To all the desperate raconteurs plying their trade in the dim and hot rooms at day’s end, I’ve some advice for you; get yourself to Hippocamp!
Whew! Now that was a weekend to remember.
Like many others that attended Hippocamp 2016, this was my first time attending a writer’s conference. In fact, it was the first conference I had ever been to. I did my research before hand: what to bring, what to wear, how to pitch to an agent/editor, how to get the most from the sessions I would be attending, and most importantly how to introduce myself to a bunch of people I didn’t know (perhaps the hardest job of any new writer.) What I wasn’t prepared for, though, was the incredibly warm and welcoming atmosphere the conference had. In other words, it was just what I needed.
Friday night kicked off with an extremely inspiring keynote speech from Ashley C. Ford. She showed us how to stay true to ourselves, our perspective, and our stories while not compromising what we are in the process. At the end of the speech I went to the microphone and said; “Hi, I’m Don. I’m writing about my experiences in the military and I was wondering if you ever asked permission from the people you use in your stories?” She chuckled and let out a resoundingly slow and booming “Nooooooooooo.” Rookie….. With this simple question I accomplished two goals: confirmation that I didn’t need to ask anyone’s permission to use them in my memoir, and introducing myself to everyone there. As I was leaving the room I was stopped by four different people that introduced themselves to me. Some even gave me drink tickets, though they may be saddened to learn that I never take a drink anymore, but the gesture still stands.
Next up was the evening readings and every single author that read kicked ass, probably because they all felt so comfortable with the people in the crowd. Comfortable, that would certainly be the one word I would use to describe this conference.
Saturday was the nuclei of the event, and in my opinion, the high water mark as well. The day began with a panel of debut authors that described for us how they got published. You better believe we were all glued with rapt ouey-bluey to what they had to say. I mean, that’s the goal, right? Whom better to learn from than the folks that just did it. What was fascinating is that each person walked a different path to the published world. I learned that there truly isn’t a one-size-fits-all way of going about it. Sure, there were certain standards they all adhered to (query, pitch, etc.), but each one of them found a unique way to get their work out there. It was all encouragement here, and there wasn’t a soul among us who didn’t need to hear what they had to say.
Then it was time for the breakout sessions, the meat and potatoes of the event. For the rest of the day, until dinnertime, you had your choice of eighteen different sessions in three distinctive tracts to choose from. How about POV in Memoir, or Writing about One Experience Across Multiple Platforms, or even Writing Creatively with Science (I was positive that could not be done until Jeanine Pfeiffer blew my mind!) There were so many astounding subjects covered in these sessions that I bled two pens dry from furiously taking notes on it all. Honestly, each one had a workshop feel to it and I could tell that the presenters only goal was to help us succeed. My only regret is that science had not yet found a way to split a single human being into three people in advance of the conference, because only then would I have been able to cover it all.
After the sessions concluded it was time to get out and explore Lancaster, PA. What did I know about Lancaster? Amish country….. yep, a horrible stereotype is all I knew. But I found out that it was just small enough to find your way around, yet it had all the cultural feel of a much bigger city.
I wandered into a restaurant that served cuisine from India and Nepal. Though I had made connections during the conference, I never asked to join anyone for dinner. I sat at a table, by myself, and was immediately scooped up by other conference-goers and asked to dine with them. The same thing would happen to me at lunch the next day as well. That was big to me, and humbling, too. Yes, I’m certainly an introvert but get me in a crowd of like-minded people and I’ll tell you my life story. And that’s what I did, and that’s what everyone else did. Talking about what we were writing led into conversations about ethics and philosophy and craft and the human condition. In short, I was home.
The key note that night was Mary Karr, and boy, she is a rock star in these circles. Not only was it one of the best speeches I’ve ever heard, but the level of intimacy and candor in which she spoke with was downright sublime. I wish I could tell you what I learned from her speech, but I was just so wrapped up in the cadence of her voice and the power or her prose to remember it all. It felt like, though, that I was having coffee with someone on the order of Flannery O’Conner or Tobias Wolfe. She was funny, witty, heartbreaking, and damn solid. She was leading us all by example, and you couldn’t help but want to work that much harder to get on her level. Excellent.
The final day started off with a few flash sessions from writers in very diverse writing genres/backgrounds. That word ‘diverse’ kept creeping into my mind as I surveyed the scene. There were people from other countries, other lifestyles, other customs, etc. and they were all convened in this one place, and I was in the center of it all. We were all in the center of it riding a wave that we hoped would never crest, and it never did.
There were a few more panel discussions in the morning and early afternoon, until those dreaded gatekeepers of the publishing industry took center stage; agents and editors…
….and they were fucking cool! These weren’t the shrew, money hustling, knives-in-your-back-while-you-slept wolves that I had read about. They were people, doing their jobs and bringing the brightest of the literary world into the spotlight. This epiphany quelled any remaining apprehensions I had about the industry, and it proved to me that being published is not a far off fantasy, but a real world possibility. I was beaming when they started talking to us on a personal and casual level. What more could I ask for?
How about a pitch session? You got it, bub. The first pitch I gave to an agent wasn’t even scheduled. She had heard me ask some questions during a breakout session in which I must have briefly described the plot of my book. Whatever I said had struck a chord with her, and she summarily asked me to pitch my book to her. I did. It went better than I could have even hoped for. Man, I was erumpent! I couldn’t believe that I had been searched out by an agent just because I asked some questions. That’s the power of the writers conference; you never know who is listening.
The second pitch I did was a scheduled one, and I was nervous as hell for it. But I remembered the agent/editor panel, and that these were ordinary people just like me. So I calmed myself the best I could and fired away.
This agent loved it as well.
Hippocamp 2016 was exactly the refuge I needed, that we all needed. All that’s left to say is a thank you. Donna, you did it. May we make you proud someday.