Monday, March 30, 2009

Scene and Sequel

Because I am a huge fan of delayed gratification, the two days of The Write Stuff conference put on by the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group is my favorite time of year. I love Christmas, too, but I only put a few weeks of preparation into it. I work on aspects of this conference for an entire year, so when it comes I watch it unreel in a dizzying blur.

On a day like today, when I have a chance to pause to take stock, I'm reminded of the terms author Jack Bickham uses to describe plot: "scene" and "sequel." The action happens in scene: a soldier runs up to a ditch, lobs a hand grenade, and runs back to safety behind a rock. That soldier reflects on his action in a sequel: Where did these guys come from? I thought we'd killed them all back at the river. I need to talk to Jonesy, bad, but the radio is back at the plane...

If the final weeks of conference prep are one unrelenting scene, today is my sequel. I want to take a moment to reflect on the fruits of my labor and of many fellow laborers led by conference chair Dianna Sinovic.

In this year's mesmerizing keynote speech, author and DeSales University creative writing prof Juilene Osborne-McKnight tapped her background as a professional storyteller to remind us that the stories that connect us are the reason for all that we do. To hammer her point home, I'd like to set down some of the stories that characterized this conference for me.

• After 9 years of attending and volunteering for this conference, I participated as a Page Cuts panelist for the first time, using experience gleaned from my role as editor at to critique first page submissions from attendees. No story is good without an obstacle, so here it is: I had to do so without having eaten in the past eight hours. I wasn't the only one. Despite a break of almost an hour, and a restaurant less than half full, the hotel was unable to deliver our meals before we had to go to the Page Cuts room. I thought I had saved time by ordering a sandwich, but at least those who ordered entrees got their salads! Despite the hypoglycemia, I enjoyed applying all I've learned to help along a new batch of writers. After which I made a beeline for the crudites at the welcome reception.

• I had the chance to meet three different women I've gotten to know through my online writing consulting business. I first met them through their words and ideas; now I've met them in the flesh. Ever since I started writing for a newspaper 27 years ago, where I mostly met people by phone, I've envisioned people by their voices. I do the same now with people I meet in print, through their writers' voices. And you know what? Not one of these women looked a thing like I pictured them. A fun surprise.

• One of our conferees flew in from Texas so she could meet her favorite author, Maria V. Snyder, whom I had engaged in my role as program co-chair. In my role as Page Cuts coordinator I had randomly assigned this conferee to the room where Maria was a Page Cuts panelist. This woman was able to have her first page critiqued by her favorite author, and I played an unwitting role.

• I stood in the hallway at one point beside a conferee who asked a woman next to me where she was from. The answer I overheard: "Gouverneur, New York." I spun around. "You're kidding me! I know where Gouverneur is and I know how to spell it, too!" To which she replied: "Most of the people who live there don't know how to spell it!" Gouverneur is a village of about 4,000 near our summer home in northern New York; my grandmother was a school teacher there early in the 2oth century. This woman found out about our conference online, drove the 5-1/2 hours to get to it, and had a great time—and during the book fair, sat to talk with my husband Dave and I, who are almost neighbors to her during the summer.

• One of the last conversations I had before heading out the door was with my new friend, conferee Jon Gibbs, whom I'd met at last year's pre-conference workshop. We were tossed into proximity again this year: during an exercise at this year's workshop we exchanged papers, and later that night he was in my Page Cuts room. At conference end Jon was telling me what a superlative conference he'd had: all of the Page Cuts panelists had something good to say about his page; the agent panelist in that room approached him the next day, gave him her card, and said she'd like to see the whole manuscript; an agent to whom he'd pitched a different project wanted to see the whole thing; and then during the book fair he found out he'd won the fiction flash contest and got to read it aloud. When after that he also won a door prize he deferred, embarrassed by and a bit fearful of the confluence of riches.

Following a tradition we've had for a few years now, Dave and I treated ourselves to dinner out on the way home from the conference—this time at Bonefish at the Lehigh Valley Mall—and brought along our conference folders. We always attend separate sessions so we can compare notes after, and we like to do it while all is fresh in our minds. We sat at a "first come, first served" area in the bar across from another couple, who was fascinated by what we were doing. Their son is a writer, currently in England on a fellowship. We all ended up having a great time. 

Thanks for sharing my sequel. For all of these reasons and more, I am eager to once again enter "scene" mode and get to work on next year's conference.

3 comments: said...

Thanks for the sequel! It was an amazing day.

jongibbs said...

The conference had an amazing atmosphere. My thanks to you and all the other 'Write Stuffers' who worked so hard to make it a success.

Lisa Tomarelli said...

Loved your note about meeting the women...a "fun" surprise?! Maybe I've rubbed off. hmmm.

Enjoyed the stories. What a sequel-screenwriters should be looking for you!

Thanks to you and so many others who do so much work to make this type of event a success. I am so ready to attend next year. What's the date?