Saturday, October 1, 2011

On Conference, On People & Withdrawal Symptoms

The Conference

This was my first official writer's conference. I was innocent. Now I'm corrupted.

The conference was the Southern California Writers' Conference in Newport Beach. I didn't know much about the conference but their site made me feel a bit warm and somewhat fuzzy. And when I saw that they had "Advanced Submission Critiques" given by agents, editors, and writers, then I knew that this would be good for me.

Like most writers, you never know if you're good enough. I needed to know if my style of writing was sellable. If my story was good enough. If this story had a chance. I set up advanced meetings with three agents, an editor-in-chief of a boutique publisher and a freelance editor/award winning author.

The conference lasted three days, but I have a suspicion that the impact will last considerably longer.

The People

It's always about "who." In all endevours of life, the Who always trumps What. With the right people, a horrible event will be memorable.

I was surrounded by writers, some like me--trying to break in--others who have broken in, and some who are stuck in the middle. The profession of "writer" is a tough one. Success can be measured in many ways. But one thing is for sure, it's a lonely endeavor.

Fundamentally, we're all the same. We've all chosen to tap into our imagination to produce words that generate sentences, which propel paragraphs into works that we hope to share with the world.

One of my longtime friends was going to attend. When Aline Ohanesian told me she'd be there, at a minimum I knew that I could hang out with one cool person.

But I was also committed to experiencing this conference fully. And that meant meeting and fraternizing with the citizens. I would not hide out in my room (not that hiding out is my DNA... but you get the point).

And from the first moment, I came across amazing people.

I met Mark Koopmans of Hawaii. With his badass Irish accent, I immediately liked him. He's co-writing a memoir of an opera singer who should have been the next coming of... but life took different turns.

I met my tweeter "friend" Tameri Etherton (@TameriEtherton) in person. That was great in and of itself, but also discovered that she's an awesome person to boot.

Laura Taylor
I met Gayle Carline, now a Tweeter friend (@GayleCarline), who was as down to earth as it gets.

It turns out that most writers are very cool and funny. They're also good at telling stories.

Then there was author/editor/lifetime achievement award winner Laura Taylor who rocked my world. One of these posts, I'll share more details... 

I was embarassed by editor extraordinaire Jean Jenkins over the course of a workshop and then four different conversations. It seemed unreal that she would want to help me--a nobody. She didn't have to offer but she did.
Gordon Warnock

Also, literary agent, Gordon Warnock of Andrea Hurst who gave me hope in the industry and the process. Down to earth, intelligent, and actually read my submission with care. He recalled specific passages and gave me the type of encouragement I needed.

But the thing that stuck with me were two people that seemed dismayed and ready to quit.

This is a subjetive business. Which means that most will hate your work until one person of influence doesn't. 

It broke my heart. I don't like it when people give up on their dreams. Maybe they're not good enough. But maybe they are. And all they have to do is keep at it until the right champion emerges.

I had a long chat and hope that the dream hasn't vanished. Dreams are always worth the fight.

Withdrawal Symptoms

I found validation at this conference.

Validation that my writing is good. In a subjective world like writing, if a handful of professionals agree, then that's the fuel I need to keep me going. I have work to do, we all do and always will (remember the best of us will remain rookies until we die). But I am more confident today then I've ever been.

Validation that the industry is not a complete mess. It is a mess on many fronts. But there are some that believe in the power of words, and believe that great writing can be discovered at a conference. I applaud those agents and editors who are not jaded and take the time to help and encourage the next generation of writers.

Validation that if I keep at it, good things will come. As Stephen King said, "it was my time."

Now, I'm suffering a bit. I loved the conversations with the editors, and agents, and writers. Being in that world for three days highlighted for me how much I really enjoy that world.

I want more of it, but for now, I will play the game and never lose focus over what's possible if I just keep on fighting the good fight.


  1. Ara, it was SO good to meet you at the conference, and I'm glad we're Twitter buds now. A writer needs optimism and thick skin these days. We also need to be quick on our feet, yet cautious of mind. Just remember, no matter what the publishing future holds, you ARE a writer and that's an infinite source of joy.

  2. Gayle, thank you for visiting. Your comment is loaded with brilliance. I feel a blog post is appropriate for each of your sentences. My little community of writer friends are also becoming a source of infinite joy. It's finally coming together.

  3. Hey Ara,

    Like Gayle said, it was super great to meet you at the conference. It is a world filled with optimism and pragmatism and it is up to each of us to determine our fate. I hope those two souls you spoke with do continue with their dream. If for nothing else, than to continue reaching for something better. That's what we all have to do each time we sit down at the computer or put pen to paper.

    Isn't Jean the BEST? I love her.

    Will you be at the San Diego conference? It's longer than Newport - more time with your writer friends!

  4. Aloha Ara,

    Thanks for not making me sit on that big, round table by myself and for sharing some IT advice on writing with the ol' Ipad thingy.

    I appreciate the time we spent chatting about our craft, and am glad we graduated JJ's class together.

    Mahalo for the shout out and I second Tameri's comment... if SCWC Newport Beach makes music, then San Diego Rocks the House!

    Cheers, and like the guy in the commercial says: "I may not drink Dos Equis all the time, but when I read a blog, it is the Rookie Scrivener."

  5. Sounds like you had a great time, Ara! Congrats on the positive feedback and keep writing! :)

  6. Tameri, Jean is the best! No nonsense and all heart. As for San Diego, if I was asked two weeks ago, I would have been on the fence. Now, I definitely want to go. My day job involves travel, and I hate to leave my wife and kids more than I have to. But my wife is all behind this and wants me to go all out. Unless something goes wrong, I will see my peeps there :)

    Mark, I must say, I am glad that you were the first person I met there. You set the tone :) Maybe next time, I'll hold a "Rogue" session on tools for writers (iPad, Scrivener, Evernote, etc). BTW, I may have to use your Dos Equis quote as an endorsement of my blog :)

    Ava, my tweet peep! I hope one of these days I get to meet you in person too -- maybe at your book signing event? :) The conference was great. I must admit that I was hesitant about the whole writer conference concept, but now I see how powerful this community can be. We have to be cautions too, of course. There are a lot of opinions and a lot of personalities. Once you find the right ones, the conference becomes a Tweet party but with real humans... and win! :)


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