Steve’s Blog: Agents and Editors and Authors, oh my! PNWA Conference Day II

by Steve Conference News. Posted on July 27, 2012.

I attended the Pacific Northwest Writers Conference July 20-22. This is the second post from that conference, more to follow in the coming weeks.

My head feels like it has been shaken, not stirred. My ears are ringing from the fatigue of concentration. I have now spent twenty four hours watching fellow writers navigate the halls of the Hilton Conference Center as I dash from one event to another.

Some of them wander by in a state of dreamy introspection, the gently pulsing jellyfish of letters, a spectrum of colored hair, earth mother clothing, drifting in the current of human intercourse. Others dart here and there, the predators, needle sharp teeth, they smell blood in the hallway, several with a hapless agent or editor clenched in the jaws of an elevator pitch.

I wonder for a moment what I look like…predator or prey.

The editor and agent forums are great. Much of the anxiety about meeting with these people (I have both my pitch sessions tomorrow on Saturday) dissolves with their humanity and sense of humor. Considering what is going on in the publishing world these days, they are a calm and friendly lot.

Sitting next to me in the cavernous Emerald Ballroom, is a sweet, shy woman who has absolutely no faith that anyone will want her novel about bugs that take over an abandoned town.  Someone has told her that no one wants talking animal stories right now….no market, no book. She stares away, fingering her conference tag. Below her name, are the words ‘Urban Fantasy’.

With a face framed by a puff of graying short curls, thin gold-framed oval glasses, she looks just a bit like one of her characters. I would buy her book in a second. I tell her that she shouldn’t mute her bugs, that she shouldn’t make them vampires or werewolves.

I point out that even the editors and agents say that they don’t know what will come next. She should love her bugs and keep offering them again and again, this year, next year, five years from now…. and someday, talking animals will return to the mysterious appetites of the readers.

She will ride the front curl of the wave, she will be the first on the beach and that Pixar will be chasing her down the strand….She smiles. It is a lovely smile.

I run into Pam Binder, PNWA president. She looks tired, but happy and excited as she talks to the attendees and watches months of work unfold into a living creation. I thank her for her holding my 2011 registration when my tumultuous life kept me from the conference last year. Her grace and personality permeate the conference.

I sit rapt at the lunch ‘Spotlight’ meeting as Donald Maass weaves another mini-conference, delivering wave after wave of insight and ideas about deep character development. I start to love my protagonist again…we have been estranged for a while. I think things are going to work out after all.

I spend a frustrating hour and a half in a lecture on high concept plots. We search through the plots and precepts of the writers in the audience. Each idea seems to wither under scrutiny. It’s been done before.  The idea isn’t plausible, the characters overdrawn. There is blood on the floor and I can hear the predator’s tail threshing the water.

But frustration turns to illumination when I realize that no matter how much craft you apply, high concept is something that comes from within. It is born in the synapses of the silent portions of the brain, the dark matter of our DNA. Craft needs spark just as much as spark needs craft.

The afternoon ends with another ironic twist. It is a panel discussion on the blending of genres. The bad news: genres are not created in the minds of the writer, they are revealed in the desire of readers, a target that drifts like Sargasso seaweed . We start to feel helpless, incapable of influencing our fate in this fickle pursuit. At the last moment, Tom Colgan’s voice of experience delivers the good news: write your heart out, tell your best story and the genre will find you.

As I am heading toward the exit, Ms. Urban Fantasy hails me. She is glowing, probably some sort of insect chromophores, an LED of excitement. She tells me she had two agents request her manuscript. I pat her shoulder and tell her to get started on her next book. Another burst of phosphorescence and she floats off down the corridor.

Out in the hallway, I see the Space Opera writer, fine, perfectly straight curtain of brown hair down to his waist whose basso profundo, movie-trailer voice silenced the gallery at the pitch practice session. I see the middle-aged engineer, Technical Non-fiction, his short sleeve dress shirt and slacks pressed to perfect creases.  He is surrounded by a foaming river of excited artists. They are all different,  yet all connected by the hunger to be heard.

As I reach the elevator, I can see my reflection in the stainless steel doors, some of the age softened by the  rubbed finish. I see a younger man, idealistic, eager to share his stories with the world. I think of the theme of the conference ‘Characters Create Movement’.

And then I realize that I am one of the characters and tomorrow I will try my best to move an agent or and editor with my story.

Next week: Day III