Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Agents and Editors Day

This morning the men in black were gone, and so were the big black SUVs parked at the side of the lobby entrance. So I guess the McCain entourage is on its way to its next stop. They were here not much more than 12 hours. Such is life on the campaign trail, I guess.

Today is Agents and Editors Day at the writers' conference. We were invited to sign up online for meetings with up to three agents, for a modest fee. I figured if I was spending this much money to come all the way to California, might as well. It was worth it. I met with three agents. I pitched a nonfiction spiritual memoir about Katrina to two of them, and it received mixed reactions. To a third agent I pitched a fiction proposal for a quirky love story, and she received it favorably. All of them gave me their cards and invited me to email them and send them proposals and sample chapters. I was quite pleased.

Mind you, all three of them are "hungry" for new business. One started her business this year; she is more into helping writers in the editing and packaging of their work and recommending them to other agents. Another has been in business 15 months. The third just changed jobs in the last couple of months, but she has gone from one established agency to another, which is a good thing as far as stability of the agency is concerned.

There are a lot of good writers here, mostly women in the workshops I've attended. I've been favorably impressed with the quality of the writing they are reading in these sessions. There are probably 200 or 300 people here, and just about every one I've heard has material that is good enough for publication. I don't find that intimidating; I find it affirming. This is a place for people who are serious about their craft. I know quite a few of them will, indeed, get published. I hope one of them is me.

Want to know more about this conference? www.sbwriters.com.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Santa Barbara, again

After an absence of ten years, I've returned to the Santa Barbara Writers Conference this week to learn what's new in the publishing industry and to pitch an idea for a book that's been percolating in me for the last, oh, two years, ten months, don't know how many days. (You guessed it, it's a Katrina book.) Tomorrow I have three ten-minute interviews with three agents to pitch, yes, just like writers in Hollywood pitch screenplays for movies. I keep telling myself this is just to get my feet wet, as I've never done this before. Kind of like preaching those first sermons.

Santa Barbara, in case you didn't know, is one of the country's top writers' conferences. For the last 36 years, Ray Bradbury has been the keynote speaker. He was here Saturday night, opening the conference. He is 88 now and partially paralyzed from a stroke he had some years ago, and his speech is a little slurred. But he's still the master, and we gave him a standing ovation. His message, applicable to more than just writers: "Do what you love, and love what you do." Amen!

You may think this is a strange place for a minister to be, but this morning I was in a nonfiction workshop with about 20 participants, and three of us were pastors. We who preach, write. I love to tell people from my former profession, the magazine industry, "When you're the preacher, you can't tell the congregation, "The sermon's not quite done yet, but I'll get it to you tomorrow." The editors all laugh. There is no winging it on Sunday morning. Whether it's good or bad, the sermon's got to be done, and you get up there with a smile and preach it, even if you think it's a dog. One of my seminary professors told us in preaching class, "Sometimes you have to walk the dog." Yeah, but don't do it too often. But I digress.

This week many of my Presbyterian colleagues are at the denominational General Assembly in San Jose. If you're geographically challenged as far as California is concerned, San Jose is just south of San Francisco in the northern part of the state. Santa Barbara is 90 miles north of the Los Angeles airport in the southern part of the state. Thoroughly confused? Just remember, San Jose and Santa Barbara are probably close to 400 miles apart. Have fun at the General Assembly, friends.

I spent a little time reading the local Sunday paper yesterday, the Santa Barbara News-Press. I had been told that Santa Barbara is fairly conservative, and every column I read in the paper seemed to support that view. This afternoon as I walked across the grounds of my hotel -- it's actually a resort, Fess Parker's Doubletree Resort, just across the road from the ocean, and yes, I was tempted to sing the Davy Crockett theme song when I walked in the lobby but didn't -- at any rate, I noticed a couple of California Highway Patrol cars (wasn't there a TV show once called CHiPS about them? The patrol, not the cars) parked in the driveway by the lobby and some guys in black suits and dark sunglasses standing around -- yes, it really looked like Men in Black. Hmm, well, when you're only 90 miles from L.A. and you're at a resort, it's not unusual to get a celebrity or two in the area. This evening I asked someone if they knew who it was. I was told it was John McCain. This person seemed to think that he and his entourage probably had a block of about 100 rooms in the main part of the hotel. (I am staying in a building at the far end of the property. I am nowhere near the action. I actually find this comforting. If somebody starts shooting around here, I want to be as far away as possible.)

Well, conservative Santa Barbara would probably welcome John McCain. We in New Orleans aren't particularly happy with Republicans since Katrina, but that's a long story and I really, really don't want to write a political blog. My friend Ethel says if I get to meet McCain (not likely!), to tell him on behalf of her and all the other mothers of our service people that if he gets elected president, he should bring our children home from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Me, I'm here to learn more about writing. So far I've learned that I need to keep this blog going and get more people to read it. If you are one of my three readers, please tell a friend about it. As the Gallo wine guys used to say, thank you for your support.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Summer evening

Dare I say it? It's a sultry summer evening in New Orleans. I mean hot and humid. Just like all those bad pulp novels describe it. I've been sitting on the front porch with the cats (this IS Cattown, after all). Somewhere down the block, someone is playing a clarinet. Slow, easy blues.

Would this have happened in my old neighborhood in suburban Atlanta? I think not.

I love this town. Hurricane season and all.