Sun Ra - Column for 11/22

The Baltimore Writers' Conference 2004

The weekend before last I went to the Baltimore Writers' Conference.

As both of you who follow this column regularly know, I've written a book. It's finished, 220,000 words long, and better than at least half of the drivel that packs the fiction section of bookstores now.

Getting it published is more difficult than writing it was. And writing a novel is not easy.

Anyhow, in the interest of meeting one of the secret cabal of people who can get my book published, I've been going to Writers' Conferences. They're not cheap - the Baltimore Conference was $70 at the door, for which I got a keynote speech, four workshop sort of ventures, and lunch. Also wine and cheese at the end, but I didn't stick around for that.

As far as getting my novel published, the affair was a total bust. I met some very nice people, but they were basically all on my side of the table. I daresay real agents go to great lengths to disguise themselves so as to not constantly be accosted by authors of varying compentence thrusting sweaty manuscripts at them.

My seventy bucks was not entirely wasted. The keynote speaker was Stephen Hunter, who has written a series of novels I very much enjoy. To my great surprise, he was an excellent public speaker. The two gentlemen who introduced him - actually, one introduced the other one, who introduced Mr. Hunter - are both professors and yet their speeches were laden with "ums" and conveyed very little lust for life. Mr. Hunter's speech, on the other hand, was powerful, had not a single "um", and made good use of a full rhetorical toolbox.

So that was certainly worthwhile. It fired me up for writing, yes it did. Of course, I have little problem writing these days. Witness Cant. I have a problem finding people who can get me published.

The workshops were uniformly useless. I attended four; the fiction writing workshop did not give me any tips on writing better fiction, the publishing in literary journals did not give me any additional insight on publishing in literary journals, the how to work with an editor workshop... well, that was useful in that it told me I shouldn't pay for editing and that my agent and publisher would set all that up for me... except I can't find a damn agent.

I can't find an agent, by the way, not because any of the ones I've contacted have even looked at the manuscript. I can't find an agent because agents are flooded with manuscripts they don't have time to read. I am quite positive that if I kidnapped ten agents and actually got them to read my book, a third of them would agree to represent me. Well, they would, were it not for the kidnapping thing.

Anyhow, I've even forgotten the fourth workshop I went to. And it's a week later. That's how good they were. Hell, it was like paying $70 to attend a Saturday full of boring, useless classes. Except for that keynote speech. That was good.

Oh, and the director of the NEA came by and gave an excellent presentation on the decline of reading in America. You can read about it on their website. It's worth a look. Mr. Gioia, although a Bush appointee and therefore tainted by evil, is an excellent speaker (with a nifty baritone voice) and very informed and concerned about his subject matter.

So, two good presentations. Worth seventy bucks? Perhaps. I do regret the loss of the whole Saturday, though. Those speeches took up maybe two hours between them; the rest of the time was a total waste.

Am I going to do it again?

Yeah, probably.

Freaking publishing industry.

- Sun Ra

Columns by Sun Ra