So said John Adams in the musical 1776, and today proved him right. It was a scorcher of a day outside and, judging by the smell of melted brains by the end of the day, the presenters at the PWC brought plenty of heat of their own.
The Friday session of the conference often has the lightest attendance because people cannot get off from work, but this year it seemed pretty packed, even at the opening speech by Sara Shepard. Sara gave us an entertaining run-down of her unusual road to success with Pretty Little Liars, and at one point put it down to “luck.” What she didn’t say about this fickle mistress Luck is that not everyone takes advantage of opportunities that luck puts in their way. Some don’t have the talent or determination to capitalize on them; some are so tunnel-visioned as to how they want to achieve their success that they fail to see the road less traveled. Sara grabbed her opportunity with both hands and it led to far more success than she had ever imagined. So keep your eyes open for opportunities—they may come when you least expect it.
Then began the morning session of 3-day workshops:
- The Novel: Creating Captivating Characters (Suzanne Palmieri)
- The 3-Day Short Story Toolkit (Fran Wilde)
- Your Non-Fiction Book: Write, Sell, Publish (Lu Ann Cahn)
- The Poet’s Toolbox: Meter, Rhyme, & Form (Anna Evans)
I took the Short Story workshop. Fran Wilde does not kid around—she is intending to send us home in three days with a completed (albeit rough) short story of about 2,000 words! She also had a bit of advice that made everything make so much sense: “Writing is fractal.”
She meant that not only does a story have a beginning, middle, and end, but a chapter has a beginning, middle, and end; and a scene has a beginning, middle, and end; and a paragraph has a beginning, middle, and end; and even a sentence has a beginning, middle, and end. When viewed that way, story micro-structure becomes much easier to understand.
During the lunch break, fellow Chronicler J. Thomas Ross ate in the cool hotel restaurant with a friend, while I forayed to the Bourse building for lunch with another conferee. The heat was bearable in the shade, with a breeze, and if we walked reeeeeallly sllooowwlyyy.
After lunch, we moved to the second session of 3-day workshops:
- Playwriting: Living, Breathing Plays on the Stage (Anne Hamilton)
- Romance: Novel in a Nutshell (Judi Fennell)
- The Art of Writing Publishing, and Marketing Young Adult Fiction (Catherine Stine)
- Memoir: Why Should I Care? Make the Personal Universal (Tom McAllister)
Since I write middle grade and YA, I took Catherine Stine’s Young Adult fiction course. Catherine has published with traditional publishers large and small, as well as self-publishing some of her work, so she is well-placed to address all of our publishing questions.
I missed the end of Catherine’s session because today was also agent-editor pitch day. Although I have a book deal, I still lack an agent, so I pitched. I spoke with the passionate Eric Smith of PS Literary, who asked me to send my manuscript when it is finished. His infectious enthusiasm gave me the jolt I needed to re-energize my tired brain.
I hurried to my final 3-day workshop. The last group of 3-day sessions are:
- Free Verse: It’s Not All About Me (Ken Pobo)
- Social Media (Don Lafferty)
- Writing the Novel (Solomon Jones)
- Writing Thriller and Mystery (Jon McGoran)
My last workshop was Writing the Novel, with the always-entertaining and word-wise Solomon Jones. Today we discussed the importance of setting on your novel—it sets time, place, and mood, but it also creates the rules and parameters of what is possible in your story. I had never thought about setting in quite that way before, so it has given me something to chew on.
Today also had two single-day workshops:
- Adapting Your Novel to Film or TV (Sara Shepard)
- Improv for Storytelling (Dan Stabb)
I missed part of Sara’s adaptation talk because I had a second pitch session, this one with Adrianna Dominguez of Full Circle Literary. Although she does rep middle grade and YA, my sci-fi-fantasy bent is not her wheelhouse, but she was kind enough to direct me to another agent in her agency to query when my manuscript is ready. As with the last 4 years, I left my pitch sessions with more confidence, and enjoyed talking with them professional to professional.
The evening saw the Agents and Editors Buffet and the Poetry and Fiction Rap sessions. I am fried by 5 o’clock, so I headed home to get some rest. If anyone wants to tell us about those sessions, feel free to do so in the comments here!
It may be hot as hell in Philadelphia, but the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference is full of some very cool people.
The awesomeness continues tomorrow!