I slept well, woke up early, had a refreshing walk and then met up with the remaining writers at the main building for the final day of the conference. Some writers had already left; others were leaving as soon as they had their meeting with Gadfly. Since leftovers had been on the menu for lunch the day before, and leftovers were all that were being offered for breakfast, the consensus was that breakfast out was a reasonable option. The writers who weren’t in a hurry to leave went to breakfast in one group, and those of us who were more interested in getting our one-on-ones over with stayed.
My meeting with Gadfly wasn’t unpleasant in the least. I selected a portion of my novel on my laptop and busied myself making tea while he read. He told me I was an excellent writer, better than the majority of fantasy writers being published. I told him that he was the first person who had read any portion of my manuscript, and he seemed stunned. He said that if I had been able to get to that level of writing without input from anyone, then I had a natural gift. He urged me to bypass any writers’ groups and to find an editor. Then he fired off a LOT more ideas about what I could do to make my book stand out from the crowd (steampunk got mentioned again, along with setting the action in the Crusades – his opinion was that historical fantasy would be The Next Big Thing). Gadfly then told me he was honored to be the first person to read my manuscript, but let me go with this caveat: “It would be a shame if you end up being one of those great writers who never gets published.”
I tucked that into my figurative pipe to smoke later. I waited for two more writers to have their meetings with Gadfly so we could all go to breakfast, while the second group of writers, already fed, arrived back at the main building. Dauber joined us and said that she didn’t feel comfortable meeting with Gadfly on her own; apparently their argument the night before had been so heated that she felt she wouldn’t get a fair assessment from him without someone else’s presence to keep him in line. Just about that time Gadfly appeared in the doorway and brusquely asked Dauber if they were going to meet. She told him she wanted someone else present and Gadfly went ballistic. He began shouting at Dauber, nearly every fifth word an expletive. She asked him if he could “be professional, just for a moment,” and that only made him angrier. To Dauber’s credit, she never raised her voice nor used any bad language. She turned to one of the other writers and asked him to sit in on her session, and they all went back into the main room. The rest of us stood gaping at each other, but at last I gathered my breakfast group (I was driving) and left.
When I got back, everything was quiet. Gadfly was meeting with another writer in the main room, so I got packed and began to take my things out the car. When I was ready to go, Gadfly had finished his meeting and was sorting through the leftovers. He asked me if I wanted any of them; the food didn’t interest me but I did take a case of Diet Coke. We said our goodbyes; Gadfly told me to get in touch if I needed any guidance, and I think he was sincere. “Be happy,” I said, giving him a hug, and I meant it.
Writing out the events of the conference has helped me come to terms with the experience. I know now that major rewrites are in order for my novel, but I’m not blocked – as I told John, I needed process everything I was told and cull what I think will work for me and what will simply get in my way. Was the conference valuable? Yes, it was. Do I wish it had been run differently? I certainly do. Do I think Gadfly’s credentials are legit? Not really, but he did give some good advice. Unfortunately, the packaging of the advice made it a bitter pill to swallow, and I wasted time and energy being angry and upset about it. Instead of creating an atmosphere conducive to creativity, Gadfly’s abrasive and sometimes abusive personality created an atmosphere of anxiety and a fear of failure. Maybe he thought he’d toughen us up; I don’t know.
One nugget of his advice I chose to ignore. One of the first things I did on returning from the conference was finally attend a meeting of one of my writers’ groups. I took the short story I’d written at the conference and I read it aloud. It was a huge step for me, and the writers could not have been more supportive. I got some excellent and very specific feedback on ways I could tweak the story. This week I did a little research online and found several literary journals that were having short story contests. I picked one, and I sent them my piece. I don’t expect anything to happen from it, but I felt that it was important for me to make that step. I finally have the courage to share my creative writing, and for that, I thank the writers at my group and the writers who made the difficult journey with me at the conference.
And with a certain grudging, unwilling admiration, I have to give credit where it’s due. Thank you, Gadfly. Be happy. I mean it.