Pictured from Left to Right:Anastasia Werner, workshop leader and poet, Katherine R. Harrison, editor, Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, Emily Seife, editor, Scholastic Press, Karen Stober, secretary for Women Who Write, Heather Alexander, editor, Penguin Books and Marietta B. Zacker, agent, Nancy Gallt Literary Agency.
By Deborah Amadei
Women Who Write, Inc., a NJ based writer’s collective with 100 members, held their first writer’s conference Saturday, September 17 at the Madison Community House. Many non-members also came out for this well-attended event.
After Marie Ascolese, the organization’s president, gave the opening remarks, all attendees dispersed to one of three all–day writing tracks on poetry, prose and children’s literature.
Marietta Zacker, an agent at Nancy Gallt Literary Agency gave a talk for the children’s track entitled, “You Had Me at Hola: Looking at Submissions Through the Eyes of an Agent.” Her central theme was making a good impression. She used an anecdote from her own life as an example. Because her mother worked for an airline, she was able to fly for free. However she was expected to dress as a representative of the airline in a blouse with a collar, skirt, and heels. When she tried to fly wearing a t-shirt and jeans, she was barred from flying.
Writers need to be professional too. Their work needs to be ready to go before they submit to her. Query letters need to be brief, no more than three paragraphs.
Two editors conducted the afternoon session: Katherine Harrison of Random House and Emily Seife of Scholastic Publishers. Picture book authors need to be aware that character- driven stories are in demand. Keep up with the current market and if you work in rhyme, it should be impeccable. For middle grade and young adult, language and voice are important. Voice is your manner of speaking, not what you say.
A number of authors participated in critique sessions by the editors, including Heather Alexander of Penguin Books. They gained valuable insights into their manuscripts. The prose track had two sessions that left all participants with new techniques and improved their writing styles. In her presentation, “Writing Effective Dialogue,” Dr. Susan Osborn of Rutgers University focused on enlivening dialogue with the introduction of conflict and flow. All writers were required to revise their work three times, using the revision techniques she gave them.
“Everyone’s product was more powerful and engaging,” said one of the participants.
Novelists Judith Lindbergh and Michelle Cameron led the group in more exercises in their session, “Creating a Character.” The group created fictional characters and assumed their identifies. Then they developed personalities for their characters by giving them personality tributes like dreams and fears and created backgrounds for them.
“Certainly one of the measures of the success of both sessions was that people did not want to leave!” said a participant.
The poet Anastasia Werner led the workshops “The Depth of A Poem” and “Poetry Revision” for the poetry track. Anastasia wanted her poets to play with words and gave them exercises for practice. To give a love poem depth, each participant combined two separate poems she had written; one on love and one on hate. Anastasia gave out a list of revision suggestions.
One was to reverse the order of the lines – start with the last line and see where that leads.
Another was to take a favorite line from the love/hate poem and write a new poem from that. One of the poets tried that and was pleased with the result. Both teenage and adult poets requested that Anastasia return for another session some time in the future.
All attendees were on hand for “Protecting Your Writing in Virtual Environments,” a presentation given by Isabelle Felix, an attorney for New Jersey Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts. Writers who put their work on the internet need to be prepared to fight theft of their work. They need to register their on-line articles with the copyright office. And put their copyright information on every page. When writers discover their work on other websites without being given credit, they need to send e-mails to the offending web sites. If the website does not comply contact the host site who will take it down.