by Julie Martin*
When I registered for the North Carolina Writers' Network 2013 Fall Conference in Wrightsville Beach, I had the product of a life-changing, three-year journey in my laptop: a completed novel. I hoped the conference would provide some insight into how to get my work published. I knew that meant attending the workshops, meeting people, talking about our art.
But I was basically an introvert who loved writing and reading. That’s when I energized. I plunged in anyway, relieved on Friday night to see someone I knew right off the bat: writer and editor Elizabeth Humphrey. She introduced me to Emily Louise Smith of Lookout Books, then Clyde Edgerton, Friday night’s keynote speaker.
I joined the audience, hoping Edgerton would be entertaining, and he was. He played his mandolin, told the stories that inspired his books, tossed pearls our way. “Embrace uncertainty,” he said. I pondered that as I thought about how I could grow as a writer, reaching in so I could reach out.
On Saturday and Sunday, I pretty much ignored the workshop topics and instead went for the instructors from whom I wanted to learn, no matter what they were teaching. Edgerton’s fiction writing session was funny and informative. “Focus on human relationships,” he advised. “Uncover characters’ pain. Their sorrow. Regret.” I left the workshop with lots of notes and a handy story topology grid to help with sorting out point of view, time, voice, and so forth.
Emily Colin’s terrific workshop “How Not to Win the 'Bad Sex Award'” focused on what worked in sex scenes, using examples from class participants and other writers. I was given useful feedback on a scene from my book: where to prune, where to embellish. In “Editing Your Own Work: Much More than Grammar and Punctuation,” Elizabeth Humphrey and Addy Robinson McCulloch led a discussion of editing strategies and provided a nifty checklist. In Susan Steadman’s hands-on workshop, we created our own compelling characters, a nice break at the end of the conference.
During a “Manuscript Mart” session with Emily Louise Smith, I received what I’d been after: lots of detailed, candid advice from a pro about how to improve my novel and how to present it to an agent. I also met briefly with Michelle Brower, an agent who recently had turned down my manuscript. We discussed options for revision.
Finally, I went shopping, one of the big bonuses of attending a conference. I picked up Emily Colin’s Memory Thief from Pomegranate Books as a Christmas gift for my mother, along with two copies of Edgerton’s Papadaddy’s Book for New Fathers for my nephews (both expecting babies). I also bought a subscription to Ecotone for our household and a couple of copies of Edith Pearlman’s Binocular Vision from Lookout Books.
Armed and energized, I am undertaking the revisions on my novel and will soon submit to a new batch of agents.
Julie Martin lives in a magical parallel universe, otherwise known as Wilmington. She is seeking an agent for her novel, Maiden, and is deep into a book of short stories, The Hotel Esmeralda. An award-winning newspaper reporter and editor for twenty-three years, she now works as a proposal manager for PPD. She and her husband, Steve, have two grown children and two grandsons.
*This article first appeared in Writers' Network News: Spring, 2014.