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I am a protagonist in a world of unending dilemmas which contain hidden meaning that it is up to me to discover. I am the artist of my life. […] I am on my own side, rooting for myself.

~ Tristine Rainer, Your Life as Story

 

I am writing a novel. There. I’ve said it. While friends and colleagues closest to me are aware of this and ask me frequently how the book’s coming along and when will I be finished and do I have an agent and what house is going to publish it and where can they pick up a copy, I don’t often share the fact that my creative ambitions are that lofty.

First, it’s somewhat embarrassing. I mean, really, most people have at one time or another thought of writing a book and, well, haven’t. To date, I am still in that camp. It seems a childish fancy, like becoming a ballerina or professional baseball player. It’s far less brazen to tout my mere nonfiction career as a guest newspaper columnist and blogger. Secondly, the immediate question (“So, what’s it about?”) is unvarying and my convoluted answer to it just as predictable. By the time I’ve babbled on about the Bildungsroman form and my quirky, self-destructive, train-wreck-of-a-protagonist who is both the hero and antihero of her own life and how elusive close third person narration is and my unresolved conflict about the manuscript’s classification as literary fiction, memoir, or autobiographical fiction and whether it’s best aligned with the nuances of Young Adult, New Adult, or Christian or some combination of commercial genres, both the polite conversationalist and I are sorry he asked.

In my defense, there’s not an easy response or requisite two-sentence elevator pitch to that inquiry—at least not yet. Any novel is a massive undertaking, and mine, which spans the life of a woman from middle school to middle age and is currently only a scant two hundred pages, aspires to Lambesque extensiveness. My inability to encapsulate the tale’s plot or “aboutness” in fifteen seconds notwithstanding, I have been seeped in its storylines and characters for decades. It is undoubtedly for this reason and not some authorial vagary that I struggle to distill it to two or three lines à la a book-jacket blurb.

Time of Death’s essential premise of an extraordinary yet subtle, otherworldly battle for one ordinary soul; its probing of universal questions and ambiguities about predeterminism, free will, and divine intervention; and the implied distinctions between physical death and spiritual death swirl unreconciled in my mind, and I have pursued an understanding of these obscurities both consciously and subconsciously since childhood. Still, now that the themes have shown up in the pages of what I hope and must presume each time I sit down to write (lest the last eight years of effort be for naught) will amount to a bestselling memoir or, better yet, “a brilliant debut literary behemoth,” not having a simple response to this simple question feels uncomfortably spurious.

As if I needed yet another reason to feel like a writer fraud.

Most of us who write describe ourselves in the action tense: “I write.” More often than not, it comes out as “I, um, well, I sort of…write.” The effect is far less pretentious than proclaiming, “I’m a writer,” especially when the admission is mumbled sheepishly with the accompanying shrug, as, of course, it always is, like an involuntary tic. It must be a common affliction among writers—established, emerging, and wannabe. Books have been written about it—You Are a Writer by Jeff Goins is one of the more insistently assuring—and, apparently, conference directors plan for it.

It’s not often that the Association of Writers and Writing Programs hosts its annual conference and bookfair in Southern California. During the last four years, the event was held in Minneapolis, Boston, Seattle, and Chicago, making attendance inconvenient and costly for those of us living in the Southwest. So when I learned that the 2016 “Big Literary Conversation” would be held in Los Angeles and that the likes of Jonathan Franzen, Joyce Carol Oates, and Cheryl Strayed would be hobnobable, I registered immediately.

The week before the event, I sat at my local Starbucks and perused the workshop and reading schedule, planning my days. There were the usual panels on creative nonfiction and memoir writing, the socially conscious essay, market demystification, and the benefits and pitfalls of the humanities Ph.D., which I highlighted and asterisked in anticipation. But the panel that caught my eye and captured my curiosity most was among the first day offerings: “In Case You Think You Don’t Belong Here: Imposter Syndrome and AWP.” Imposter Syndrome? The paragraph about the session described it as a frequent phenomenon that must be managed and overcome to have a successful writer’s conference experience.

Truthfully, it seemed silly to me. After all, attendees had ostensibly registered; they had paid for the right to feel comfortable, no matter their “place in the literary landscape.” My own place is admittedly tiny—miniscule, really, but I wasn’t remotely worried and thought any anxiety of others was unwarranted. Besides, these conferences are enormous and attended by hundreds. One could be a complete charlatan, a tax accountant or lawyer or, say, property manager in writer disguise for all anyone would know.

The first morning, I hung my identification lanyard around my neck and strode boldly into the heart of the conference: the bookfair. The rows of tables and exhibits of publishers, presses, journals, authors, and schools were endless. I recognized most of the names and titles and was already a subscriber to many of the publications. I even bumped into Mary Norris, the Comma Queen herself, and bought a second copy of her Confessions just so she could sign it. I was on sure footing. These were my peeps. I was, as my farm-raised mother used to say, like a pig in mud, in my element and enjoying myself thoroughly.

But as the day wore on, the exhibits began to reflect all I hadn’t accomplished. While I was familiar with Ploughshares and Tin House and subscribed to The Paris Review and Poets & Writers, my work had never appeared in any of their pages. Incrementally, my ventured status as a bona fide writer (ahem, one who writes) diminished to apprentice to aspirant to avid reader. By the middle of the second day, I had begun to work in “I have an MFA” into almost every conversation with exhibitors and other attendees. I knew why I did it; it was my subconscious way of establishing my credentials and legitimizing my presence. I recognized it almost immediately. It was the Syndrome.

Goins has plenty to say about this condition and knows what it takes to conquer it. Before he became a bestselling author and writing coach, he questioned his own authenticity: “Who was I, pretending to be a writer […] when I hadn’t been published or paid for my work?” While it would seem the antidote to Imposter Syndrome is landing an agent, signing a book deal, or cashing the advance, it’s actually much simpler (or much harder, depending on your perspective). “Embracing your identity as a writer,” according to Goins, “is mostly a mind game.” In other words, you’re a writer when you believe and say you are. Getting published and being paid may be the ultimate goal, but it’s not what catapults you to writerdom. Sitting down each day and doing the work does. Because you do have to actually, um, write.

Back home at my desk, I realized that I had experienced numerous bouts of Imposter Syndrome throughout my life and that they had always occurred when I was attempting something new and hard and risky. Each time I sat for the first time in an MBA or MFA classroom or the conference room of an esteemed company with people far smarter than I or stood shivering at dawn in a marathon corral waiting for the gun to fire, I had felt the presence of its collective symptoms and heard its mocking accusations. You don’t belong here. Who do you think you are? You think you can actually do this? You are so audacious!

Why, yes. As a matter of fact, I am.

Aspiring to do more and be more doesn’t make one a fraud when the desire and ambition are supported by genuine effort. Some things, too, are simply harder and riskier than expected and require immense perseverance. So, I’ll keep nourishing my grand impulses and pushing for remarkable outcomes. I will embrace my dreams in all their glorious audaciousness while recognizing they may not be realized overnight. And as both the author and heroine of the novel I know I will someday finish, I am rooting for my protagonist Fawn in each passage and, in doing so, am rooting for myself.

 

Albert Lynch, before 1912

Albert Lynch, before 1912

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The 2016 Los Angeles Times Festival of Books begins Saturday, April 9, at 10:00 a.m. and continues through Sunday at 5:00 p.m. at the University of Southern California.

The Festival is a wonderful opportunity to mingle with hundreds of authors, attend panel discussions with bestselling novelists and industry experts on writing and the publishing business, and enjoy live music, visual art, and cultural entertainment by some of the world’s most creative and celebrated artists.

For a full list of authors and panels featured at this year’s event and to review the program schedule, visit the website at http://events.latimes.com/festivalofbooks.

See you there!

 

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The Pen on Fire Writers Salon is pleased to present an evening with crime fiction writer and three-time Edgar Award winner T. Jefferson Parker on Tuesday, March 8, at 7:00 p.m.  This monthly speaker series, hosted by Barbara DeMarco-Barrett, features authors, literary agents, and others involved in the field of writing.  The events take place in the atmospheric Scape Gallery in Corona del Mar and entail readings, literary discussions, and book signings.

tjefferson-parker_credit-Rebecca-Lawson_jpg-e1360622068380-300x300Parker’s first novel, Laguna Heat, made The New York Times Best Seller list in 1986 and was made into an HBO movie.  Parker has since written more than twenty novels dealing with crime and intrigue in Southern California, including Pacific Beat, Summer of Fear, The Fallen, Storm Runners, L.A. Outlaws, Iron River, and The Border Lords.  His latest novel, Crazy Blood, is scheduled for release in March.

This event also features Elizabeth Marro, whose work has appeared in The San Diego Reader, The Gloucester Daily Times, and elsewhere.  Her debut novel, Casualties, is1328__BetsyMarro_x_006_M-Version-2-280x300 about the wars we fight overseas and within ourselves and has been hailed as “moving and full of heart” by New York Times bestselling novelist Caroline Leavitt.

Advance tickets are required to guarantee a seat at this event.  To read more about Parker, Marro, or the Pen on Fire Writers Salon and to purchase tickets, visit www.barbarademarcobarrett.com.

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With the first of November upon us, writers everywhere have stockpiled food and bid farewell to their family and friends as they hole up in their writing caves until December 1.  November is National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo, an annual internet-based creative writing event that challenges participants to write a new 50,000-word novel in thirty days.

The project was founded by Chris Baty in 1999 with twenty-one participants, and the official NaNoWriMo website was launched the following year.  The number of registered participants has grown steadily every year, and the affiliate Young Writers Program and official podcast were developed in 2005.  In 2010, over 200,000 writers registered for the challenge, and nearly three billion new words were written.  A summer version of NaNoWriMo (Camp NaNoWriMo) was introduced in 2011.

The novel can be on any theme and in any genre.  However, it cannot be a project already in progress.  Writing of the new novel cannot have commenced prior to midnight on November 1, and the 50,000-word mark must be reached by 11:59 p.m. on November 30.

While I’m not working on a new novel during NaNoWriMo, I am committed to writing twenty-seven new pages of my developing novel or approximately 6,700 new words—not bad for a writer with a full-time day job.

For a comprehensive list of FAQs and guidelines, visit the website at www.nanowrimo.org.

Have fun, and good luck!

 

NaNoWriMo

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Early-bird registration for the largest and most essential literary event in North America is now open to attendees, presenters, and exhibitors through October 30.  The Association of Writers & Writing Programs is hosting its Annual Conference & Bookfair at the Los Angeles Convention Center and JW Marriott March 30 through April 2, 2016.

Each year AWP Conference attendees participate in “the big literary conversation” and networking, with unparalleled access to the most influential organizations and voices in contemporary literature. The 2016 conference will feature 2,000 presenters and more than 550 readings, lectures, and panel discussions on modern fiction and poetry, writing technique, publishing, and teaching, and hundreds of presses, literary magazines, online journals, and literary organizations will be exhibiting at the upcoming bookfair.

Featured presenters include keynote speaker Claudia Rankine, who is the author of five collections of poetry and recipient of the National Book Critics Circle Award, as well as Rabih Alameddine, Richard Bausch, Peter Ho Davies, Jonathan Franzen, Kelly Link, Joyce Carol Oates, Roxana Robinson, and many other award-winning authors and poets.

With more than 12,000 writers, teachers, students, editors, agents, and publishers in attendance, the 2016 Conference & Bookfair promises to be the most informative and inspiring literary gathering of the year.

For more information or to register, go to www.awpwriter.org.

 

ConferenceArchive

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Last month I attended the Orange County Christian Writers Conference.  Having attended the event previously in 2012, I had vacillated before registering earlier this year.  My experience three years ago was a high point in my writing life, as an excerpt from my developing novel caught the attention of publishers and editors and won three fiction awards.  Astonished and elated, I had vowed to dedicate all my free time to completing the book and pursuing publication before the end of the year.

Within weeks, however, the demands of my career and graduate school and life thwarted all my good writerly intentions.  With my creative energy allocated to finishing my course work at Chapman University and numerous guest columns and blog posts, progress on my novel stalled.  There was simply no time to write more than a few chapters for my MFA workshops, and I labored over those small accomplishments.  While I did return to the novel at full speed in 2014 in order to fulfill my 150-page thesis requirement, I have often felt disappointing and even disobedient to God by not finding a way to finish.  Even worse, as the years passed, I began to diminish the merits of the recognition my excerpt had received and question what I had believed was my lifelong calling.  It shouldn’t be this hard, I thought.  Perhaps I heard God wrong.

I had a multitude of excuses for not attending this year’s conference, but a niggling feeling urging me to go prevailed.  I decided to register and attend Friday night’s activities.  I could always skip the Saturday workshops and appointments I had scheduled if I felt at all uncomfortable or out of step with the other attendees.  After checking in, I helped myself to a paper cup of coffee, said hello to my tablemates, and settled in for the keynote address by Sharon Elliott.

I liked her immediately.  She was boisterous and frank, assuring us that rejection and self-doubt would unquestionably be part of our writing and publishing quest, just as they were for countless bestselling authors.  And then she said the most powerful words of the night, the weekend, and probably my year: “Relax.  You heard right.  You’re in the right place.”  Wait, what was that?  Is she talking to me?  In case we missed it, she said it again: “You heard right.  You’re in the right place.”  And at that moment, I knew that I had and that I was.

The rest of the conference was just as propitious and exciting.  Significant connections and new friends were made, and complicated questions about the current publishing industry were answered.  I left on Saturday evening knowing exactly what I needed to do to continue the narrative I began so many years ago.  I heard about platform-building and social media optimization and online branding.  I learned how to submit to magazine editors and why it’s prudent to always maintain film rights.  I was even convinced to…wait for it…tweet, something I vowed I would never do.  Most importantly, I know that I haven’t imagined or misunderstood my calling.  I can relax, because I heard right.  He said “Write.”

 

ENFANT~1

 

This post was published first on the American Christian Fiction Writers website on May 14, 2015.  

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April is National Poetry Writing Month, also known as NaPoWriMo, an annual creative writing event that challenges participants to write a new poem each day from April 1 through April 30.  NaPoWriMo coincides with National Poetry Month, which is celebrated annually in America and Canada.

The project was founded by Maureen Thorson in 2003 and modeled after NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, which challenges participants to write 50,000 words of a new novel in the month of November.  Since its inception, the number of registered participants has grown steadily every year, and many writers’ organizations coordinate NaPoWriMo activities.

For a comprehensive list of FAQs, guidelines, and daily prompts, visit the website at http://www.napowrimo.net.

Have fun, and good luck!

 

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