Hampton Roads Writers 5th Annual Conference, 2013

Pink Spotted Hawkmoth Sept 22

As evening approached on Thursday, September 19, the writers gathered. Drawn by the promise of shared wisdom and new perspectives on writing, we made our way to the second floor of the Westin Virginia Beach Town Center.

Pink Spotted Hawkmoth Sept 22

This year I challenged myself with sessions about short story writing and first person point of view. (I rarely attempt short fiction, and I never write in first person.) Between challenges, I attended sessions about copyright, novel writing, and poetry.

  • Creating the World in a Short Story — Clifford Garstang
  • Copyrights and Wrongs: Fair use of quotes & other things to avoid a lawsuit — Jeff Ourvan
  • Where Does My Story Start: How to Write a Winning First Chapter — Lisa McMann
  • First Person Problems: The specific challenges and opportunities of writing first person — Lydia Netzer
  • Different Voices, Different Times — Lydia Netzer
  • Do Put Words in my Mouth: Creating realistic and effective dialogue — Ethan Vaughan
  • Exquisite Sounds — Jeanne Larsen

Pink Spotted Hawkmoth Sept 22

Each morning of the conference started with a keynote address followed by First Ten Lines Critique sessions. The critique panel consisted of authors Lisa McMann (Friday morning only) and Kevin Maurer, along with literary agents Ethan Vaughan, Jeff Ourvan, and Dawn Dowdle.

Recurrent themes emerged as the panelists discussed samples of writing submitted by conference attendees. Overwriting hampered many openings. Weak dialogue and too much description slowed the pace. Shifts in tense and point of view distracted from the stories.

Pink Spotted Hawkmoth Sept 22

Each of these problems exist in my writing, but they are easier to see in someone else’s lines. I came away from these sessions with renewed gratitude for my writing partners, who see my mistakes more readily than I do.

Pink Spotted Hawkmoth Sept 22

I could spend weeks cataloguing what I learned and fail to cover it all. I could read for months and not read all the books I discovered.* Instead of attempting either, I’m writing.

Pink Spotted Hawkmoth Sept 22

I’m following paths of scent and light, spreading grains of pollen gathered at the conference. Perhaps a few of my poems and stories will germinate, will take root and grow.

Pink Spotted Hawkmoth Sept 22

The conference ended with a delightful surprise. My short story (my only “finished” short story) won Honorable Mention in The Frank Lawlor Memorial Fiction Prize!

HRW 2013

* I came home with a new title from Unbound Content, and I’m waiting impatiently for delivery of books by Jeanne Larsen and Lisa McMann. Next year, I’ll order Lydia Netzer’s new book as soon as it is released. In the meantime, I’ll read Shine Shine Shine again.

Hampton Roads Writers, 5th Annual Writers’ Conference

Dragonfly July 7

I have not been writing.

I think about writing all the time. I plan outlines and schedules, every week, then discard them in favor of errands and yard work. I compose poem fragments in my head as I fold laundry, then move on to my next task without pausing to write them down.

For most of the last two years, I have been a writer who does not write.

Dragonfly July 7

I can’t claim writer’s block, because the words are there. In fact, I’m somewhat surprised by the words’ persistence. I’ve been ignoring them for a very, very long time, and they continue to clamor for attention. It’s like being under siege.

Dragonfly July 7

Over this past month, the words began to win. I looked at the HRW conference website two or three times. I read through the schedule. I printed the registration form.

I decided to submit a short story and poem to the free contests and spent a few days revising my entries. Then I decided to submit the first ten pages of my stalled work-in-progress for the optional critique and spent a few more days revising. Before I knew it, I had fallen into a routine. I was writing again. Every day.

Dragonfly July 7

My registration packet is in the mail, and I’m still writing. Every day. I don’t know if my renewed focus will last, because I went through a similar surge last year after returning home from the conference. But, for now, the words have won. I am a writer who writes.

Dragonfly July 8

2012 Hampton Roads Writers Conference, Part Two

One of the last things I did, before leaving for the conference, was bring in the mail. The top envelope in the box was one of my submission SASEs, which could only be a rejection. Since better than seventy percent of my submissions result in rejection, it was a safe assumption. The envelope contained my very first photography rejection.

As I drove to the conference, I mulled my usual regrets. Did I miss something in the submission guidelines? Did I choose wrong, as I selected what to send? (The photos in this post are some of the ones I considered, but decided against.) And, the biggest question of all, what was I thinking? Why did I ever imagine that my work was good enough for publication?

I’ve been submitting poetry since 2003. Nine years in, I’ve accumulated a drawer full of rejections and a folder’s worth of acceptances. My rejection-regret processing time is down to a little over an hour, so I reached the “it’s okay and I’ll try again” stage before check-in time at the conference. Even so, it wasn’t the best way to start my weekend.

The first night offered a choice between three sessions. I opted for “Mastering the ten-minute agent pitch” by Molly Jaffa of Folio Literary Management. Anyone who has ever considered submitting their work to an agent should hear this talk. Before, I had vague ideas of how I wanted to present my book. After, I had a firm outline and growing confidence that I was on the right track.

Friday and Saturday’s schedules included talks about poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. My favorite sessions focused on marketing and editing:

  • “A Day in the Life of a Literary Agent” by Molly Jaffa
  • “Getting Published … and Maybe Even Paid (for your poetry)” by editor and publisher Annmarie Lockhart
  • “Buffing and Polishing” by author John DeDakis

I learned from every speaker, but the daily first-ten-lines critique sessions were the most interesting part of the conference. The critique panel consisted of agents Molly Jaffa, Rachael Dugas, and Brooks Sherman, along with authors Rick Mofina and Patricia Hermes. Earlier in the summer, conference registrants had been invited to submit the first ten lines of their works-in-progress. These submissions were projected in the auditorium (with the authors’ information removed), read aloud, and discussed by the panel. Points of interest included formatting, character development, point of view, word choice, and placing your work within the proper genre. In each submission I recognized problems from my own work, and I left each session with new ideas about how to strengthen my writing.

By Saturday evening, my mind was full to overflowing. I was happy to come home and eager to start applying all that I had learned. Which brings me back to “what was I thinking?” I was thinking this: I prefer a drawer full of rejections to a computer hard drive packed with poems and stories and photos that I never bothered to edit and submit.

Now, it’s time to get back to work.

A note from the yard and part one of my report from the 2012 Hampton Roads Writers Conference

My first day back from the writing conference is sunny and cool, a perfect day to spend in the yard. I had planned to run straight to my office this morning, but the day is too beautiful to ignore.

Each bed of ginger lilies began the summer with several small praying mantises. Now each harbors a single large praying mantis. I don’t know if the survivors killed their competitors or forced them out. Perhaps they shift territories from day to day and I never find the same individual more than once. But it seems logical, to me, that the one above (photographed on September 7th) lives full-time in the small ginger lily bed, while the one below (photographed today) conquered the larger, corner bed.

However it works, I’m hoping there will be praying mantis egg cases by winter.

Report from the 2012 Hampton Roads Writers Conference, Part One

In the past three years, many of my fellow poets and writers have attended the Hampton Roads Writers conference. I decided to see it for myself this year.

The conference opened Thursday evening and ran through Saturday. Presenters included literary agents, journalists, professors, editors, publishers, and a wide range of authors. All three agents held ten-minute pitch sessions and participated in panel discussions during which they critiqued a series of first-ten-line submissions. The conference also offered three free writing contests (fiction, non-fiction, and poetry) with mid-summer deadlines.

My poem “On Fossil Links That Cannot Speak” placed second in The Barbara Dunn Hartin Memorial Poetry Prize. Barbara Dunn Hartin was a longtime member of the Albright Poets and a dear friend. When her son called my name yesterday, I floated to the front of the room through a fog of tears, speechless and overwhelmed. The certificate shook in my hands as I heard her laughter in the room’s echoes and saw her sparkling eyes in every face. It was a magical conclusion for the conference.

(Except it wasn’t quite the end. After my award, two other Albright Poets won prizes for their creative non-fiction!)

Home from the Writing Conference

The 2012 Hampton Roads Writers Conference ended this afternoon. I drove home tired and happy and wonderfully inspired. I plan to post more details over the next few days, but first I need to catch up on cat time.