Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), Miracle of the Concrete Jesus & Other Stories, and several Kindle ebooks.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

James River Writers Conference 2006

An Intellectual Road Trip

I returned yesterday from my annual pilgrimage to the James River Writers Conference, the Mecca to which the serious writers in Virginia go. Even those of us who write redneck advice columns—and thus cannot be taken seriously—attend.

Unserious as I am, I still believe that an aspiring writer/novice writer/up-coming writer/writer-wannabe has nothing to lose and much to gain from observing/listening to/networking with knowledgable agents, editors, and successful commercially published authors. So that’s what I did. Over two hundred others did the same, including two Valley Writers I’d know for years—Dick Raymond and Millie Willis. Dick is a poet (Blue and Gray Ballads), short story writer, aspiring novelist, and history buff. Millie, who writes poetry and essays, recently had an article in the September issue of Prime Living.

I left rural Virginia before noon Thursday to stay ahead of the impending rain and to make a pilgrimage to the to Apple Store at the Short Pump Mall. My aging iBook had stopped burning CDs and was close to the end of its warranty. I’d emailed ahead for an appointment that afternoon. I arrived nearly an hour early, but they took a look at my iBook right away, tested it (yep—didn’t burn), sprayed its innards with compressed air, and thus fixed the problem. Plus, they updated all its software. That took an hour, during which I played with—and seriously coveted—a 20 inch iMac. I hadn’t done any updates on that iBook since I got it in February 2004. Now I’m in the market for an old Airport card so I can do the wi-fi thing at my favorite coffee shop, among other places.

Rain was pouring and a flood warning in effect when Millie, Dick, and I made our way to the Library of Virginia early Friday morning. Among the friends I found already there were Nancy Beasley (Izzy’s Fire) and Helen Eano, a member of the Richmond branch of the Virginia Writers Club.

One of the highlights of early Friday morning was meeting and conversing with Dave Kuzminski, whose Preditors and Editors site (“A guide to publishers and writing services for serious writers!”) is the biggest scam-busting site on the web. For the two or three readers of this blog who haven’t heard of Dave, he is one of the prime whistle blowers against PublishAmerica, the scammiest (scummiest?) POD publisher who prints nearly anything submitted, inserts errors, stiffs authors on royalties, and whose weasley-worded contract misleads novice authors into thinking PA is a “traditional” publisher. Among his many accomplishments, Dave is one of the authors who wrote the sting manuscript, Atlanta Nights, which PA accepted until the perpetrators of the hoax revealed that the author, Travis Tea, did not actually exist. Not long ago, PA accepted Dave’s sting manuscript, Channeling Tinkerbelle.

When the conference actually began a bit after 9:30, David Robbins’ witty welcome set the tone for what was to come. Then came what everyone was there to hear—the First Pages Critique by two agents—Cameron Mc Clure and Bryd Leavell—and an editor—Chuck Adams of Algonquin. The writing was better, and thus the agents were kinder in their remarks, than what we’d heard in previous years. After First Pages, I chose Dave’s panel (other panelists were Tony Jones and editorial consultant Marcela Landres): “Publish or Parasite: Whether and When to Self-Publish.” All panelists agreed that, given the problems with distribution and marketing self-pubbed/POD books, finding a commercial publisher was a better choice. Jones handed out some cards with things to do before self-pubbing. My favorite was “Make a list of 5,000 people you know who will buy the book.”

After lunch, I attended “Keep It Moving: An Analysis of Pacing.” Sci-fi and fantasy writer Dennis Danvers moderated a panel consisting of Chuck Adams, C. S. Friedman, and Brian Haig, all of whom gave some really good suggestions and examples. I learned some good stuff here.

I missed most of “You Write Like a Girl: Making Money from a Woman’s Perspective” with a panel moderated by journalist and freelancer Phaedre Hise and consisting of agent Kate Garrick, Marcela Landres, Buffy Morgan, and Richmond Magazine’s editor-in-chief Susan Winecki, because I had an agent interview with Cameron McClure of the Donald Maass agency. McClure didn’t know what to do with the project I pitched, “Ferradiddldumday,” my Appalachian version of “Rumpelstiltskin,” complete with study guide and illustrations. However, after I told her I wrote a redneck advice column, she asked me to send her 10 pages of the book I was planning to POD: More Peevish Advice.

Friday’s last session was “The Journey of Journalism,” in which Dean King (Skeletons of the Zahara) questioned Hampton Sides (Ghost Soldiers, Blood and Thunder). One point Sides made that I (as a teacher) liked: provide documentation of your historical work with foot-notes or end-notes as well as bibliography. Otherwise your work will lack validity.

Saturday morning dawned with more hard rain (including thunder and lightning). The Battery Park section of Richmond had already flooded. Before going to the Library, the three of us stopped at Denny’s on Broad Street, where Luvene the waitress brightened the day considerably by singing as she served our substantial breakfast and by keeping our coffee cups full.

The first Saturday session was “The Book of Your Life: The Difficult and Courageous Art of the Memoir,” in which Jeanette Walls talked about her book, The Glass Castle. After hearing her tell of why she included certain parts, why she cut certain parts, how she found the right voice, etc., I immediately hurried to the book table and bought a copy.

“Boo Hiss: The Role of the Villain in Your Writing” was my choice for a morning panel. David L. Robbins moderated Martin Clark (Plain Heathen Mischief), C. S. Friedman, Brian Haig (legal military thrillers), and Alex Kershaw (The Bedford Boys). Another interesting and helpful session, as was the one I attended after lunch: “Deep Structure: Analysis of Point of View and Structure” with panelists Brian Haig, Dennis McFarland (The Music Room), and Janette Walls, and moderator Dean King. I really liked these nuts-and-bolts sessions that dealt with style and structure (and lots more!).

Because the weather was so bad and I wanted to get home before dark, I left early and missed the afternoon sessions and the question and answer session. Three hours later—with about 45 minutes of daylight left, I pulled into my driveway.

Even though the weather was rotten, the literary experience was wonderful. I think I’ll do it again next year!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Becky, this is Millie. Great job of reporting on the very well-rounded JRW Conference.
I enjoyed reading your review of the Conference, almost as much as if I were not there.
I was there, and I was a first-timer, and found it super stimulating and very energetic. Fantastic genre of participants. MW

10:23 PM  
Blogger Matt D said...

This is a great post. I really wish I could make it to more conferences.

3:24 PM  

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