During the weekend of October 19-21, 2007, I had the opportunity to participate in the Surrey International Writers' Conference. This was my first conference and, as I continuously heard throughout the weekend, I had chosen to attend the best writers' conference in North America. By the end of the weekend, although I had no previous scale of reference, I could understand why this was voiced so strongly. The conference boasted an attendance of 800+ writers this year, including many returning conference-goers. Participants came from all over - from the Maritimes, Florida, Texas, and Scotland, to name a few out-of-the-way locations. There were also a handful who were lucky enough to be local attendees, and lived in a few miles radius of the Sheraton Hotel, where the conference is annually held.
I was so impressed with the organization and caliber of the conference, not to mention the list of guest authors (Anne Perry, Diana Gabaldon, and Meg Tilly, to name a household few), agents and editors who were conveniently on hand to give feedback and insider tips to the writing world. For many of us, the weekend could mean having a gateway into the land of published authors. Still, in the same breath, we were told to write for the love of writing without the expectation of becoming full-time, self-supporting authors on the best-sellers list... but of course, you never know.
I came to the conference feeling energetic and hopeful, having prepared a portion of my first novel manuscript and a small bundle of business cards in case I should rub elbows with any up-and-coming or established authors or literary scouts.
In between attending the useful workshops - how to research, how to organize your life around writing, how to create dynamic characters, and so on - I booked time with a literary agent and an established author.
First, my meeting with the agent. Our meeting would be an interval of ten minutes. It felt like speed dating! I could not control my butterflies, as I power-walked through the hotel lobby to the meeting room with my manuscript pages tucked under my arm. I had vaguely rehearsed the points I wanted to touch on. I've been writing my book for nine years - why was I so nervous to talk about it? I knew these characters and what they wanted. I knew the setting and plot. I could rattle this off, no problem. Well, my voice certaintly did rattle - uncontrollably, I might add. At mid-point in my spiel, the agent stopped me to say, "you're doing great! There's no reason to be nervous." Tell that to my nerves.
In the end, after making a few helpful suggestions (one being that my word count was low, which I already knew and was able to speak to, as well, in a positive way), she asked me to send her the first five pages along with my book synopsis and literary bio. Great! Now I have ideas poring out of me to beef up my plot and add layers to my characters. I'm excited and overwhelmed, all at once, because I am hitting - no, facing - that high wall of research, and through it we go.
Second, feedback from an established author. I managed to meet with Diana Gabaldon, an admired author, and one whose series I am currently wading through (if you are familiar with her work, you will appreciate how prolific she is!). I tried to lose my star quality and suppressed the urge to tell her that I had named my kitten Sassenach after the nickname of one of her main characters.
Again, I went through the business of explaining the basis of my story and talked a little about the main and secondary characters and their motivations. Then Diana read the first eight pages of my novel (a very good sign, indeed), and made only a few stylistic changes to my prose. Otherwise, her comments were that she found the idea for my novel interesting and told me I had a nice flow to my writing style. She also asked me how my book ends - and on this point I was quite vague. Something to the effect that it all turns out hopeful.
This is all highly encouraging, as I am not being told to go back to square one, but instead being asked "what could happen here and here?"
So, now I am home and hanging onto the floating remnants of a high-energy conference. I am also gluing my seat in front of my computer and putting my endless jabber and ideas to the page, not to mention more meat on the story bones. My personal deadline... by next summer I hope to have my manuscript ready to send to the waiting agent. I'm sure she won't be sitting by her computer and wondering when my novel is going to arrive, but I will submit it with the same degree of hope and energy.