"You look like a poet!" It must have been the Molly Ringwald circa 1986 look that got them. (It's definitely the hat.)
I spent my Friday night – in extremely good company – on the beautiful campus of Rosemont University, celebrating the winner of the 2011 Marguerite McGlinn Prize for Fiction, the very humble and very friendly B.G. Firmani. Her story, “To the Garden”, is raw, passionate, and deserves more than one read. So, I highly suggest you become a member of Philadelphia Stories today, snag your copy of the Fall 2011 issue, and read B.G.’s story over and over again. 🙂 (And if you live in Center City or surrounding areas, you can pick up your free copy at these places. But really, become a member. Do it.)
The 2012 contest kicks off in January, so stay tuned. If you’d like to submit a piece to the magazine, go here for details!
OK – enough marketing.
I may have left Ducky at home on Saturday, but my Molly Ringwald hat and I had a fabulous time at the Philadelphia Stories Push to Publish conference, networking and learning the ins and outs from some seriously talented writers.
The keynote speaker for the conference – and also the judge of this year’s fiction contest, who chose B.G.’s winning story – was author Steve Almond. (Is it lame that I feel cool after meeting someone with an entire Wikipedia page devoted to them? Probably. Whatever.) Definitely quirky. Very funny. He wore a gray t-shirt under a plaid button-up, and I’d swear the word “boobs” was printed on that t-shirt. Hm.
He started the day off with a wonderful speech about avoiding the “shame spirals” all writers face, in the times when they think their work sucks more than it has ever sucked before, and there is no reason to go on. After being a New York Time’s Bestseller, he has gone on to self-publish several of his own books, enjoying the more intimate way it reaches his audience. For Almond, it isn’t about the money, something I can relate to and loved hearing from the mouth of another writer. (But if I could make thousands off one book, well duh…) Almond suggested finding “your audience in a natural and organic matter”. He loves the feeling of being the one to place his book in the hands of his reader. Love it!
He went on to talk a bit about the self-publishing experience, and reminded each of us to stay true to ourselves, and decide “the sort of publishing experience you want”. He also signed my copy of his newest book of short stories, God Bless America, as well as a pocket-sized book entitled Letters From People Who Hate Me (in here he scribbled: Make love, not hate mail!).
He is my new hero.
The experience continued with speed dates with editors and agents. In the first round I received extremely helpful feedback on some poetry from an editor at APIARY, a literary magazine in Philadelphia, and I plan on tweaking some things and submitting them. Next, I met with a very, very sweet woman named Rosemary, the editor of Philadelphia Poets Journal. She enjoyed two of my poems, and I am hoping to submit them in June, when the journal resumes accepting submissions.
My last speed date involved the first three chapters of my novel, and while I was under the impression that I was meeting with yet another editor, Liars Club member Don Lafferty informed me that she was, in fact, an agent.
Naturally, I went into panic mode. My novel is measly, definitely not finished and definitely not ready for the big dogs to be looking at it. But, I sat down, shook her hand, handed her my half of a typed page that I called a synopsis along with my three paper-clipped chapters printed on fancy resume paper, and hoped for the best.
I nearly fell off my seat, of course, as I took the card that she handed to me and mechanically tucked it into my folder, and I had already drifted into a different state of mind as I heard the words “powerful writing”, “I never do this”, and “I have a good feeling about you”.
And I’m pretty sure I was in “la-la land” as she told me to email her as soon as I am finished my first draft. Huh? Unreal.
Of course I ran outside and immediately lit a cigarette to calm my flailing nerves, and called my mother (the first person I always call in times like these). But, as I came down from my high, I realized that as wonderful as it was to hear those words, they don’t necessarily mean that she will still want my novel when it’s finished. But – regardless – it was inspiring, and a definite push to finish this baby.
After lunch I attended three sessions: “Writing and Selling Genre Fiction”, “The Joys of Small Presses”, and “Meet the Agents and Editors”, all of which gave me some great information that I scribbled down in my little journal.
I met a pro-golfer/part-time poet and mingled with novelists, flash-fiction enthusiasts, and lovers of historical writing.
I took more away from the conference than I would have ever expected, and certainly avoided any dreaded writing “shame spirals”.