April 17, 2014

An Interview with Dean Bartoli Smith

by Steve Berberich

Dean Bartoli Smith

Dean Bartoli Smith

The theme of the 2014 Maryland Writers’ Conference, on Saturday, April 26, 2014 at the Conference Center at the Maritime Institute in Linthicum Heights, is “Feed Your Writing Habit.” Some writers are poets, some novelists, and still others prefer the short story format. They all think about crossing over, to stretch their gifts into other writing genres, even different and media.

Dean Bartoli Smith will be speaking at the conference on the tools and mental approach to crossing over in his workshop, “Putting It All Together. ” Smith has published poetry, prose, and non-fiction books. Below, he tells in his own words how he does it. He recently published a book in August on the Baltimore Ravens football teams run to the winning the Super Bowl, which he calls “part an account of the 2012-13 season, part love letter to Baltimore. ”

Steve Berberich: What does your workshop title, “Putting It All Together, ” mean to you?

Dean Bartoli DBS: It refers to melding the genres together: poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. The first book I published was poetry in 2000. My poems are of a very narrative nature and can be easily turned into nonfiction or even fiction. In Never Easy, Never Pretty about the Baltimore Ravens, the foundation is poetry. Every section starts with a poem by American poets and it grew out of poems I had written about football. As for my writing habit, I need all the genres all the time.

SB: What can you tell authors about the mental process of making such a transition in genre?

DBS: Poetry opens all possibilities. From a poem, I will try to revise it into more accessible forms. I will write in between the lines of the poem. Here is an example from the book: I’ve spent my life running under a Johnny Unitas touchdown pass. To me that is a line of poetry. I’ve also had journal entries become poems. I start breaking apart the linkages and varying the syntax and something new arises. Memories drive poems and longer forms emerge. I wrote a poem called “Chow Mein” for my book of poetry American Boy. It was the last night my parents were together. I was seven and remember the plate of chow mein–the noodles and the chicken and the light from a bright chandelier. It stayed there until morning on a white tablecloth in front French doors. Mark Strand once told me that the success of any kind of writing is based on how well it evokes a shared sense of suffering.

SB: How did your love of a particular topic, football or perhaps the city of Baltimore, help you become a better writer through the years?

DBS: It’s about the imagination and for me sports are a kind of launching pad. It is one of the topics I like to write about from an imagination perspective. I am interested in the way motion and athleticism, especially when slowed down, approach art. For others, it may be a particular painting that inspires a poem. That’s happened to me too. Whatever that springboard is, that font or units of energy called psychic energy, that is what really cultivates the mind. That is what nibbled on the outskirts of poet Stanley Kunitz’ consciousness in his poem “The Wellfleet Whale,” for example after the townsfolk gathered around a whale that washed up on the beach.

SB: What’s new with Dean Smith these days?

DBS: I’ve become more interested in writing more long-form things after being forced by my publisher to produce the Ravens book in 90 days. And going back further, when I started doing journalism in 2008-9, those deadlines and word counts prepared me to write the nonfiction book. It gave me the necessary discipline. I’ve got a poetry manuscript entitled “My Father’s Gun” that’s ripening in its 15th year and a detective novel that needs a rewrite.

SB: My guess is that a lot of your subject matter and inspiration comes from your love of Baltimore. What can you offer others in terms of how they can find their Baltimores?

DBS: I know this place. It is an acquired taste like the mustard in the back fin of a [blue] crab. It is the muse in a lot of ways, for me. Those poems come easier. They seep into the consciousness like water into the cracks of a sidewalk. Write what you know and the rest will take care of itself.

April 10, 2014

Questions for Literary Agent Shannon O’Neill

by Carolee Noury

Writers know that it’s a good idea to get to know agents before pitching to and/or querying them. In that spirit, here’s an opportunity to meet Shannon O’Neill, Agent at Lippincot Massie McQuilkin. Shannon will be one of four agents participating in the practice pitch sessions at the 2014 Maryland Writers’ Conference. Shannon is an agent for a New York firm who lives in DC–offering the best of both worlds for our Maryland writers: a “hometown” rep with NYC connections.

D12_201_019Carolee Noury: What’s it like working as an agent in DC? While it’s not remote, it’s also not New York or California.

Shannon O’Neill: DC is full of articulate and driven people. There’s a strong intellectual climate here; it’s a very literate city. I feel fortunate to be based here with so many universities, think tanks, and nonprofits in my backyard. And, oh yeah, the government just so happens to be here too. That means a large pool of interesting people who are experts in their field, and plenty of aspiring writers.

I love that DC is such a livable city. It’s quite beautiful, easy to navigate, and has so many free cultural offerings. The Smithsonian museums are my favorite, especially the National Gallery and the Museum of the American Indian. The free concerts at the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage can be pretty great too.

CN: What trends are you seeing in popular science these days?

SO: The narrative is ascendant in most all types of nonfiction these days. It’s not enough to have breakthrough findings or brand-new scientific discoveries to share; you really have to be able to tell a great story and to connect with your readers.

CN: What makes fiction “upmarket? “

SO: Upmarket, to me, basically means writing that aspires to last beyond the season in which it was published. Beyond being entertaining or well-written, upmarket fiction has staying power. It resonates with a reader on a deeper level. To write in such a way requires a mastery of the craft. Other forms of fiction do not necessarily make the same demand.

Recent examples I love include Anthony Marra’s A Constellation of Vital Phenomena and Claire Messud’s The Woman Upstairs.

CN: What writing book(s) do you wish rookie writers would read before they start writing?

SO: I wish that people would read more, and read more widely before they tackle their own book. There’s no “how to” guide that I’d recommend; instead I’d urge people to read or return to to the classics of literature, or make sure you’ve read every recent book on your subject that’s intended for a general audience if you’re writing nonfiction.

CN: What books are you reading right now?

SO: My most recent reads are Ben Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station, Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be, and Nabokov’s Pale Fire.

CN: What’s a typical “a-ha” moment when you know you want to take on someone’s project?

SO: It’s different for every project but for fiction, I’m usually drawn in by the voice or the authority of the writing within the first few pages, or the first chapter.

For nonfiction, a strong platform matters but so does the originality and marketability of the idea. It’s often after a phone call or a meeting that I really feel confident that the writer and I are on the same page and would work well together.

CN: How many hours do you spend working in a typical week?

SO: That’s a really good question–one that I need to work harder on quantifying. Whenever I am reading–the news, book reviews, blogs, articles, literary magazines–I am constantly thinking about whether this person could write a book, or this article deserves to be expanded into something more robust, or the expert cited in a piece might have more findings to share. I need to work harder at unplugging!

April 9, 2014

The Conference Preview Edition of Pen in Hand is Out!

The Spring 2014 issue of Pen in Hand, the quarterly newsletter of the Maryland Writers’ Association, is hot off the presses! The issue (PDF) is available for download here.

In this Annual Conference preview issue, you’ll find:

  • Interviews with speakers and agents by Steve Berberich and Carolee Noury
  • Program synopses for all four program tracks
  • Exclusive tips for making the most of your conference experience

Download your free copy of Pen in Hand here. Back issues are also available on the MWA website’s Newsletter Page.

March 30, 2014

Register to Win a Free MWC Pitch Session

Have you been thinking about registering for the 2014 Maryland Writers’ Conference but haven’t gotten around to it yet?

You can register here right now.

Now is the time—anyone who registers for the conference between March 30th and April 5th will be entered into a random drawing for a free practice pitch session with the MWC agent of your choice!

A hearty MWA thank you to member Charles Evans for donating the session for this drawing!

For a bonus entry, share this with your Twitter connections by referencing @MarylandWriters !

Or click here for a tweet that is ready to go! (Limit of one extra entry per person; but please tweet as often as you’d like to! See more Fine Print below.)

Maryland Writers’ Conference Hashtag:
#MDWriters 2014

The winner will be notified by email on April 6. (Winner will also be announced on our Twitter and Facebook feeds.)

Fine Print: The free pitch session cannot be used as a refund for a previously purchased session. It can only be used for a new session. We’ll do our best to schedule you for the time you prefer, but sessions are selling quickly. If you don’t want to use it, let us know and we’ll give it to the second runner up.

See you at the conference!
Carolee


Carolee Noury, Vice President/Acting Treasurer
Maryland Writers’ Association

March 26, 2014

Good Writers Should Know Their Tools: an Interview with Gabe Goldberg

by Paul Lagasse

Sometimes, it seems that writers today need to be masters of technology. It’s not enough just to be good at writing; we’re also expected to know how to do formatting and layout, graphic design, audiovisual production, and online marketing. Do writers really need to be techies in order to do their jobs?

“Writers don’t need to be a techie anymore than I need to know how to build or repair a car,” says Gabe Goldberg, a technology communicator and consultant who has has contributed extensively to consumer publications, co-authored three McGraw-Hill technology books, and written hundreds of computer press and website articles. “But when I buy a car, it’s up to me to be an informed consumer because I’m going to live with that car for many years.”

Technologies for Knowledge Workers
Gabe Goldberg

4:15-5:00 in the Business of Writing Track

Technology advances faster than the eye or mind can follow, but what tools and practices do 21st century professionals (from tech novices to experts) really require to survive and prosper in their careers? This presentation provides important but easy-to-forget tips and resources for online, mobile, and computing productivity/safety, aiming at essentially everyone: employees, freelance workers, work-at-homers, retirees. It covers procedures, opportunities, and suggestions from session participants.

Find out more about Gabe Goldberg on the Maryland Writers’ Conference’s Speakers, Panelists, and Agents page.

Gabe says that many of the questions that people ask when shopping for a car can be applied to their search for the right hardware and software. Will this help me do what I need to do better? Does it have the features that I need? Am I paying for things that I don’t need or won’t use? “The universal tool set includes the ability to evaluate your other tools and learn to use them effectively,” he says. Gabe will be helping writers ask and answer these questions for themselves at the 2014 Maryland Writers’ Conference, “Feed Your Writing Habit,” on Saturday, April 26 at the Conference Center at the Maritimg Institute (CCMIT) in Linthicum Heights.

Gabe says there are two common misconceptions about technology that writers and other knowledge workers (people who locate, consume, produce, structure, and distribute information) have. The first is that whatever tool they’re using right now is the tool that they *should* be using. The second is that technology is inherently reliable and infallible.

“As technology changes, you may be missing opportunities to save time and use technology as a force multiplier,” he explains. “You need to stop thinking about what you need to get done and focus instead on what you need to be able to do that.” At the same time, says Gabe, people also need to take precautions to ensure their work and their personal information is safeguarded, because no matter how much you eventually come to rely on that technology, it can–and at some point probably will–fail.

Gabe speaks frequently about technology to diverse audiences, from senior citizens and baby boomers to techies, while avoiding jargon and “technobabble.” In his experience, there are several reasons that writers develop an aversion to technologies that could otherwise help them. “Sometimes it’s because the skill doesn’t come to them naturally,” says Gabe. “Other times, it’s because they weren’t raised immersed in the technology–so they’re recent arrivals, called digital immigrants. It doesn’t fit their self image. They see themselves as creative intellectuals and see the tools as removing them from what they need to be concerned with.”

To this latter problem in particular, Gabe offers some practical advice. “The antidote is to recognize that, with discipline, you can keep problems small.” This helps avoid slipping into a spiral of procrastination and avoidance. “You’re going to have to do it sooner or later,” Gabe reasons. “It’s not going to be better later, and you’re going to feel better if you don’t have the obsolete or problematic thing sneering at you from across the room for a long time.”

To get going, Gabe says, you have to “allocate some mental bandwidth” to focus on the tools that you are using now and on the tools you need. He encourages people to read product reviews, visit tech centers, and join user groups. “Try some blank-paper thinking,” he suggests. “Ask yourself, ‘OK if I was starting from scratch, what would I be using?’”

Finally, says Gabe, it’s important to maintain a sense of perspective about technology. When you’re having trouble getting a piece of hardware or software to work while others around you are using it without problems, don’t feel embarrassed, frustrated, or inhibited. Instead, try to remind yourself that those people had to learn how to use it, too.

“Look, you weren’t born knowing how to drive a car, or dance, or sew,” Gabe says. “You’ve spent your life learning how to learn. This is just one more thing to learn.”

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Here are some of Gabe Goldberg’s publications that may be of interest:

Articles on Freelancing

Technical Works

Consumer Interest

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March 21, 2014

Agent Lauren Clark Joins the MWC14 Pitch Practice Team

by Carolee Noury

The Maryland Writers’ Conference team is excited to announce the addition of a fourth agent to take practice pitches at the 2014 Maryland Writers’ Conference, “Feed Your Writing Habit,” on Saturday, April 26 at the Conference Center at the Maritimg Institute (CCMIT) in Linthicum Heights. Lauren Clark, a DC-based agent for the New York City firm Kuhn Projects, answers the questions we asked agents Jessica Negrón, Shannon O’Neill, and Jessica Sinsheimer in the earlier post No Need for Nerves.

About Lauren Clark:

Lauren Clark is an agent with Kuhn Projects and is based in Washington, DC. She has previously worked for ICM/Sagalyn and earned her Master’s in English/Creative Writing from the University of Cincinnati. Under the nonfiction umbrella she’s interested in great writing about politics, history, current affairs, science, business, and sports, and under fiction she’s on the lookout for literary fiction and political, legal, and/or tech-centric thrillers.

Find out more about Lauren on the Maryland Writers’ Conference’s Speakers, Panelists, and Agents page.

Carolee Noury: What should people expect when they attend a pitch session with you?

Lauren Clark: An author should expect a casual, straightforward conversation in which she’ll tell me about her book, and I’ll respond with either thoughts or a request that she send me more of her manuscript. If I don’t request further material, I’ll do my best to explain my decision. If she has any specific questions–about her synopsis or query, etc. –I’d be glad to try to answer them if we have time.

CN: What advice would you give to authors in preparation to pitch?

LC: Practice! When I’m preparing to pitch an author’s book to an editor, I practice my pitch, and it makes a big difference, especially if I’m reaching out to an editor I don’t already know. It lets me scrap all the wording that might have seemed beautiful on the page but wound up feeling clunky in my mouth.

Also, when I practice my pitch on someone who doesn’t work in publishing, that person will sometimes point out very obvious holes in the story I’m telling or the argument I’m making, and that feedback is invaluable.

CN: Will you share a memorable pitch experience–good or bad?

LC: This wasn’t a formal pitch session experience, but someone once called me and pitched me his book while he was driving in heavy traffic. The call wasn’t scheduled, which meant that he could’ve called me at a time that was more convenient for him, and we hadn’t met previously, so my first impression was that he was distracted, frazzled, and not very serious about his book. Five seconds online would have let him prevent some of his basic mistakes.

I can’t think of an official pitch session that went badly enough to stand out.

CN: What made you want to be an agent (aside from loving books)?

LC: I really enjoy matching an author with an editor who will support that author and his work, and who will enthusiastically push that author to produce his best work. It’s rewarding to enable the love-fest that can happen when an author is excited to work with an editor, and that editor is thrilled to be working on the author’s book.

March 13, 2014

Facing Down Trauma With Writing: an Interview with Tom Glenn

by Steve Berberich

Writing can be used to do more than entertain, inform, and educate; it can also help authors cope with traumatic events that they have experienced. Author Tom Glenn writes stories from a perspective of his post-traumatic stress injury from the Vietnam War and his personal trauma from working with AIDS patients in the early days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Tom will be one of over 30 distinguished speakers participating in the 2014 Maryland Writers’ Conference. His session, co-presented with Shirley J. Brewer, is titled “Healing Through Writing: Survival and Craft.” Here’s a sneak preview of some of the themes and topics that Tom will be discussing in his presentation.

Many of Tom’s prize-winning short stories came from the better part of the thirteen years he shuttled between the U.S. and Vietnam on covert intelligence assignments before being evacuated under fire when Saigon fell. His writing is haunted by his five years of work with AIDS patients, two years of helping the homeless, and seven years of caring for the dying in the hospice system. These days he is a reviewer for The Washington Independent Review of Books where he specializes in books on war and Vietnam. His Vietnam novel-in-stories, Friendly Casualties, is now available on Amazon.com. His article describing the fall of Saigon and his role in it was published in the Baltimore Post-Examiner this summer, and Apprentice House has just published his novel, No-Accounts. His web sites are tom-tells-tales.org, vietnam-tragedy.org, and friendly-casuatlties.org.

Healing Through Writing: Survival and Craft
Shirley Brewer, Tom Glenn

9:15-10:00 in the Craft of Writing Track

In this presentation, novelist Tom Glenn and poet Shirley J. Brewer explore the dark world of trauma: PTSI (Post Traumatic Stress Injury), accidental death, murder, and violence. Healing takes place when the writer faces the trauma, and begins to order chaos through writing. Survival is possible. Transformation is within reach. Hope may once again light the path. Participants will learn tech- niques to address personal traumatic experiences through their own writing.

Find out more about Tom Glenn and Shirley Brewer on the Maryland Writers’ Conference’s Speakers, Panelists, and Agents page.

Steve Berberich: How does writing help?

Tom Glenn: Writing down what happened forces you to face trauma. Soldiers and Marines I knew who suffered from post-traumatic stress injury (PTSI) wanted to ignore it and pretend it wasn’t there. They didn’t want to talk about it or think about it. But until you face the trauma and come to terms with it, it continues to haunt you.

SB: What do you do about that?

TG: The only way to overcome PTSI is to bring the crucial experience to the conscious level and think it through. Writing down what happened and owning your own role is one of the best ways to do that. Once it’s on paper or screen, it exists outside of you. You’ve begun the job of bringing order and dispelling chaos. Then you can start coping with it.

SB: You refer to the condition as Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI), and not Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Why?

TG: The term “disorder,” according to Webster, is a derangement of function, an abnormal physical or mental condition. “Injury” is much more precise. It connotes that external forces have acted upon the victim and inflicted damage. PTSI is a wound in the same way that a bayonet laceration or bullet wound is. Two writers I quote in the presentation, Karl Marlantes and Grady Smith, both refer to PTSI damage to the soul.

SB: Do you recommend specific writing techniques to heal that wound?

TG: Shirley and I offer these guidelines: Be specific; don’t write immediately after the traumatic event; be honest; avoid excessive sentiment; make use of the unexpected and surprise (meaning describe what the normal situation was before the wound was inflicted) ; listen to your own inner voice; and don’t be afraid, write it.

SB: Your own inner voice?

TG: Very important and very hard to do. Sometimes the inner voice is buried deep in the unconscious. The psyche tries to suppress horrific experiences to prevent suffering. But our inner voice often speaks the truth when the conscious mind is trying to deny. Sometimes you have to put yourself into a sort of hypnotic state and let the suppressed memories flow out.

SB: How can this approach help someone to be a better writer?

TG: I believe that the best fiction comes from the unconscious. In my case, I get an idea in my mind, much of the time from my Vietnam experience where really God-awful things happened. That image won’t go away until I confront it. At the conscious level I piece together an answer to the question, “how could this have happened? ” That becomes the germ that finally turns into a story. My very best work flows out of me in an almost semiconscious state in which my mind sees the images of what happened and I write it all down as if translating a movie to the page.

SB: For five years in the ’80s, you volunteered to care for men dying of AIDS. How does that relate to writing about traumatic experience?

TG: That effect on my psyche was very similar to PTSI. I did everything I could to help them and in the end I couldn’t stop their deaths. And that really hit me. I was having nightmares and flashbacks. I said to myself I’ve got to work this out. So again, I began to write about it. The result was my novel, No-Accounts.

SB: In that book, you created fictional characters to tell the story. How does a fictional character in these situations help you deal with trauma and perhaps help you be a better writer?

TG: First of all, this was a story I had to tell. My memories wouldn’t leave me alone. So I put myself in a dream-like state and watched as the characters appeared and spoke to me. They became more real to me than the people I see in my daily life. I asked them questions, watched them, listened to them. They told me their story and commanded me to write it down. Once the book was done, I experienced a peacefulness I hadn’t known before. Did it make me a better writer? I don’t know. The best I can say is that I must write about things that are important to me. The other way to express that is to say that I write what my psyche tells me to write. If I violate that dictum, the result is trivial.

March 10, 2014

Exhibitor Tables at the Maryland Writers’ Conference

The 2014 Maryland Writers’ Conference is offering a limited number of tables in the exhibitor area for authors, publishers, editorial service providers, and others who offer products and services of interest to writers. The details are below.

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Join us at our annual conference on April 26, 2014. Our theme will be “Feed Your Writing Habit.” Many experienced writers as well as new writers will be coming for a great day of instruction and networking. Being a part of this event, as an exhibitor, will assist in showcasing your organization to both professional and future professional writers.

The Maryland Writers Association has made special arrangements with the Convention Center at the Maritime Institute to provide tables for exhibitors. There is a limited number of these tables. All tables decisions will be based on a on a “First Come” basis. The cost of the tables is as follows:

Table (including lunch for one person, electricity, Wi-Fi, an easel for signage): $150.00
Additional person (includes lunch): $65.00

Any person or organization wishing to have a table for this exciting conference is encouraged to contact Gary Lester at conference@marylandwriters.org.

All exhibitors are responsible for collection of any Maryland State Sales Tax. All exhibitors are required to abide by the Terms of Service Agreement.

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February 17, 2014

Writer’s Block is Trying to Tell You Something: an Interview with Alix Moore

by Steve Berberich

Writer’s block is traditionally viewed as an obstacle to overcome through willpower. To author and speaker Alix Moore, writer’s block is a mindset that can be changed through greater self-awareness. In this article, Alix discussed the sources of writer’s block and how to take the first steps toward developing the self-awareness you need to overcome it.

Alix will be one of over 30 distinguished speakers participating in the 2014 Maryland Writers’ Conference. Her session is titled “Getting Unstuck: Why Writer’s Block is Your Best Friend.” Here’s a sneak preview of some of the themes and topics that she’ll be discussing in her presentation.

She has created and presented dozens of seminars and workshops for teachers, writers, and those who work with animals. She is the president of the Montgomery County chapter of the Maryland Writers’ Association. When not writing or presenting, Alix is raising chickens, training cows, or harvesting vegetables on her sustainable homestead in Clarksburg.

Here is a closer look at Alix Moore:

Getting Unstuck: Why Writer’s Block is Your Best Friend, and How to Start Writing Again
Alix Moore

4:15-5:00 in the Art of Writing Track

Writer’s block is one of the most misunderstood parts of the creative process. Creative blocks are necessary and valuable moments of pause that ask us to slow down, open to our intuition, and, sometimes, to rethink our path. In this experiential workshop, participants will learn to recognize the signs and types of writer’s block and use practical exercises to release self-judgment, activate intuition, and get back to inspired writing.

Find out more about Alix Moore on the Maryland Writers’ Conference’s Speakers, Panelists, and Agents page.

Steve Berberich: Your website states that everyone has an inner creative genius. Is that related to your topic?

Alix Moore: Yes, it is related. That inner, creative part of us doesn’t operate like a machine. When we aren’t writing, it’s not that we’re broken and need to be fixed; it’s that we need to pause, to listen, and to learn something about ourselves.

In this workshop I want to unpack some of the myths that people have about writer’s block. A lot of times people think of it as a sort of character defect. They think, “I’m not trying hard enough. I need more willpower.” I don’t think that’s the problem at all. There’s usually something much deeper going on. There is real information to tap into in the fact that we are stuck.

SB: Why does writer’s block happen?

AM: I think that one of the big causes is fear. We are blocked creatively because voices in our head say, “You are not good enough; your work sucks; you are never going to get published.” Or, we are afraid of actually being successful and being visible because being “out there” can attract a lot of negative attention from people.

SB: You mean that people will “throw dirt?”

AM: Exactly! I know writers who have gotten negative messages, even hate mail, online, and it comes from just being visible and just simply being who you are. There is a lot of pressure in this society to conform, to not stand out.

SB: What do you mean?

AM: Look at celebrities in general. If people are too good at what they do, someone will find some way to try to bring them down and make them smaller. That makes them feel more comfortable perhaps.

If someone really shines brightly in their own unique way, that can illuminate places in their own lives where maybe they are not standing in their own truth, not being fully the creative persons they would like to be.

SB: Getting back to writer’s block, how do people get unstuck?

AM: First they have to understand what programming they already have around writer’s block. What goes on in your head when you are in that situation? That is the first thing to do: develop an awareness. The second thing is to consider alternatives. I will be exploring what could be going on to cause you to think you are not self-disciplined enough.

SB: As a writer, what helps you cope with writer’s block?

AM: For me, it always comes down to meditation. In meditation, we access that inner voice that’s often drowned out by the day-to-day world. In the workshop I will take people through a very short meditation and talk about the meditation tools that they can use to find out what is really happening, and to cope with it.

SB: How did you find your audience?

AMI have been a teacher for many years. I am also a nonfiction writer who writes about things that have changed my life. The minute I learn something, I want to share it with other people. The style of meditation I teach now completely changed my creative process and I wanted to share that.

So, I just started blogging, being visible online, holding workshops, and participating in my writers’ community, which is MWA!

SB: Is there anything else you can tell me about writer’s block that we haven’t covered so far?

AM: Sometimes we are blocked because we are in a period of growth. If we are trying to step into a new understanding of ourselves or a new amount of public success, or trying to move into a new direction, sometimes the creative process just has to shut down for a while. It is as if we are a website undergoing maintenance. But [our creative ability] will always come back in a new and better way.

SB: Have you ever experienced such a thing?

AM: Yes. I had to learn to step out of my ego. I really thought I was pretty hot stuff when I was younger. I was operating in an ego perspective that said, “How cool am I?” but I was actually really insecure. I had to let go of that insecurity about whether other people would like me and what I do, and find my own ability to like myself. During that personal growth period I could not write for a few months. It was like somebody turned off the faucet.

SB: Do you have a message that you want to share the conference?

AM: I want people to know they have so much power, that they can shine so brightly if they can just work through their fears and not worry about other people’s opinions.

February 10, 2014

Ten Questions for Literary Agent Jessica Negrón

by Carolee Noury

Writers know that it’s a good idea to get to know agents before pitching to and/or querying them. In that spirit, here’s an opportunity to meet Jessica Negrón, Associate Agent at Talcott Notch Literary Services. Jessica will be one of three agents participating in the practice pitch sessions at the 2014 Maryland Writers’ Conference.

Jessica Negrón chose a career in publishing over her previous lab research plans. We’re lucky that publishing tempted her away.

Carolee Noury: Who’s your favorite living author?

Jessica Negrón: This is a dangerous question. It’s so hard to choose just one! If I absolutely must pick one, it would be Juliet Marillier.

CN: Have you met her?

JN: No.

CN: If you could, what would you ask?

JN: If I did have the chance to speak with her, I’d probably ask about her wonderful characters. She creates such rich, layered worlds filled with generations of fascinating people. I’d love to know what these characters were up to off-page, and how she keeps track of so many of them! I’ve been hooked on Marillier since I discovered DAUGHTER OF THE FOREST when I was thirteen, and the young women in her books had a profound effect on how I viewed myself growing up. I couldn’t have asked for braver role models.

CN: Was there a moment when your career as an agent snapped into place? What was that like?

JN: My journey as an agent is really just starting, but I think the moment things really started to feel real was when I closed my first deal (SHRIKE, Harlequin 2014). Before that, it’s so easy as a new agent to doubt yourself and worry about people taking you seriously. Like anyone, we’re our own worst critics, and it’s easy to feed into the doubt bred by comparing yourself to others who are further along in their careers. That first deal is such a validation and a relief.

CN: What experiences prepared you most to be an agent?

JN: I’ve been in sales for almost my entire professional life, so that really prepared me for the sales aspect of being an agent. I was a telemarketer for a long time, so I’m no stranger to trying to convince people to throw money at me. The book industry is its own beast, however, and I would never have been able to make my way here without the internship positions I held in the years leading up to my becoming an agent. These positions gave me such an insight into the world of publishing and provided the strong foundation I needed to start my career as an agent.
CN: What makes Talcott Notch Literary Services an unique agency?

JN: We’re a very small, boutique agency located in Connecticut. I think our size makes us more capable of developing closer relationships with our authors. Our smaller lists allow us to provide more personal attention to the people we work with, so no one feels like they’re a product on a long, automated assembly line.

CN: When you reflect on some of the best advice you’ve gotten in your life, what comes to mind?

JN: By far, the best advice I’ve ever received came from a beloved mentor of mine from college. I’d started to doubt the path I’d chosen and he asked, “When you’re old and retired and get to do things for pleasure without worrying about money, what do you want to be doing?” If it wasn’t for him, I’d probably still be in a lab coat. Successful and important work, but not the work of my heart.

CN: What would your perfect day look like?

JN: I’d wake up and be bombarded with phone calls from editors offering each of my clients 13-figure deals for books to be printed and distributed an hour later, which would then immediately hit all the bestseller lists, win all the prizes, and inspire world peace. Then I’d celebrate with a nice cup of spicy hot chocolate.

CN: Approximately what percentage of writers follow your query guidelines?

JN: As of answering this question, I happen to have exactly 200 queries in my inbox. Of those, 48 have a subject line that does not follow my submission guidelines. That’s 24% just looking at subject lines, never mind peeking inside the email to see if they’ve included the materials my guidelines ask for. Unfortunately, it’s an indicator that the writer has not done the proper research on me, and many times, the story isn’t something that fits my interests (usually not a genre I represent), something that could easily have been avoided had they read my guidelines.

CN: If being an agent doesn’t work out, and I hope it does, what would your next career be?

JN: I wouldn’t mind being a pro poker player.

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