Sunday, May 9, 2010

TWENTY-NINE GEEKS & AN OSCAR NOMINEE

My senses and my brain are in overdrive. It’s a Bucket List day and I have so much to process. I attended a one-day writing conference in Burnaby, sponsored by the regional branch of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators). While I’ve eagerly attended author readings, this was my first experience with the focus entirely on the writing. To get the most out of the day, I submitted a chapter of a middle grades manuscript ahead of time and booked two consultation sessions, one with an agent, one with an editor.

I’m sure every such consultation is unique, depending on the two people in the room, the particular day and the beverage at hand. While I tried to anticipate what my meetings would be like, neither was what I’d expected—not that there’s anything wrong with that.

I first met with the agent. With only her purse at her side, she opened with “What have you got for me?” It threw me. What about the manuscript excerpt I’d sent in advance? She calmly explained that many things cross her desk. Bottom line: she hadn’t looked at my work. The session quickly turned from manuscript consultation to pitch session. And I couldn’t be happier!

I’d only thought about my pitch while taking the ferry over this morning. Just in case... And now I had to think on my feet. The booking was ten minutes. It seemed like I’d just sat down when another “pitcher” was clearing her throat to announce it was her turn.

I walked out with a single thought: What just happened? Couldn’t give a play-by-play, but the agent did ask for me to follow her agency’s submission guidelines, including a mention in the first sentence that she had requested my material. A good sign indeed. Of course, as the under-confident writer, I wondered how many other pitchers got the same spiel.

Best not to overanalyze things.

The session with the editor followed. She’d read my chapter, easily recalling character names. While my work wasn’t a fit for her publisher (which specializes in nonfiction), her feedback was helpful and positive. My writing was funny, my main character sardonic. (Is sardonic a good thing? I decided to pull out the dictionary to see if I was missing something—“characterized by bitter or scornful derision”. Yikes.) She gave me a helpful idea of something to add in the first chapter. Moreover, the fifteen-minute talk evolved into a two-way conversation, with a focus on hooking male readers and her endorsement that I was on the right track. By the time we wrapped, she offered to give my project more thought as to what publisher/editor would be interested in seeing the manuscript. This went beyond my expectations . (As an aside, she thought I looked much younger than my chronological age, joking that I must have started teaching when I was twelve. That alone would have made my day!)

At lunch, I failed to network with other writers as recommended in many articles I’d read about attending conferences. I am schmooze-challenged, but I have a legitimate excuse. My session with the editor ended after the conference broke for lunch. Thus, I navigated through the massive Metrotown mall in search of the food court. More overstimulation. So many people! And so diverse! Yes, this was a refreshing change from my life in sleepy Gibsons.

As the first afternoon session began, a person arriving late slipped in and took the empty seat beside me—empty, no doubt, because I hadn’t schmoozed. She was a featured speaker, last on the day’s program. Meg Tilly! Yes, she is a published writer, but in my mind, I still saw her as Chloe in “The Big Chill” and as an Oscar nominee for “Agnes of God”. Of course, having lived five years in L.A., I knew to keep my cool and let her have her space—as much as one can garner when seated next to me.

Her presentation was a perfect end to the day: a high-octane, stream of consciousness talk that was honest, modest and humorous, with a punch of star power that only a celebrity can project without even trying. I’ve added Porcupine to my reading list. Soon Meg Tilly will successfully make the transition from actress to author in my mind. (At least until I watch “The Big Chill” for the fifteenth time.)

All in all, a memorable day. Entertaining. Inspiring. Affirming.





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