Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Hot Conference, Cool Info

The annual
CSUS Writers’ Conference was hot! For other writers in the Hot/Cool readership within reach of Sacramento, I highly recommend this annual event. It was one A+ presentation after another.

I attended workshops on writing personal essay/memoir, blogging, and the state of publishing. As part of the blogging workshop, we created a
conference blog where you can hear many a cool comment about the conference and tap into some great references for beginning bloggers. (See Learning More About Blogging in the left navigation bar.)

Memoir Magic
The luncheon presentation on memoir by Dinah Lenney, aka Nurse Shirley on NBC’s ER, was many layered and maxi-inspirational. Author of
Bigger than Life: A Murder, her memoir is published by the University of Nebraska’s American Lives Series. Dinah talked about the importance of voice in memoir, how it’s the tone and way of telling that hooks us. To illustrate, she played two versions of the same Joni Mitchell song, “A Case of You,” one sung by Joni herself, the other by Diana Krall. The difference was stunning and evocative! (Diana did it for me.) Dinah's presentation was haunting and left me to notice how elements of drama, singing, and issues with being heard have all led to the development of my own voice as a writer, whether as a poet or memoirist.

Dinah also taught the workshop on personal essay and memoir. Like many of the sessions, it included some writing exercises. My favorite was derived from an old book by Joe Brainard,
I Remember. Originally printed in 1975, there is a 2001 edition now available on Amazon. It is yummy! His device is the simple line, “I remember,” repeated over and over with as the prelude to each of his own hot flashbacks.

I Remember, Too
Here’s some of what I wrote in the exercise based on Joe’s book. I remember:

… the perfume smell and bright hot pink of my first lipstick in its tiny turquoise tube, paying 15 cents …

… the cracked sidewalks or no sidewalks at all in our barely suburb …

…saddles shoes versus bubbles …

… brown linoleum that looked the same, clean or dirty …

… Ding Dong School, Pinky Lee, and Mean Old Mr. Tooth Decay …

Why not write some yourself?

Whistle Stop

Another event off the chart was the Saturday “speed dating” opportunity with agents and editors and the Friday night prelude to the event. The conference staff gave us group assignments and the rules of conduct for the train, namely, we’d get three minutes at each table we chose to visit, then the whistle blows and it’s musical tables—move on.

Babz Bitela from
ES Agency, a local movie agent, gave us tips on prepping our one-page pitch, the down ‘n’ dirty on the industry condensed, plus enormous encouragement. It was the best hour I have spent at a conference in years. Thanks to her advice on that one-pager, I’m happy to report that I have some agent interest in Hot Flashbacks (no details, don’t want to jinx it!). Another big surprise: A new small press in town asked for my poetry book, gathering dust many a year, but still a treasure to me. It has been a family reunion, quite literally, to revisit the poems in Thick Water, a collection about my adoptive family and other non-biological relationships that refutes the old saying, “Blood is thicker than water.”

But more about poetry, the genre where I cut my teeth as a writer, in another post.

Cool Insight
The conference was a signpost of all I have learned about writing in the past three years. It was thrilling to be in the swim and to see that everything I have written since that first published poem in 1973 has been building my voice as a writer. I remembered how "out of it" I felt at other conferences in the past. Now I am getting to know my industry and feel part of it.

That, alone, was worth the price of admission!

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