Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Final Look at the 2009 SCWW Conference with a Treat

By Ilmars Birznieks

On the whole the conference was a resounding success. The Keynote Speaker, Mr. Berry was excellent, just the right balm for struggling writers. For me, two workshops were especially interesting and, I hope, rewarding.

Sessions with good pointers and advice:

• Rochelle Bailey - “I’m Done! Or Am I? (What Happens After You Finish The Novel: Rewrites and Revisions)”
• Karen Syed - “Editing Essentials”

A couple of suggestions for future conferences:
• More directions on site for workshops.
• Improvement of food would help - the high cost of meals just did not match their quality or taste.

To finish our month-long series on the annual SCWW Conference, we are pleased to present Bonnie's poem which took second place in the Carrie McCray Memorial Literary Award Competition. This was a highlight of the conference for all of us at Cola II. Congratulations, Bonnie.

By Bonnie Stanard

When I was a kid
we believers,
baptized in moccasin plagued river waters
and the glory of our own passion,

entered the second gate of heaven
in late August at homecoming,
a reunion attended by far-flung relatives
local disbelievers, nonbelievers
and even freeloaders.

The virtuous act of fasting
gnawed at our stomachs
which rumbled in concert
with the preacher’s booming voice.

We lusted after salvation,
everlasting life, and the patience
to wait for the amen
that would end our sacrifice
and free us to pursue the divine purpose
of picnic baskets, specifically, those packed in cars
parked outside in the shade.

The goodly preacher
did his best to separate us from our sin
and ended with a “Come to Jesus” song.
We streamed outside
to the sanctity of the yard
and tables of exaltation,
bowls of potato salad, butter beans,
okra and tomatoes, fried chicken and pickles.
In a state of grace we piled our plates
to vast and groaning heights.
In a fit of glory, we went back for seconds.
Hallelujah! Went back for coconut cake.
Yes, Brother! Cream puffs and banana pudding!
Praise the Lord! We been saved.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Conference Notes

By Suzanne Gwinner

My first SCWW conference was a blast! Not quite knowing what to expect, I left home with an open mind. After meeting writers who traveled from Missouri, Michigan, Illinois, Mississippi, and Arkansas to be there, I realized that this was a bigger deal than I had imagined. I asked one of them why she chose this conference, and she simply said, “It’s one of the best.” When I overheard some agents discussing how they’d like to come back next year, I realized this was a top notch conference.

On Sunday afternoon, after two and a half days of thinking about nothing but writing – no school work, no household chores – I drove home, satiated, feeling a little like one does after Thanksgiving dinner, full and thankful, recharged and blessed. Thanks to all of our members who produced this event.


Deciding which session to attend proved to be a dilemma at times. I listened to talks on Query Letters (Janet Reid, agent), Editing Essentials (Karen Syed, publisher), Point of View (Nikki Poppen, author, editor), Panel – Do I Need An Agent (Ahearn, Berry, and Nintzel), Panel – Young Adult and Children’s Market (Bailey and Root), Synopses (Stampfel-Volpe, agent). I found all sessions to be helpful, and as might be expected, some were more informative than others.

Personally I found it interesting to hear from the agents. It seems to me that they set the agenda for the market, but their words of wisdom – write for yourselves, not the market – were sincere. The highlight of the conference for me was when Janet Reid expressed interest in my “Ripley” story. Since she does not handle children’s literature, she referred me to Joanna Stampfel-Volpe. At this point Joanna is not looking for picture books, but she read the manuscript and suggested some revisions before I start submitting it. I was thrilled to have feedback from real agents!

An author/editor session that I found helpful was Nikki Poppen’s talk on point of view. Her tips for helping the reader identify point of view change were:
• use the new character’s name more frequently
• use the name in dialogue tags
• refer to the character’s actions, thoughts, feelings
• use spacers
• switch sparingly
• switch only twice per chapter

Critiques and pitch:

Jim Casada critiqued my essay “Pa’s Gun.” He was warm and friendly while reviewing his editorial comments, and I appreciated his professional, thorough critique of my work. I know this piece is difficult to pigeonhole, but he gave me some suggestions as to where I might send it when it is polished.

Rochelle Baily of Quake (the young adult division of Echelon Press) was scheduled to critique Jackie Writes, Ripley Writes. I learned in the session just prior to our appointment that she is not interested in picture books, but we still discussed the idea and she liked it. She suggested another southern publisher.

I can hardly wait until next year’s conference. Now that I know what to expect, I’m even more anxious to attend!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

SCWW 2009 Conference Notes

By Janie Kronk

Here are the positive aspects of 2009’s “The Method, The Market, and The Muse” that stand out in my mind, regarding everything from the conference’s setting, its set-up, and it’s sessions.

1. Setting: The Chance to Retreat--But Not Too Far!
What can I say, it’s great to get out of town for the weekend. Myrtle Beach is a short enough trip from Columbia, and since I am not “marketing” myself as a writer at this point, this is purely a fun, stress-free weekend for me--a chance to relax at the beach and learn a few things. I enjoyed sitting on my ocean view balcony with my guitar (the wind off the waves loud enough to drown out the fact I can’t actually play) almost as much as I enjoyed the conference itself.

2. Set-Up: Less Paper in the Bag
Ever concerned about the environment, I was glad to see there was much less superfluous material in the goodie bags this year. The conference guide has been pared down from a binder to a simple folder with only the essentials, which was easier to carry around as well as being easier on resources.

3. The Book Nook: An Adventure
I also always enjoy book shopping at the retreat. It’s not as if there aren’t book stores right down the street from my house, but something about the limited and careful pre-selection of titles available at the “Book Nook” leads me to discover a few reads I really enjoy that I never would have picked from the glut of everything available at a mega-bookstore. This year’s fun finds include A Bad Day for Sorry by Sophie Kinsella, and poetry collections from regional authors Maureen Sherbondy and Paul Allen.

4. Sessions: Just Get the Drift
Not having a clear agenda in terms of what I wanted to learn and get out of the conference this year, I did much more drifting between various sessions than I have in the past. Having done so, I would actually recommend this as an effective strategy at a conference for a neophyte interested in learning more about the industry. You pick up tips. Most importantly, you see that all the agents, editors and publishers don’t always agree--some say resubmitting to them after you’ve been rejected is the kiss of death, others say why not. Some publishing houses work only with agented authors, some will not deal with agents. Although you get less out of each session by drifting around, you get a great number of snapshots contributing to the larger picture. Another interesting controversy between several of the faculty was the topic of the e-book. Is it the wave of the future, or are new books never to be replaced?

5. My Favorite Thing: Poetry Open Mike Night
I did not participate, merely listened, but for me this stole the show over any of the sessions. There was an air of festivity to the event, with writers from all over in the region coming together to share and celebrate their work. Writers, young and old, new and experienced, came together to read work that was funny, serious, and, in one instance, sung. My favorite piece was by Maureen Sherbondy (one of the fun finds mentioned above), a poem from her chapbook After the Fairy Tale called “Alice in AA.” To me, this event gave the conference a new light, and really underscored that we aren’t ONLY seeking to become better writers and achieve the ultimate goal of publication through these conferences--we are also participating in a rich creative culture that is very much an end in itself.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

In Search of...

By Lisa Lopez Snyder

I’m always on the lookout for devices that help me move the story forward and create authentic characters. Two presenters at the 2009 SCWW Conference offered good suggestions for doing just that.

Science fiction writer David Weber gave tips on how to provide backstory without the “dreaded dump.” Not being a science fiction fan, I was put off by the fact that Weber used examples from his series (not a good idea for any presenter), but the tips he provided were helpful and could apply to any genre.

Here are the ones I’m already trying to put to use:

• Use dialogue between characters to explore something that happened in the past;
• Create a flashback where your character can describe his or her feelings or experience;
• Use your character’s motivations or weaknesses to explore the past; this might be done using internal thoughts, but take care to not go overboard;
• Find ways that action scenes can be used to insert backstory; and
• Spread the backstory throughout the book rather than all at once.

Karyn Marcus, an editor at Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin, talked about how to spin a draft into gold, but the most interesting part of the discussion was how to find “your voice.” Her advice for voice is something we’ve probably all heard a number of times, but bears repeating: “Do freewrites and let go of your internal editor.” That’s the only way to let yourself explore what your voice is, she says. (I would add: Experiment and mimic various writers. I once mimicked a Joyce Carol Oates short story and really surprised myself.)

Marcus also noted some of her picks among various genres that have unique voices:

• Mystery: Any of the Chief Inspector Gamache books by Louise Penny (“She uses a blend of point of view,” says Marcus. “I really feel like I know her characters.”)
• Memoir: Darkness Visible, by William Styron
• Creative Nonfiction: Many of Joan Dideon’s articles (Her pieces “play with perspective,” Marcus says.)
• Fiction: The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger

If you found these tips helpful, what are you waiting for?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

SCWW 2009 Conference

By Bonnie Stanard

At the SCWW Conference at Myrtle Beach last weekend I woke up each morning to sweeping views of the Atlantic. Breakfast was with writers talking about writing. Lunch and dinner I sat at tables of writers talking about writing. In the evening more talk about writing. Does it get any better than this?

There were four sessions on Saturday and one on Sunday. As many as nine different topics were offered for a single session. Generally speaking, you could choose from topics on craftsmanship, genres, and/or the publishing business. There were also different formats to choose from--lectures, panels, and slush fests. I don’t have the patience for panels and slush fests, but if I were a beginning writer, this is a great way to get started.

Of the faculty that I saw in action, Joanna Stampfel-Volpe (on synopses) and Nikki Poppen (on point of view) were especially well prepared. Rochelle Bailey (on revisions) and Janet Reid (on query letters) were also good. As with any conference, some presenters were interested in meeting writers and others had variant interests.

Dinner each night gave us an opportunity to meet faculty members, all of whom sat at different tables. On Friday I sat at the table with David Weber. Noise was a problem, not just at my table but in the entire room, which made conversation across the table virtually impossible. On Saturday night I sat beside Jenny Bent and the noise wasn’t the problem. Steve Berry gave us a rousing stick-with-it speech, not too long, not self-congratulatory, but genuine encouragement.

I hope that next year the presenters will use microphones. Some of us writers don’t like to sit on the front row, and unfortunately the sound in almost every conference room echoed, and often I couldn’t understand what was said. This also affected questions and answers, especially if a question was asked from the front of the room.

Good news from the critiques and pitches with agents! Several Columbia II writers including Ilmars, Laura, Lisa, and Suzanne had positive feedback and/or requests for sample copies. Though I struck out with my pitch, I was consoled by winning second place in the Carrie McCray poetry competition.