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Notes on PNWA 2011

August 15, 2011

Pam Binder and the staff of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association put together another excellent conference this year featuring heavyweight speakers, and some very useful workshops.  The great mass of unpublished authors in attendance was uniformly grateful for all this, as it gave them something constructive to do while they anxiously awaited the execution of the prime objective: pitching to literary agents. 

Writers understand that you have to prepare for a conference much as a guerrilla plans a clandestine operation.  You prepare your sneak attack (elevator pitch), as well as your frontal assault (formal pitch), and you research your objective (the agents) with meticulous detail.  I spoke with one author who compared his research on agents to the way a 12-year-old boy memorizes baseball cards: you study the face, the team (agency) and all the statistics (authors and titles).  Armed with this intelligence, you reconnoiter the hotel lobby and wait for an agent to appear.  Understanding their place in the literary food chain, agents usually travel in packs, but no matter; the stealthy author simply lies in wait until one separates from the herd, then pounces. 

The unpublished writer is a desperate animal, obviously, but persistence seems to be the key to success.  Two of the featured speakers at the conference shared their own stories of quiet desperation steadfast tenacity with us.  Jane Porter, reigning queen of Romance literature, calculated that she had been writing books for seventeen before she published one.  I’ll give you a moment to let that sink in….  Seventeen years!  It is difficult to imagine such fidelity to a craft that brings so much rejection, but listening to her speak it was clear that she had found in writing a way to live in integrity; getting published was almost beside the point. 

Deb Calleti spoke of her dedication to the writing life as an unpublished author with an impediment most of us would find difficult, if not impossible, to overcome: an abusive spouse who opposed her writing ambitions.  She found inspiration where she could, including her college writing teacher, Pauline Christianson (who, coincidentally, was also my college writing teacher—I anticipate big things as a result), and found a way to persevere.  As a National Book Award finalist with five novels lined up to become movies, her dedication seems to have paid off. 

Both Porter and Calleti made it clear that they were writing to write, not to be published.  If writing is something you have to do (and God help you if that be the case), then there is integrity in the doing of it.  Truly live in that space and the rejection letters become just another piece of junk mail. 


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