The second day of the James River Writers Conference was just as packed as the first. It began with the “first pages critique” in which writers submit the first pages of novels which are then read aloud to the audience. Three agents on the panel–Michelle Brower, Melissa Sarver, and Lucy Carson–then offered a critique. It’s a very instructive exercise–probably horrifying for the “contestants”–but it’s a clear demonstration of what works and what doesn’t. Mostly what doesn’t. Mostly I agreed with the agents, although the insistence of all three agents that the first page be an action-oriented scene doesn’t completely resonate. I understand what they’re looking for, but I think of Richard Bausch’s craft lecture at Sewanee this summer in which he talked about the “art of exposition” and argued that we would do well to look at the beginnings of Dickens and Tolstoy novels to see the beauty of another approach. But overall this was a very informative panel.
Next I attended a panel on the legal and tax issues faced by a professional writer. Mostly what was discussed I knew, although I did pick up a few tips, and it was interesting to hear about the experience of the panelists.
After lunch I went to the panel on literary journals. Again, not much new here for me, but it was fun to hear Silas House talk about the new Appalachian magazine of which he is the fiction editor.
I had planned to attend “Publicity through Social Media” but the room was packed, so I gave myself an hour off before the conference wrapped up with an on-stage interview of Charles Shields by Dean King. He talked about his biography of Harper Lee and his forthcoming biography of Kurt Vonnegut. Fascinating subjects.
And then we came to the end, which was a very nice party at the Kent-Valentine House, a gorgeous home dating from 1845.
A terrific conference, and I am honored to have been part of it!