Thursday, July 31, 2008

PNWA Conference, part three

I’m working my way through my list of books recommended at the PNWA conference. Recommending their favorite books was a common thread among the agents, editors, and presenters. I was pleased to note that I had read many of them already or at least had them on my shelf. A few are on their way to me thanks to the magic of 1-click ordering.

I’m currently savoring Eudora Welty’s One Writer’s Beginnings. It is a small book describing her beginnings as a person and as a writer. Her descriptions are so precise and vivid I feel like I am there in Jackson, Mississippi with Eudora and the Welty family and their big clock in the hall. I suppose in her descriptions of things that are not only visual but also have an aural presence, she is able to easily evoke two of our senses. In one of the memoir sessions I attended at the conference, the instructor pointed out a student’s technique of setting the time and place by naming the songs her father sang to her mother’s piano accompaniment. No further description was necessary if the listener was familiar with any of the songs listed. Eudora Welty does this by mentioning the clock in the hall that chimes and the Victrola that needs winding and plays opera overtures and popular music of the time.

I’m pasting here an annotated list of some of the books recommended at the conference. Due to my selective listening, though, the fiction and screenwriting titles that I wasn’t interested in are omitted. I wouldn't mind knowing what books on writing readers recommend!

Katz, Christina. Get Known Before the Book Deal: Use Your Personal Strengths to Grow an Author Platform. Writer’s Digest, 2008.
It’s all about the platform! This was a recurring theme. Before you can pitch your book to an agent, and before people will buy it, you have to prove you’re an expert on the topic and known.

King, Stephen. On Writing. Pocket, 2002.
I’m not the biggest fan of Stephen King’s scary books, but this was one of the best, most down-to-earth books on writing I’ve read. And it is funny.

Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. Anchor, 1995.
This is a popular one, and for good reason. It completely changed the way I approach writing. It makes a lot of sense.

Lukeman, Noah. The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile. Fireside, 2005.

Lyon, Elizabeth. A Writer’s Guide to Nonfiction. Perigee, 2003.
Lyon, Elizabeth. Nonfiction Book Proposals Anybody Can Write. Perigee, 2002.
This author was at the conference, and unfortunately I could not stay for her whole presentation because of an editor appointment. I was able to tell from her speaking that she was clear and focused, and her books seem to have the same clarity and practicality. I bought these two, but there are more.

McGee, Margaret D. Sacred Attention: A Spiritual Practice for Finding God in the Moment. Skylight Paths, 2007.
I get a little nervous about memoir-writing classes because sometimes people (and me) get a little emotional. This was a wonderful session for two reasons. First, she really did show us how to reach out to readers with the Universal Human Emotion, and second, she had a great technique for recalling important memories and writing about them. This book is linked to the church year, but not in an intimidating way for those of us who are not churchy.

Welty, Eudora. One Writer’s Beginnings. Harvard University, 1983.
Just lovely writing with great descriptions.

Zinsser, William K. On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction. Collins, 2006.
This book covers many kinds of nonfiction writing and covers them thoroughly and elegantly. He has other books on writing that I count among my favorites.

Sunday, July 27, 2008


This weekend was all about the berries. Yesterday, Fred picked about 8 pounds of blueberries at Terhune Orchards, and I joined him later for an attempt at raspberries and blackberries. Bad news about the raspberries: they are almost gone. Ripe blackberries weren't much easier to find, but there were still plenty of red unripe berries waiting for later this week.

Today I made the blueberry and blueberry-lime jam. This isn't hard work, but the rinsing and stemming of all those little berries can get tedious. My blueberry-lime recipe (from the Ball Blue Book) requires 4 1/2 cups of berries, and the plain blueberry jam needs 8 cups. That's a lot of berries. Once they are prepared, the work goes quickly and steamily. The jam takes about 10-15 minutes to cook, and then is ladled into sterilized (via the dishwasher) jars. Lids and bands (the screw-on part) are also sterilized and waiting for me to the left. To the right, on the other front burner, is a pot of boiling water waiting to vacuum-seal the jars in the special rack under water. After 15 minutes the jars come out and cool on towels for at least a day. I made about thirteen 8-ounce jars today, and together with the strawberry and strawberry-banana jam from June I should have enough for Christmas gifts. Usually by peach season I'm all jammed-out. I rarely make peach jam. Or tomatoes. Maybe this year.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Second Place, Adult Short Topic--Essay

Wow! How exciting was that?! I actually got second prize for my essay "Baywalk Rondo". I thought I might win and then I thought no way, then I thought maybe, and when they called my name I wasn't sure if they actually called my name. Did I imagine it? But the people at my table were applauding and smiling at me, so I figured I might as well walk up there and see what name was actually on the certificate. It was my name!

What a conference. I really got my money's worth out of these few days with all of the great sessions, meeting the agents and editors, making friends, and then the contest. What was really cool was that many of the people I talked to throught the conference won prizes, too. There were a lot of friendly faces at the winners' reception.

The only thing I regret is not taking more time off to enjoy Seattle. It looks like a nice city and it's about 20 degrees cooler than the Philadelphia area right now. I collected brochures for my next trip and told my new friends at the conference I would be back next year. I'll have to keep my word.

I will be happy to be home again this time tomorrow, and back to the routine for a few weeks before my next week at the beach.

Friday, July 18, 2008

PNWA conference

Hello from Seattle! I'm here for the Pacific Northwest Writers' Association summer conference, and I'm busy beyond belief. I registered for this conference because my essay was chosen as a finalist in the Adult Short Topic--Essay divison and a quick look at the presentations and benefits of attending convinced me to fly to Seattle. In preparing for this event and now living it, the contest has faded to the background and I'm looking forward to meeting an editor and an agent: both seem like good matches for my work. The presentations are also very interesting--enough so that I'm not tempted to play hookie to go see more of Seattle or take a nap. (There's a three-hour time difference that I'm coping with reasonably well.)

Books are the thing here. Hardly anyone is talking about articles. Romance, Fantasy, and Thriller writers are everywhere and I haven't met any Travel Essayists yet. Just about everyone is interested in trading book ideas, and this is good practice for stating our ideas concisely. Mine, of course, changes everytime I say it, but it is basically an essay about Cape May, NJ, through the months and seasons narrated by me, one of the last baby boomers to enter middle age. Everyone who visits Cape May knows that it has a rich Victorian heritage, but most don't know about all the other historical, cultural, and natural histories that go along with the region. People I talk to who are familiar with Cape May are always surprised when I tell them that the area was first settled by whalers in the 1600s, it was a prime target during WWII because of its proximity to major ports up the Delaware River, and that it hosts the World Series of Birding. So that's my quick description and it seems to interest most people I talk to. Whether it interests the agent I meet tomorrow remains to be seen. That's the Cape May Point Lighthouse above, by the way. (I don't have any pictures of Seattle!)

The article writing doesn't stop while I'm in Seattle. I just submitted revisions to my cranberry article for Edible Jersey late last night, and my World War II at the Twin Capes and Holidays at the Twin Capes articles were submitted to Twin Capes Traveller (the ferry magazine) hours before I left New Jersey. I'm not doing much actual writing while in Seattle, but I'm gathering steam for when I return home.

It's almost 6am and I've been up for an hour already. I should take a nap since I have to be coherent and charming until 10:30 tonight. I'm dealing with the time difference reasonably well.