Writers Helping Writers

A few weeks ago, I attended the Wordstock Festival in Portland, OR.  There I enjoyed the presentations of many authors and strolled through the booths.  One of the exhibitors was a writing team named Dielle and Jeff.  I had seen Jeff strolling around wearing nothing but a kilt and a leather vest with a horn affixed to his forehead.  You tend to notice people like that.  At the time I dismissed him as being one of Portland’s free spirits.  Yeah, we have people who make those sorts of lifestyle choices in this neck of the woods.

Later, as I strolled through the exhibits, I saw a lady painted purple with goat legs and hooves and two little horns on her forehead.  Sitting behind the woman as she talked to the kids who strolled by was kilt guy.  So, I took a picture because I realized they were in costume for their booth, purpose unknown to me at the time.  I didn’t want to draw attention to my photo-taking because I’ve had punk rockers in London chase me down insisting I pay them for the privilege of having taken their photos. While I didn’t expect kilt guy to tackle me and confiscate my cell phone, I was still a little nervous about taking it without asking.  Plus, they were chatting with children visiting their booth.

I moved on, but I posted their picture on my blog as part of my weekly ROW80 update.

A few days later, Dielle found my blog, most likely through Googling–a smart thing for any writer to do. She introduced herself and her writing partner in the comments to my blog post and explained that she and Jeff are the authors of Sambuka Black and its accompanying activity book.

So I thought that was pretty cool and responded to her comment, thanking her for dropping by my blog and explaining the picture.

Dielle returned a few days later and offered to send me a copy of their book.  I thought that was awesome too, and you never say no to a free book, right?

So, guess what showed up today?

Wasn’t that nice?  The book is illustrated and features mystical creatures such as those Dielle and Jeff portrayed and also dragons!  Now, I happen to love dragons, so that makes it full of win.  The activity book contains puzzles and pictures, all from the book.  Wonderful!  I haven’t read it yet, but I certainly shall.

To Dielle and Jeff, thank you for the books and for the internet friendship.  Writers helping writers is a wonderful thing, though I am not sure exactly who’s helping who here. LOL

If you’re interested in learning more about Sambuka Black, you can visit the website at www.sambukablack.com or visit the authors’ site: www.chezchampignon.com

2011 Wordstock (Portland)

This past weekend, I attended my first writer / reader convention–Portland, OR’s Wordstock. It was and it wasn’t what I expected.

The Misses:

Not much free stuff…at all.  I’d hoped for free books, bookmarks, pens, pads, etc.  I got nothing but a 3/4 inch diameter button proclaiming the festival.  I found this particularly annoying on day two when I realized I’d forgotten a pen and could find no free ones anywhere.

No agents trolled the area for amazing new talent such as myself, and those that were there kept very low profiles and/or told us to leave them alone and go to their websites.  They stated they found being approached by so many writers overwhelming.  Fair enough.  I just hadn’t expected that.

Book signings were limited to the speakers.  Certainly a few intrepid authors had their books available for purchase / signing, but they paid for that right by renting a booth.  The other authors were either mobbed or stood lonely at their signing podiums waiting for readers to approach them.  Frankly, the whole signing thing felt a little intimidating as the popular authors had really long lines.  Those whom I’d heard speak felt like unapproachable Gods / Goddesses.  I know this is my own perception because I’m sure they all put their pants on one leg at a time and are probably lovely people.

Most of the publishers who rented booths were local indie presses.  I didn’t see any of the BIG names there, names like Random House, HarperCollins, Scholastic, Avon, Mills and Boon, etc.  I didn’t even see any of the larger e-publishers like Carina, Wild Rose Press, Ellora’s Cave, Samhain (these being all Romance e-publishers, of course).

Most of the other booths were writing services like editors, self-publishing support services (e.g. Amazon Createspace had a booth), the Wall Street Journal (offering a high pressure deal that came with a massive coffee table book–I didn’t have the heart to say I don’t read newspapers anymore), local literary press magazines, non-fiction writing suppliers, libraries raising money, etc.  All worthy exhibitors, just not what I wanted or needed.

I didn’t get to see two big name authors I really wanted to see:  Ursula Leguin and Scott Westerfeld, nor did I get the books I brought by Maggie Stiefvater and Mr. Westerfeld signed.  Our schedules just didn’t align correctly.

The Hits:

The authors who spoke or read were AMAZING!  My favorites were:  Jennifer Egan, Steve Almond, Chelsea Cain, Moira Young, Ellen Hopkins, Lauren Oliver, Kimberly Derting, Patrick Carmen, Lidia Yuknavitch, Cheryl Strayed, and Lindsay Leavitt.  All these writers impressed me either as speakers and/or they whet my appetite to buy their books.

I mean why wouldn’t I want to read a YA book about a girl who falls for the boy sitting in front of her after she is required to write a journal entry about an inanimate object and she chooses the back of his head (Leavitt’s Sean Griswold’s Head), or the female teenaged Dexter (Cain’s Gretchen Lowell in The Night Season and its sequels), or the girl who falls in love right before she is scheduled to lose her ability to feel the emotion (Oliver’s Delirium).

On the titillating side, you have to admire a woman who can write so openly about her descent into promiscuity after losing her mother to cancer (Strayed’s memoir Wild).

I’m not normally one for literary fiction, but I think I’ll have to buy Pulitzer prize winning author Jennifer Egan’s novel, A Visit from the Goon Squad, after her reading and explanation of how and why she wrote a chapter in Powerpoint!  Plus, her ability to explain in such intelligent terms her technique for layering lush writing techniques left me feeling vastly unworthy–like comparing refrigerator art to Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling.

The sheer volume and variety of choices when it came to speakers more than made up for the lack of exhibitors handing out trinkets and trash or those of current interest to me.  I filled up two days moving from stage to stage to hear authors from many genres speak on a wide variety of topics that weren’t only about their books.

Here are the sessions I attended over the two days (an hour each):

  • How to win over agents and editors
  • Book Trailers: A driving force?
  • Jennifer Egan (reading)
  • The death of print and digital humanity
  • Pushing the limits of form and fiction
  • Teens facing fears in fiction
  • What’s with America’s Sexual/Literary hangup?
  • Vampires are so last season
  • Mean Girls
  • Smells like teen spirit
  • Ellen Hopkins and Jen Violi (readings)

I give props to the festival organizers who did an awesome job keeping everything organized, for selecting terrific moderators for the panels, terrific authors to speak.

The festival featured a heavy Portland, OR flavor with most of the authors either living in or near Portland, OR or the Pacific NW.  This I REALLY appreciated.  I’ve always known my part of the world was home to many authors, but I’d no idea just how many.  Color me impressed and proud of my hometown colleagues.  It must be the rain that inspires us to write.  Must be.

Jennifer Egan

Chelsea Cain

Ellen Hopkins