My Biggest Takeaway: 2011 Philadelphia Writers’ Conference

“Takeaway” is a word often used in the business world, meaning the lesson, advice, or information you got from a seminar, meeting, or conference. “What’s the takeaway?” is a common question. Oddly, I could not find that definition online on any of the big dictionary sites. They all told me it meant the same as “takeout” – as in, “Do you want fries with that?”

You have probably seen the posts I did on the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference, both here and on The Author Chronicles blog. So you know there was a TON of awesome information in those workshops.

But none of that was my biggest takeaway.

My biggest takeaway came from my pitch with Sarah Yake of Frances Collin Agency.

You may know, from previous posts, that I struggle with anxiety. That I would have rather suffered another C-section than pitch face-to-face. You may also know that the Act Like A Writer Workshop in March 2011 caused an epiphany which let me approach my nemesis with an entirely different mindset.

That didn’t stop the terror when faced with a real agent, however.

I sat at Sarah Yake’s table and waited. She wasn’t there. In fact, none of the agents were in place yet. Every one of the agent tables held only a nervous writer staring into empty air, a rather bizarre tableaux repeated five times.

I wondered if I would remember to breathe while speaking. If I would remember to make eye contact. If I would remember my pitch. If I would remember my name. After a few minutes which felt like an epoch, all the agents hurried toward their tables.

Sarah was personable, enthusiastic, and interested. She was also slightly flustered because a faulty clock had made all the agents a touch late, and this show of humanity went a long way to calming my nerves. Sarah also appeared to be younger than I am, which I think kicked in some of my mommy instincts – I wanted to make her feel at ease, since she was obviously embarrassed about being a little late!

Once we began talking, the most unbelievable thing happened. All my anxiety drained away. My hands stopped shaking. My stomach stopped twitching. Not only did I remember to breathe, but I breathed easily. I sailed through my pitch confidently. Even when I missed some information, I deftly inserted it later in our conversation.

If I had not had such a nice person as the first agent I ever pitched to, I suppose my experience might have become a nightmare. As it was, it became the most profound takeaway I could have imagined.

I can pitch.

I can pitch well.

The confidence I draw from this lesson will carry far beyond my writing career.

Thanks Jonathan Maberry & Keith Strunk (Act Like A Writer teachers), Don Lafferty (I didn’t forget your pep talk just before Sarah came down), PWC, and Sarah Yake (such a sweet person!) for giving me a takeaway that will change my life in ways I can’t even imagine yet.

Confessions of a Conference Virgin: Day 3 of the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference

Today was the final day of the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference. I started it off by getting lost on the way in, but I still made it on time.

I also found that a friend and colleague of mine, James S. Kempner, had taken 3 different prizes in the PWC contests—one a first prize! Congrats to Jim!

This morning kicked off with a 1-day workshop by author and editor Kathryn Craft, who enlightened us with 13 Tips and Tricks for better writing. I wanted to whip out my manuscript right there and start applying them—they are a sure way to improve your writing.

Then on to the final day of author Kelly Simmon’s Novel: Plot workshop. Her 7 Cs checklist gives a comprehensive yet manageable way to approach plot, particularly if you are not a natural outliner. I’m a partial outliner myself, and can easily see that incorporating her ideas will help me improve my novel before I ever write a word of it.

After lunch, author Gregory Frost wrapped up his advice on Novel: Character. After a review of simplex, complex, and multiplex characters, we created a character from scratch. While we rendered a rather hilarious persona and the ghost that haunts him, the exercise showed us the basic steps to creating a multi-dimensional character with enough room to grow throughout your novel.

In the YA workshop with author Catherine Stine, she spoke about how to find agents and editors, and shared some of her experiences with agents. We also practiced our 3-sentence elevator pitches and discussed the competing yet very similar merits of writing programs Scrivener (about $50) versus yWriter (free).

My mind was far too fried to stay for the closing panel, but I’m certain it will be as informative as the rest of the conference. I’m thinking I should book my reservations for next year!

Confessions of a Conference Virgin: Day 2 of the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference

For me, today started with the mind-boggling 1-day workshop Writing for New Media/Webisodes. Filmmaker and educator Ian Markiewicz gave us an overview of webisodes and their transmedia interactive offshoots such as ARGs – Alternate Reality Games.

In today’s Novel: Plot, author Kelly Simmons focused on Coordination – making sure your Action, Voice, Setting, Language, and Premise all match to create a convincing, coherent world for your reader.

In Novel: Character, author Gregory Frost spoke about adding complexity to characters, which adds depth to the characters and can revitalize a tired, clichéd plot trope.

In today’s YA workshop, author Catherine Stine talked about common plot structures for children’s literature, how to add tension, and common plot flaws.

I wrapped up the day with Jerry Waxler’s 1-day workshop I Don’t Brake for Writer’s Block, where he explored some of the common mental obstacles writers encounter and gave us some strategies for overcoming them.

I skipped the banquet tonight, but I was already overloaded with new information, new creative ideas, and new enthusiasm to do it all again tomorrow! Day 3 awaits!

Confessions of a Conference Virgin: Day 1 of the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference

I have to admit to being nervous about the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference. It’s the first conference I’ve ever been to, so I didn’t really know what to expect. Plus, I planned to pitch to an agent there, so I carried the knots in my stomach until my appointment time!

Day 1 of the conference was great. In a highly inspirational opening speech, author Solomon Jones stressed the idea that words matter by sharing how writing literally saved him from a life of addiction and homelessness.

The 3-day workshops have been equally informative. There is a little something for everyone: Memoirs, Poetry, Flash Fiction, Nonfiction, Romance Novels, Contemporary Short Stories, Screen/Play Writing, Novel, and YA.

I have heard good things about most of the 3-day workshops, but I have only experienced 3 of them myself. In Novel: Plot, author Kelly Simmons explored a non-outlining way of approaching plot – her list of 7 Cs: Combustion, Coordination, Conflict, Character, Conclusion, Completion, and Commitment.

In Novel: Character, author Gregory Frost explored what it takes to create compelling characters. Today we talked about the importance of “telling details” to show what the character is like instead of reverting to intrusive author explanation.

I had to leave in the middle of Greg’s class to go to my agent pitch. My nerves almost got the better of me while I was waiting, but once I met the engaging and enthusiastic Sarah Yake of Frances Collin Agency, my fear vanished. I count that as a successful pitch, especially for my first time pitching!

Then it was on to the YA workshop, where author Catherine Stine spoke about the different levels of children’s literature from picture books through upper YA, and how writing for those markets differs from writing for adults.

Finally, I took one of the single-day workshops: Jennifer Holbrook-Talty’s Perfect Pitch/Query. She pounded this cardinal rule into our heads: Who is your protagonist, what do they want, and why can’t they have it? This is the beginning of every successful pitch of any length.

The one-day workshops also cover a wide variety of topics: Pitch/Query; Libel, Privacy & Censorship; Writing for New Media/Webisodes; How to Get Your Own Column; Beating Writer’s Block; Op-Ed; Marketing Your Work; 13 Tips and Tricks; and a Closing Panel – Publisher’s Insider View.

My head is spinning with so much information, but I can’t wait for Day 2 and 3!

New Ventures

First, I’d like to announce a new group blog I’ve joined, called The Author Chronicles. This is a group of five writers from different genres facing inner demons and navigating the ever-changing world of publishing. We’ll be sharing what we learn along the way about craft, business, and the writing life. We’re very excited, so come on over and say hello!

Second, tomorrow starts the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference. This will be my first conference and I am a little nervous, but very jazzed. I always find that hanging out with writers sends my creativity through the roof, so being around so many writers just might send me into outer space. If you see a human silhouette flying across the moon this weekend, it’s probably me!

I have a lot to do to prepare for the conference, so this will be a short blog post. I’ll be back to let you know how it turned out. I’m sure I will have wonderful information to share from the many workshops I’ve signed up to take. The lineup is fabulous!

Look for more on the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference here in the coming days!

Comfort Zoning Out

I admire people who can write short stories well. You’d think that as a writer I wouldn’t be so wowed by people who can write a good short story, but I am. I’m also a little jealous, because the short story is not an easy form for me.

I have written short stories, but none of them have lived up to the best short stories I have read: the ones that make you see a piece of life or human behavior in a completely new way, or that turn a situation on its head so that you think about things you never thought about before, or that simply leave you haunted and unable to get the story out of your head for days – or years.

My comfort zone is writing long. I’m a novelist at heart. But every once in a while I think I should hone my short story skills. I know it would help my long writing and in the market today short stories are a great way to help build an audience online. So lately I have been considering returning to the form and giving it some more elbow grease and education.

It’s hard to stretch beyond your boundaries and try something new in any area of your life, and writing is no different. Learning a new skill set or refining a little-used one takes time and perseverance. But recently a colleague challenged me to write a story using a genre I wasn’t very familiar with. At first I thought I wouldn’t try it. But then I decided to take the challenge and I have found that I am having a great deal of fun doing it!

So maybe now is the time to return to the short story and try to master it. I feel a little like I always do on my first day at a new job—wondering if I actually have the skill to do the job, and if I can learn everything I need to learn to do well. Since I have never met a job I didn’t master, I know I can meet the challenge of the short story writing and triumph.

What writing challenges have you faced and mastered?

Navajos Wear Nikes book signing

Join my author friend and classmate Jim Kristofic at his booksigning this Saturday, 5/21 6-8 pm at the Doylestown Bookshop. His awesome memoir is Navajos Wear Nikes.

If you can’t make it to his signing, pick up the book at your local bookstore!

Read more about it below:

LIFE ON AN INDIAN RESERVATION… WHAT’S THAT LIKE?
An Evening of Storytelling and Booksigning with Navajos Wear Nikes author Jim Kristofic
WHERE: Doylestown Bookshop
WHEN: May 21st, 6-8 p.m.

Navajos Wear Nikes: A Reservation Life

When Jim Kristofic’s family moved across the country to Ganado, Arizona, his life changed forever. Ganado was a “Rez-town” on a reservation the size of West Virginia. More Indians lived on the Rez than anywhere else on earth. White people called them Navajo. They called themselves Diné—The People. For Jim’s mother, living among the Navajo was a childhood dream come true. For Jim—who’d just learned barely learned to tie his own shoelaces—it was the end of the world and the beginning of something new and unforgettable.

In this memoir Jim Kristofic introduces readers to the complex world of the modern Navajo Nation, where Anglo and Navajo coexist in a tenuous truce. It is a place of spirits, where witches haunt the valley at night and the supernatural is part of everyday life. But his friendships with local boys lead Jim to understand the wit of the Navajo language, how to make fry bread, how to find hózhó, a beautiful harmony. He shares tales of rescued “Rez-dogs,” a captive hawk, a gang-style murder, an Indian Boy Scout troop, a fanatical Sunday school teacher, a sheep butchering in the middle of the school day, and his friendship with the Navajo bull rider and artist who becomes his stepfather. After the births of his Navajo sister and brother, Jim’s family moves off the Rez to an Arizona border town, where he and his family struggle to adapt to the Anglo society that no longer feels like the home he left behind.

With compelling honesty, Navajos Wear Nikes tracks a modern life on the Navajo Reservation, from childhood to manhood. Kristofic recounts the painful, fascinating history of Ganado, Arizona and tells the story of a boy trying to understand the truth of a people and the truth about himself.

Jim Kristofic has worked on and off the “Rez” for more than ten years as a river guide, journalist, and oral historian. He has written for The Navajo Times, Arizona Highways, and High Country News. He and his wife currently live in eastern Pennsylvania with—of course—a rescued dog.

CURRENT PRAISE FOR NAVAJOS WEAR NIKES

“Jim Kristofic combines the spirit of Joseph Campbell and J.D. Salinger to give readers an intimate look at the complexity of life in Navajo country. I rarely have tears when I read the last chapter of a book… with this book I did.”
Martha Blue, former Indian country attorney and award-winning author of Indian Trader: The Life and Times of J.L. Hubbell

“This is a story told on many levels. It can be brutally frank, irreverent in places, and funny in others. But it is so serious that it will hold the reader’s attention from beginning to end. It brings to Native life a strongly personal and emotional aspect seldom seen, and it will persist in memory long after a first reading.”
David Brugge, historian, anthropologist, author of The Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute: An American Tragedy

“Few regionally tied autobiographies have shown as much wit and keen observation as Navajos Wear Nikes by Jim Kristofic.” — Arizona Daily Sun

“Many years ago, a coworker and I thought about preparing a `primer’ for non-Navajo newcomers needing to learn the rights and wrongs about living on the Navajo Nation. This book could be used as such a primer.”
Ed Chamberlin, National Park Service curator of Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site

“The story of how a minority overcame prejudice and made lifelong friends in the process will resonate with many teens.” – Booklist

Guest Blog on STET!

I am proud to be guest blogging on Backspace’s awesome blog STET!

I’m addressing how our manuscripts are like our children, and how we can channel those protective maternal/paternal feelings into productive actions.

Come visit! I’ll be there through Wednesday!

The Best Laid Plans

In an earlier post about juggling multiple projects, I said the switching back and forth every other day between two stories was working for me.

Not so much anymore.

I’ve put the middle grade on the back burner and have focused on the YA fantasy for the past week. I tried to figure out what it was that disrupted my lovely balancing act. Part of the reason is that I have always preferred focusing on a single project to completion before starting another—that allows me to immerse myself in the details of the project in a visceral way. I can live, breathe, and dream it.

The other part, the “craft” part, is that I am in two very different stages in the manuscripts. In the middle grade, I am writing what is essentially a heavily revised first draft. The YA is in its fourth major revision, and is getting close to being query-ready. So while I needed to plot, character, and write from scratch in one manuscript, in the other I needed to search for –ing words and other grammar issues, as well as incorporate the latest feedback from my wonderful beta readers.

Of course, I certainly could have chosen to continue bouncing between the two. I have often juggled more than one project in my video editing life and created products the clients loved. But, because I did not have deadlines to meet, I chose to focus on a single project to completion, especially since “changing gears” between those two very different skill sets seemed inefficient. Since I have less than 3 hours a day to write, the time it took to get “into the groove” of each mindset felt like lost time to me.

The final deciding factor, though, was the closeness of the finish line. As I reached the last 25% of the YA revision, I could smell the end of the book. I could see the words “The End” emblazoned on the horizon. I wanted to get there, gain that feeling of accomplishment, revel in the knowledge that the manuscript was one step closer to being query-ready.

People reward themselves in different ways when they reach their writing goals. Some put money in a jar, to be used for fun when the project is fully complete. That doesn’t work for me. Some people give themselves “me” time. Well, I have an 18-month-old—all my “me” time is taken up with writing.

So how do I reward myself? It might sound completely pretentious, but my reward really is the exhilaration I feel when I accomplish my goal. I actually get giddy. It is a moment when I have proven to myself that I can do what I set out to do. It lifts my spirits and gives me confidence that I can do it again—and again. As often as needed. That soaring moment when I can’t wipe the smile off my face and my eyes feel like they are literally sparkling is all the reward I need.

Dog Days

Dogs can teach us a lot, if we pay attention.

Abused and abandoned, our black Lab mix Cody could have hated people forever. Some dogs carry a grudge and never get past the pain. But he didn’t, and that is but one of the lessons my dog taught me.

Forgiveness and Trust. When you’ve been hurt, it takes courage to move on, to learn to trust someone else, to make yourself vulnerable.

We didn’t realize how traumatized Cody must have been by his abandonment until we noticed that knickknacks and plants on our bow window’s sill had been moved every-so-slightly. To solve this mystery, we set up a camera. While we were out of the house, our 80-pound dog paced back and forth on the windowsill, carefully stepping in between the stuff on the sill.

Cody didn’t forget his abandonment quickly. It took him a long time to realize that we weren’t going to leave him. The first six months with us, he never barked. But he finally decided our home was his territory to defend, and his powerful barking scared us to death when we first heard it!

He eventually stopped pacing the windowsill, and the mailman can attest to the ferocity of Cody’s protection of the house (although when Cody did “catch” the mailman, all he did was sniff the man’s knee, wag his tail, and come back home).

Carpe Diem. Dogs (and small children) are great at living in the moment. The joys of little things are magnified, and the world is painted in vivid colors.

Cody greeted us with insane barking every day when we came home. He took us for several walks a day. He climbed up between my parents on the sofa as if he was a lap dog. He would sit on the sofa like a person, back legs stretched out in front of him, front legs tucked up like arms.

Cody loved the Barbie kiddie pool in the summer, where he would snap at the waves he created in the water. His first snowfall mystified him, but once he assured himself that the ground was still there, he rolled and bit it—a black shadow on the white snow.

He enjoyed everything.

Faithful Friendship. Any friend can stand by you in good times. A true friend will stand by you in bad times.

Cody fell in love with my mother. He followed her everywhere—upstairs, downstairs, outside, inside. He would sit outside the bathroom door and stare a hole in it when she was in there. My mom, who had sworn a dog would “never” live in her house, felt like she was being stalked. But it’s difficult to stay hard-hearted when a dog loves you so steadfastly. She fell in love with him. Cody became “her” dog.

Companionship went both ways. During thunderstorms, Cody would come and lay by my bed. On 9/11, I cried into his fur as I watched the Towers fall.

The Final Lesson.

Cody brought so much joy into our lives. For 13 years, he was a constant shadow to my mother. On April 30, it was time to say goodbye. After overcoming lung cancer, several tendon operations, and a myriad of other medical issues, he finally succumbed to old age.

I cannot help but contrast Cody’s beginning with his end. As a 1-year-old puppy he was abandoned in a backyard. As an old dog just six weeks shy of 15, he left this life surrounded by three generations of a family that loved him.

And perhaps that is the most important lesson of all—that to love and be loved is the single greatest gift we can receive in this life.

WP-Backgrounds Lite by InoPlugs Web Design and Juwelier Schönmann 1010 Wien