A Great Evening Out

This is the first time in the last 4 years that I am not attending the Annual PNWA Conference in Seattle. The PNWA Conference in 2009 was my first, and it truly launched me on the path to becoming a professional author. I mean, I had written a couple of novels by then, but they were bad novels. I had no idea of how the publishing world worked, nor did I know how much work it was to turn bad writing into good writing. 2009 was a bit of a shock to my system, and left me dazed and slightly devastated, but it also had some very good moments. It’s where I first met Pam Binder, the PNWA President, and where I first met my agent Sally Harding.

There are two major reasons I am not attending this year’s conference. First, and most obviously, I am still in the recovery phase for Guillain-Barre Syndrome. Four months ago, when I should have been booking my reservations, I was still wondering if I would ever be able to walk to the mailbox and back. Now, it turns out that I probably could have attended and survived, but I didn’t know that at the time. But I still couldn’t have done the 16 hour days like I did last year, and I didn’t want to worry that I was going to have a major setback by overdoing it.

The second reason was work related. I’ve missed a lot of work already this year, and my coworkers have really picked up the slack. It’s summertime now, and many of them are taking their vacations, so more of the day-to-day client support tasks have been falling to me. Taking two days off work wasn’t really practical with the office short-staffed.

But I couldn’t stay away from the conference completely. So last night I made a brief appearance, and this time, I brought my wife along to meet everyone. It was wonderful to see Pam and some of the other volunteers I worked with the last few years. I also tracked down Jason Black, one of the people to whom I owe so much of my success. Yesterday, he launched his latest novel, Pebblehoof. I had the honor of reviewing his outline for this book last year, and also doing a beta read on an early draft and providing feedback. It’s a great middle-grade book set in the American West during the 1800’s, and a pleasure to read. I highly recommend it, and hope to soon do a re-read and a review on the published version.

Just the brief exposure to the conference crowd, and all the writers there—the hum of the collective nervousness and talent—left me champing at the bit to get back to writing on a regular basis. I won’t miss out on next year’s conference. It’s just too important to my career as a writer to forgo two years in a row.

But the highlight of the night was sitting down with my agent, Sally Harding—and her literary assistant, Rachel Letofsky—for drinks and appetizers prior to last night’s conference dinner. Sally, Rachel and I have talked many times on the phone, and I’ve met Sally a few times at the conference, but I had never met Rachel in person, nor had either of them met my wife, Lisa. This was the first time we could just sit down and chat, and I wasn’t trying to sell something. We talked books and hobbies and television and personal background, and the hour flew by.

When people talk about how important it is to find the right “fit” between an agent and an author, I couldn’t agree more. Sally and I just “fit” perfectly. We’re on the same page with where my writing needs to go, and on strategies for success. We talked about important things I need to do now to prepare for being successful (i.e. join Toastmasters to learn how to speak in public, and practice reading my books aloud so my speaking doesn’t turn people off from my written words.) We talked about how my writing has changed over the past couple of years, and how I made the jump from (and I’m paraphrasing here) “good stories” to “well-written good stories”. Had I not had an agent I trusted, I wouldn’t have made the effort to recognize where my writing was weak. I trust Sally (and Rachel) and I am so happy that she is my agent. Everyone should have that kind of relationship with their agent. If you don’t, you should either be looking elsewhere, or looking deeply at your own responses to criticism and seeing if you are not listening when you really should be.

After the appetizers and the fantastic, productive conversation, we went our separate ways. My wife and I briefly toured the conference book store, and I wished I could have bought a bunch of books. Perhaps next year. Right now, my shelf is too full of unread books and magazines to justify buying any more until I can get back to my regular reading habits.

Finally, to top off the evening, my wife and I caught a movie. We wanted to see the new Batman flick, but were just a bit too late for the start of the movie, so we saw The Amazing Spiderman instead. It wasn’t the greatest movie ever made, but it was entertaining, and better yet, it was our first late night out since I got sick back in February. As of this morning, I don’t feel much the worse for wear.

Life is returning to normal. Slowly, but surely, it is returning to normal.

And I can’t wait to get back to writing again.

2 Comments on “A Great Evening Out

  1. Glad to hear you had such great evening out, Joe. Also Its very interesting to me to read about your pointers on finding the right agent. When I get further along with my book I’ll be talking to you for some more pointers! By the way, we saw the Spiderman movie last night too and quite enjoyed it.

  2. Ironically – I think I talked to Rachel right before she met you! I spoke to her briefly outside the hotel at PNWA on Saturday and she told me how excited she was to meet a client with Sally for dinner.

    This was my first year at PNWA and it was an amazing experience. I feel like I finally came out of the closet as a writer. I came away with a lot of requests and a whole shiny new group of writer friends.

    I’m glad you’re doing better and back on the path to writing. Best of luck!

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