It was so refreshing to be in a room of 500+ attendees and be able to go up to any one of them and ask: "What is your book about?" Because every single one of them had a book they had written. Some of them had more than one. And I learned a lot by listening not as much to what their story was about (although there were some REALLY intriguing plot lines and real life experiences shared), but by HOW they talked about their books. Copious notes pared down to seven pages of notes and one of my biggest take-aways was that I need to stop apologizing for my writing. It was beyond infectious to listen to someone speak with great enthusiasm about their story. There was evident pride and joy in the telling. I want to have that. In this year of emerging and becoming, I am adding this to the list of things to do: learn how to talk about my writing with the confidence and enthusiasm that I witnessed at this conference.
Here's another big take-away, one I was really surprised by: genre writers (mystery, romance, etc.) and the memoirists were just plain more fun than most of us writing literary fiction. There was a degree of depression evident in everyone who talked about literary fiction. If there is one thing I would like to change about this slice of the literary world, it is to embrace the use of humor, hope, good-spiritedness and light. Tall order, but there you have it. Maybe I will create a new genre: HappyLitFic, or JoyLitFic.
Two quotes to end with, from each of the inspiring keynote speakers:
"Remember the things that matter to you," from Lisa See (author of Shanghai Girls). Which is to say, sometimes it isn't the publications that matter the most, sometimes it's the doors they open that lead to the things which are most meaningful for us individually. For her, it was being able to be a judge in the Miss Chinatown contest, and all that represented for her.
and from Lolly Winston, author of Good Grief: "Do me a favor: don't take rejection personally." She told a hilarious story of receiving handwritten ink on her New Yorker submission rejection letter, and how much that meant to her. The magic of this accomplishment was lost on her engineer husband. That made me think how incredibly important it is to have a community (virtually or otherwise) of people who understand just how fantastic that kind of rejection is for a writer.
I'm still recovering and extrapolating and poring over my pages of notes. Which is to say, it was a very successful conference indeed.