I attended the LDStorymakers Writers Conference in Salt Lake City last week. This morning, I woke up wiser because of it. I’ll call it my epiphany at the Sheraton.
Step back in time to 1992. A couple friends and I took a spring break trip to Moab, Utah. If you haven’t been there, then I suggest you go now—there’s no place in the world like it. One morning, we decided to drive down to Lake Powell and take a leisurely hike along the steep cliffs and desert rocks at its edge. Since we had planned on a short hike, we left our food in the car. None of us had a watch; the blaring sun overhead was our only indicator of time. The hike was fascinating. The more we walked, the further we had to go—the mystery of what could be hidden over the next set of stones was alluring. As the sun dipped lower in the western sky, we realized two things: we had no idea where we were and we were hungry. Solving each problem meant one thing: we had to find my car. It was obvious at that moment that if we backtracked along the lake shoreline, it would be well after dark before we arrived back at the location where we had started. Quickly, we ruled that out. Instead, in our teenage wisdom, we decided to wander east across the desert. Somehow, someway, we would meet either a road or a marker that would lead us to the car.
So, we hiked east. The hike was exhausting. If you’ve ever seen a movie and some actor is stumbling in a desert, not sure of where to go or how long until he dies, then you can picture us in your mind. We were pathetic idiots climbing the desert rocks without food or water, searching for my car. I don’t know how it happened, but just as the sun dipped out of sight, we mounted a hill and discovered my car—right in front of us. Never in history has anyone been so excited to see a brown 1985 Nissan Sentra! Fate, it seemed, didn’t intend for us to die that day. I’m grateful for that. We ate everything from my small cooler and quickly jumped into the car and drove north. (Incidentally, the ride home was noisy because we had broken out one of the back passenger windows. The day before, I had lost my car keys at Arches National Park; we had to break into the car and hot-wire it to drive.That's another story.)
When we reached civilization, a.k.a. Moab, we stuffed ourselves at a fast food place and then returned to the campground. One of the very cool things about that campground was its fabulous shower facilities. I say that now, but I actually don’t remember how fabulous it really was. I was hot, filthy, and exhausted, but I still had my pride; I took a long cold shower to wash away the day. Stepping out of the shower and rubbing my hair dry with my towel, I glanced into the mirror to see how badly my face had burned. What met my gaze shocked me. The sun had bleached my hair completely blonde. Not a little. Not highlights. I was as blonde as blonde could possibly be. I had started the day with dark brown hair.
How does this possibly relate to the conference? I’m not sure. I wanted to tell that story for some reason.
Here’s what I know: I told myself there would be 5 things I would discover this week. I discovered all of them, and a lot more. Allow me to answer my own questions now.
Do I have what it takes to be an author? YES!
What are authors like in person? They are wonderful, helpful, creative people, working as hard as they can to promote writing and books of all sorts. They love readers and they love other writers.
What are agents and editors like? They are the hardest working people in the business, in my opinion. Think about it—they work AFTER HOURS reading thousands of author submissions hoping for the chance to find the next gem to fall in love with. They do this at no charge. We, as authors, aren’t paying them. They aren’t making a dime to do that. They accept our queries and our typewritten hopes and dreams because they love readers and writers as much as we do. Yes, the agents and editors I met impressed me.
What is my writing missing? Fantastic sparkle and a little more love. The writer’s bootcamp allowed me to see a few things in my story that really matter to the reader. I was thrilled at the feedback and grateful for my group.
On Friday, I had a wonderful experience. A panel of agents and editors listened as a moderator read the first page of submitted samples. Live and in person, they indicated where they would stop reading and what they thought of the story or the writing, offering honest critiques. My sample was the first one chosen. I have NEVER been as frightened in my life. When the moderator read the title, “On Fallen Wings,” I felt my chair try to tip over. First? Mine was first? I was dead! I tried to ignore the pounding in my ears as the moderator began reading. Then I noticed silence. No one else even whispered a word. My written words filled the conference room until page one was done. An editor spoke next. His words: “The writing felt sensual.” Wow. I had never imagined that response. I was tempted to read my own story after that. Then he said the writing was lyrical. An agent nodded their agreement. There was some feedback—excellent, by the way—and at the end, a unanimous opinion: I would read more. That’s all that mattered. Nobody jumped up and said, “Send me pages, now!” In fact, no one was interested; it wasn’t their type of story. That didn’t matter to me. I watched the faces of editors and agents as they experienced my work for the first time. That was a moment I’ll treasure for the rest of my existence. If you get the opportunity to sign up for an event like that, DO IT! Sending my submission for that session was one of only a few smart choices I’ve made this year.
What can I offer to everyone? A great, well-written story.
For the past few years, I’ve been wandering in the desert, curious to discover what’s next. Attending this writers conference was like finding my car again—grateful that I wasn’t lost. The feeling I had when I woke up this morning was much like the surprise that I experienced after drying my hair. I’m different. I’m very different. People who might have known me before I started writing wouldn’t recognize the type of person I am today. That’s a good thing. I’m wiser in so many ways.
My Epiphany: We’re not alone at what we do. Yes, we sit in quiet corners, sheltered from the world as we escape into our own imaginations. We seek to write what hasn’t been done and if it has, we try to do it better. We hide our works and protect them like our children. We constantly battle rejection and doubt. Our nights are often lonely and filled with the clatter of keystrokes rather than the chatter of friends. Still, we’re not alone. All around us there are writers, agents, editors, and fans cheering us toward future success.
I am writing for you. I have a fantastic story to tell and will do everything possible to give you nothing but the best. I PROMISE.