Friday, October 22, 2010

Writers Conference - Part 1

The Rutgers One-On-One Writers Conference was this past weekend. I highly recommend it for any aspiring writers. Here are my thoughts about the day... I entered the Busch Center feeling pretty nervous. I had everything I needed: copies of my manuscript, snazzy new business cards (that I printed for FREE from Vistaprint), an outfit that I thought was professional and a bit artsy, and lots of questions.

Gathering Confidence...
I put on my name tag and entered the breakfast room. I was SOOO glad I'd already eaten breakfast at the hotel, because the food wasn't great and I was too nervous to eat by then. I sat down at a table and started talking to the other writers/conference attendees. I got an immediate boost of confidence when the girl next to me said she and all the people in her writer's group had applied for the past FIVE YEARS to get into the conference. Perhaps I had beginner's luck - but I also think being published (my articles) helped a lot with my application too.

There were writers from all over the country: Los Angeles, Conneticut, Arizona, North Carolina...

So, the difference between the Rutgers conference and other conferences is that 1. You have to apply and only 1/6 of the applicants get accepted. 2. You are guaranteed face time with an agent, editor, or author where you can get hands-on help with your manuscript. 3. You can bring a work in progress. You do not need to have a finished manuscript.

My five-on-five session was great--besides my initial shock at how YOUNG the agents and editors are (SERIOUSLY YOUNG - like in their mid-twenties, as in, at least a decade younger than myself!!).

But I learned a lot. I learned what editors really want in a cover letter. I learned that when they ask for a synopsis of your book, they really want a synopsis, not a book-jacket teaser. I learned that each publishing house has a "feel" to them. I gravitated toward the Candlewick Press editors - they seemed more mature and more conservative. I left with five business cards and a promise from them that if I submitted my work, they would read it and provide real feedback.

The bad news: I asked how many new writers an editor will "find" in a many projects are accepted through normal submission process? The bad news answer: One. One out of thousands of submissions. Shannon Hale says getting published is like winning the lottery. In terms of odds, she's right.

Here was my big moment! My pitch to Annette (who works for Simon Pulse - a division of Simon and Schuster). She loved my concept and idea - especially the twist on Guardian Angels and the mystery subsplot with the murder and the clues left behind in a paperback copy of Hamlet. The most helpful moment was when she silently read my third and seventh chapters, but spoke aloud all her editorial thoughts and questions. I took notes like mad!

She asked to see a copy of the manuscript when I've finished, which is a good sign. BUT...

I learned fairly quickly that she and I (meaning Simon Pulse and I) are probably not the best fit. She told me about a recent project which is pushing the limits of YA fiction. She said "It's about incest, and it's wonderful. By the time you get to the incest, you're rooting for it." REALLY?! In my mind, incest and wonderful should not even be in the same sentence.

In other words, my novel (which has themes of redemption, choice/accountability, and forgiveness) probably isn't gritty enough for Simon Pulse.

Books Matter...
The keynote speaker was Deborah Heiligman (she wrote "Charles and Emma" which I fully intend to order on Amazon). She said that when she was young her parents wanted her to be a surgeon so she could save lives. Nothing could be more noble.

Then she looked out over the podium and this room filled with aspiring writers and said. "As a writer of children's are saving lives! Books matter. They save lives!"

I got a bit choked up as her statement resonated deeply with me. I thought of the books that have touched my life (I Heard the Owl Call My Name), that have contributed to the way I think about the world (The Book Thief), that have made me want to be a writer (The Penderwicks, Edward Tulane, The Underneath...). Yes, books save lives.

I walked out of the Busch Center with a mixture of emotions. I basically wanted to cry. I was a bit overwhelmed with the stress of the day and the harsh reality of how hard it is to get published. But I didn't cry. I sat in my car, with my hands on the steering wheel, and decided to keep writing. I decided to go back to my first novel The Letter Carrier and get it ready to send to Candlewick Press. I decided to finish The Reaping of Angels and not send it to Simon Pulse.

And then I counted my blessings...which of course, included books.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

An Autumn Weekend

It is Autumn here in northern Virginia. The leaves have started to change, the nights are cooler, and mums and pumpkins adorn porches. This weekend we enjoyed a family autumn tradition and started a new one.

The kids and I went apple picking like we do every year. T-man was a great apple picker but he was mostly interested in collecting leaves for his yearly leaf collage. We walked from grove to grove taste-testing the different varieties. The braeburn apples were my favorite - crisp with just the right mix of tart and sweet - almost savory. The kids couldn't believe how sweet the golden delicious apples were. Nothing like the bland ones from the grocery store. "It's like eating a mouth full of honey" Madi said. And as much as we tried to discourage Baby C from eating apples off the ground, she happily filled her mouth and her bucket with every apple she could find.
For the first time, we went camping with ALL SEVEN of us! My husband has taken the kids camping at least once a year, but I haven't actually slept in a tent since Madi was two. Here's what I loved: the crackle of the camp fire, the night hike with the park ranger, seeing a toad the size of a kitten, seeing the filmy Milky Way bow across the sky like a sparkling silver rainbow, holding my children's hands, eating foil dinners...

...licking my fingers to get the last of the sticky marshmallow, snuggling in the tent, reading our "Penderwicks" by lantern light, kissing my husband under the stars, and a morning hike around the lake.

Yes, I confess, I slept most of the night in the car (I just cannot sleep on the ground). And we could have done without the angry woman who yelled obscenities at us at 4AM because Baby C was crying (as if we weren't trying our very best to get her to go back to sleep!). I'm grateful to my dear husband who stuck it out in the tent with the kids and rocked Baby C, letting her sleep against his chest (I know he didn't get much sleep).
Despite the hurdles, the camping trip will go down in our memories as a wonderful which we plan to add to autumn traditions.

Monday, October 4, 2010


Aren't pumpkins the best? If I believed in reincarnation (which I don't) and was given the choice to come back as a vegetable (is that even possible in reincarnation?), I would choose to be a pumpkin. There's something about pumpkins--their plumpness, their cheery orange color--that just makes me happy.

A couple weeks ago T-man and I made a quick stop at a local grocery store. The store front was practically blocked with a pumpkin display. Pumpkins were stacked and piled and spilling over onto the sidewalk. We nearly tripped over them on our way into the store.

T-man begged me to buy one which I agreed to...pretty quickly. Which pumpkin to buy took much longer. T-man agonized over finding the perfect one. He narrowed it down to three choices. A tall regal looking one, a squat jolly one, and a huge one. He decided on the huge one. We hoisted the pumpkin home. T-man named him, "Jack" and placed him on our porch steps.

Welcome "Jack" and welcome fall!