(I begin this blog post with a parenthetical caveat: because I came away from my writers’ conference with mixed feelings, I’m not going to give you its name or location or any particulars. I’ve found that conferences in general and this one in particular seem to polarize people, and I’d rather this blog didn’t become a battleground, particularly as I allow anonymous comments. If you really want to know details, you can ask me for them privately.)
My big Christmas gift this year was that my husband John paid the steep fee (which included five nights’ accommodations as well as breakfast and lunch) for the writers’ conference I’d chosen to attend. I’d already applied and been accepted, but the moment that the fee was paid, I started getting anxious. Not butterflies-in-the-stomach anxious, but hard-knot-in-the-throat, can’t-sleep-at-night, what-have-I-done anxious. In other words, I panicked. The main thrust of this particular conference was on getting the book published, and I just didn’t know if I was at that place yet.
The conference required a LOT of pre-event homework, too. I had four books to read, three of which were written by dead white guys and the fourth by the person running the conference. Hmm. I read them all; liked two and hated two, and I’ll let you guess into which camp the only living writer’s book fell. There was also a workbook, which I only skimmed. There were some writing assignments as well. Some of them were quite useful, but I still can’t figure out what others were supposed to accomplish, as they were never addressed in the actual conference. Still, I felt that I was working toward a goal, and all this hoop-jumping was going to get me to that goal in time.
The day of the conference’s start finally arrived, so with one suitcase for clothing and another for laptop, books, papers and other writing accoutrement, I kissed my husband and was off on my Great Adventure. It was a pretty day for a drive and I got there early, but I wasn’t the earliest: of the thirteen writers attending the conference, at least two had beaten me there. The upside of getting there first was that we got first dibs on accommodations. Each writer had a private room but had to share a bathroom with up to three other writers; I could deal with that but was disappointed to find that the tiny bedrooms contained a bed, a dresser, a lamp and nothing else; i.e. no desk or other work surface. That meant any writing would have to be accomplished crouched on our beds, or in the common areas. As you can imagine, I wasn’t too thrilled.
The downside of arriving early was that the three of us got the full attention of the individual running the conference, whom I shall call Gadfly. In my pre-conference research, I’d found a blog in which a previous conference attendee had stated that Gadfly’s M.O. was be very hard on people at first, so I was ready for that. What I wasn’t ready for was the level of scorn.
After hearing us briefly describe our novels (in writer/publisher parlance, this is called “the pitch”), Gadfly told us, not mincing words, that what we’d written was nothing special and that no publisher would ever buy it. To have come to this conclusion without having read a word of what we’d written seemed to me the height of arrogance, but I was able to control myself even though I was seething inside. The other two writers had different reactions: one, a young man who was writing a science fiction novel, seemed philosophical about his dressing down (I must mention that Gadfly was not as hard on him). The other writer, a woman whom I’ll call Texas, had written a semi-autobiographical piece of some length. She was clearly upset by Gadfly’s harshness, and for his part, Gadfly seemed to enjoy her distress and slammed her even harder when she protested.
The other writers were arriving during all this, and eventually we headed off to dinner together. I tried to shake off the unpleasantness and get to know the other writers – all white, many middle-aged, all of us earnestly hoping to get something positive out of the week-long conference. Most of us chattered away but Texas was still stunned and alternated between staring into space and going out to smoke. When we got back to our digs, she told me she wanted to leave, and I urged her to stick with it, at least for another day. Since we had an early start to our day, most of us went to bed fairly early, but I tossed and turned all night, wondering what in the world the next day would bring.
(I end this post with yet another parenthetical, this time about anonymous posters. If you post a comment and you’re not registered with Blogger, you’ll be posting as Anonymous. If several people post as Anonymous and we get into a dialogue, things rapidly become confusing. If you want to comment and don’t want to register with Blogger, then at least sign your comment – your real name, particularly if we know each other, would be nice – but if you’d like to stay anonymous, a pseudonym will do.)