By Bonnie Stanard
In a word - wonderful! Since a carload of us from Columbia II rode together, we caroused for two hours before getting lost in Myrtle Beach and finally arriving. Our check-in at the Hilton was quick and painless, and the condo had a spectacular view of the Atlantic. For me, the best part of the conference was the camaraderie with my fellow writers.
Friday night, author James Born started our conference with a dinner speech on his experiences writing police thrillers. He’s the kind of writer you’d like to have over for dinner sometime. Apparently our complaints about the food last year were addressed, though the acoustics of the banquet room weren’t. We found ourselves shouting to be heard above the din.
As for the sessions, prose took the spotlight with presentations covering traditional genres. Perhaps too traditional, for a nod to more innovative writing would have spiced things up (e.g. creative nonfiction, graphic novel, prose poetry, flash fiction). Also, I’d like to see more encouragement for screenwriting.
As usual, agents and editors appeared on the schedule with presentations to ease our tensions about the submission process and publishing. As for faculty, I’d like to see more agents from small/boutique houses. Those of us trying to sell our first or second novel would like to meet independent publishers, which were practically missing from the program. The 'elephant in the room' was self-publishing, which agents and editors tried to ignore. We needed more helpful information on this topic.
The sessions I attended were adequate and came from the 'establishment' in the industry. Joshilyn Jackson gave the tip I liked best: “stop caring about the latest literary trend.” Perhaps I could remember something author Ann Love said about the children’s market if she had provided either a hand-out or visual aid. However, I entered this discussion after a pitch session went bad and that’s all I could think about.
My second pitch on Sunday morning wasn’t as disappointing as the previous one. Agent Suzie Townsend said my race was a factor but not insurmountable. The previous afternoon Agent Raychelle Gardner said in so many words that slave stories are the prerogative of African Americans. She presented this as not just her opinion but that of publishing in general. Though discouraging, the two sessions provided me with the important insight that NYC agents/publishers are unlikely to consider a debut novel about a black slave written by a white person.
By the time my Sunday morning pitch was over and I arrived at the conference rooms, the sessions were well underway. Although I knew my way around, I couldn’t find a room marked as Palisades F and thus missed out on a presentation I wanted to see.
Overall the conference was a success, though there were some complaints—the cancellation of some sessions, Saturday lunch keynote presentation, and a long-winded announcement of the Carrie McCray awards. Once again I’m amazed at the professionalism of Lateia Sandifer, Carrie McCullough, Barbara Evers, their staff, and volunteers. Our thanks to them for their many hours of work. Columbia II’s donations to the silent auction compared favorably with other baskets, thanks to Ginny Padgett and Belize Butler.
CORRECTION: My thanks to Carrie McCullough for setting the record straight: "Noticed a big error in [your] blog -- Barbara had absolutely NOTHING to do with this year's conference. And we don't have a staff, at all. Wouldn't it be nice if we did?"