Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Writer Compares Conferences by Tracy Neis

The molting deer made for a great first impression. They were quietly grazing by the driveway as I pulled into the Marriott hotel for the 2011 Pikes Peak Writers Conference, completely ignoring me, and I – a displaced suburbanite from Orange County, California – sat in my car and gawked at them.

This was my second writers’ conference (I’d been to the Southern California Writers Conference in Newport Beach last September), but as soon as I saw those bedraggled-looking deer, I knew my upcoming weekend was going to have a very different feel than my last writers’ retreat.

Both conferences were similar, to be sure. They each offered a wide range of writing workshops, read-and-critiques, agent meetings and publishing seminars. But the general mood in Colorado was much more low-key than it had been in California. Like those laid-back yet resilient deer staking their claim outside the hotel, this Rocky Mountain conference had an unpretentious and down-to-earth quality which was both inspiring and lovely to behold.

I’d treated myself to the SoCal conference as an indulgence, so I didn’t sign up for any critique sessions or agent pitches.  I was there to have fun, and didn’t want to face the harsh realities of rejection. Instead, I spent most of my time in Newport Beach attending fun writing workshops and seminars.

But I won a scholarship to this conference, so I figured I’d take a more serious approach to the weekend. I mostly attended agent and critique sessions this time around. Fortunately, I didn’t have to face that much rejection – the critiquing editor liked my work, and the agent to whom I pitched asked to see some more of my writing.

However, I also indulged in a few playful sessions at Colorado Springs as well. PPWC offered me the chance to chat with experts in Renaissance Scotland, Paranormal Fiction and Horror Screenplays, and I couldn’t pass by these unique opportunities! I also enjoyed marveling at the differences between the two conferences’ expenses. While each weekend meeting had an asking base-price of about $400, the PPWC included meals, parking, critiques and agent pitches in that lump fee, while the SCWC offered only the Saturday banquet in the cost (all meals and one-on-one sessions with agents and editors cost extra in California, and the SoCal parking vouchers? Well, let’s just not go there!).

The main similarity I found at both conferences was the camaraderie of the writers. It doesn’t seem to matter where you go anymore – this country is full of wannabe novelists! But we’re all very supportive of each other, and the Colorado writers I met at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference were a particularly friendly lot. Now that I’m back on my familiar stomping grounds in Orange County, I’m going to miss them.

And those molting deer? Well, I have to admit, I felt very sorry for them as I was leaving the hotel. There they were again, shedding their winter coats and trying to nibble on the new springtime shoots of grass – while a May Day snowstorm was blowing hard against them! But perhaps they were teaching me a lesson too. The publishing world can be a harsh place to live – almost as harsh as a Colorado mountainside. But we writers need to stick our nose to the grindstone and keep on doing what we need to do to survive!

Tracy Neis is an aspiring novelist who lives in Southern California. Her first non-fiction book, "A Collective Biography of African American Poets," has been accepted for publication by Enslow Publishing in New Jersey. When not working on her novels, she writes resumes for Orange County's oldest resume writing service, AAA McKinstry, and occasionally posts articles for The

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