Plenty could be said about the weekend. I was looking forward to learning, being encouraged and renewed, meeting new people, and plugging into the literary scene of Boston/New England. I also left with a new reading list and goals for the year as a writer.
GrubStreet is the ultimate consortium for any writer or publishing professional to get involved with. They have classes from experienced authors and instructors with MFAs. The quality of the classes rivals the ones I’ve taken in university. There are resources about publishing, networking with more experienced ones, and opportunities to grow.
After getting to the hotel and caffeination, I attended a panel “Writing on the Hyphen: Capturing the Authentic and Avoiding the Stereotype” by Marjan Kamali, Henriette Lazaridis, and Jennie Wood. I heard the perspective of an Iranian-American, Greek-American, and a straight woman writing a story about a teenage transgendered boy stuck in a girl’s body. I must admit that this workshop gave me the bit of affirmation that I needed as a writer of color. Life itself is hard for an third culture kid, first generation Indian-American—and it’s no different being in the publishing industry. The topics were pitfalls such as switching from novel to trying to explain culture, resorting to terminology, or allowing your negative experiences and pain to negatively affect the novel. Jennie Wood candidly shared the challenges of writing about the other when she isn’t part of the community. The frustrations for all of them are: 1, fighting publisher and reader expectations of stereotypes vs. authenticity, 2, being viewed as representative. Just because my protagonist is Indian (and so am I), everything that happened in the novel must be me especially my character’s sex life. 3, being pigeon-holed. For me, that’d be a writer who only writes about Indian women. As Marjan Kamali said, “What if I want to write about Australia in my next novel?” 4, the idea that only people can write about their own and others dare not touch it.
If you are writing about the other, I’ve heard this advice before. If you are a writer of a culture that historically had the power and privilege and choosing to write about a marginalized group, have some distance and an attitude of humility and genuine concern and openmindedness. Readers can sense and are sensitive to authenticity. They will respect that. Examine your own prejudices (we all have them). Confronting your own prejudices is vital. Otherwise, you may come across as patronizing. A savior complex can be off-putting to anyone regardless of background.
My favorite take-away was “We are all ethnic.” We all need to deeply examine our own prejudices, wounds, resentment, and anger. I’m still trying to process certain traumatic life events. As a writer, it is important to put the axe down and process your experiences. There is nothing wrong in seeking therapy. Heck, I’m even seeking therapy to undo years of manipulative, incorrect charismatic religious counseling. It’s important to have a distance. Escape away into your characterization, plot, and writing itself. Otherwise, your characters will become dead marionettes passively and clumsily moving along to your personal agenda instead of coming to life in your pages. That’s not an easy task. Remember when you first enjoyed writing or making up stories. I remember the sheer joy of imagining stories and escaping into my tales without fears, resentment, anger, and grief. Do it not only for yourself, but to effectively tell a story that needs to be written.
Second Session. Sunil Yapa “These Scaffolds Aren’t For Hanging: Using Dramatic Structure in Fiction” The next session was about plot. I tend to be a character-driven writer. I’m drawn to memorable, well-developed, unique characters. Plot doesn’t come as naturally to me than setting, place, and characters. But, I have the themes and main ideas. The challenge is how to translate the big picture of thematic ideas into concrete, specific scenes. It seems that especially with literary fiction, discussing plot is almost taboo. Recently, the divide between literary and genre fiction is blurring. After all, can’t a person who writes “couture” literary fiction also enjoy fashion or write lifestyle articles? It’s been a discussion that I’ve been part of in the near past. It’s nice to hear it again. I enjoyed Sunil’s down-to-earth approach and the several references to Finding Nemo.
Query Lab. This session was entertaining as it was informative. It was a critique of query letters by two agents in the style of The Voice. Attendees will submit their query letters, which will be read out loud anonymously. When both agents raise their hands, the reader will stop and they will critique it. I will share additional querying tips that I learned in another post.
Book Promotion by Anjali Duva. I admit that book promotion and marketing is daunting. Anjali breaks it down and reminds you to relax and focus on your strengths with ideas. Don’t have this attitude of “Oh, I must…” and see it as a chore. Instead of “I must”, I will say “I will” and do what is right for you. If it’s not you, then don’t do it. Insecurities are normal. I get nervous speaking at university or college setting because I fear that some intellectual will attack me or ask me a hard question that I can’t answer. And, I’ll look like an idiot. There’s the comparison to another person who seems to have it all together. From the talk, I gathered enough information and inspiration to create a marketing & promotional plan for my novel in progress. Currently, it’s still in the first draft form.
Sunday Keynote Panel: The panel was about promotion, getting discovered, and marketing. I gathered more information and current advice. The conversational, down-to-earth tone made me less nervous and excited about marketing and promotion.
Networking: My goal was to meet at least 2-3 attendees, 2 grub street volunteers, 2 instructors, and stop by a publisher or vendor booth. I did it! I talked about my writing and met new writer friends, connection with instructors, and people interested in editorial and book design services. I miss designing and editing fiction. I enjoy it a lot more than academic editing.
New Goals: I’m refreshed, renewed, inspired, and confident to take it a day at a time. I will stop comparing myself to others. My goals will be realistic. I want to kill the overachiever in me, or at least subjugate it in its place. In the past, I’ve told my students not to compare themselves to others. Now, it’s time I follow my own advice.
Upcoming posts related to the conference and writing
- My writing wishes and goals for the year
- Networking advice
- How to make the most of a writer’s event
- Making peace with yourself before you pick up the pen