A Weekend in Oz


Seatac is not really part of the Emerald City, but the bastard child of Tacoma and Seattle has its own charm: aging hotels, tourists waiting for another flight, and parking garages. Seatac was home this weekend to the Pacific Northwest Writers Association annual conference and because I wanted to eat unhealthy food, sit without moving for hours and hours, and get nervous to the point of hyperventilation, I went.

The Prep: Before attending the conference I did what every writer should do before packing your bags, I googled “what should I bring to a writing conference.” The information  I gathered from google was valuable because it sent me into a tither of useless activity: making a one sheet (which turned out to be something no one wanted), trying for hours to make business cards (pay someone to do this unless you are Steve Jobs, but if you want to look like a modern-day Jethro Bodine do it yourself), and getting an author headshot taken for my one sheet (have your daughter/son/husband/wife/tripod do this because no one will want to see it anyway.) Then I packed my bags and headed off to Seatac.

Day One: I arrived early enough to pick up my registration information and then hopped into line with 400 of my closest friends. We were waiting to sign-up for agent pitch sessions. There were going to be five total sessions ( A,B,C,D,E) and I targeted “B” as the session that was best for me. In retrospect, most of the sessions were probably equal, but as I stood in line with the other writers I became more and more nervous. Many of these people had been to the conference multiple times and had an elaborate strategy for maximizing their pitches. If I were 12 years old, I probably would have started crying, but now that I am as old as the trees, I realize that sometimes these people who sound the most prepared are, in fact, not prepared at all. After waiting for 45 minutes, I was able to get my preferred session and then I went to the rooms where authors were practicing their pitches–What is a pitch? I really don’t know if there is a Webster’s answer for this one, but I would say that a pitch is your book with all the water boiled out of it. Can you summarize your novel in two sentences? How about 30 seconds? Is it memorized?–I sat down at a table with six other writers and we soon found out that five of us were unprepared for the gauntlet of book pitching. How did we find out? Well, there was a writer at our table who was an expert. How did we find out she was an expert? Because she talked the most and had the most opinions. I left the table. If I wanted to hear how stupid I was I could just listen to the soundtrack in my head. The rest of the day was pretty much a blur. My anxiety increased as the day went on and I could not memorize my pitch, I could not boil all my ideas down, and I heaped as much self-loathing into the crucible of my blackened heart as I could. Pitch session “B” was the next day at 4 PM, I went back to my hotel room and began reading Cheryl Strayed‘s new book Tiny Beautiful Things. Strayed’s book Wild is great, but this book (Tiny Beautiful Things) moved me like not too many things I have read in my life. If you want insight into the cruelties of human life and responses to those cruelties that can only be described as radical empathy, then you must read this book.

Tomorrow: The Pitch Sessions


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