternative lifestyles, which I take to mean anything gay. That kind of put me off, and certainly eliminates my other novel in the works. Overall, they are the best option I found for my YA novel…well, the only one, really. They’ve been around since 2002 and have a full staff.
  • Writers Exchange – This looked like an established publisher. Again, mostly romance, but they publish a variety of genre. They didn’t list YA but had a note on their submissions page stating that writers could query about anything they don’t list. Their web site also has samples of the contracts they have with authors and a lengthy essay about the difference between them and vanity presses. They pay 60% in royalties.

With all of the e-pub sites, I was concerned by the sort of fly-by-night appearance of the web pages and their merchandise. The book covers were the sort of thing you’d find on the cover of an Ellory Queen magazine. Covers offer lots of torso shots and scenes of women being swept off their feet. The web pages all looked like they’d been put together with Frontpage on someone’s home computer. I didn’t see any web pages that looked as though they had been professionally developed.

All-in-all, I’m taking a step back. I think that e-publishing is going to explode in the next 2 – 5 years. It’s not there yet. My guess is that, way after the barn door’s closed, the traditional publishers will realize that this is a viable, low-risk method of selling books and will include it in their fare. It might make getting published a lot easier, but will include a whole lot of material that will never see a marketing dollar.

I’ve got my ear to the ground, though, for that break-out e-publisher who gets it right and bursts free from the crowd with long strides. Someone’s out there developing it right now. I can just smell it.

In the meantime…just keep swimming, swimming, swimming. I’ll continue to shop for an agent via the traditional route.