Writers’ Conference Takeaway

"Overwhelmed" 18 x 18

“Overwhelmed” 18 x 18

I spent the past weekend immersed in a rather wonderful “agents and editors conference” put on by   Writers’ League of Texas   in Austin.  I’m a newcomer to this whole writing and publishing game, so I was eager to learn, excited about pitching to an agent face-to-face, curious to see what other writers are up to and what they have to say about what we do. I was looking for insight on how to plot my course forward as I nurture my first self-published novel and ready the next one for its eventual debut in print.

Here is what I think I learned from my colleagues and the gatekeepers of our profession:

Although there are many paths forward, there seem to be two disparate directions the novice writer might take. One I would call the “path of honor”. This path is pursued by submitting material for contests and literary journals, striving to accrue accolades from the anointed and an eventual place within a “big house”. The other is the “path of material reward” – marketing the hell out of deliberately marketable stories and raking in the dollars from an adoring public, keeping them salivating for more. However much we wish to believe in a convergence of these paths, it’s rare. Exceptionally rare. I met successful and talented writers on both trajectories and I maintain deep respect for their personal choices, diligence, artistry, and generosity in sharing stories from their respective paths.

I’m not sure either of these distinct directions is for me. I’m an independent at heart, happiest when I’m doing my own thing. I don’t care much for either accolades or material reward. I want readers. I want to reach people who want to think about and talk about the things my stories are about. And I believe stories always have to be about more than a sequence of events. As an artist, I finally had to accept the label of “conceptual artist”, however uncool that may be. I’m also a conceptual writer.

I come away from the conference still uncertain of my path forward. If I found the “right” agent, could I be happy on that path? If I could tap into and inspire the “right” audience, would I be willing to market to them in order to keep them as fans?

TO BE CONTINUED…

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Art and Memory

Things Remembered, 20 x 16, $450

Things Remembered, 20 x 16, $450

My protagonist in WAY OF THE SERPENT falls in love with an artist – Luis-Martín Zenobia – who was educated as an anthropologist. Here is what he wrote about art and memory:

Time was when memory existed solely in the minds of men and women, and the elders of the society were its treasury. As humankind evolved, art became the handmaiden of memory, encoding in images – and in stories that were recited or sung or danced – the episodes and values that defined a people. Writing was the next revolution of memory. The printing press was another. Digital electronic storage took memory to the next level but also put it at risk as never before. In every age, people believed their encoded memories to be somehow infallible, unassailable, invulnerable. They were always wrong, but the notion was pervasive and reassuring. It still is.

READ MORE – Available on Amazon or at Bookwoman in Austin, Texas.

This Is Not a White Country

We're All In This Together... 36 x 18, $650

We’re All In This Together… 36 x 18, $650

Let’s get one thing straight: America is not a white country and never has been. In the first instance, it was settled by immigrants from Asia. We call these people “Native Americans” and they had established several thriving civilizations throughout the Americas long before Europeans ever set foot here. In the year of Columbus’ momentous “discovery”, the largest city in the world was Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital in central Mexico. There were also smaller cities across the North American Midwest, integrated with one another by extensive trade networks. Spanish explorers reported on these cities, most of which had disappeared by the time the English and French arrived, due to the spread of diseases brought in by the Spaniards.

When scores of disinherited younger sons of English lords came on the scene, seeking to establish their own lordships in the New World, they found the country very unlike the British Isles, so they began using slave labor to work their fields and herd their cattle. But the slaves were not just for labor. Have you ever asked yourself what a bunch of Englishmen knew about raising rice and cotton? The answer is clear: Absolutely nothing. The experts in raising rice and cotton – and also the experts in running cattle in open ranges – were the Africans. So it wasn’t just African labor that built this country: It was African agricultural experience and expertise. South Carolina itself – where the recent atrocities at Mother Emanuel Church were perpetrated – was a majority black state for decades (see below). Other regions of America – Texas, for example – were Hispanic before they were ever Anglo, and yet we express surprise that we have so many Spanish speakers and feel that this threatens “our” identity.

Seriously, people. We need to get over ourselves and make friends with the idea that “American” is a many-colored thing. Can we not just appreciate one another?SCarolinaPopFigs

Published!

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Yesterday was euphoric. My first novel, WAY OF THE SERPENT, was published and I held in my hands an actual book that I had written. I’ve published before, but all of that had been rigidly academic work. This was different. This is a story I conceived, wrote, edited, and published.

What is it about?  WAY OF THE SERPENT is speculative fiction, set in a 22nd-century world where no one gets old and where the corporations control everything, including your personal memories. It’s about one woman’s quest for a lost year and a lost identity. The story moves from Dallas, to Mexico, to Argentina, to Costa Rica. It’s a love story, too, and it plays with the nature of human connection – to one another and to our material possessions – and the importance of shared stories.

I hope you and your friends will read it. It’s available on Amazon as both paperback and Kindle eBook.  I hope there are ideas in it that you will want to talk about. And please, let me know what you think!