I Found My Peeps at the La Jolla Writer’s Conference

Penny S. Tee Article

I recently attended the La Jolla Writer’s Conference.  They were celebrating their 15th Anniversary. It was my first time amongst writers of every type and stature. It was so much fun, a true learning experience and completely exhausting.  A community of intelligent teachers and students all with the agenda for improving their craft and desiring others to do so as well.

The atmosphere was so supportive.  I felt like I was being swaddled in a warm patchwork quilt of authors from every genre.  You know the feeling on a cold morning when you pull the blankets up around you and you want – you need, to keep in the warmth? Back at home, I missed those new friends.  So I made a decision.  I’m starting a new author’s support group in Orange County, California.  I’m calling it Writers4Writers.  They say that 81% of people have a book in them.  Cost:  FREE!  Come Join Me On My Journey, and let’s share our experiences.  Meetings will be held on the second Wednesday of the month.  Our first meeting will be January 13, 2016, at the Rancho Santa Margarita Library, from 6-8:30pm.  For more details click on the Writer4Writers tab above and register to join us.

The La Jolla Writer’s Conference is a family-run operation.  Given my own family dynamic, I couldn’t help but notice that the event is put on by a son-mother team, Jared and Antoinette Kuritz.  I have to admit I found myself fantasizing about what it would be like to work with my son as an adult.  Since my son is currently a teenager, I wondered what genre that would be, Fantasy or Horror?

Jared’s knowledge about the business of writing is extensive, and I had the privilege of attending some of his classes. He taught sessions on publishing, business modeling, timelines and one he taught with a marketing internet strategiest, Jeniffer Thompson.  These classes were so helpful to expand my knowledge and hopefully avoid some pitfalls along the way.

I took many pages of notes.  That was the problem with taking all of these conference classes, there was so much pertinent material. Where’s the microchip to put in our brains so we don’t have to absorb it all the old fashioned way?  Thankfully, they did provide the opportunity to receive recordings of the lessons, and they were free if you signed up for the 2016 conference : )

The class schedule included lectures on ways to improve your Fiction and Nonfiction writing as well as understanding the publishing industry.  Workshops incorporated topics on ways to avoid inadvertently ruining your manuscripts and screenplays.  You don’t want your character to have a gender identity crisis – you can’t just pretend to have a Va-j-j guys without lots of research.  Sounds like fun, don’t you think?

Business classes included topics on understanding the author/agent relationship, recent changes in the publishing business, how to build a kick-ass author’s website and getting branded – who are you?

This conference is operated with a “Pay it Forward” philosophy.  All of the famous authors and other literary professionals who taught these 70 classes, attended on their own dime.  There were more than 20 experts on this year’s faculty.  They were here to help and support the writers who attended the conference. I suspect this philosophical imperative combined with the fact that it’s put on by a family, set the scene for the atmosphere of encouragement and generosity that we enjoyed.

After a while, the attendees also felt like family.  There were writers there that had known each other for years and looked forward to getting together annually at the conference.  But I was new, and taking in as much as I could, as fast as I could.  Yet the comradery was palpable.  In my heart, I had found my peeps.  Writers, who knew?  It was such an egalitarian experience.  Everyone’s opinion mattered.  True, I hadn’t written a book before, but I had written many other pieces throughout my life.  Additionally, I think everyone who is a writer naturally is an avid reader with a visceral love of books.  I observed this most profoundly in sessions that were lovingly called the Red-Eye Group Read & Critique.  These were additional nighttime sessions beginning at 8:30 pm.  Anyone could bring six pages of their work to read aloud and have the other writers, editors, whoever showed up and was inclined, critique it.  These sessions could sometimes run until 4:30 am. The writing was incredibly creative, of the highest quality and a crap shoot when it came to whoever chose to speak up next.

One of my favorite reads was done by a 29 year old African American woman.  She is as beautiful as she is brilliant.  Her name is Leah Alexander, and take note, I’m sure she will be a huge fiction writer some day.  She wrote about a woman dealing with a rather misogynistic work atmosphere – yet her protagonist was young, beautiful and fierce.  Through the course of the events (I don’t want to give it away), things change and now the women are in charge.  I am from a certain generation, who had grown up in corporate life and dealt with the challenges that the Women’s Liberation movement sought to correct.  Its noteworthy how today’s young women have reaped the rewards of the efforts of our generation.  Not that everything is on an equal playing field, but it’s so much better. Here was a young woman who demonstrated through her writing the respect, confidence and freedom of expression that had been won.  I could barely contain myself in my acknowledgement of her lusciously, bold and creative writing.

Marni Freedman

Marni Freedman

I met many wonderfully kind and talented writers at the conference. One, stood out from the rest.  Her name is Marni Freedman.  You may recognize her name as she is an accomplished, produced, published and award-winning writer.  Notably she wrote the Disney film, Playing Mona Lisa.  She also chose to get her LMFT which means she’s a therapist! Based on her bio, I had chosen her to do a private read of the first 12 pages of my book. I thought who better to present her critique gently than a licensed therapist?  Additionally, I couldn’t help notice that she had gone to my Alma Mater, USC.  Once a Trojan, always a Trojan.  As I got to know her, the similarities and synchronicities compounded to the point that they were just eerie and undeniable.  There should have been some whoo, whoo music playing in the background.  We both felt it.  In Yiddish we would say, bashert or meant to be : )  Consequently, she’s working with me to edit the first couple of chapters of my book to start.  My gut says this will be the beginning of a long, heartfelt friendship.

One unique opportunity is the 7-Minute Pitch.  You have 2 minutes to say what your book is about – no notes allowed.  Of course, I knew better, but I wanted my security blanket.   I reached for my notes, and figuratively got my hand slapped.  Not in an unkind way, just a necessary one.  “You know your work, put the sheet away!” which was true, I did.  In your meeting are four literary professionals listening to your pitch. They have 5 minutes to make comments and ask questions.  The remainder of the meeting is spent on discussion. Your total time allotted is 20 minutes.  I signed up to present the book I’m writing.

All kinds of questions go through your head.  Is my story good enough?  Can I trust them with my heart – this baby I’m birthing that’s taking so f-ing long to get written? Will I take rejection like an adult?  It’s my memoir of our family’s Israeli vacation when we found ourselves at war.  It’s also about my personal inward journey for Peace as well as who is working on Peace at the grassroots level.  O.K. that’s what my mantra is for meeting people – my snippet.  But it’s hard, because I really want to convey the depth and breadth of the experience – missiles coming at us, my new BFF, Iron Dome.  Combining that with the fact that I just don’t know how to do anything succinct (this is X number rewrite and it’s still too long – or is it?), do you have that problem in your writing too? Although, exhausted and nervous, I managed to keep it together well enough at least to garner the attention of one of the agents.  For this type of meeting, I suppose one would say that I “won the brass ring.”  Later at the cocktail party when she asked me to send my query letter, synopsis and the first two chapters, I thought I heard trumpets playing in the background.  But this is just the door opening.  The road will be long and winding…

The faculty is very impressive.  There were accomplished writing specialists that ranged from authors with many published books and awards, screenwriters, journalists, agents, pr and branding experts and editors.

It was very interesting to hear the keynote speakers. They were Scott McEwen, Marie Bostwick and Michele Gable.  Each had their own story to tell.  Scott McEwen wrote the American Sniper, about the most lethal sniper in US history. It has sold more than one million copies and was made into a movie that received six Academy Award nominations.  I bought a copy of the book on hand.  This is lovingly called “back of the room sales” and is often the bread and butter for many authors.  I had him autograph it for my son and wish him Happy Birthday, since my son’s birthday was coming soon.  This book is definitely not the type of read that I’d want to cuddle up with, but there’s millions of others who would disagree with me.  I suspect my son will enjoy it. There’s so many different types of genres represented at this conference.  Everything from authors writing fantastical fiction and steamy romances to a book about what to do with your life in the third act during post retirement.

Another keynote speaker was Marie Bostwick.  She has several award-winning books to her credit including Fields of Gold, and Snow Angels, and also some very well-received novellas.  Interestingly, she also has tremendous success writing books about a niche market – quilting and knitting.  It brought back the memory of when I was in my twenties and I thought that I would make one of those loop rugs with a pretty picture design on it.  That was the first time that I had to pay for my artsy crafty project to be finished by someone else, so I could hang it on my apartment wall.  Needless to say, I didn’t buy one of her books and luckily enough for her, she didn’t need my purchase : ) I did appreciate learning how she had made a successful business by writing about a specialized market. 

Michele Gable, is the author of A Paris Apartment, an international best seller, and she has a new book, I’ll See You in Paris coming out in February 2016.  Her speech brought back memories of our trips to Paris, tres magnifique!

There were many different books on sale at the La Jolla Writer’s conference and there was one special one that caught my eye.  It was the opportunity to buy advance copies of their book, La Jolla Writer’s Conference presents Writers on Writing; Insights from Bestselling Authors.  It will be out officially in March, 2016.  It’s a great read.  It’s a collection of more than 30 authors’ essays waxing poetic on life as a writer.  It’s filled with observations, philosophies, lessons and when they first fell in love with the seductress that is writing.  It’s the revelation of the first fact that we find on our journey as writers – rewriting is still writing, right?  Well, it’s just part of the gig, so you better put your big girl panties on, and start again, ad infinitum.  I found their musings to be invaluable.  Do you love to write?  If you’re curious about life as an author, read this book.  It will be a good start to play voyeur at low cost.  Read it before you quit your day job.  You’ll probably have a few good laughs too.  Writing is not for the faint of heart, nor for the pursuit of money.  You need the thick, rough skin of an elephant to face the potential rejections. A writer has to have the sensitivity of a lover willing to do whatever it takes to probe and caress the words in the pursuit of the readers’ satisfaction.

The atmosphere was so inspiring that a few of us afterwards talked about getting together in Orange County on a monthly basis to continue to support each other.  That’s why I formed Writers4Writers.

I’m looking forward to next year’s conference.  Will you be there, too?  Antoinette Kuritz, at my request, inscribed my LJWC Writers on Writing book for me.  She wrote, “Penny, Welcome to the LJWC family.” As Dorothy, says in the Wizard of Oz, “There’s no place like home.  There’s no place like home.”  Join Me On My Journey…

Share this Post