Thirty years ago I attended my first Writer’s Conference in Rochester, MN. It was a weekend mecca for birds of a feather--hopeful writers flocking together to learn from two famous Minnesota authors.
Frederick Manfred and Jon Hassler are both deceased now, but their writing was alive in 1986, and they actually read and evaluated the excerpts that were turned in. Mine was one of them. I had already won a short story contest and been published in a few magazines and anthologies, but I was a novel novice. I was also a novice coffee drinker, nervous and trembling enough to slosh over my agenda.
Tall and formidable, the 6 ft. 9 in.Manfred pulled my excerpt first and read his comments in the margin. “Condense…use simple liquid words…polysyllabics diffuse meaning.” My wings were clipped. Jon Hassler’s critique restored flight. The college professor/novelist announced one graphic piece reminded him of Giants in the Earth, an acclaimed novel by Minnesota’s most famous Norwegian immigrant, Ole Rolvaag. “Powerful stuff,” Hassler announced, “from C.J. Fosdick.” When I introduced myself to him later, he confirmed his view with that golden word, “publishable.”
Sadly, that first novel was rejected, however, and its thin-skinned author banished it to a garage freezer. Iced for decades! Life, meanwhile, continued with occasional freelance work sandwiched in time slots between four children and thirty animals, including 20 horses. Horse shows, training and rescuing animals filled the family agenda.
In 2012, I visited a friend in Las Vegas and attended another Writer Conference while there. WC’s had drastically changed in 26 years, along with the Publishing Industry. Only 5% of published manuscripts were first novels in 1986. With the internet and eBooks, new novelists in 2012 were storming the castle gates of traditional publishing. Pitching a novel at Conferences was a new substitute for query letters that used to end up in slush piles. Like speed dating, a writer was given 5-10 minutes to convince an agent or publisher they were "traditionally publishable.” (Self-publishing was still Cinderella’s ugly stepsister five years ago.) Today, new self-published authors are flooding the market with a wide range of manuscripts—widely critiqued.
I had to test the climate. I joined three National Writing Groups and in the last five years, attended 10 Writer Conferences all over the U.S. and one in London. Sometimes I pitched the freezer novel with positive results, though one agent suggested it was far too long and another suggested I write a novella first, then market the freezer saga.
It was at a Kansas City Conference with Women Writing the West that I won a Laura award for a short story in 2013. The judge suggested it begged to become a novel. I didn’t pitch at that WC, but managed to dine beside the publisher of an acclaimed small press “Send me the ms. once it becomes a novel,” Rhonda Penders suggested. Motivated fingers flew over my laptop keyboard, and a year later my first published novel was released by The Wild Rose Press.
I’m still flying high. With an empty nest…and barn… I’m working on my third novel in the Accidental Series, with two more stories published and occasional freelance articles surfacing in our newspaper or a Woman’s magazine. The freezer novel Jon Hassler deemed “publishable” is still in the hanger, but my award-winning debut novel is still flying high, the eBook on sale in August for just .99 at the buy links below