It wasn’t an easy decision for me.
I had to burn a week’s vacation and shell out several hundred bucks just to mingle for five days with 75 people I’d never met before. While I’m not shy, I’m not by nature exceptionally outgoing. Thus, having to hang out with a bunch of folks I didn’t know was well outside my comfort zone.
Not only that. This was to be at a writing conference. The people there would be–GULP–real writers. I knew for certain I’d be exposed as the Great Pretender, a shameless charlatan. My work would be sliced and diced. I’d become the laughing stock of St. Simons Island.
But . . . I wanted to be a novelist. So I schlepped off, with great trepidation, to the 30th annual Southeastern Writers Workshop in 2005, eight years ago.
Eight years ago. Seven conferences ago. Two published novels ago.
See, it paid off.
It paid off so well, I felt compelled to give something back. So two years ago I joined the Board of Directors and now serve as vice president.
Some of the people I met at the 2005 gathering became close friends and I’m sure will remain so for many years. Others, whom I met at subsequent workshops, instructors especially, became great encouragers. These were folks who kept me going when I was ready to run up the white flag after 10 years, 4 manuscripts and no takers. When I was ready to surrender and just piss away my money on golf courses and 19th holes instead of writers workshops. When I was ready to simply throw up my hands and say Screw it.
Thank God for the Southeastern Writers Association.
And here’s where I let you in on a little secret. My writing was, in fact, sliced and diced at that first conference. But guess what. So was everybody else’s. It’s called learning. It’s called earning your spurs. It’s called trial by fire.
It’s what virtually every real writer must go through, whether it’s at St. Simons or in a prestigious MFA program.
Here’s another little secret: My slicer and dicer at that first conference was NY Times best-selling author Steve Berry. Steve had been through the mill before he hit it big, so he knew what it took to get there. Ironically, he later became one of my great encouragers.
Steve doesn’t do critiques any longer, but believe me, there will be plenty of exceptionally skilled instructors at this year’s workshop who will do for you what Steve did for me. Yeah, it might be painful. But these are people who will also help you put things back together. Gently. Skillfully. Professionally. They’ll help take your writing to the next level.
A final note about the SWA Workshop and what make it unique. It’s small, limited to 75 students. There’s a distinct camaraderie that develops among and between students and faculty. No, we don’t sit around campfires singing “Kumbaya” (it’s way too hot for campfires anyhow) or roasting marshmallows (you will have had enough roasting during your critique sessions).
Okay, enough with heat and roasting. Here’s what’s cool. You get to know one another. You chat over meals and during coffee breaks. You make new friends. You network. It’s a “clubby,” not a “cliquey,” atmosphere.
By way of contrast, I went to a huge West Coast conference last summer. It had great instructors and presenters. Big names. Lots of attendees. Lots and lots of attendees. Somewhere north of 500, maybe 600.
Yeah, I met people. We’d sit at breakfast or lunch. Try to converse over the din of a dining area that seated several hundred. Trade names and business cards. Then never see each other again as we elbowed, literally, our ways to whatever sessions were next on our schedules.
Months later, I got emails from several of the attendees I’d met informing me of this or that accomplishment. I’d send back polite attaboys, but never had a clue who any of the folks were. The encounters were too brief and too many.
Take away this: You’ll remember the people you meet at the Southeastern Writers Workshop.
Make the decision to attend today. It’ll pay off.THE AUTHORING LIFE
For my non-Facebook friends, it’s time to bring you up to date on my authoring life.
First, my upcoming novel is now called Plague. It was born as The Koltsovo Legacy and went through three or four title changes before reaching the “carved in stone” stage. Plague.
Second, the release date for Plague is September 15. There’ll be an Atlanta Writers Club-sponsored launch party (book signing) at Peerless Book Store in Alpharetta, Georgia, that evening.
Third, my Website is currently in the process of being updated/upgraded. You should be able to view the new and improved model here by the middle of August.
Fourth, I’ll be on my way in less than two weeks to the Great Northwest and the Willamette Writers Conference in Portland, Oregon. There, I hope to pick up some pointers on how to get Eyewall some visibility amongst the Hollywood crowd. That should be interesting.
Fifth, with a lot of PR and prep work going into Plague now, Supercell has been stuffed into a metaphorical drawer, at least for awhile. I’ll get back to it later in the fall. Got about 200 pages of an initial draft written so far.
See ya at Peerless in September.
-July 24, 2012-WRITERS CONFERENCES … WHY?
Some of my friends, non-writers, knowing I’d just returned from the Southeastern Writers Association Workshop, asked me what goes on at such conferences.
First, I must explain, there are different types of conferences. Some, such as the one sponsored by the Southeastern Writers, focus on teaching the craftsmanship of writing. Many, like those held by the Atlanta Writers Club, are designed to put authors in touch with literary agents and publishers. Still others, usually bigger gatherings—-the Willamette Writers Conference, for instance—-are a combination of both, sometimes with film agents thrown into the mix.
Wait, you say. You mentioned teaching, which implies learning. Don’t you guys already know how to write? Of course we do. But, for example, just because you know how to frame a house doesn’t mean you can design and build a custom coffee table inlaid with marble.
I’ve always known I could write, but I had to learn a craft in order to become a novelist. It took me ten years and four different manuscripts—-a not uncommon odyssey among aspiring novelists—-before I scored with Eyewall. To most readers, Eyewall is just a high-energy story. But what went into it, what I had to learn, were such esoteric skills as narrative drive, threading, cueing and subordination. Yeah, exciting.
Similarly, there is much to be learned about writing poetry, memoirs and screenplays.
But beyond classroom endeavors, conferences offer an opportunity for writers to commiserate with one another, for ours is one of the few professions in which rejection and failure are endemic. Only if you’re a writer do you understand this. Only in the company of others like you, do you realize your journey is not unique. And only in the fellowship of other authors do you find comfort and hope.
As NYT best-selling novelist Steve Berry used to tell me, “If I can do it, you can do it.”
So we gather together to cry on each others shoulders, find solstice and hope, and talk shop. In the end, we come out more knowledgable, reinvigorated and ready once more to tilt at windmills.
-June 25, 2012-
IMAGE: Sunset at Epworth by the Sea, St. Simons Island, Georgia, site of the annual Southeastern Writers Association Workshop.
There’s a boo-boo in the last paragraph: I’m a meteorologist, so naturally I was thinking about finding a solstice, not about finding solace. (The solstice, BTW, was June 20, so I did find one.)
-June 27, 2012-IT’S A WONDER WE GOT ANYTHING DONE
I’ve just returned from the annual Southeastern Writers Workshop on St. Simons Island, Georgia. It—-and this is according to others, not just me—-is one of the greatest bargains in Writerdom.
It’s a four-day affair in a beautiful subtropical setting, a causeway’s drive from the mainland. What makes the conference unique is that its faculty is embedded with the students. To say it another way, the instructors, some with highly recognizable names in the field of literature, are not averse to breaking bread with we lesser lights in the province. We chat like old friends over meals, in hallways, over coffee, during a stroll across the campus.
Ah, yes. The campus: Epworth by the Sea, fronting the lazy Frederica River where dolphins frolic. Epworth whisks you away into the South of yore, the South of Scarlett and Rhett. Rocking chairs staff the front porch of the main office. Ancient live oaks, some so huge their limbs rest upon the St. Augustine grass, populate the grounds. And tendrils of Spanish moss, like gray bridal veils, wave gently in the daily sea breeze.
It’s a wonder we got anything done, for all the beauty and peacefulness that surrounded us. But we did. We learned. We were inspired. We found ourselves awash in hope.
But it’s the people that made the meeting memorable. A writer who, with her tale of breast cancer, had me in tears—-tears of laughter. Another who could stand in front of us and say, “I’ve denied it in the past, but I’m epileptic. I’ve written a book for kids with epilepsy.” A professor who held his audience enraptured as he taught novel writing with an absolutely unique blend of humor, entertainment and scholarship.
I struck up lengthy conversations on a pier overlooking the slow-moving Frederica with people I would have guessed I had absolutely nothing in common with: a bearded, pony-tailed, ball cap-wearing poetry instructor from Appalachia; an immaculately groomed, uplifting lady in a wheel chair who talked about the blessings of life, even though she herself had struggled through the deep shadows of grief after losing her husband and daughter.
And who was the chick on roller blades? And the gal decked out like she was president of the Steven Tyler fan club?
Looking back, it was a remarkable week, one that transcended the mere mechanics of writing and publishing.
-June 22, 2012-
(In my next post, I’ll look at why writers attend conferences, something I think book readers may find illuminating, too.)
IMAGE: Main entrance to Epworth by the Sea.