And the Winners are...

It's hard to believe the SCWW conference is over already! What a great weekend. One of the highlights for me was presenting the 2010 Carrie McCray Memorial Literary Awards. The scores this year were really close so, instead of my being able to figure out which entries were rising to the top, I had to wait until Monday to actually see the results. What a perfect way to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the organization and one of its founders, whom the award is named after.
Congratulations to the 2010 Carrie McCray Memorial Literary Award winners

First Place - Joan Reavis Holcomb, Tobacco Settin'/Spring 1950
Second Place - Christina L. Ruotolo, Bayou Bay
Honorable Mention - Alex Raley, Choices

First Place - Lisa Glisson, Divine Secrets of the Ta-Ta Sisterhood
Second Place - Joann M. Kelley, Anniversary
Honorable Mention - S. Jane Gari, Archeology

Short Fiction
First Place - Teresa L. Burgher, Slayer
Second Place - Connie Hullander, If Something Happens to Him
Honorable Mention - Johnny R. Beavers, Band Candy - Lessons for Life

Novel/First Chapter
First Place - Craig Faris, The Spectrum Conspiracy
Second Place - Anne Creed, Folly Beach
Honorable Mention - Joan Reavis Holcomb, Hunt House Murder

The Method, The Market & The Muse: Part V - And of course . . . Mix & Mingle!

I know, Mix and Mingle aren't part of the official 'Ms' of the slogan, but they are definitely an essential part of the conference weekend. My final conference post offers suggestions on making the most of those times outside the general sessions. These are times designed for you to interact more directly with the faculty and other attendees. For some that can be a bit intimidating. I hope by explaining a little about each one, you'll have an idea what to expect before you arrive and that will make your conference experience more enjoyable.

SlushFests: While these are part of the general sessions, I've found them to be more interactive than the other sessions. Even if you don't have a synopsis or two pages of manuscript to share, SlushFests are worth attending. You get to witness how agents and editors read submissions, and see what grabs them and what misses. During the SlushFest I attended last year, the agent not only gave her opinion and discussed the pieces, she also asked the participants what they thought worked, what might work better, their sense of the characters and story, etc. It was more a dialogue than a class. I think anyone sitting in a SlushFest will come away with something.

Faculty Tables: During each meal, faculty members will be seated at tables with the attendees. Their names will be on the tables so you can choose to sit at the table with someone you're interested in or want to hear more from. This is not the time to pitch your work! unless you are specifically asked. So why would you want to sit with a particular agent, editor or author? Sometimes the conversation does cover the world of writing and publishing. Remember in a previous post I suggested you come with a couple of questions? This is the time to ask them if they've not been answered. You may get extra pointers, advice, insights that might not come out during the general sessions.

Faculty Tables offer the opportunity to get to know the faculty as real people! They have lives, families and interests outside of their work, just like the rest of us. One year a table mate and the faculty member found they grew up in the same general vicinity. Wouldn't it be interesting to learn that you and one of the presenters shared the same hobby or alma mater? The conversations might not lead to a contract, but you may realize it's easier than you thought to talk with people in the business. And that knowledge can go a long way when you are ready to make that pitch or send that query letter.

Night Owl Sessions: It can be tempting to go back to your room and decompress after a long day of information input. And that's fine. But there are opportunities to extend the learning after the dinners both Friday and Saturday evening. Other than setting the rooms aside, these are not organized by the Conference Chair/Co-Chairs. There is always an attendee or conference volunteer willing to lead the way and sessions turn out well. The Night Owl Sessions include . . .

Mix & Mingle: This is time to relax and visit with faculty and other attendees. A cash bar is available if you choose to enjoy conversation over drinks. If you don't see yourself being part of the hob-knobbing, maybe you're a good listener and observer - two skills important to every writer.

Open Mics: Open Mics are open to anyone interested in reading so bring your work to the conference. There is no judging, no critiquing, just encouragement. The poets who read at the Open Mic I attended last year had poems ranging from the very sweet to the very bawdy. We cried from empathy and laughter.

If you've never read in front of an audience, this is a safe environment in which to read for the first time. The crowds are small and you'll no doubt discover you write better than some and not as well as others. That's not a bad thing. You'll hear what others are writing and how people react to it and that's a good thing. You are of course welcome to come and just listen. Readers are always grateful for an appreciative audience. Open Mics can be a fun way to end the evening - whether you read or not.

Some additional ideas for making the most of your conference weekend . .
Get in the Loop: A friend of mine attended last year's conference and saw something that really stuck with her. She was a newbie writer and a bit nervous. She watched a group of people talking and noticed another person standing off to the side, alone like she was. A member of the group also noticed the other person, moved away from the circle and without saying a word looped her arm through his and drew him in. Claire thought that was one of the most generous gestures she'd ever witnessed. Recently she attended another workshop and made the effort to be the person bringing another into the group. She said by the week's end, she'd noticed almost everyone else had done the same thing. If you're at the conference solo, or just happen to be solo at a certain moment, don't be afraid to link arms and enter a group together, and don't hesitate if someone offers you an arm.

Table Hop: Even if you have a conference buddy to eat with, make a point to eat with a different grouping for each meal and don't always sit next to each other. This might sound goofy, but it's interesting how changing that little dynamic changes the flow and content of conversations.

Dance: No, we don't provide dancing opportunities, though that could be interesting! I'm talking about the stepping back and forth so you have a full but not overloaded weekend. You know your own writing needs and you own body rhythms. Listen to both and balance your time at the conference between The Method, The Market & The Muse. And if your Muse shows up and tugs you to the beach to write, to gather inspiration or to retreat, it's ok to listen to her and slip away.

Conferences are there for us to learn, network, and return home ready to write. We all get out of them what we put into them. I hope these posts have been helpful in getting you ready for the weekend. I'm heading to a writers' retreat Friday so I'll be putting into practice what I've put into print these last couple of weeks. And I look forward to meeting many of you at The South Carolina Writers' Workshop 20th Annual Writers' Conference. See you then.

The Method, The Market & The Muse: Part IV - It's All in Your Mind. . . and heart and soul

I have to watch how I talk around my husband - he's not a writer. He's an actuary. So when I say something like, "My character said she won't go there." he looks at me with raised eyebrow and starts humming the theme song from The Twilight Zone.

Now we all know I'm not really hearing an audible voice, but there is something that often directs our writing. That something is hard to define so we lovingly refer to it as The Muse.

In Greek mythology the nine daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne were The Muses, each goddess overseeing a different subject of learning:
Calliope - epic poetry/song, Clio - history, Thalmia - comedy, Melpomene - tragedy, Terpsichore - choral dance, Erato - erotic (love) poetry/song, Euterpe - lyric poetry/song, Polyhymnia - sacred poetry/song, Urania - astrology.

I imagine most of us don't pray to the ancient Greek deities for inspiration, but what is that force that impels us to put pen or pencil to paper or fingertips to keyboard? Where do those ideas come from that find their way into stories, poems and memoirs?

Writing this post I find The Muse means different things to me. It is that little voice or gut instinct telling me my phrasing is just a bit off or a character has done something - out of character. It has nothing to do with knowing proper English or characterization.

Sometimes The Muse is pure inspiration. I listen to Andrea Bocelli and it's as if the notes enter my ears, tingle through my arms and come out as words. How many writings are based on pieces of artwork or other writings? How many poems and essays were inspired by nature?

After we've witnessed great tragedy or great joy, I believe it's The Muse that gathers our emotions and guides us in expressing them through our art.

If The Method and The Market are the foundations, the meat and potatoes of being a good writer and author, then The Muse is the dessert. We may not be able to explain why it's important or how it works, we just know it's good, it's sweet and it's essential.

These are the conference sessions I think most generally fit The Muse.

Headspace and Heartspace: Writing Is Not A Business, Publishing Is Not An Art

Crafting Compelling Mystery and Suspense

Common Threads: What Defines Women's Fiction

True Blue: Crafting Novels For All Ages

A Perfect World: Crafting A Cohesive Fantasy World

Children Are A Handful: The Unique Aspects Of Children's and Young Adult Markets

Panel: The Beauty Of Voice: Discovery Of Multi-Cultural Voices In Writing

Writing Your Non-Fiction Book: Converting Your Knowledge And Research Into The Written Word

While we need The Method and The Market to give structure and weight to our writing, we also need to nurture and feed our creative self. We need dessert after our meat and potatoes.

The Method, The Market & The Muse: Part III - To Market, to market . . .

Writing has two components, the creative one and the business one. A faculty member at a past SCWW conference said the difference between an author and a writer is the author has something published.

For most of us, the creative part of writing comes naturally and we find it exciting and energizing. I don't know about you, but those aren't always the same feelings I get when researching agents or writing a query letter.

Part II of this series touched on The Method, the nuts and bolts of craft. This post, The Market, is its counter-balance, the nuts and bolts of the industry. The industry encompasses everything of how the publishing world works to get your story into the right hands - agents', editors' and readers'.

A quick search of articles in The Writer and The Writer's Digest illustrates the wide range of topics under 'market.' Getting your foot in the door - Do you know how to find the right agent for you? Do you know which pitches and query letters work? Changes in publishing - Are you familiar with and know the pros and cons of traditional publishing, self-publishing, e-publishing? Rights and responsibilities of authors - Did you know if you blog it might be considered a business and you could be liable for fees or licenses? Changes/trends in genres - Do you know the difference between literary fiction, women's fiction and upfiction? Do you know what editors are looking for or what has already saturated the market? Readings, signings, websites, blogs, webcasts - Are you familiar and savvy with all the ways to promote your book?

I follow several agent blogs and even though they represent different genres, one common thread throughout is the reminder to writers that publishing is a business. The people best-suited for helping us learn the business are agents, editors and authors.

One of the reasons for the success of the SCWW annual conferences is the faculty we bring in each year. This year we have eleven agents and five editors representing as many agencies and publishers. We have six authors who bring their own experience of being where we are and getting to where we want to be.

The Market sessions at the conference offer behind the scene glimpses of trends in the industry and what catches an agent's or editor's eye. As I mentioned in my previous post, some of the sessions listed can fit in more than one area. The ones here are those I think generally fit in the The Market.

Book Promotion: For Writers, Introverts and Other Reluctant Marketers.

Legal Issues Every Writer Should Know

Panel: What Are We Doing Here? Why Authors, Editors and Agents Attend Conferences

Tips and Trends for the Children and Young Adult Markets

She Said, She Said: The Dueling Prospective of Agent vs Author

Agents' Panel: What Gets Our Attention

It's easy for us to navigate and enjoy the worlds we create, but there is another real world to writing that can be just as fascinating if we listen and follow the guidelines. It doesn't matter if our manuscript is polished and ready to go, or still finding its way onto the page, if we want to be authors, we need to know the business.