This is my second year volunteering at the San Francisco Writers Conference. This is a terrific conference. Volunteers do a lot of work, but we also get to catch some of the sessions and meet tons of interesting people. My biggest observation from the first day is how absurdly nice everyone is. The presenters, the volunteers, and especially the attendees. Maybe I just got lucky in whom I met (it was Friday the 13th after all).
I managed to catch the last 10 minutes of the lunch keynote by Richard Paul Evans, who was insightful and entertaining. I wish I could have heard the whole thing. One of his main points was that through fear of failure, we often choose failure. As in, "I might have my story rejected, so I won't send it to that magazine," thereby guaranteeing it won't be in that magazine. He made some other points, but that was my big takeaway.
I also managed to catch three sessions when I wasn't working the cafe or helping out with other odd jobs and recording. (All the sessions will be available on CD or as mp3 files at a later date from www.vwtapes.com.
The first session, about "tweens and teens" focused on middle grade fiction, featured Melissa Manlove of Chronicle Books and Jennifer Laughran of Andrea Brown Literary Agency. It didn't quite go off as planned, but it was still an engaging session with great audience participation. Unfortunately, most of the questions centered on "is my book middle grade or YA." There were some great tips from both speakers about approaching a tween audience, though.
The second one I attended was a poetry panel including some local luminaries. It featured some spirited and some thoughtful discussion about poetry in general, about becoming and being a poet, and about their personal experiences. The panel comprised a diverse enough set of backgrounds to keep the conversation moving. My one big takeaway was that success in poetry starts small with individual placements of poems in various journals, and that most books of poetry are about 50% previously published poems. The panel was moderated by Kit Kennedy and featured Joan Gelfand, Connie Post, and Clive Matson.
The last one I caught was the best of the day for me, a workshop by Brad Henderson and Andy Jones, two lecturers at UC Davis. They started their own poetry version of NaNoWriMo of sorts, called "40 days, 40 poems." The idea of course is to force yourself to write a poem a day for forty days, regardless of length, quality, subject. The result is that you stop waiting for inspiration and instead start seeing it lurking all over the place, and you force yourself to write when maybe you wouldn't otherwise. I stumbled upon this concept myself last April during national poetry month when I blogged a poem a day for all 30 days of April. That turned into the Unlucky 26. During this workshop, they gave us four minutes to compose a four-line poem to a very specific prompt. Each line was given its own mission, and we had to write something about a person, place, or thing that had made some emotional impact on us in the past week. Then we read our poems to each other (so those dying for another recording of me reading my work can buy the mp3 of the session when it comes out).
Some were shockingly literary for four minutes. A few people wrote two poems in that time. F'ing overachieving showoffs. Here is the four-line poem I came up with in the four allotted minutes:
Flotation DeviceI was about the 12th person to read. Everyone before me, and everyone who read after me, were treated to applause. Fortunately, I did not get any applause at all. I got laughter. Which I took to be a rousing success.
300 pound widebody wedged into an airplane seat
beachball with arms can't reach her carry-ons
nods off, her teddy bear clenched tight
why does she prefer the window seat?
I've got two more days of volunteering. I'm not actively hawking anything this year because I brought Andie's Gold last year, and the crop of agents is pretty much the same people. If any of you out there are reading this and are going to be at SFWC the next two days, look for me.