Northwestern's Writing Chicago Conference

I’m still processing much of the information I learned at Northwestern’s Writing Chicago conference. Some mornings I wake up thinking about one thing or another that I learned. It’s a good feeling: I wake up fresh, rejuvenated, inspired and ready to go.


I took the train into Chicago before walking the three miles to the conference. I love that walk along the river. People from everywhere, going somewhere: bustling and strolling, shopping and sightseeing, families and commuters. A million stories swirled through my thoughts. Walking really is my best creative time. Whiffs of conversation, light tickling river, wind whispering through leaves. Colors everywhere: for the eyes, ears, nose, and throat.


The advice from Jacob Knabb for query letters is, by far, the lesson that keeps jumping to the front of my brain the most often. He gave such concrete information, with the whys behind the whats. Besides that, he filled my head with new information about Indie book publishing. To tell the truth, I thought Indie was just another way of saying self-publishing.  


If the things he and Naomi Huffman taught me were the only things I learned, my money was well spent.  Lucky me, I also learned a lot from others.  


Naomi Huffman taught me more about Indie publishing and diversity in publishing.  She pointed out that it’s important to build relationships in the Indie business. She also acknowledged that publishers must work at soliciting diverse voices.


Marcy Posner brought me to an abrupt mumble-mention mouth, with her question, “What’s you book’s genre.” I thought I had my elevator-pitch honed to a fine point. When my mouth opened, the elevator took a quick descent, leaving me, well, with that flip-stomach feeling. A brief wave of depression hit when she said it’s easier to find a publisher than an agent. 

I loved listening to the story-tellers during each lunchtime keynote address. Dana Noris and Bea Cordillia showed me how much fun it can be to read or tell a story and get immediate crowd feedback.  A week later I performed one of my own stories at a local music festival.  Wow! People laughed in all the right places.


I woke up with a start on several mornings afterwards thinking about the world of publishing. I am busy collecting agent rejection letters now.  Who’s gonna buy my book?  Well, mothers and grandmothers are going to buy it for their middle school kids. The reason why I stumbled with Marcy is because some of the books that I identify as in the same vein as mine are THE CAPE ANNE (Faith Sullivan,) THE BOOK THEIF (Markus Zusak)  and A SINGLE SHARD OF GLASS (Linda Sue Park.) These are meant for older kids, but don’t seem to go over as well there as they do with the adult audience. What genre is that exactly?  Middle-grade?


I loved the writing exercises Juan Martinez gave us. Since 8 of the about 15 people in the room had negative experiences with Dachshunds, if I ever have an evil dog in a story, it will be Dachshund.


James Todd Adcox’s exercises in scrambling up/cut & paste words from various sources blew my mind. If nothing else, it’s a great way to unblock in-the-rut thinking. Creative plagiarism, he called it.  His exercise is surely a great way to see old things in a new light.


I signed up for a manuscript review. I chose two different people:  A man who writes fiction, and a woman who wrote her mothers’ memoir. (I’m working on a memoir, too.) I hoped to get the man, because my novel's voice is a 12 year-old boy who “falls in love” for the first time. Everytime I ask a man what it was like back then, I get a shrug and a faraway murmur of, “It’s confusing.”


It’s been a couple of weeks now since I met with Ronne Hartfield to discuss a chapter's taste of my novel,  A SHIP OF PEARL. She has four daughters, so she couldn’t help with with the “man’s perspective on love. Still, she had so many positive comments and generous encouragement. She even asked me if I’m an artist. (No.) She said my descriptions are like those of an artist. Wow! She’s been a director at the Art Institute of Chicago.


You know, sometimes working alone can be invigorating and freeing, yet those feelings of self-doubt can so easily surface.  I don’t know about you, but after looking at my work for a long time, I can begin to wonder whether it’s any good at all. 


I purchased Ronne’s book. The words are so beautiful they are meant to be savored.  You know, like a dinner at a fine restaurant, where the food is so good you want to hold it in your mouth, but your stomach begs you to send it down. Her book is ANOTHER WAY HOME: The Tangled Roots of Race in One Chicago Family.  Here’s a taste of Ronne’s beautiful words:

“I watched the swirling circles of cream form on the surface of his coffee, a gradually slowing kaleidoscope, changing the coffee from early black to chocolate brown, then to café au lait and finally, just as the creamed coffee reached the brim, a rich ivory.

 Her book resonates with me in a way I have a hard time explaining.  We come from very different backgrounds, yet we have so many things in common. Soon we will get together for lunch and talk about writing, family, and the things that bind us together.

I gained a lot at Northwestern's Writing Chicago Conference: 

  • I got a shot in the arm with a few “I knew that” moments;
  • I had those “a-ha” moments where things I heard before clicked into place.
  • I learned a lot about the world of publishing. 
  • I found some new writer friends.
  • I can break out of my comfort zone.
  • I learned some new techniques for breaking a slump.
  • I renewed my confidence.
  • I learned that if I walk 6 miles every day, I can eat whatever I want.

Now to apply all the things I learned.


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