Sunday, August 15, 2010
Willamette Writers Conference
August 6-8, 2010: My trip to Portland and the Willamette Writers' Conference was a lot of fun and a bit of work. I got up at 3:30 a.m. so I'd be there for breakfast at 7:30 but the roads were so sparsely populated with autos I got in almost an hour early. Not a problem. I went into the hotel and read a paper until the room opened that had the badges and packets for the volunteers. Soon after that my friend Dave "Evan" Lewis showed up and we hit the chow line. The food was plentiful if unspectacular. We paid $27-a-day for it but that was our only expense for the whole affair. Regular attendees paid as much as $500. Over the next three days we split our time between our work in the pitch practice room and watching panels. I was lucky on day one--most of the people who pitched to me were young ladies. But it wasn't all beer and skittles and creamy thighs. There were some characters who stick in my mind no matter how hard I've tried to dislodge them. To wit:
Meatloaf. This woman looked like Meatloaf, or his fatter, homelier sister. She had a book she couldn't explain, she ate enough at the meals to feed Bangladesh, and at one panel she slept the whole time. Dave and I happened to be sitting in the row behind her as she snoozed. I stage whispered "Meatloaf! Meatloaf!" a few times but she slept right through it.
Superfly. A 6'6" black guy in a suit a pimp would love who hasn't written anything. He's on a local access TV show and some days stands at one end of a bridge wearing a tux and Mickey Mouse ears. He passed out DVD's of his show, talked too loud in the pitch practice room, and seemed to be fundraising for some crackpot scheme.
Nervous Nellie. A woman who's written a memoir and can't figure out what to emphasize in her pitch. I got the impression she was about to break out into a crying jag at any moment, and damned if she didn't use me twice to practice her pitch. Twenty minutes before she was to meet with an agent she still didn't know what to do. I wanted to smack her in the head and tell her to quit fretting and leave me alone.
On the up side there were the 14- and 15-year-old girls who'd written novels. At 15 I was learning to smoke, and at 14 I hadn't accomplished even that much. Most admirable kids. Most of the people I worked with in pitch practice were normal, intelligent, and affable folks, of course, but they aren't as fun to talk about.
Better than all that was spending time with Dave and our rocker friend Tough Jim Gaston. Also Laurie, a friend of Jim's and member of his band, Rock Residue. And dinner out each night and a trip to Powell's City of Books after the con was over. All those books and I forgot to look for a couple of titles I've been wanting for years. I spent $75 anyway, half on some books for my younger daughter.
The programs I saw were a study in contradictions. Memoirs were out/Memoirs were hot. Don't use a professional editor to revise your manuscript/Do use one. Use e-mail to submit or query/Don't do it. Even the woman who proclaimed that any attribution other than "said" should be avoided found exceptions this year.
I don't know if I'll be able to attend next year, being a poor pensioner and all, but I'd like to. Being among so many writers and wannabes is refreshing.