Still, it's my favorite conference. If I'm not mistaken, it's the largest conference on the West Coast, but it's still small enough not to be overwhelming like the Romance Writers of America's (RWA) national conference. I get to learn what's going on in the industry, meet old friends and make new ones, and it gives me the opportunity to do something I have found over the years that I love: teaching what I know.
Friday night, I volunteered to help unpublished writers at the "Pitchfest." That's where these writers try to come up with an "elevator pitch": a short description of their story that is intriguing enough to relate to an editor or agent so that they are asked to submit their manuscripts.
Author Gina Robinson has done an online workshop of how to pitch a story for the Greater Seattle Romance Writers chapter of RWA, and this actual, "hands-on" session was coordinated by Gina and my dear friend and author Gerri Russell. They asked me to help coach these authors, and I eagerly agreed. I don't know why it is, but I love, love, love hearing about other people's stories and boiling them down to what I call "thematic hits" that powerfully convey the essence of their story. Maybe it comes naturally; I remember in college I was very much into symbolism in literature and picking out these symbols and themes to get at the underlying meaning of the story.
Well, I have to say, these three writers had some dynamite high-concept ideas that capture the zeitgeist of our nation and our world. One woman, Constance, had written a Young Adult (YA) paranormal novel. Melinda had written a straight-on SF/Fantasy romance. Monica had written a gentle contemporary romance. Yet, all addressed, symbolically and realistically, the angst and the desperate hopes that so many of us are going through in these lean and divisive years. All of them had taken the deep concerns of ordinary people and tried to answer the question of, "what do we do to make things better"?
I believe that when these three authors pitched their stories to editors and agents on Saturday morning, they received requests for submission. I believe it so strongly that I am willing to bet hard money on this. All they needed was to bring out the essence of what they were writing and say it with conviction. I hope to find out.
But, aside from learning the latest industry news and writing and publishing-related technologies and business models, this is why I come to this conference. Romance is a hopeful, yet practical genre. It doesn't look away from pain and hurt and difficulty, but takes it on with courage and a roll-up-the-sleeves-deal-with-it attitude, an attitude that--underneath it all--says that our world and our lives are worth fighting for, no matter what. That there is joy to be had and a purpose to your life, whether you are a teenager discovering that your so-called disabilities can save the world (Constance's story), or that you have a truth to tell about--and can fight against--those who are committing horrible injustices (Melinda's story), or that you can find inner strength and a road to a better life when you're down on your luck and living in a trailer park (Constance's story).
I see a lot of women here, and men as well, who believe that you don't give up, you keep working, you keep plugging on, even if it seems that the odds are against you. These are courageous people, who put that belief and courage on the page.
And honestly, that is what being a writer is all about. You don't know whether your story is going to be a success or if any editor will even look at it. But there is something inside that induces you to put out the words, put out the story, regardless.
I guess I learn from these newbies. I haven't published anything new in quite a while. I look at their courage, and it gives me that much more courage to try again.
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