Reading and Writing in San Diego

When I was in San Diego last month to participate in the Kartika Review reading and fundraiser (which, by the way, was a total blast), I decided to attend the San Diego State University Writers’ Conference happening that weekend. It’s one of those conferences that offer sessions on craft and publishing as well as opportunities to pitch to editors and agents. I thought that because I was 1) trying to promote my recently published novel, 2) hoping to interest someone in publishing my short story collection, 3) working on a new novel, and 4) trying to get some ideas for a couple of workshops I’ve agreed to teach this year, it would be a useful application of that part of my income dedicated to things related to writing. It was an ambitious agenda and impossible to achieve for various reasons.

For one thing, it was sunny and 73 degrees outside, an irresistible distraction to someone who was escaping Seattle’s gray skies for a few days. Instead of attending the session on marketing, I somehow ended up napping in a chair by the pool, getting a direct infusion of Vitamin D. So much for collecting tips on platform, product and promotion.

As for generating interest in my short story collection? What was I thinking? I already knew short story collections are a hard sell. Unless you’re Joyce Carol Oates, as one agent told me when I unwisely approached her before her presentation and she spoke her answer into the live microphone. I knew that.

So why did I line up with all the other aspirants for appointments with agents and editors? I suppose for the same reason all those people line up for American Idol auditions. Part delusion, part hope. The tiniest belief in miracles. Of course my ten-minute speed-dates with two editors yielded little more than polite, apologetic smiles.

Surely I could get my money’s worth from the craft lectures. But I was only partially engaged in them. I more than once found myself nodding off while sitting in the manufactured air and soporific décor of a hotel conference room. I was staying at my mother’s house that weekend where my sister and two Boston terriers also live. I’m a poor sleeper, so I don’t really blame the dogs for their snoring and the intermittent clacking of their toenails down the hall when my sister let them outside multiple times to take a pee. And I don’t blame the presenters either and will happily give a plug for Q Lindsey Barrett. I attended three of her sessions and I found her to be a very good presenter.

I also found the keynote by Smashwords founder Mark Coker and the talk by literary agent Gordon Warnock interesting. Both discussed this new age of publishing and why it’s such a great time to be a writer. No longer do we have to be anointed by one of the six biggies of the traditional publishing world to see our work in print. There’s the whole new world of self-publishing. Authors are in charge now. We are the future of publishing. Of course, none of this stopped us from assembling in the waiting area rehearsing our pitches for our 10-minute meetings with editors and agents. And no, it’s not really the equivalent of speed-dating, since only one of the parties (and it’s not you) gets to decide if there’s going to be a second date.

I did note a few other things during the conference. I learned what up-market women’s fiction means and know I don’t write it. I learned that Indie publishing is now synonymous with self-publishing.

And I noticed that many of the editors at the conference were young—in their thirties. And why should I be surprised? I’m at an age when almost everyone is younger than I am. My ophthalmologist, for example, looks like a young soap opera star. Still, I had the realization that these young women (most of them at the conference were female) are the gatekeepers to the established publishing world. They weren’t interested in me, but I hope someone decides to consider the memoir by the sixtyish woman with the British accent sitting behind me in the session on Crafting Memorable and Effective Story Openings. She volunteered to read her opening paragraphs about her life growing up in Rhodesia—well, what was then Rhodesia. Hers was an intelligent voice that promised an enthralling story. I hope to find her in print someday.

Now back to the Kartika Review reading I mentioned at the start. Thanks to the editors for putting together a great anthology. Thanks to Thumbprint Gallery for hosting the reading. Big thanks to non-fiction editor Jennifer Derilo for organizing it. And apologies to Lac Su who does not appear in this photo with the other readers: Gina Barnard, Jennifer Derilo, me, and Talia Kolluri.