Writers Talk Shop, Novel, and Pitch Conference
Commentary by conference attendees
A Conversation Between Christine Stewart and Michael Neff
Christine Stewart is writer-in-residence at the Creative Alliance in Baltimore, Director of the Write Here, Write Now workshops, and a founding co-sponsor of the Baltimore chapter of the Maryland Writers Association. She is also the recipient of the Ruth Lilly Fellowship, a Pushcart Prize nominee, and her work has been widely published in literary journals nationwide including Ploughshares, Blackbird, and Five Points.
Being grouped by genre (such as women's fiction) was very effective as it gave us a sense of identity, and meant that the information we received, and the discussions we had, were all specific to our genre. Most conferences try to do and be too many things, causing the writer to feel scattered and overwhelmed ...
- Christine Stewart
MN: Christine, hi. Thanks for this interview. What inspired you to write Goodbye, Good Girl?
CS: Goodbye, Good Girl was originally a short story that I was encouraged to turn into a novel by my mentor, Madison Smartt Bell. At the time, I was just coming out of the chaos of Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and I wanted to try to write a piece that captured the experience - how surreal, scary, and yet surprisingly inspiring it was. I wanted to get at the reasons behind its occurrence, and how it taught me how to deal with fear and how to embrace all sides of myself.
MN: How has the story evolved?
CS: A woman in her mid-thirties, Leigh, returns home to Baltimore for her sister's wedding and finds her grandmother has advanced Alzheimer's, and her agoraphobic mother is falling apart but still clinging to the family creed: Fear Everything. In trying to help, Leigh's own anxiety disorder is triggered, but she's stuck; she can't leave, having promised to house and dog sit while her sister's on her honeymoon. She turns to a man she meets under very questionable circumstances - a sex toy shop - who leads her on a dark journey of demanding sexual challenges in order to break free of the myth of the good girl she's believed all her life.
MN: What made you choose to attend the New York Pitch Conference?
CS: I found out about the conference via The Writer magazine website. I had just 'broken up' with my agent, and I wanted to go for the exact reasons the conference exists - to create a great pitch (so I could contact agents and editors myself), and to get feedback from editors (to make sure the book was interesting to them and marketable). Basically, a reality check.
MN: Do you feel the novel is improved as a result?
CS: Yes. I saw gaps in the action and in character development (not huge ones, thank goodness) that I fixed when I got back.
MN: What did you find most effective about the New York experience?
CS: Most effective for me was learning how to write (and rewrite) the pitch based on feedback from those in my group, and the editors. In the process, I really dug into the book - what it was about, what I was trying to say, what the strengths and weaknesses were - discovering elements of it that I hadn't noticed before. It was very exciting.
MN: How would you compare New York Pitch Conference to other writer conferences?
CS: This is a relatively small conference - 60 people - which made it possible for us to get to know one another, share information, and for the editors and workshops leaders to give us individual attention. Being grouped by genre (such as women's fiction) was very effective as it gave us a sense of identity, and meant that the information we received, and the discussions we had, were all specific to our genre. Most conferences try to do and be too many things, causing the writer to feel scattered and overwhelmed (and, as a result, not retaining information). This conference focused on one aspect of writing/publishing, intensely, for four days, the result of which was that you left feeling that you'd learned a skill and learned it well.
MN: Where does Goodbye, Good Girl go from here?
CS: The book was well received and two editors asked to read it. So I know it's not dead. This is good news! I did another rewrite of bits and pieces of the novel when I returned from the conference but, by and large, the book is finished and ready for the right home. I am actively looking for new representation and a publisher. I'm going to the Bread Loaf Writers Conference this summer, so I'm taking it with me for the appointments with agents.
About the interviewer:
Michael Neff is the creator and director of WebdelSol.Com and the Algonkian Writer Conferences.
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