March 8th, 2007

Whidbey Island Writer's Conference

The Whidbey Island Writer’s Conference was great! I gave two presentations, sat on a panel and was part of “Fireside Chat.” The three-hour Fireside Chats are the signature event of the three-day conference. Authors, agents and editors from various genres (picture books, YA, adult fiction, non-fiction, memoirs, poetry, etc.) meet at private homes with no more than 20 attendees.

 The south end of Whidbey Island (in Washington’s Puget Sound) is a retirement haven and island retreat for some seriously moneyed folk who are generous to the arts and artists. The homes are almost invariably big and lovely with water views, and the hosts provide goodies such as strawberries, cookies, cucumber sandwiches, coffee and tea. In other words, everyone feels pampered and you get some casual, intimate time with authors, agents and editors.

 I got to be on panels with the great and powerful Jane Yolen, who has a certain calm and gravitas to her demeanor that I’m now trying to imitate. Although, somehow it’s more convincing when you have 230 books under your belt.

 I also really enjoyed getting to know YA author Anjali Banerjee. She’s a charming, delicate woman with this hunk of a husband… er, not that I notice things like that.

 Ann Tobias was the children’s agent there. I think my jaw literally dropped when she told us she started her career working with the legendary editor, Ursula Nordstrom. Nordstrom worked with authors such as Margaret Wise Brown, E.B. White, Charlotte Zolotow, Maurice Sendak, and Shel Silverstein.

 Somehow this conference--maybe because the authors and industry people are so accessible (if nothing else, we’re all trapped on an island for three days)--doesn’t have that rather desperate energy you find at some conferences. I know when I was trying to get published, I felt as if I was supposed to make something happen at these things, but could never figure out how. I was sure more inventive and courageous authors were finding ways to charm agents, etc. into taking their manuscripts.

 Should I send my manuscript up with room service? Hang adoringly on every word of every speaker until my eyeballs rolled up in my head? Slide the manuscript under the bathroom stall—yeah, I know we’ve all heard that one. Probably apocryphal. And all of us normal, nice, rational people are determined not to be the author who did THAT! What was nice about the Whidbey conference is you didn’t have to. As far as I could tell, most everyone got a hearing with an agent or editor and a surprising number of people were asked to send in manuscripts.

 My talks went well. I didn’t panic. I was unnaturally calm… I didn’t even panic when I accidentally left on my van lights on the ferry ride over; my battery ran down; my van wouldn’t start; I blocked half the ferry from exiting; two overweight ferry guys had to try push my van up a small ramp with me trying to steer with my power steering out, and I got to wait as all the other cars exited past me until finally a perky little yellow truck thing was able to come onboard and push me off the ferry and into some side parking where they recharged my battery. I wasn’t even beet red or sweating or breathing hard or anything. I guess I’ve become shameless.

 Oh, and I won second place in the poetry slam!